Set up well for good times
  |  First Published: December 2004

Everything looks set for a fish-filled holiday season, with the East Coast Current already working nicely and a typical early Summer pattern starting to form.

The rain arrived in time for the Lismore Show, as usual, although the unseasonable low-pressure cell that drenched the coast further south formed due east of here and local rainfall was significantly less than elsewhere. The north-easters have hit their straps, with a strong breeze springing up by lunchtime most days, and afternoon storms are becoming more common.

Warm patches of water have been hitting the coast regularly and the sea temperature should generally elevate throughout this month. However, at least around Evans Head and possibly as far as Ballina or Lennox Head, we can expect to see the local annual cold upwelling take over for a while in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

From what I can gather, the upwelling seems to be a result of the East Coast Current running hard against Cape Byron and swirling off eastwards. The whole thing mostly lasts only a few weeks but it’s certainly noticeable for anyone who dips even a toe in the water.

With green, murky water sometimes as low as 18°, this event can put a nippy dampener on a day at the beach but the nutrients it brings set up the inshore ecosystem for the next few months. Increased plankton levels help feed the baitfish and this chill seems to give the fishing a kick-start.

As the upwelling breaks down and the warm current takes over, we could get an early run of tropical pelagics like billfish, mahi mahi and mackerel, particularly after a few days of south-easterly weather pushes the blue current closer to shore.

With just enough rain to retain some colour in the rivers, estuary fishing has been pretty good. The oceanic water pushing in on the tides has produced clear conditions around Ballina but you don’t have to venture far upstream to find the bait and the fish.

School jew seem to be permanent residents around the Porpoise Wall and in the depths near the RSL club, with live herring or mullet, fresh squid from the trawlers and increasing numbers of soft plastics all taking their share. You’d better get in early if you’re planning a night session fishing the edge of the pool of light cast by the RSL – there can be up to a dozen boats carrying like-minded anglers trying their luck there, especially on the turn of the tide after dark.

But there’s plenty to keep most anglers entertained from Burns Point to Pimlico or Wardell.


Whiting have come on well with some encouraging catches of quality fish to around 40cm on the deep running flats around Pimlico. The best sessions have come on the bigger tides around the full and new moons and bloodworms appear to be the compulsory bait, although you will catch a few with live beach worms or yabbies.

A fair bit of lead is needed to anchor the bait in the solid run but a long trace helps to add that movement to the bait that attracts whiting so well.

Shore-based whiting hunters can also try the same techniques at Riverview Park and Faulks Reserve, where the fishing is very comfy if you take your deckchair, umbrella, a rod holder and maybe some tucker for a barbie or picnic. Or you can try out along the sandflats near the sailing club, where the occasional elbow-slapper whiting is caught along with many smaller versions. You can also pump yabbies there.

Those school jew have been taken in the Richmond in the deeper holes all the way to Woodburn. Just look for water over about five metres and the more bait there is, the better chance you have, especially around the turn of the tide. Herrings are schooling up nicely and there are also plenty of schools of whitebait and mullet.

Big flathead also tend to hang below such bait schools and there have been some fair lengths of lizards encountered over the past month or so. Depending on their luck, these big females have either been caught and released to breed again or have ended up as stringy fillets in some ego-tripping trophy-hunter’s freezer.

Trevally – GTs and big-eye – have also been hammering these bait schools, raising hell from one side of the river to the other within a few seconds. Anyone who has fished the tropics will know the futility of chasing busting GTs as they speed about the place. You stand a better chance sitting on the bait and waiting for them to come to you than burning fuel up and down the river.

While there are certainly plenty of small GTs around – and some in the unstoppable class on light gear – it’s best to catch and release these fish. They’re not great tucker and they’re so much fun that it seems a pity to kill them. Besides, with good whiting, jew and flathead around the place, why settle for at best a pretty ordinary feed?

I had my first jack attack of the season the other day, too – two seconds of unmistakably blistering red malice around a bridge pylon that left me with shaking hands and a leader tied to only the eye of a jig hook that was no longer attached to a jig. That’s a new way of losing a jack and leads me to fear the damn things might be growing side-cutters for teeth these days!.

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