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Fish are back on the job
  |  First Published: February 2009



Suddenly the holiday hordes disappear, the kids head back to school and the fishing improves out of sight.

In times gone by you could rely on the spotted mackerel to turn up in numbers off Evans Head and down off Riordans Reef, south of Ballina, within days of school starting. After about a decade of atypical conditions, this season has a familiar feel to it somehow.

Although the warm current has been lapping Cape Byron and funnelling into Shark Bay at Woody Head for over a month, the coastal waters in between typically take time to feel its effects but this month the current should be all-pervasive.

That means the fish will be where the bait schools are. Most baitfish are likely to be slimy mackerel, anchovies and, if we’re lucky, sea gar. So find these and you’ll also find spotted and Spanish mackerel, longtail and mackerel tuna and even the odd patch of yellowfin or a mahi mahi or baby black marlin.

The normal bottom fish like snapper and teraglin will be supplemented by a smattering of northern species like yellow and red-throat sweetlip, moses perch, maori cod and even the odd coral trout.

So if you’re following conventional local wisdom by anchoring and fishing live bait under a float on the surface, it’ll pay to also have a cut bait or a pilchard downstairs to pick up some luxury items for the dinner plate.

You’ll often find the entire mackerel fleet of up to 60 mostly rec boats in an area not much bigger than about two football fields. They’ll each be anchored with a few livies floated away down-current and every now and then a few mackerel come through and all hell breaks loose for a few minutes.

However, you can be a bit more proactive and cover more productive water by slowly drifting while flicking out a few chunks of berley, having a couple of livies under floats to windward and covering the water column with soft plastics cast to leeward of your drift.

It also pays to have a spinning rod with a metal slug handy so at a moment’s notice you can pelt out a cast towards any surface bust-ups. The result can be a smashing hit from a mackerel or tuna and then the burning, reel-screaming run that everyone loves so much.

It pays to allow the lure to sink for a few seconds before starting to crank the metal back as fast as you possibly can. It doesn’t hurt to stop the lure dead half-way through the retrieve and let it sink again before resuming a fast retrieve – and you also get a little rest!

Other fishos opt to slowly troll a bridle-rigged live slimy mackerel or small pike with a small treble or a single hook rigged as a stinger. You also get to cover a bit more territory this way and can pinpoint prime areas such as reef or headland points, current breaks and the like.

This should also be a better month for tailor on the beaches, thanks to those bait schools.

Some quality greenbacks work the outer banks and venture into the gutters at dusk and dawn and can also mix it with the mackerel off the headlands and bommies at times.

Jewfish also take advantage of the extra bait and can be caught in good numbers and sizes from the local headlands and beach gutters.

JACKS, GTs

In the rivers, mangrove jacks and marauding trevally are just about at their peak, especially on those stiflingly still, humid pre-dawns when you can hear the sandflies tuning up for the morning.

In that sort of heavy atmosphere it doesn’t usually take long for some hot action, it’s just a matter of holding onto the fish when it happens. With a jack it can be a matter of seconds before the battle is lost or won, though with a trevally the searing runs can be controlled with judicious use of the boat on electric or, better still, petrol power.

The action can be all too brief as the sun puts a dampener on things but the occasional overcast morning can prolong the fun a little longer.

Bream and flathead then become more traditional targets and there have been a few reasonable catches of both from the middle reaches of the Richmond.

No discussion of February fishing on the NSW Northern Rivers is complete without mention of heavy rain: With warm water just off the coast it doesn’t take much in the way of onshore winds to produce precipitation, often way more than anyone needs.

If you’re planning a holiday here this month, bring a good raincoat, preferably a breathable one to lower the humidity, and be prepared for some wet-weather options.

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