Missing moisture
  |  First Published: February 2003

What a quandary: Do I predict my usual February deluges or, in so doing, do I risk the drought going for another year?

If we don’t get rain this month we’ll all be rooned, as the poem goes. This month and next are typically the wettest of the year here, with high potential for flood rains, and we certainly need them. The regional water supply is already stretched and if the rains don’t come, as some in the Weather Bureau are tipping, we may well be bathing in our own urine by year’s end..

Already there are some indications that there could be moisture on the way. The Eastern Australian Current had been running strongly close inshore for some weeks at the time of writing and that volume of warm water doesn’t need much onshore wind to bring at least coastal rain. A few low-pressure cells have been present well into the Coral Sea, so some moisture could get inland, too if they get close enough. The early indications, however, are that the lows were more intense and heading east to batter such places as the Solomons and Fiji.

I can almost hear some people as the read this say, ‘Stuff the weather, we want the news!’ Sorry, but the news is the weather.

That Eastern Australian Current means warm tropical water just off the coast, bringing with it billfish, baitfish, tuna and what’s left of the mackerel schools – now that the Queensland ringnetters are finished with them. Glassies, small white pilchards and frogmouth pillies get dined on by schools of blue pilchards and slimy mackerel, which in turn are eaten by the mackerel, tuna and billfish.

After getting a trying workout from a sensational 3.5kg greenback first cast the other afternoon, I should add tailor to that list. The headlands and beaches have plenty of clear water and the bait has been sheltering in the bays protected from the seemingly incessant string of southerlies. There have been reports of big tailor from Broken Head, Cape Byron, Seagull Rocks and the walls at Brunswick, Lennox Point, Evans Headland and around Ballina on the walls and at Flat Rock and Black Head. You could do a lot worse than try these spots for school jew and bigger on worms, squid, pilchards or lures hard and soft.

While all that action is occurring anywhere from the surf line to the continental shelf, it hasn’t actually been a boatie’s paradise. Onshore winds averaging 20 knots have been our daily ration and there are obviously more to come, so a day at sea has been a rarity. In fact, a lot of holidaymakers at Evans and Ballina didn’t even get their offshore boats off their trailers over the entire vacation period.

When there has been a break in the wind, it has often been accompanied by a big line of swells from some Coral Sea low peaking and crashing onto the local river bars. There luckily haven’t been too many ‘marginal’ days when the risk-takers can get themselves into trouble.

Fortunately, the estuaries have been brimming with life all the way to tidal influence, with ‘soapie’ school jew and flathead caught in the Richmond only a few kilometres downstream of Casino, and in the Wilsons River at Lismore itself. Slow flow, low river levels and big tides have meant that salinity is at estuarine levels almost right through to the tidal barriers. Suddenly the old yarn about a couple of mud crabs being washed out of a drain in Casino in the first heavy rain after a drought in the 1980s begin to carry a hint of truth.

Whether it’s crabbing, drifting for flatties or chasing bream or bass, that wind has also made a day on the river a testing event at times. Occasionally a morning will dawn when the wind doesn’t crank up until around 8am and this is the time to get cracking.

Flathead have been in good numbers throughout the Richmond-Wilsons system and some big female spawners have been targeted by the ‘holiday heroes’. School jew have been a popular pursuit in the river from Wardell to Burns Point and have been taken on herring, worms, squid and soft plastics. There has also been some great action on bream in Emigrant Creek and the main river.

I suppose the big catch-cry for February is ‘seize the day’ – if it’s flat and windless, go fishing straight away because you never know when it’s going to be that good again. Probably March, I’d wager…



Bass are battling to survive in lower, slower northern rivers and those caught below tidal barriers are facing increased salinity in the drought.

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