Follow the bait
  |  First Published: March 2003

If you want the best fishing this month, it’s simply a matter of looking for bait.

That applies whether you’re fishing the estuaries, the surf, inshore reefs or blue water – find good bait and you’ll score well. There should be plenty of bait on the inshore reefs, especially if the warm current works right to the shore, as it frequently does in March. Some schools of slimy mackerel have already shown up and the big snapper, jewfish and increasing numbers of spotted and Spanish mackerel are dining on them.

There should also be schools of blue pilchards in the warm water to go along with the usual run of yellowtail, so it then comes down to finding the bait and checking things out.

Those small slimies should be the bait to hang around. While they’re terrors on a bait jig, often reducing a new rig to a tangled mess in one drop, slimy mackerel are tops on everyone’s list. Even if you’re just picking up the morning’s bait on any of the recognised ‘bait grounds’, you’d be mad not to put a hook in the first slimy and send it back out.

What you’re likely to catch on a free-swimming slimy is anyone’s guess. To the fish mentioned earlier you can add any species of tuna, cobia and billfish, and if the bait sinks in the water column you can add just about anything else including red emperor – one was caught off Evans not long ago.

There should also be plenty of bait around in the surf to excite tailor, jewfish and even some pelagics to thrill the LBG mob. White pilchards, glassies, frogmouth pillies and small bonito should be working the beaches and the rocks, along with schools of slimies. Tailor, bream and jewfish shouldn’t be far away.

Whiting have been biting their heads off on the beaches and in the rivers. Just about any strip of sand from New Brighton to Evans Head has produced well on live beach worms. Use any other bait, such as preserved worms or pipis, and you may get the odd fish while someone five metres away is scoring big on live worms.

In the Richmond River the gun whiting chasers have been scoring the big fish on the deep running flats around Pimlico, Burns Point and in North Creek. The quality fish there are falling to bloodworms, while beach worms will still get the odd fish.

The rivers also have had their share of flathead, bream and school jew. Again, it’s a matter of finding where the bait is and working over the area. There have been big schools of mullet, fine shoals of herring and tiny tailor chasing schools of glassies and plenty of prawns.

Some larger tailor, GTs and even the odd cobia has been following the glassies-herring food chain, while flathead (plenty around 5kg) lie in ambush for any straggling bait. In the lower Richmond, below the Burns Point ferry, jewfish have been taking advantage of the mullet after dark around the RSL Club.

Everything has been eating the prawns. Flathead, bream, small GTs, mangrove jacks, you name it. There have been plenty of bream in the Richmond around Ballina and in Emigrant Creek and not one can resist a prawn. You’ll also do well casting small prawn lures and prawn-sized soft plastics in natural colours like pumpkinseed or green watermelon, which just about matches the hatch.

And if the drought really does break and we have our typical Autumn flood, all that bait will be flushed out of the rivers and concentrated in a few hectares at the mouths of the estuaries. And then the fun will really start…

Whenever we get that flood, there is bound to be another rash of fish kills. With the drought in full swing and paddocks de-stocked, there mightn’t be as much organic matter washed into the rivers as in ‘normal’ floods, although streamside vegetation will still be inundated and bacteria will strip oxygen out of the water as it decomposes, leaving little for fish to breathe.

The evil chemical cocktails are lurking in the cane drains but I suspect the chief damage from any forthcoming flood will be from erosion. Vast areas of bankside and gullies on the Upper Richmond are virtually stripped of grass and we should see huge volumes of sediment brought downstream. In the best of all possible worlds, the drought would break with weeks of intermittent, light rainfall but somehow this seems unlikely.


Wayne Lodington of Jeff Frogley Agencies with a victim of his prototype Samurai 001 Noodle ultralight soft plastics rod.

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