Focus on the middle reaches
  |  First Published: August 2004

I’M LOOKING forward to plenty of fishing this month and I’ve even arranged some holidays to take advantage of what should be a fairly rewarding period.

The frantic, hormone-charged spawning runs of the usual Winter suspects like bream, tailor and blackfish will start to subside and the bait schools should begin to dissipate upstream, meaning the estuary focus should move away from the river mouths to the fertile middle reaches.

There also should be a few tailor lingering in the washes as the rest of the schools make their dash to the Fraser Island spawning grounds and the snapper should be starting to get serious on the inshore gravel beds.

Add post-spawn bass migrations to that menu and there should be plenty of fish worth chasing around here.

It’s been a rather chilly Winter so far, with mother-in-law’s-breath winds blasting off the high New England tops. The phrase, ‘Glen Innes was the State’s coldest at minus 9°’ seems to be playing incessantly on the nightly TV weather report.

Thankfully, the ocean hasn’t descended to the chilly extremes experienced farther south, with temps of 18° or a tad higher still quite tolerable. So far we also haven’t seen the invading hordes of salmon but that could all change overnight.

Anyway, Winter around here, all six weeks of it, generally peters out around mid-August and we experience days with peaks around 25° and bracing mornings and evenings.

The water in the estuaries should also start to rise to the high teens and, as the water warms, the middle reaches will come to life. While those bait schools that have been thick at Ballina should make their presence felt in the middle reaches to Woodburn and Coraki, we also should start to see the prawns coming back into action, too.

That makes the weed beds strong fishing targets, especially in water which is likely to be quite clear. So we can expect to see school jew and flathead also taking part in this estuary buffet. There’s been no rain to speak of for around three months and we’re heading into traditionally the driest period of the year so there’s plenty of water for the fish to disperse in search of food.

Estuary perch should also be heading back upstream to their mid-reach haunts. We seem to have caught them in reasonable numbers again this Winter while targeting bream with small plastics – often within sight of the river entrances.

That might come as a surprise to a Brisbanite who recently announced to me in a rather patronising tone that there aren’t any EPs in the Clarence River. They’ve been a part of the scene here as long as I can remember.

I recall one afternoon years ago with the late Fred Varley using live shrimps, cedar floats and long Rangoon-cane Ned Kelly rods upstream of Woodburn, where we caught bass, estuary perch, bream, blackfish and other river residents like trevally and flathead, all in the same rocky hole. The prawns were in residence and so were fish of just about any sort you’d expect in the Richmond and some surprises as well.

There should still be the odd nice bream lurking around the rock walls at Ballina, along with blackfish in reasonable numbers.

I don’t think there has been much in the way of travelling blackfish schools setting up shop in the Richmond but there’s still a little time as long as those westerlies keep blowing and keeping the ‘highway’ along the beaches viable. The usual spots, such as the gaps in the Porpoise Wall at Mobbs Bay and Little Mobbs Bay, the northern disused ferry ramp at Burns Point and the western approach to the Prospect Bridge over North Creek, will likely have plenty of long-stemmed floats bobbing away and resident fish chowing down.

Some of the cane drains along Riverbank Road from South Ballina to Wardell appear to have been left open, so they could become a good source of green weed until the farmers change their minds. You can forget using ocean rock cabbage for fish which have been in the river for some time – they just won’t touch it unless you’re fishing around the sea walls, and mainly then just after a blow when there’s enough of the stuff stirred up from wave action.


Offshore success on those snapper will be predicated on the strength of the westerlies. Most of the local gravel beds are in 30 to 40 metres and it can get quite choppy out there in a small boat once the offshore wind kicks in a little after dawn.

August afternoons are usually calmer so it could pay to get out there from around 3pm and fish through until dark, bar permitting. It’s not a bad time to use squid or cuttlefish baits, or the baby octopus that the trawlers drag up. They seem to come into their own in cooler weather and you can even jig up the odd squid around the kelp beds in calm water.

A whole torpedo squid or occy, secured with a couple of 5/0 suicide hooks snooded to the trace, can tempt the bigger reds, while whole bottle squid, strips of cuttlefish or squid or an occy leg can tempt the smaller fish.

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