Mid-morning north-easters, strong offshore currents and afternoon thunder; big flathead, hungry whiting and eager bass – welcome to November!
Things are starting to shape up reasonably well after a pretty dodgy Spring so far, which has produced unseasonable rain, cool temperatures and wildly fluctuating water temperatures.
If things don’t stabilise this month they never will, and in these times that’s always a possibility. But we can only talk about ‘normal’ seasonal patterns and usually November is quite a productive month and the harbinger of the season ahead.
The flathead have been a bit lethargic and slow to get into a pattern, thanks to the mini-freshes from recurring rain and cold fronts which have dropped the water temperature just when it should have been warming.
Some lizard sessions have turned up bugger all, even on those warm, calm days, while others have turned up some quality fish just where they should have been.
As the warm weather becomes more consistent and the water temperature rises, flatties should move into a better, regular pattern. November is a spawning month so those big females should be moving to the lower reaches to breed, surrounded by smaller attendant male fish.
Those gathering fish for a meal or two should keep their lure or bait sizes reasonably small to avoid attracting the big mamas which are best left to do their thing.
Although large female fish will still be caught occasionally, if you restrict baits to white or frogmouth pilchards and poddy mullet under 10cm, and lures under 10cm, you’ll catch more smaller male flathead.
The dusky flathead has been classified by DPI Fisheries as a ‘fully fished’ species, which means catch rates and recruitment rates are perceived to be about even – for every fish caught recreationally or commercially, another is naturally bred to take its place.
That means we can’t expect to catch more flathead than we are already, and that’s especially so if the big female breeders are removed from the equation.
Unlike their Queensland counterparts, NSW DPI won’t act to ensure all flathead over 70cm must be returned to the water to breed. That’s a pretty dumb stance which means an unscrupulous angler can legally keep one big female fish over 70cm each day, day after day.
You don’t need to be a gun fisho to catch big flathead, just secure a large live bait or lure and the knowledge of where these fish tend to gather over the season – common knowledge around most estuaries.
So a handful of people who fish to satisfy the demands of their egos or their black-market clientele can decimate the breeding population of flathead in an estuary within a few weeks. Keep that up for a few seasons and the local population can drop markedly.
Off the soap box and onto the whiting, which have already been caught in promising numbers in all lower estuaries.
Numbers are increasing daily as the water warms and those using poppers or the more traditional live worms should enjoy the next few months.
The shallow flats of the Richmond and North Creek at Ballina and almost the entire Evans and Brunswick rivers should hold plenty of whiting and be happy hunting grounds for popper casters.
There are always abundant undersize whiting in the shallows although fish well above legal (27cm) seem to be the main popper chasers.
Use worm or yabby baits in the same shallows and you’ll be plagued by fish not much bigger than the lures the popping brigade are casting, and those expensive worms often won’t last long enough for you to catch a feed.
A move to deeper running flats in, say, 4m of water, or around the deeper edges of drop-offs with tidal flow will be far more productive for bait anglers.
There’ll also be some good catches of whiting from the beaches, where beach worms are almost mandatory, although the odd 6” Gulp Sandworm can be effective.
This time last year we were still catching salmon off the beaches so don’t be surprised if your worm is sucked in by a couple of kilos of the Mother of All Whiting, one of those lingering southern visitors.
The salmon stayed until the East Australian Current nudged right to the shore in December 2007, carrying them home.
The current usually runs very hard offshore this month, making low-drag braided lines a necessity for trips any wider than about 40m.
The leatherjacket season hereabouts was mercifully brief, leaving snapper moving offshore after spawning the major targets.
This is also a good month to jig the wider pinnacles and drop-offs for kings, pearl perch and amberjacks although that current can play a few tricks. If it’s running evenly from top to bottom the jigging brigade can have plenty of fun on the drift but if there’s a surface current and cold water moving at a different rate underneath, control of the line and the boat drift can become a nightmare worth avoiding.
Trag can come on in decent numbers on the shallower pinnacles, especially at night, although they also seem to occasionally come on the bite just as the morning north-easter kicks in.
The sea breeze tends to be at its strongest this month, leading to some hairy, wet trips home from the wider reefs. Add a bit of swell and a falling tide and the bar can really mush up badly so take extra care.
As the land warms up there can be some very vigorous afternoon storms so they’re another point of caution.
Those oncoming storms can elevate the bass activity to literally electrifying levels, with fish chopping everywhere as insects, especially termites, hatch, fly off and land on the water. It can be a scary time to be on the river, with multiple fish luring the angler to stay on the water long after it’s safe to be there.
Being in a boat bristling with graphite rods and with tall trees along the banks is no place to be with a big, flashy storm bearing down. And if the lightning doesn’t get you, the hailstones might!