THIS year so far has turned out to be a frustrating one for anglers.
This is usually the time of year where you’re virtually guaranteed not to fail when you spend a day on the water. Virtually everything with fins is biting freely, from the freshwater bass to oceanic speedsters like mackerel and mahi mahi. The frustration is not so much due to fish not being here – there have been reasonable numbers of quality fish for months – but more they they’re in a spasmodic trickle.
Basically, one day you hear of good numbers of cobia biting freely just off the Jail, then the next they’re gone. Spotted mackerel are another fine example, with fish being caught in reasonable numbers today, then tomorrow you may as well be fishing the moon. To be fair on the poor old spotties, they do get a flogging up and down the coast. And they are renowned for biting one day and playing hard ball the next, but it is getting pretty bloody annoying trying to time a productive trip to the mackerel grounds.
Just last week we finally got a run of good-sized spotted mackerel, with quite a few fish in the 6kg to 7kg class. Fish of this calibre are great fun on light tackle and you will see plenty of string melt off before they’re finally subdued boat side. Until last week we pretty well had only a handful of rats appear, with spots in the 1.8kg to 2.4kg class. While not too many folks were complaining (it was just great to finally see a mackerel), the bigger fish that are here now offer much more incentive to head to the northern reefs off Grassy Head and Middle Head.
So far this season I’ve heard of only six Spanish mackerel caught and if the past few years are anything to go by, that may be pretty well all we get. Hopefully I’m terribly wrong and we get a late run of fish heading north again.
May isn’t a bad month for big mackerel, so I guess the key is to keep persisting with bigger baits and lures until the water cools off again. Last season I never landed a Spaniard so hopefully I’ll redeem myself this year – though I did pick a tough one to break the drought!
Those sporadic cobia I mentioned earlier have kept most anglers guessing and will continue to. One day they may be on the 11-fathom reef just off the Jail, then the next they’re 10km south at Black Rock. And if you head to Black Rock, you can bet your last slimy mackerel they’ll be up off Grassy Head mixed in with those hit-and-miss spotted mackerel. I did hear of one ripper cobe of 34kg caught at Black Rock, but I’ve now come to the conclusion that by the time you hear the cobia are on, they’re more than likely off!
I guess the biggest problem this year for a lot of pelagic species seems to be the irregularity of the East Coast Current. At the time of writing the water is bath-warm at around 25° and pushing south at three knots.
So what’s wrong with that, I hear you say. Well, it’s green with a lovely tinge of grey. Needless to say, many oceanic species that are used to cobalt-blue water aren’t happy and have either headed wider or are suffering from lockjaw.
The local kingfish population is a good example. I went down to Fish Rock the other day and was pleased to see on the sounder good numbers of kings stacked up in their usual haunts. But after jigging soft plastics, hurling poppers and finally dropping down live yakkas and slimies on their noses, I didn’t raise a scale. The only fish caught that day (besides the bait) was one very unlucky longtom that wore the 6/0 Aberdeen hook from the AusSpin jig head.
Thankfully the Macleay River has been fishing quite well, especially for those in the know. There’s no doubt there’s more skill needed to successfully fish an estuary than there is out on the open sea and those working the river effectively are regularly pulling some pretty impressive fish.
The most successful anglers are usually off the water by the time the first 9am-to-5pm boats arrive. Sly jewie fishermen are quietly pulling big fish while most of us are sleeping. They’ll carefully pick up all evidential scales after cleaning the catch and will be at home resting when the first boat thinks of heading down to the ramp.
I actually hear of very few jewfish caught (other than what I catch) and only piece together the clues by the carelessness at the cleaning table and the over-exuberant anglers who slip up. This cloak-and-dagger stuff is typical of many jewie anglers up and down the coast and, in a way, that’s the way I like it. My point is (yes, I do have one) there are jew to be caught in the lower Macleay, especially now the mullet are readying to run.
Dusky flathead have continued to bite. There have been some big fish caught along the vast walls from Jerseyville to the mouth and they’ve been taking lures and live baits. Just the other day I ventured out for a soft plastic jigging session and ran into four lizards from 2.5kg to 3.5kg. Yesterday one fellow caught and released a 5kg croc on a live yellowtail, so there are a few fish around if you’re keen on chasing bigger flathead.Reads: 535