An important time of year
  |  First Published: April 2003

Anzac Day this year is a very important day for Australians for all the right reasons, including some not connected with wars.

Setting aside the national significance as a commemoration of our war dead, April 25 is also the date by which our meteoroligsts should know one way or the other whether the evils of el Nino have dissipated – or whether we should brace ourselves for another year of gruelling drought.

It appears that this is when the el Nino-Southern Oscillation Index readings take final shape to determine accurate forecasting of Eastern Seaboard weather for the next 12 months. As Winter patterns south of the Equator begin to emerge, what we didn’t know for sure a month ago at last becomes clearer.

Those first Winter cold fronts can add a sharpness at Dawn Services in inland towns and, on the coast, the arrival of the westerlies provides a huge trigger to all estuary species. Ocean surf flattened by the offshore winds allows easy travel for spawning aggregations or migrations of fish such as mullet, blackfish, bream and jewfish.

Baitfish abound, from tiny glassies to white, frogmouth and blue pilchards, slimy mackerel, bonito and other tunas and, of course, those mullet.

And the predators are right into this living soup. Sharks of all sizes, jewfish and tailor, mackerel and all the rest go berserk as the bait schools move along the coast.

Also on a field day are the migratory beach netters, who often present the ugly side of commercial fishing as they target fish at their most vulnerable – out of their normal environment and schooling together to breed. Stories abound of unmanageable catches left to decompose into mush or, at best, crayfish bait, after the valuable roe of the female fish has been stripped. Commercial fishing doesn’t get a lot uglier than this and for it still to occur within a few metres of tourists holidaying on a beach is pure madness. If we must have this obscene raping of a species as it breeds, let it at least be done some distance away from tourist centres.

Mackerel inshore

Meanwhile, down off the soap box, the ocean water should still be warm enough to support a healthy variety of tropical visitors in the form of mackerel, tuna and billfish. At last a fair smattering of spotties has decided to visit Evans Head and Ballina and there have been some encouraging catches of small to medium Spanish as well, with the usual promise of bigger fish later in the season.

Most of the spotties around the Evans reefs and Riordans (south of Ballina) and Lennox Point have fallen to live slimy mackerel, although the lure trollers have taken a handful of fish. Farther south, around Woody Head, the done thing is to troll pink squid around 12 to 15 knots and no doubt the waters of Shark Bay will be a foaming maelstrom of wakes around Easter if the spotties ball up the bait.

If the thought of joining in the crazy fleet doesn’t appeal, you can always head away from the melee and drop anchor and berley, put out a livie or two and hope for the best. Don’t be too close to the fleet, though, or once you hook up you’ll have clowns trolling all over your patch thick as muttonbirds – and about as intelligent!

I can recall Anzac Day being a good time to chase sailfish around these parts, too, with quite a few live slimies meant for mackerel being swallowed by ‘long-nosed, fan-backed mackerel’ that surprised the hell out of the anglers involved.

The estuaries should also be fishing fairly well by now. We had some desperately-needed rain in Mid-March which put the first real colour into the Richmond River for around two years. Fortunately, the rain was just steady over a week or so, rather than a three-day deluge which would have wiped out most of the fish in the upper reaches.

Bream and jewfish came down to play in the middle to lower reaches and they should stay around when those westerlies begin to blow. The Richmond has been thick with bait of all kinds, from jelly prawns and rock shrimp to herrings, whitebait, poddy and sea mullet. With feed like that on hand all day, the fish can be pretty choosy but you should still find bream, flathead, school jew and the occasional whiting.


Bream in the Richmond River should just keep on improving over the next few months.

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