It’s clear and it’s tough
  |  First Published: August 2004

THE WHOLE area is crying out for some for some much-needed rain and the sooner it arrives, the better.

The saying ‘drought on the land, drought on the water’ is ringing true when you look at how slow the fishing has been over the past month or so. Sure, the drought conditions go back a lot further than four weeks but it’s only been in the past month that the estuary and inshore fishing areas have slowed to a painful crawl.

There’s nothing overly complex as to why the fish quieten down in prolonged drought – it’s simply a natural reaction to excessively clear water. Fish, like people, get used to certain climates and conditions and when they change dramatically, they react by lying dormant and feeding only when absolutely critical.

When it’s icy cold with freezing winds from the south, how many folks do you see out and about doing their normal activities? Fish have their own comfort levels and when things are deemed too far out of the norm, they react accordingly.

At present the Macleay River is a clear as glass on high and low tide and over the past month it’s been a struggle to get anywhere near the normal numbers of fish you’d expect when the conditions are more favourable.

For example, I had two mates from the Central Coast come up and we fished long and hard for four days for a total of 25 bream, six flathead, four small GTs and one school jewfish. Depending on where you live that tally could be considered terrific or appalling. For up here it’s way bellow par, with simular numbers of fish caught and released in one decent spinning session under normal conditions.

While the estuary fishing is certainly quite slow by the usual standards, it’s not completely shut down. You may just need to rethink how you approach the fish.

I’ve been scaling down lures and leader size, opting for 4lb braid and 2kg mono leaders up to three metres long for most of my bream and bass spinning. Even for jewfish I’ve had to drop from 15kg leaders down to 6kg to tempt a few fish.


Bear in mind I’m taking daytime trips. If you’re keen to brave the chill and fish during the night, the cover of darkness should see the fish relax a little and downsizing everything may not be so critical.

If, like me, you prefer to fish when there’s a touch of warmth, remember at the moment you’re effectively fishing in a fish tank and the less chance the fish have of working out what you’re offering is a fake, the higher your chances of success. So until we get some much-needed rains you can expect most estuaries on the North Coast to be pretty hard yakka.

With the rivers pumping out very few nutrients, not surprisingly the inshore reefs are slow also. Once again I’m talking by the usual standards, where you’d expect reasonable snapper numbers every trip plus a few pearlies and the like.

At the time of writing, the inshore reefs are clear and cold with only a few fish deciding to play the game. Those fishing into the evening are faring best, with one haul last week comprising of some nice snapper up to 3.5kg plus a dozen or so plate-sized fish around a kilo to 1.5kg. Just like the rivers, once the sun fades away the fish begin to feed more actively again.

Those heading to Fish Rock and Black Rock are finding it a little tough also, but are still finding a few co-operative kingfish early and late in the day. Last time I was down that way I was amazed at the water clarity and could see decent-sized kingfish cautiously roaming the deeper drop-offs and gutters.

I managed to tempt a few smaller fish but the bigger lads deep below the rats weren’t having a bar of me. I guess until the conditions change it will pay to fish early or late if you want a good bag of fish.


Probably the most consistent fishing has been way out to sea on the 60-fathom reefs with large schools of mahi mahi on anything that floats and good kings and pearlies, plus a few nice reds and bar cod, down deep on the reefs.

The dollies have been quite small with most up to 1.5kg but what they lack in size they make up for in sheer numbers. Those sending down live yellowtail have pulled up some decent kingfish plus some tasty bar cod and a few big reds. It’s a real mixed bag on the deeper reefs and, with the current gin-clear inshore conditions, the wider reefs are perhaps the best place to head.

I know this hasn’t been the most inspiring report I’ve ever given but the fact it the fishing has been pretty bloody slow and very demanding if you want more that just one or two fish per session.

I must admit, though, the tough conditions have made me rethink the line classes, leader sizes and tackle needed for most of the common inshore species and will no doubt have helped a lot of local fishos when the conditions return to normal.


With the extremely clear conditions of late, ultra light leaders have been necessary for consistent results on most estuary fish.


Ravenous GTs and big-eye trevally have been frequenting the rock walls in the lower Macleay, taking both lures and bait with gusto.


School jewfish are in reasonable numbers but with little rain and gin-clear water, a stealthy approach will be needed to catch them during daylight hours.

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