If you love fishing for its solitude and tranquillity, come back next June or become nocturnal!
The Evans Head population bloats from its normal 3000 to around 12,000 and there must be at least 50,000 extra people in the Ballina-Lennox-Byron strip for the Summer holidays, so crowds are a fact of life. But holiday fishing in the area doesn’t necessarily entail sweating in a 10-trailer queue at the boat ramp or dodging an endless succession of 4WD traffic slaloming around your gear on the beach.
There are plenty of opportunities to find yourself a good feed of fish in relative comfort if you adjust to the conditions.
The best fishing is at dawn and dusk, when most holidaymakers are snoring off a big night or planning another after a hard day of self-cremation on the beach. So organise your activity periods early and late and use the hottest part of the day to find yourself a shady spot with a breeze and relax. Enough cricket matches are broadcast to ensure you can nod off easily…
The usual allocation of Christmas chopper tailor seems to be with us and they’re always welcome for fun and a feed. If you like chasing them off the beach on metal lures or pilchards on ganged hooks, try at first light along Patchs Beach, South Ballina, Angels Beach, Seven Mile Beach at Lennox, Tallow Beach or up around South Golden Beach or New Brighton.
Rockhoppers can find choppers around Goanna Headland at Evans Head, the walls and Black Head at Ballina, Flat Rock, Lennox Headland (watch those slippery round boulders), Broken Head, Cape Byron and the walls and Seagull Rocks at Brunswick Heads.
While these fish are mainly choppers there is the chance of encountering some real greenbacks. In January 2003 I managed quite a few fish to 4kg, with some carrying unseasonable roe, so expect the unexpected.
Jewfish can also hang around for unwary tailor as they murder the bait so it can be worth pinning a live tailor (legal length 30cm) or a fresh slab on a big hook, especially after dark.
The aforementioned beaches can also produce plenty of whiting, dart and bream early and late in the day, when the 4WD cruisers are safely back home.
Offshore anglers will be on ‘dawn-buster duty’ to maximise their fishing time before the north-easters kick in. The close reefs should be worth an early visit for snapper and when the sun rises higher it’s time to head deeper for snapper, trag, jew, kings and cobia.
There’ll be some days of cobalt water filled with baby black marlin, striped tuna, mahi mahi and rainbow runners, especially for a few days after a strong southerly. Best water is usually well east of the 60-metre line.
Mackerel are a less certain proposition around Evans and Ballina although they are a better bet off Brunswick and at Woody Head, where the water is consistently warmer. Shark Bay at Woody will be buzzing with high-speed trollers towing pink squid, while the Brunswick Local and reefs to the north should be a bit less frantic as boats anchor, berley and set out live baits.
It’s funny how there’s ‘the only way’ to catch certain fish in certain spots and no other methods are said to work. I still get a chill down my spine when I recall anchoring about a mile from the mass of 12-knot spotty trollers off Woody a few years back. We berleyed hard and floated out half-pillies and live baits, eventually attracting a pod of spotties and hooking up as a few terns began to dive around us. Within 60 seconds, it seemed everyone in the 40-boat fleet was heading straight for us and the previously calm ocean became a maelstrom of wakes, pounding tinnies and pink squid rigs fouling our anchor line – pure chaos!
Which leads me to the next tip: Don’t be afraid to find your own spot and work it with confidence. It’s always easy to go with the crowd but they can be their own worst enemies, putting off the fish, getting in each other’s way and raising stress levels.
Offshore crowds are one thing but in a river things can get to really close quarters when the fishing is on. The walls at Ballina can become heavily occupied once word has got out but again, most of the ‘followers’ turn up late and miss out so get out there early.
The prime whiting spots in the Richmond can also become fairly hectic so it is best to pick a possie early, especially around the running flats at Pimlico in around five metres. These fire best on the big high tides around the full and new moon but can get crowded so if you intend to fish there, it’s first in, best dressed. You’ll need bloodworms for best results on beautiful fish to 40cm.
The whiting do turn up in other Ballina spots, though, such as in North Creek, around the sailing club and on the deeper sections at Riverview Park and Faulks Reserve at West Ballina. The latter three are also worthy land-based whiting spots with picnic and barbie facilities close by.
Crabbing can become a ‘share-farming’ event over the holidays so stick close to your traps or dillies if you want their true return. Maybe cast a few lures for flatties or bream, or drift some baits close by while you wait. In the upper Evans River holiday crab thieves are usually rampant and Fisheries officers often have a purge on illegal traps, so be warned.
And don’t be afraid to take the kids out at sparrow’s. They love the excitement of doing something out of the ordinary and if they catch plenty of fish, so much the better. My kids seem to love the pre-dawn starts and look forward to seeing the dawn countryside almost as much as catching fish – and so should we.
School jew are everyone’s favourite estuary fish and can be found wherever there are prawns or baitfish schools. The tiny TiCA Cetus reel was surprisingly well up to the task for this schoolie.
Those Richmond River GTs fight well above their weight and even at this size are tough on bream gear.Reads: 857