While most writers in these pages are excited about the warm ocean lapping the shores at this time of year, I’m confidently predicting that the inshore water from about Lennox Head south past Evans Head will actually get colder this month.
As the East Australian Current kicks right into gear and bath-warm water spills out of Moreton Bay to join it, the tide off Cape Byron starts to run strongly and curl off into an eddy. It’s a mistake to think that the EAC is just a steady stream running along the NSW coast; it’s really a chain of clockwise eddies that are sometimes closer to shore, sometimes farther away.
As the continent’s most easterly point, Cape Byron frequently diverts the current east and around the Summer solstice, an upwelling of cooler water – sometimes down to 18° – occurs from Ballina to Evans Head. Depending on winds, this cooler water may hang around until late January, although a few days of southerlies help push the warm stuff back in.
All this means December anglers must make the most of the warm water while it’s here. There will be baby black marlin, mahi mahi, striped tuna and mackerel but they won’t be consistently accessible to the average trailer boat angler until the holiday season is almost over. But on the right day, particularly earlier in the month, they’ll be there.
There’s often an early run of mostly small spotted mackerel that comes within range for a few days in early December but the average offshore catch around Christmas usually comprises squire, trag, reef jewfish on the full and new moon and a smattering of mack tuna, cobia and kings.
Out wider there are more kings, pearl perch and more likelihood of encountering regular billfish and tuna.
The good news about the cool upwelling is that it will bring nutrients that boost the lower end of the food chain, including the baitfish schools that linger once the water does warm consistently.
Most of the beaches should fish fairly well for whiting and dart, with schools of Christmas chopper tailor also figuring strongly. With the sea breezes picking up mid-morning, it pays to do most of your fishing from crack of dawn onwards but if you can score the odd evening when the nor’-easter isn’t howling it’s also a good time to hit the beach.
Worms might be the best bait on the beaches for everything except the tailor but a bucket of live yabbies is worth its weight in gold after dark for just about anything that swims on the beach.
The rivers already have plenty of tropical visitors with mangrove jacks wreaking terror around Ballina and GTs, bigeye trevally and other trevor species already way past Woodburn. GTs over 5kg have made soft plastics or bait sessions on mid-Richmond school jew and flathead havoc-filled events and there are a few GTs that are unstoppable on light tackle.
Whiting are hitting their straps in the Richmond with all the usual haunts producing fish to 500g if you have a supply of blood or tube worms. As the holiday season really kicks in after Christmas you may well have to pre-order some from the local bait shops. Beach worms and yabbies are pretty ordinary in comparison.
Try for whiting in the Evans River and at Ballina, North Creek, the spit near the sailing club, Riverview Park, Faulks Reserve and the deep running flats up to Pimlico Island.
These fish bite best on the big morning tides around the full and new moon and you’ll need a fair lump of a sinker to keep the bait close to the bottom in the strong run.
There should still be plenty of big flathead mooching around the bases of the rock walls from Ballina up to Wardell, although they are also moving onto the edges of the flats and around the remaining seagrass patches.
Many big fish that have finished their Spring spawn are moving well upstream to follow the bait schools and the school prawns, which are growing out nicely.
Smaller school flatties should be available from about Pimlico to Woodburn, although if we get any prolonged wet weather they’ll head downstream.
Clear water could be a problem in the lower estuaries and if it’s crystal-clear you’ll be battling to catch much. It’s best to head upstream until you find visibility of less than about two metres – that’s where the fish will be.Reads: 427