Floodgates sour the river
  |  First Published: April 2009

Anglers on the Mid North Coast are lucky indeed. We live in a very pretty part of the coast, usually have good weather and have some terrific fishing options, ranging from exciting blue water to challenging estuary fishing.

But it’s not all roses. The horrible land management practice of installing floodgates on agricultural drains is a major blight on our beautiful area and a deadly and archaic water management system that continues to decimate fish stocks every time we get a decent fall of rain.

The recent floods have fired up these old killing machines.

After 500mm-plus of rain in four days, everyone was greatly relieved to see the rain stop and the skies clear.

The following days of bright sunshine were just what the locals needed – and just in time, too, because the river was just about to burst its banks.

But behind the dozen or so walls of death lay millions of litres of runoff backed up as the gates were closed during the heavy rain.

And then, under the belting sun, all that water heated up like soup and killed the inundated grassland and the multiplying bacteria suck all the oxygen out of the water.

Right when it smells the worst and has nearly destroyed the farmland that the stupid gates are supposed to be helping, this awful mess is released into the river.

Basically, any fish below the floodgates either has to move quickly or simply perishes through lack of oxygen.

The fish kill that followed the late February inundation was again needless and again makes me wonder why these gates even exist.

It’s a saddening sight watching hundreds of fish suffocating in front of you. Bream, mullet, bass and some big whiting and flathead were all gasping their last breaths as I stood on the Belmore River bank, fuming at the senseless waste.

My 20 minutes on the bank gave only a tiny snapshot of the death and destruction that was taking place.

Kinchela and Clybucca Creeks, equally as bad as Belmore, were exactly the same, with thousands of fish dead or slowly dying over a period of days before being swept out to sea and onto the local beaches.

I won’t pretend to understand exactly how floodgates work or how they’re supposedly good for the land, but what I do know is they equate to serious fish kills each and every time we get a decent amount rain.

Every angler in town is just as amazed as I am and would dearly love to see a day when these horrible floodgates are either removed or seriously modified so they do not spell disaster for the fish every time we get a good dumping of rain.

Heavy rain and subsequent flooding used to good news for our coastal rivers. There was always great fishing at the mouth and the estuaries all got a good flush-out, removing excessive weed, siltation and rotted bankside timber.

Floods were good things with all the river systems thriving afterwards. Now, floods equal serious fish kills on any river or lake with floodgates.

Hopefully the powers to be will look into these disastrous gates and either remove, heavily modify or simply open them before the backed-up water become toxic to marine life.


On a happier note, those heading out to sea have had better luck finding some good kingfish and snapper at Fish Rock and Black Rock.

It seems heading south or straight out are really the only options; those going north have really struggled, with the horrible river water sweeping up the coast on the run-out tides.

Eventually it will clear and, hopefully, the mackerel and snapper will return, but those heading up the coast over recent weeks have reported little reward for their effort.

By the time you read this things may have changed and if the water is clean, there may be a few quality fish.

Fishos plumbing the depths are pulling some good fish. Bar cod and kings are the main players on the 100-fathom reefs, and blue-eye trevalla and hapuka are on the cards in the depths of the Scotts Head or South West Rocks canyons.

Big reels (preferably electric!) are the choice of those keen on bombing the abyss, with tough baits of squid or occy the first choice. Big knife-style jigs are popular for the fit and young.


Beach and rock fishing has been very good lately, with many fish pushed out of the river now residing around the stones or the sand.

There are good numbers of bream, mullet and whiting on Smoky Beach and bream, mullet and tailor on the headlands south of Trial Bay.

With luck, things will be nice and clear by the time you read this, because Autumn is a great time for fishing around this way. Kings, wahoo, cobia, mackerel and marlin are usually hot to trot out to sea and bream, bass, whiting and jewfish very reliable in the river.

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