April fuel
  |  First Published: April 2005

Most fish around here seem to fuel up in April with mullet readying for their migration to sea, pilchards of all sizes running close inshore and all the Winter-spawning species topping up their tanks in a feast to prepare for the amorous times ahead.

With February one of the driest on record I’ll need to revise my dislike of that often sodden month and early March continued in similar fashion. The ocean could certainly do with a good fresh but the estuaries are teeming with life of all kinds.

The beaches are shaping up well for the next few months and the offshore grounds have provided a pleasant mix of warm-water mackerel and early snapper. What more could you ask for?

On recent trips on the Richmond and Clarence rivers we’ve been amazed at the massive numbers of mullet congregating in huge nervous shoals. The first solid cold front and westerly weather system, usually around Anzac Day, will trigger their drive seaward and the only thing that could spark an early run would be a few days of heavy rain to push them towards the river mouths.

The estuaries also hold masses of baitfish, from tiny fry to white pilchards, herring, tailor and garfish – it’s a real feast for all the predators and there are plenty plying their murderous trade.

In the Richmond around Ballina big flathead remain on the cards around the Porpoise Wall and upstream to Pimlico and, if present conditions prevail, there should still be plenty around this month.

Jewfish have been hunting the walls, headlands and close beaches knocking off pods of mullet searching for a bigger school to join to provide some safety in numbers. School jew seem to remain in healthy numbers from about the RSL Club upstream to Pimlico and Wardell and the last of the mangrove jack will be snapping up a hasty feed before heading offshore or hunkering down for Winter in the river.

Bream, many of which have spent the Summer as far upstream as Lismore and almost Casino, are working their way downstream to take part in the feasting on the bait in the middle reaches and farther downstream. The tiny river school prawns of Spring have grown into fat, tasty morsels that allow these fish to grow fat and feisty for their spawning antics ahead.

Also feeding on the prawns and baitfish in the middle reaches have been an unusually large number of big-eye trevally and even some early-run estuary perch. EPs love their prawns and will follow them anywhere.


My records show this is also a good month for tailor from just about any of the beaches and headlands and I’ll be belting poppers and chrome into the washes around high tide at dawn a lot in coming months. I find this run of tailor has fish of better average size than many of the Winter schools, although the big greenbacks are still a feature on the cooler nights ahead.

These tailor are chasing small white pilchards which are also fine fare for the schools of slimy mackerel not too far beyond the shore break. With the tailor, slimies and some early sea gar there is plenty of fodder for beachcombing Spanish mackerel and this is a good month to target the bigger fish.

A live slimy, mouth-hooked or bridled and with another wire trace sporting a No 2 to 1/0 treble pinned near the tail, is a deadly Spaniard set-up. A live pike similarly rigged is also a firm favourite.

Troll these baits dead slow behind the surf line or around headlands and close bommies. Set a medium to light drag and wait to hear that ratchet scream like a banshee as the steel hits home on a big Spaniard and it lights the afterburners.

Good places to try this caper include the pinnacle off Lennox Head and south to Flat Rock and Black Head just off Ballina. There’s also plenty of good ground down along the Riordans Reef complex and Kahors and South reefs at Evans Head.

The spotties have been going in fits and starts – if the clear, warm water fits in along the coast, the action starts. Average size has been around 4kg to 6kg but these fish put on condition rapidly and there should be some 10kg scorchers around late this month or early in May.

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