The Macleay hots up
  |  First Published: November 2003

THE EARLY SEASON heat seems to have stirred up classic Summer species like flathead and bass in the Macleay River.

While it’s possible to catch both these critters year-round, it’s the onset of warm weather or, more importantly, warm water, that sees them really fire up. But more on that later, first let’s look at what’s been happening out to sea.

I haven’t been out all that much over the past few months, but I know there are some ripper snapper coming off the northern reefs such as those off Grassy, Middle and Scotts heads. Most of the action is taking place in depths from 30 metres to 45 metres. If you’re fishing into the night, those on the close-in mackerel grounds (15 metres to 30 metres) are producing quality reds also. It’s actually one of the best snapper runs we’ve had for a few years, so if you like chasing reds, get yourself up north, send out a berley trail and see what turns up.

Other visitors to hit the northern reefs are mako sharks. Depending on your outlook, they can be good sport, performing wildly on 8kg to 10kg tackle, or a toothy pest ruining a good snapper session. I consider them pests but if you like a good acrobatic tussle, hit the berley pot out in 40 metres and see if they turn up.

Those heading south to Fish Rock and Black Rock have run into a few nice kings, though most are the standard 2kg to 3kg jobs. Bigger baits should find you bigger fish. Try getting some tailor from nearby headlands and slowly troll or drift them around either rock and hang on. Both these places also hold some good snapper. Those in the know usually pull some ripper fish early and late in the day, but care needs to be taken regarding excessive noise, especially at Black Rock, as big reds in shallow water are pretty wary creatures.

I suspect by the time you read this the local FAD and fish-trap buoys will be housing a few mahi mahi. As I write this report the water is lingering around 21° but don’t be too surprised if it’s 23° and full of much welcomed northern speedsters. Usually the first wave of dollies hit the trap buoys out at 60 fathoms, which around here is only 12km from the jail wall. If past records are anything to go by, they should be of a decent size.

The last few years they averaged 4kg to 7kg, with a few 10kg to 18kg fish thrown in. The traps inshore (36 fathoms) usually hold smaller fish in the 1kg to 3kg class but don’t write them off as producing only small fish as I’ve caught dollies to 14kg at The Dot and Rocks In Line. It will be very interesting to see how the new FAD that Fisheries put out goes. It’s in around 36 fathoms and will certainly get good blue water once the current pushes in a tad.

If you like your tailor fishing, this year has been a blinder along the ocean rocks. Most headlands from the jail wall to the lighthouse have housed a few nice fish, with the pick being North Gap and Opera House Rocks. You would think the increase is in part due to the ban on beach hauling of these fine sport fish and I suspect that as each year passes the run will only get better.

The Macleay River, as I mentioned earlier, is producing good numbers of flathead and bass. Add to this reasonable numbers of school jew and bream in the lower reaches and the system is fishing quite well at present.

Most of the flathead have been below 2kg and the schoolies below 5kg with both falling to live yakkas and various soft plastics jigged along the lower walls. I expect a few bigger jew and lizards to kick into gear as we get closer to the full moon and the water warms a tad more.

Farther up-river, the bass are going great guns in the freshwater reaches. Exact locations are not things most bass anglers like to talk openly about, but I will say if you start looking from Kempsey up-river you’re sure to find a few co-operative fish. They’re biting freely on surface lures so take a few poppers, fizzers and bloopers. Those fishing the long wand should take some Dahlbergs and foam poppers.

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