THE NEXT four months provide the best and most diverse fishing the region has to offer.
This is prime time for warm-water pelagics all along the coast, with the strong possibility of spotted and Spanish mackerel, cobia, billfish, mahi mahi, mackerel tuna, northern bluefin and even yellowfin. In the estuaries there is the chance of a mangrove jack, grassy sweetlip and a number of other northern visitors to go with the usual supply of bream, whiting, flathead, jewfish and small to medium GTs.
I’ve come across a couple of unusual visitors of late. While spinning for bream in the local creek I had a savage strike and a protracted, vicious battle with what felt like the mother of all bream. I knew immediately what it was when the fish eventually surfaced, and knew why I’d had a solid struggle. These fish look like a cross between a bream and a drummer, with a bream’s head shape, thick, rubbery lips and a powerful, slate-grey body. Foolishly, I hadn’t packed the camera.
We used to call them grey sweetlips when we occasionally caught them up in the Kimberley and everyone I knew who hooked one reckoned they were one of the hardest-fighting estuary fish they’d ever caught. Ern Grant calls them Plectorynchus nigrus, grey or brown sweetlips, but you could call them bulldozer bream, I reckon. This one, about 1.5kg, went straight back into the river and I hope it breeds up big – if you could stock a waterway with these scrappers, no one would want to go fishing for anything else. About 10 years ago, up at 1770, a bloke came back from the upper estuary with one about 4kg, which he’d caught on a yabby and a whiting rod. He was still shaking…
I also caught a yellowfin tuna of about 6kg not long ago, within a mile of the beach. It’s only the second yellowfin I’ve landed in 37 years of fishing close off Evans Head and this one scoffed a live slimy mackerel in green 23° water. What it was doing there I don’t know, because blue water has been conspicuously absent this year up to now. A few days before I caught this fish, the inshore ocean was an unseasonably chilly 19° but if the Eastern Australian Current is ever going to get close to shore around these parts, it’ll be this month.
So far, the Evans Head mackerel run has been almost non-existent, with only a couple of spotties and the odd Spanish turning up to maraud the bait schools. I say with some pride that the first decent spotties were caught right on cue, a couple of days after the holiday masses went back to their normal abodes – the annual ‘official’ start of mackerel season. However, since then the water has been inhospitable and we can only hope that the spots move in when conditions improve.
Cobia have been pretty good, even if the mackerel haven’t. While there haven’t been any moose-sized ones caught, there seem to be plenty of cobes around 4kg to 6kg taking live baits meant for mackerel or picking up bottom baits.
We’ve also at last had a few hordes of rat kingfish infesting some of the local reefs and bommies. There used to be an abundance of kingies in this area before the floating traps took their toll but only now have they started to move back to their old stamping grounds. Back in the good old days, we used to locate one wide reef by heading out on the compass bearing until we thought we were close, then we’d tie on our cheapest, nastiest lure and wait until a kingie smashed it – and usually took it to the bottom. Often the kings would be so thick that we could never get through them to the snapper and jewies we sought beneath them. We tried out one old-timer’s suggestion of tying a rag to the tail of one fish so the others would chase after it, trying to grab the rag. That way we could have a minute or so to let our baits to the bottom.
The kings have been gone so long that some local anglers have been unaware of the 60cm minimum legal size, simply because some of the newcomers haven’t seen a kingie before! Hopefully they’ll get worked out pretty smartly.
While the local kingies provide all the usual sport that they do farther south, they really should be released. Most kings that have been in this area, or farther north, for any length of time seem to acquire a blood parasite which apparently multiplies rapidly after death and reduces the fish’s flesh to an unpalatable mush. They’re mostly not worth eating, although the dog doesn’t seem to mind occasionally and the oil does wonders for his coat..
Rainfall has still been pretty scant, with some lumpy storms and light monsoonal weather from the north-west providing the only dumps so far. We’ll need a lot more than that to get the upper Richmond flowing properly again, let alone put a reasonable flush into the system.
