Masses of options
  |  First Published: August 2003

This month I’m taking my first decent holiday in a few years and I’m not planning to go away much – does that indicate what the fishing should be like around here?

August weather hereabouts is usually fairly predictable, with cold fronts followed by long periods of stable conditions with fat high-pressure cells and calm, sunny days perfect for fishing. And with the fish awakening from our brief Winter, things couldn’t be better for wetting a line in the estuaries, the beaches or offshore.

The estuaries should be well and truly recovering from the recurrent rains of June and July, with bream, blackfish and flathead revelling in the clearer conditions and making their way up the systems. Bream, hungry after their spawning antics, should be eagerly foraging around the saltwater wedge as it pushes ever-farther upstream in the Richmond, Evans and Brunswick rivers. Big schools of mullet fry and fingerlings and tiny pilchards and herring should give them plenty to eat, along with a new generation of river prawns.

While there will still be plenty of bream around the lower rock walls, bridges, jetties and reefs, there should be pods of adventurous fish pushing upstream, investigating the mangrove channels and drains and haunting sunken timber and rock bars. Look for enough run in the tides to help these fish on their way and target likely forage areas, such as the channel edges, drop-offs or snags. Likely baits include white pilchards, prawns and yabbies, while any soft plastic under about 50mm should get a look.

Flathead should also be more active, sitting on the tops of the flats on the high tide waiting for baitfish to swim through the shallow gutters and channels on a fatal short cut across the sandbars. On those still, clear days you’d do well to concentrate on the shallows, where the fish will relish the sunshine warming both the water and the soft bottom substrates that they love so much.

It doesn’t take much water to keep a flathead comfortable and a look around any prominent flat or sandbank will show just where these fish like to hang. A barefoot walk on an early low tide can even betray a single fish’s hunting habits of the previous night high tide. It’s not hard to spot where a flattie had nestled into the sand and lain in wait for a feed, then moved on to the next spot, often only a few metres away. Some people will say on seeing a lot of lizard marks that there had been a whole heap of fish there on the high tide – not necessarily so. A comparison of the size of the lies can show that it could have been just one fish which moved around as the tide varied.

A frogmouth pilchard about 8cm long, rigged on a couple of ganged No 1 to 2/0 hooks, is an ideal bait in these conditions. A short trace of ‘tooth-proof’ 10kg line leading to a No 2 to No 4 ball sinker should do the job. While you can get away with lighter lead, I’m a believer in a sinker which kicks up a bit of sand as it’s worked along to trigger a nearby flattie’s curiosity.

The same applies to jig heads on plastics and to hard-bodied minnows – stir up a little commotion and the average lizard can’t help itself but come over and see what’s going on. So an intelligently-worked mid-depth minnow whose bib becomes lightly sandblasted through a day’s use isn’t a dumb way to go. I don’t mind using jig heads up to 3/8oz for the same reason – and you have the bonus of being able to cast farther and cover more ground than a lighter head will.

Blackfish at home

Blackfish should also be hitting their straps in the Richmond River around The Gap in the Porpoise Wall, Munsies at the Prospect Bridge over North Creek and around the northern Burns Point ferry approach. The fish should be exclusively taking green or black weed and from now on it pays to carry a good sample of as many weeds as you can to hit on the right one for the day and the place. It becomes finesse luderick angling with slender floats, lines to 3kg and plenty of berley – a vast change from the hook loaded with cabbage under a stout float and 6kg line so popular on the sea walls only a month or so ago.

The bass should also be heading for the fresh this month as they end their spawning runs. There should be some reasonable fishing from about Coraki upstream, which gives the angler good options up the Wilsons and Richmond rivers as far as Wyrallah and Tatham respectively. There isn’t much in the way of rock bars up either river, so it will pay to concentrate on the sunken timber and if that coincides with a bend in the river next to deep water, so much the better.

Spinnerbaits and deep divers should account for the majority of bass but don’t discount a surface lure pitched into the rough stuff – nothing gets the pulse rate up quicker than a ball of foam engulfing a slowly-twitched topwater model.

While I’ve concentrated on the estuaries in this article, that doesn’t mean I won’t be hitting the surf or offshore – it’s just that I’m running out of space. There should still be plenty of hungry bream around the ocean rocks trying to put on condition after spawning.

Tailor should also be still coming through on their way north, especially early in the month, and surf conditions should be good to chase them early and late in the day. The jewies have been a bit quiet of late so maybe we can expect a late run with the tailor remnants, while there could even be the odd salmon turn up as well if the water turns cold enough.

Offshore, the snapper should be starting to get serious about breeding on the gravel beds. The bigger reds should be edging their way in from the wide grounds and places like Riordans Reef, south of Ballina, and the myriad close reefs off Evans Head and further south should be active. I copped a bit of local flak last month about mentioning trappers working right into the beach and it’s worth noting that they are legally able to do this under current fisheries legislation. There’s nothing to stop them doing it and there’s a dollar in it, so they do.

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