THE OLDER I get and the hotter the local Summers seem to have become, the more I like the fishing this month.
The mornings and evenings are normally fairly brisk but they lead to plenty of mild, calm sunny days with the prospect of some of the best fishing you’re likely to experience in the region, whether you work the estuaries, the rocks, the beaches or offshore.
The shortening daylight during the run-up to the Winter solstice acts as a massive trigger to just about every living thing and most popular fish quarries really get about their business now. Spawning and migration runs abound, with ocean-spawning fish such as bream, mullet and blackfish schooling near the river entrances and close to the surf line all along the coast. Shoals of pilchards of all sizes also take advantage of the calmer conditions to get together in nervous masses and avoid the marauding predators, chiefly tailor and the tunas.
With so much concentration of fish life within easy reach, it’s a great time to experience real success on just about anything you’d like to catch. And while those early-morning forays are critical for the tailor, tuna and other predators, there’s plenty of great fishing available in banker’s hours this month.
While some locals have been enjoying a run of quality tailor for some months, especially those working the headlands and beach gutters from Ballina north to Brunswick Heads, these fish should become more widespread now. The tailor have been a bit hit-and-miss around Evans and south to Jerusalem Creek and sadly I’ve missed more often than not lately, but pick a nice high tide around first light and the odds become stacked in your favour.
I haven’t seen a great lot of bait schools locally of late, or running mullet, but that’s bound to change and the predators will no doubt be close behind. The ocean along the Evans coast has been a bit green, cold and lifeless, thanks to upwellings that have persisted longer than usual this season. The same vigorous warm current that has swept along the coast from Brunswick to Lennox Head, leading to those great catches of tailor, big Spaniards, wahoo and spotties, seems to have veered away farther south and the resultant eddy has sucked up cooler bottom water.
Consequently the mackerel season off the coast here has been very sporadic and many offshore anglers are now turning to snapper, which should begin their pre-spawning schooling any day. That doesn’t mean we won’t get a final hurrah on the spotties this month, or a show of big Spaniards shadowing the mullet along the beaches.
You just have to keep an eye on the ocean currents through such internet pages as the Manly Hydraulics Lab’s http://marlin.mhl.nsw.gov.au/data/csiroday.htmlx or www.marine.csiro.au/remotesensing/oceancurrents/SE/latest.html. The latter page is only experimental data but it’s a great help in supplying ocean current direction and speed vectors, as well as some fascinating graphic data on how the surface of the ocean deviates above and below mean sea level. Water temperature and current variations can lead to some pretty amazing bumps and dips in the ocean’s surface – it’s well worth checking out.
The beaches fish very well this month for bream, tailor and jewfish. While the choppers and jew are better in that half-light at opposite ends of the day, bream can be targeted right through in gutters, beach holes and even in shallow potholes in the shore break only a metre or so deep.
Check the shore break for giveaway signs such as the crushed shells of pipis, sand snails and volutes. Quite often you’ll see shells of even a couple of millimetres thickness with great chunks bitten out of them by hungry bream – a good place to lay out a bait of pipi or worm. Stingrays tend to fracture the shells into pieces in their plate-like jaws while the bream appear to just bite out a chunk with those strong teeth. Some places you’re likely to encounter shell-feeding bream include Airforce and Broadwater beaches at Evans Head, Patchs Beach south of the Richmond, Angels Beach and flat Rock north of Ballina, Seven Mile and Tallow beaches between Lennox Head and Cape Byron, and Tyagarah and New Brighton beaches around the Brunswick.
But beach bream, ever-appreciative of a diet change, are also suckers for flesh baits this month. You should carry some mullet strips, yellowtail or slimy mackerel fillets or strips of salted tuna deployed on suicide or baitholder hooks around 1/0. Bigger strips of mullet or tuna on bigger hooks (4/0 to 6/0) will also tempt jewfish and tailor after dark, especially at moonrise or when the moon is directly overhead.
In the estuaries the bream will definitely be on the chew, with the lure-chuckers flinging out whatever plastic is flavour of the month during the day and the bait experts doing their thing at night. Night breaming is a very tactile affair, with chilled fingers ready to detect the faintest of runs through the light (3kg to 6kg) line essential for allowing a bait with minimal weight to waft around on the inky tide. Mullet gut or strips, salted tuna and live yabbies are the pick of the night baits due to their strong aromas.
Prime spots for after-dark bream include the Little Wall and the Bream Hole at Evans, just about anywhere along the rock walls from Fishery Creek to Missingham Bridge for Ballina land-based, the Ballina Bream Hole off the swimming pool and along the Porpoise Wall for boaties, and anywhere from the bar to the boat harbour in the Brunswick. You can also add the Boat Channel at Lennox to this list as it’s mostly calm-water fishing on the higher tides after dark there.
The trick with night breaming is to keep in touch with your bait while allowing no resistance to its movement on the tide. A shy bream will pick up the bait and drop it if it feels resistance so allow a biting fish to take a couple of metres of line unhindered before setting the hook by winding quickly and smartly raising the rod tip.
While baitrunner-style threadlines with the bait drag set ultra-fine will do the job, you’ll find that an index finger, however cold, will have more sensitivity and a threadline of any sort with the bail arm left open will be far more sensitive to the fish’s run – and the tide’s.
With an Alvey you can slide line off the spool once you get a run by crooking your finger about 15cm away from the centre of the spool and just paying the line through it until you’re ready to strike, whereupon you guide the line back to the forward end of the spool and set the hook.
With so many fish around at the moment, it’s wise to be mindful of the bag and size limits. It’s probably one of the rare times of the year that the Average Joe can approach a bag limit so remember, it’s 20 bream longer than 25cm, 20 tailor over 30cm, 10 snapper over 30cm and a total of five jewfish over 45cm, only two of which can be over 70cm.
We’ll also see estuary perch and bass in the lower rivers this month as they come down to spawn. You are allowed by law to keep two, with only one to be over 35cm, but why not let ’em all go – they need all the help they can get.
That’s especially so since Toonumbar Dam, at awfully low levels over the past few years, filled up in March and then in early May turned over and killed 3000 to 4000 bass and catfish as the water turned sour. The local regulars reckon some of the bigger fish which were down near the dam wall may have escaped the disaster but the loss of that many fish is a cruel blow indeed.Reads: 1515