If it has fins and gills, it’s here
  |  First Published: March 2009

What you can’t catch around here over the next month or so doesn’t have fins or gills – and certainly can’t swim.

March marks the start of those crossover months when the ocean water is still tropically warm, while the landmass is gradually cooling towards Winter so a huge variety of fish can be caught on the right day.

On those days when the wind blows moist and onshore – usually when there’s either a high-pressure cell down around Tassie or we have a low-pressure cell in the Coral Sea – there’s usually at least a little rain, if not a great deluge.

We’ve been pretty lucky so far this year, with none of the fish-killing floods that struck during 2008, but there’s still plenty of time.

One of the things that’s been keeping our stretch of coast relatively dry is the persistent cool eddy from about Lennox Head south to Yamba that’s been stopping us having much fun on billfish and mackerel. It has to break up this month and give us a fair crack at these fish.

The worrying thing is that when the warm water does come in big-time, when those onshore winds persist the air will be even heavier with moisture so we’ll get more rain. If it rains too much, the rivers will run dirty and drive the tropical pelagics farther offshore – it’s a vicious circle.

In the best of all possible worlds we should start getting westerlies that drive cooler air over the warm ocean, resulting in gorgeous, fish-filled days inshore and some crazy offshore night storms with waterspouts and lightning galore.

Of course, we have the Autumn equinox later this month as well, with nights becoming longer than days to accelerate the rush to Winter and more chance of cooler land winds.

With all that happening above the water, there’s plenty of action down below, whether it’s in the ocean, off the beaches, breakwalls and rocks or up the rivers.


Jewfish, particularly schoolies, have been prominent for a few months now and will continue so regardless of the weather.

If the rain stays away, schoolies should continue to be caught in the Richmond as far upstream as Woodburn.

It’s a matter of how saline the water is in these places, so just check the clarity as a guide and you can also do the taste test for salt. Remember, though, that fresh water ‘floats’ on top of salt so that even if it’s brackish on top, it’ll be salty underneath.

Live herring or live prawns in the deeper holes, especially those hosting some bait, will usually bring school jew undone, especially around a tide change. Time one around dawn or dusk and you can double your chances.

There are a couple of different schools of thought on retrieve styles for soft plastics for school jew and each has its followers.

Some seem to go for a twitchy retrieve, staying close to or on the bottom. Others prefer a more subdued series of gentle sweeps of the rod to raise the lure a couple of metres off the bottom and slowly drop back down without ever actually contacting the bottom. These guys also avoid ‘twanging’ the braid taut, maintaining that the noise puts off the fish.

Both sets of believers, however, avoid slack line at all times so that the often subtle jewie bites can be detected. You don’t have much reaction time if you want to hook up.

It’s a different matter off the beaches and rocks, where there have also been some respectable numbers of fish and sometimes jew of more respectable size.

It’s more a matter of getting a plastic or hardbody into the right water at the right time and when there’s plenty of whitewater and rolling swells to contend with, the subtleties of retrieve are out the window – just keep it in the strike zone with a couple of flicks and minimal slack.


Whiting in the Richmond this season haven’t been as prevalent as a lot of people would have liked.

There have been some reasonable catches but the bag-limit hauls of quality fish normally available in the lower reaches have been hard to come by at times.

The worm-soakers have done OK around the high spring tides but cricket scores haven’t been widespread and some of the popper sessions have failed to locate anything other than flathead and bream.

Bream have been caught as far up-river as Coraki but after the equinox we can expect them to start working back downstream in preparation for spawning – unless a fresh or flood gives them an express ride in the meantime.

The abundant mullet will also form loose shoals this month and head downstream in preparation for their spawning run late next month.

There have been a few mangrove jacks caught from the structure-filled Richmond around Ballina and the odd fish from the Brunswick and Evans rivers. The sight of my mate’s popper being smashed in a flurry of red a couple of metres from the boat was a highlight of one of my recent trips – pity the fish didn’t hook up, it looked quite big.

There have been some reasonable whiting on the beaches between Ballina and Evans Head and also some good fish along Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head, so there’s hope that some of these will feel like visiting the rivers at some stage.

Already there are plenty of hard-gut mullet in the beach shore breaks, so there’s the promise of a decent jewfish hunting somewhere in the surf, especially after dark.

The surf along the rocks and beaches will start to come into its own this month, with more tailor belting into the bait schools and dart abundant, along with increasing numbers of bream and whiting.

The next few months provide the best mixed-species beach action you can experience anywhere – get out there and enjoy it.

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