IT’S AS cold as it ever gets around here this month, which may well mean fingerless gloves, beanie and ugh boots for a few hours as the sun comes up and again as darkness approaches.
The rest of the time, the layers of clothing progressively come off and we can expect plenty of balmy days full of sunshine and fish. Fortunately, we get only a brief taste of the Winter commonly experienced further south but it’s enough to get the fish going and sufficient to remind us of the passage of the seasons.
Again this month, much of the attention will be on the beaches, rocks and estuaries as the travelling fish ply the inshore waters to spawn and to follow the bait schools. There’ll be plenty of bream still working the surf washes and the lower estuaries, along with tailor, jewfish, blackfish and snapper.
As the westerly winds flatten the surf after the cold fronts blow through, the rock and beach fishing should be excellent. Places to fish for bream from the rocks include headlands such as Evans Headland, the walls at Ballina, nearby Black Head, Flat Rock, Skennars Head, Lennox Headland, Broken Head and Cape Byron.
Look for washy water over a bottom of rubble, sand, shell or gravel and if there are schools of bait such as white pilchards, froggies or mullet nearby, so much the better.
I talked a bit last month about how the bream like to dine on shellfish such as pipis and sand snails but they’re also keen to take flesh baits to add some variety. Strips of mullet, slimy mackerel or tuna, or frogmouth or white pillies are worth having on hand, as are the live yabbies Glenn Thompson talks about in his feature in NSWFM this month on bagging bream around the Clarence rocks.
There should still be plenty of bream on the beaches this month, too. Those flesh baits will also work well there as the bream seek to break their mollusc diet, although there is one shellfish bait I didn’t talk about last month that is dynamite for bream and whiting.
Around here they call them ‘moon pipis’, although scientifically they’re a member of the Austromactra family of bivalves. Although about the size of a pipi, moonies are more symmetrical than their wedge-shaped cousins and have a much more fragile shell.
They live in finer, more muddy, substrate than pipis, almost exclusively below the low-tide zone in calmer bays such as along Airforce Beach at Evans, Shark Bay and along the Ten Mile beach north of Iluka and from about Belongil Creek through to Tyagarah in Byron Bay.
It’s pretty hard to actually go out and gather moonies but after a bit of rough weather they sometimes get washed ashore, still alive, in numbers. Grab ’em! Their soft innards are haute cuisine for beach fish.
On the subject of pipis, it’s worth remembering that there’s a bag limit of 50 and it’s illegal to take them more than 50 metres away from the high-tide mark for any purpose.
That means there’s a fair number of ‘snowbird’ Winter visitors from South Australia and Victoria in the Evans Head caravan park who are being very naughty. Every low tide, these codgers and codgerettes scour Airforce Beach with their preferred pipi-detection device, a ring-type fish scaler, and scurry back to camp with bucketfuls. I don’t know who put out the word that the scaler is the best way to find pipis, but most of them seem to go down this rather arduous way of scratching up a feed and I, for one, am not going to tell them a better way!
The beaches should also have good supplies of tailor and the odd whiting, along with jewies near the deeper water around dark.
There’ll also be liberal numbers of beach hauling crews making themselves unwelcome, with none more unwelcome than the mob who seem to make it their business to net Airforce Beach for boxes and boxes of bream a day or two before the annual Evans Head Classic. They’ve done it the past two years and no doubt they’ll turn up again this year, just because they can.
In the rivers, the bream should begin to taper down late this month so get out there and make the most of the early run before they head up-river or back to sea.
Blackfish should be going great guns in all their usual haunts. At Evans Head, that means around the seawalls when there’s a blow on and possibly in the Bream Hole in calmer weather.
Ballina blackfish haunts include the seawalls, the gaps and holes along the Porpoise Wall, the old northern ferry approach at Burns Point and the western approach to the Prospect Bridge over North Creek. You’ll also turn a few in the Brunswick River along the rock walls there.
Flathead will still be on the cards with reasonable numbers on offer in the shallows all the way to Wardell and beyond. They like soaking up the sun on those calm, warm days almost as much as the anglers who chase them.
Offshore, the snapper should be moving onto the gravel beds in pre-spawning numbers, with afternoon sessions often more productive than morning efforts. The westerlies tend to die off around mid-morning, making for a more comfortable trip out there and less joggly fishing.
With more humpback whales heading on their coastal migration, it’s definitely worth keeping a keen look-out for them. They’re great to watch at a safe distance but when you’re anchored and a pod of 20-tonne leviathans are making straight for you, it gets a little hairy and small boats are no place to be. I usually start my engine to let them know exactly where we are and I always have a knife stowed next to the anchor bollard.
Les Schultz with a fantastic Ballina whiting caught on a soft plastic. If only they’d take them as regularly as they do worms!Reads: 1238