THE FAR North Coast of NSW is a great place to be in winter. The water is cooling down and many of our favourite fish are going into their spawning runs.
The movement of bait schools and mullet, and those further up the food chain, like tailor, bream, jewfish and snapper, coincide and many anglers from southern regions venture north to escape the cold.
Besides great reef fishing, there will be good surf and rock fishing, while in the creeks light rods with small lures provide anglers a way to get amongst some fish.
It has often been thought that in our estuaries winter is best for bream and summer for lizards. It’s not necessarily so, with the best surface fishing for bream occurring during summer, while in winter the flathead get onto the flats and bask in the warmer water and eat shallow-diving lures. This is a very enjoyable, active way to fish and I look forward to it each year.
The area has a number of shallow creeks and broadwaters perfect for this style of fishing. On the Brunswick River, the North and South arms have so much water to explore that you could spend a week fishing these flats. Then there are the small creeks at Pottsville, Hastings Point and Kingscliff. On the Tweed, there are a number of broadwaters and small tidal lakes that afford perfect wading for fly and lure anglers. A small box of flies or lures a light outfit, footwear such as strapped sandals, sunnies and a hat and away you go.
Learning how wind and tide affect an area can be trial and error but you gain confidence with experience. Wading is necessary in these shallow locations. Fish spots such as the edges of weed banks, the edges of foreshores and shallow depressions or gutters. First light can offer bream, small tailor and trevally on small bass flies like poppers or Sliders. Fizzers and more subtle lures in the Slider class such as the Heddon Zara Puppy will entice a fish to strike over a noisier popper presentations.
When the sun gets up, lures or flies that swim between 30cm and a metre are used for exploring the flats. They include lures like the Wonder Wobbler ideal over sand and weed-free areas, small bibbed lures like crawdad and minnow styles and soft plastics which are cheap and can fish deep and shallow.
Imparting a subtle action to the lure will make it more lifelike. The more you can make it act like a fish in distress, the better. Fish as small as a couple of centimetres will attack a lure just as well as an 85cm flathead.
The other great estuary technique this month is among the cracks and ledges along the rock walls throughout the river, including the mouth. If we see a run of big ocean-going silvers bream, it more than likely will be associated with rocky areas. The deep rocks and ledges provide the best haven for them to live in and feed. Well-oxygenated, fast-flowing water generally makes them more efficient fish – faster, bigger and stronger, but not necessarily smarter.
These areas can be better accessed from a boat. From the shore, fish can be enticed with berley. Soft plastics. worked around or just above the structure and dropped down the face put you in the strike zone. This was recently outlined in the QFM article by Simon Goldsmith.
Most of the bigger fish hang deep as the sun gets up. If you have the article it makes reference to the technique and many of the best locations on the Tweed. The best and biggest is the Fingal rock wall, most of which occurs in the recreational fishing area. It provides a haven from netting and a large area to target fish. A boat can work along the walls and fish to the obvious cracks or the backs of any points, from small indents to large boulders.
From the shore, berley can disappear quickly so it pays to encourage fish to feed closer. Casting a little wider upstream and drift-fishing a jig downstream with rod held high and the jig lightly bounced across the rocks is a great way to target bream. Jigs are designed to ride hook-up and if you select the right weight, you should be able to work it without too many snags.
Sessions fishing the flats and cracks can mean casting and looking for the subtle influences that may bring a strike. Most exponents will tell you it’s not the size of the fish but the experience.