If we’re going to get real rain, it should be this month and next. Regardless of rainfall, the mullet and bream in the middle reaches should get restless as the air and water temperatures drop and they will head seawards as soon as we get our first westerly change, probably around Anzac Day.
We’ve had good schools of bait along the beaches at times and there have been some schools of tailor working them. We can expect better action of this kind this month as the clearer blue water replaces the green.
Whiting and dart have been quite reasonable along most of the beaches and there are still fair to good catches of flathead in the middle and lower estuaries. If we get a decent fresh strong enough to get to the river mouth, there should be more big flathead spawning around the rock walls – remember to go easy on them.
If you missed the press release in last month’s issue, there is now a 50-metre sanctuary zone around the southern approach of the Burns Point ferry over the Richmond at Ballina. Fourth-generation Richmond River professional fisherman John Gallagher has driven the ferry for a couple of years and began it all by throwing a few sandwich crusts into the water and watching the fish rip into them.
Things sort of grew from there so that John now has the fish lining up every time the ferry stops at the southern approach. Local bakeries have lent a hand by donating stale product and now the area is a melee of fins, foam and flashes when the ferry pulls up and the bread goes in. There are hordes of bream, huge mullet, blackfish, flathead and who knows what else swarming around down there.
The Ballina Shire Council, the tourist Information Centre and NSW Fisheries gave John’s ‘babies’ their full support and Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald launched the official sanctuary zone. So keep at least 50 metres away from the ferry ramp with any fishing gear but make it a point to ride the ferry and see just how many good fish there are which like a feed of bread.
The dredge Faucon worked the Evans River bar for a couple of weeks in early February to clear many tonnes of sand from just off the entrance. The sand was sucked up and taken about a mile north and dumped there, but this is only a band-aid solution to a growing problem.
When an environmental impact statement was sought before the dredging, some ignorant and/or mischievous clowns who call themselves conservationists tried to prevent the lower Evans River being dredged because it could be habitat for the endangered green sawfish. In support of their position, these vexatious idiots submitted a photograph of, possibly, a green sawfish, taken in the Brunswick River in the 1950s.
I’ve fished in the Evans River since 1958 and have talked to people who have fished here since the 1930s and no one has ever seen a sawfish of any description in the river. In my time, thanks to some idiotic engineering done in the name of flood mitigation, the average depth of the Evans River has dropped at least two metres as a result of sand dislodged from the banks of the upper reaches during floods. One hole over which I ran my first sounder in 1982 was then nine metres deep – it’s now four metres.
Aerial photos of the river taken in 1942, before the Tuckombil Canal was dug, show it was deep and dominated by seagrass. It had disappeared altogether by 1970. Since then, during prolonged dry periods, small seagrass beds become re-established and, when a major flood occurs, they are smothered in new sediment and the prolonged turbidity from the floodwaters kills the new beds. Seagrass established during the mid-1990s was almost entirely killed off by the major flooding of 2002.
There has been dredging of the river below where the bridge now stands on at least five occasions, including work by the ocean-going April Hamer around 10 years ago and by a bucket excavator only three years ago. In the 1960s and 1970s there was a semi-permanent pontoon dredge to remove sand built up on the large sandbar a few hundred metres inside the mouth.
Because of the mobile nature of the bottom sediments below the bridge there are not even many benthic (bottom-dwelling) communities that have become established, just banks of moving sand. Certainly there are very few yabby flats downstream from the harbour entrance across to the RSL wharf, and it’s a sure sign of a first-time Evans visitor when you see someone pumping for yabbies on the big sandbank.
The whole lower river is so shallow that, on a high tide with clear water, you can actually visually survey every square metre of the bottom concerned using technology as simple as a mask and snorkel.
And, sadly, the $250,000-plus fluidiser, installed over three years ago on the South Wall to dislodge the sand and have it carried to sea on an outgoing tide, is a dead loss. The damn thing was used for a total of less than 10 hours during its life, now ended, because no one could come up with a compressor to run it! Let’s hope the people responsible for this type of fiscal irresponsibility never get hold of our fishing licence funds – they’d be gaffed on the first dark night.Reads: 1590