Macleay slows to a trickle
  |  First Published: September 2004

LAST MONTH’S weather was a shocker, with howling winds, huge seas and, even worse, no rainfall of any note.

Much of the North Coast is a dry as dust and few things would be more welcome right now than a decent downpour. Perhaps not a flood, a steady soaking with around 150mm over a week or so.

To give you some idea how little rainfall we’ve had, here are some interesting statistics regarding the flow of the mighty Macleay River. Last January the Macleay was running around 6470 million litres per day. In March, it was 5917ML per day, in April it was down to 470ML, 269ML in May and by June it was a paltry 181ML per day!

Basically, the river has stopped flowing and if the drought continues we may see a return of the extreme measures of the early ‘90s, when the Macleay was literally damned with river rocks at Belgrave Falls and the last trickles were siphoned by a convoy of trucks with water tanks.

They say, ‘drought on the land, drought on the water’ and this has rung true over the past few months. The usually very productive Winter fishery of bass, bream, blackfish and mulloway slowed to an absolute trickle by usual standards.

Wise anglers have been heading up-river following the bait and returning home with reasonable catches. It’s interesting that the water around Smithtown still has some colour and is holding good supplies of bait and reasonable numbers of bream, flathead and school jewfish.

From the river mouth virtually all the way to Smithtown, the water is nearly gin-clear and most fish within these bounds are playing hardball, biting freely only at night.

Just a few kilometres above Smithtown the water loses it remnant colour and runs clear as tap water again and, surprise, surprise, the fish are bloody hard to tempt – particularly with lures.

It’s difficult, frustrating fishing in the Macleay and anyone whose methods consistently pull good bags of fish during daylight hours is well worth investigating.

Out to sea things are certainly better, with a decent run of tailor along the headlands keeping many inshore boat and rock anglers happy. Most prominent rocky outcrops have been housing good numbers of fish from 800g to 1.2kg with a sprinkling of bigger fish. The bigger fish are falling at sunrise or sunset so if you like your tailor with some size, hit the water early or late.

Those heading north in for reds are doing it a little tough but most days there are a few fish for the persistent. Last moon – particularly during the build-up to full – the snapper put in a pretty good show with fish up to 7.5kg coming in.


Most of the action seems heat up as the sun gets ready set. While I’m not the biggest fan of afternoon ocean fishing, mainly due to the flogging I get in my little tinnie, snapper definitely seem more keen to play as the sun fades away. As a mate once said to me, “At least with afternoon fishing you know when you’re going home.”

Down south at places like Fish Rock and Black Rock, kingfish still are fairly thin compared to normal. There are always a few residents to play with and you should find a few if you use live yellowtail close to the bottom. It’s a good idea to keep the measuring stick handy; it’s surprising how many kings are 59cm instead of the legal 60cm.

As for bigger kingfish, your guess is as good as mine. There simply hasn’t been any number of sizable fish for months. Late Winter is usually prime time for kings over 10kg but lately you’d be more than happy with a 5kg model. Hopefully, kingfish numbers and size will increase as weeks go by and we start to get a few of those 20kg to 30kg beasts as in the past seasons.

Many anglers have been heading wide, fishing the productive reefs on the 60-fathom line. In many ports it’s a long haul, anywhere up to 30km, but here it’s only a 12km run from Trial Bay. Most of the deep areas north and south are similar distances, so it’s not a drama as long as the weather behaves.

To fish the deeper reefs you’re basically looking at drifting with heavily weighted baits like squid or occy for kingfish, bar cod, snapper, pearl perch, etc.


While many anglers still use conventional monofilament out wide to good effect, it’s a very detached, labour-intensive method compared with using braided lines which can dramatically cut down on current drag and the weight to get the baits down.

Reduced lead and the super-sensitivity of braid, equates to amazing feel and sensitivity. If you haven’t tried braid for deep-water bottom-bashing, give it a go; I’m sure you’ll never use mono again out wide. An ideal choice would be 20lb Berkley Fireline – it’s thin as a hair and has a breaking strain around 32lb.

As I type these final sentences the TV weather map shows cloudless skies dominated by a slow-moving high-pressure system, ensuring virtually no chance of rain…

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