Hoping for raincoat weather
  |  First Published: February 2004

I ALWAYS call this a raincoat month and, for once, I won’t be sorry to see it arrive.

Even the coastal fringes have had hardly a drop from a rare passing storm since early December and the general fishing certainly has suffered as a consequence. While some of the holidaymakers scored fish at times, they were in short supply in the lower estuaries and long periods of onshore weather kept offshore boats on their trailers for long periods.

The paddocks are a dried brown, there are cracks in the ground everywhere and salt water is way upstream. But by the time you read this we could be back to our annual February deluge – let’s hope so.

February is normally wet because of the active Eastern Australian Current, pushing strongly down the coast with water between 23° and 25°. The high-pressure cells that generally form over the southern states push onshore winds over the warm ocean and when the moisture-laden air hits the coast, it rains. Add the odd monsoonal trough slipping down from the north-west and a surface low forms off the coast, and it rains even more.

That warm current has fluctuated wildly so far this year, with temperatures off Cape Byron yo-yoing from 20° to 26° in a day or so – not the best for the warm-water pelagics such as spotted and Spanish mackerel or northern bluefin tuna. However, some of the bait schools – small slimy mackerel, whitebait and the like – have turned up so when the water temperature stabilises a little, we should see regular captures of these fish. There have been a few Spaniards taken from Lennox Head and even from Riordans Reef, south of Ballina, but the fish this month should take up residence until June.

If the mackerel arrive in any numbers, we’ll see the usual fleets anchored off New Brighton, Lennox Point, Riordans and somewhere between Snapper Rock and the South Evans Reef. Most will fish with live baits under balloons or the chunks of styrofoam which end up littering the beaches in their hundreds.

The use of a breakaway styrofoam float is in technical breach of the MARPOL international convention on marine pollution, which bans the discarding of any plastics at sea. The often huge numbers of foam chunks on local beaches also isn’t doing the reputation of anglers as litterbugs any good.

There are a number of decent and inexpensive running floats on the market that caring anglers should consider. Even a couple of wine corks or, better still, champagne corks, drilled out and glued together will make a good running float which can be adjusted to let the livie swim at the right depth. Their natural colour also makes them less of a target for slashing bite-offs. Let’s face it, the float isn’t used as a strike indicator, just to support the bait at the right depth – you’ll certainly know when you get a strike.

The beaches have provided some of the best fishing of late, with catches of quality whiting, dart and some big bream. South Ballina Beach and Seven Mile Beach have been quite good for the whiting and dart, while Broadwater Beach has had whiting, dart, bream and school jew. Seven Mile and South Ballina have also had some decent tailor schools chasing bait when the surf has been down a little. This month there should be more of the same.

If we do get heavy rains there could be some good fishing on the beaches and headlands around the river mouths, though the discoloured water won’t be suitable for tailor. Jewies, bream and whiting will make up for them.

How the rivers will fish depends on how much rain we get. Even just a few storms or light rain for a day or so should be enough to send most of the saltwater fish back towards the sea. Most of the river prawns have been well up towards fresh water but it shouldn’t take much of a fresh to send them packing, fat and juicy, towards their spawning grounds.

The first pulse of river bream should head towards the middle reaches, dog-toothed from their lack of an oyster diet. Some of these fish can really grow long fangs but it doesn’t seem to take long before endless crunching on shellfish and crabs wears them down to pegs again.

Spanish and spotted mackerel should take up residence on the inshore reefs as the bait schools intensify. There should also be some northern bluefin tuna to tussle with.

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