Dodging wet bullets
  |  First Published: April 2009

The Richmond area has been dodging big wet bullets so far this year, with a number of powerful east coast low-pressure systems forming just south, or dashing past without leaving the sort of major flooding that kills so many fish every time it happens these days.

We’ve only to keep crossing fingers, toes and whatever else for another month or so and we’ll be set up for a fantastic Winter season.

There’s been enough of a consistent fresh in the river to add plenty of colour and push many species down towards the mouth but ‘Ol’ Muddy’ hasn’t turned upside down or, mercifully, kicked up its toes – yet.

The ocean this month should linger around 26°, just the right temperature for a ton of pelagics and some northern bottom fish to join in the fun with the local snapper, trag, kingies and jew.

The further you get from the discoloured water coming from the river mouth, the more likely you are to encounter a few mackerel.

There have been some interesting showings of Spaniards to a very healthy 20kg and there’s the promise of more this month, especially close to shore, although the spotty season to date has been one which most people would add to the growing pile labelled ‘forgettable’.

However, April-May usually provides the most hope, especially when the schools of small slimy mackerel hang on the close reefs in big numbers.

The spotties, which have been feeding further south, tend to gather at a couple of staging points near Ballina and Evans Head and can linger there from days to weeks, depending on the conditions. Last year it was about 10 golden days when spots up to 9kg were thick and often hungry, but then down came another low and they were gone.

Live slimies accounted for most fish, with most crews preferring to anchor and berley although trolled bridle-rigged baits carrying tail stinger hooks also perform.

The clearer and calmer the water, the more wary and finicky the spots can be.

It can get awfully frustrating to see four or five big spots circling your live slimy until the poor critter dies of shock, and then the culprits leisurely swim away.

Equally frustrating is watching these fish work up your berley trail of pilchard chunks, inhaling every piece apart from the ones with hooks in them.

Long drop-backs, fine lines and short lengths of slender wire are about the only ways to increase the odds on those days but, thankfully, when there’s a bit of chop and greener water these fun fish aren’t quite so challenging.


Closer to shore, the longtail tuna have already shown up in reasonable numbers and there are sure to be plenty kicking about in the lead-up to Easter.

If you ever wanted to pin a longtail in these parts, then the seven days leading up to the Easter full moon is about as near as you can get to a sure thing.

Set up shop at land-based venues like either seawall at Brunswick Heads, the South Wall or Skennars Head at Ballina or Goanna Headland or Snapper Rock at Evans Head. Be sure to arm yourself with the appropriate heavy spin and live-bait tackle and sooner or later, a pod of longtails will bust up within range.

You can raise the odds by anchoring your boat over the close reefs which abound just off New Brighton, Lennox Head, the Riordans complex south of Ballina, and from Evans Head to Iluka.

So far longtails to about 20kg have been dining heavily on garfish and have played havoc on some rather extensive schools of white pilchards.

Longtails of the size we normally see here are quite poor candidates for catch and release; they’re usually somewhere close to death by the time they’re landed and they’re fragile fish at the best of times.

So be extra careful when handling longtails destined for release. Don’t drop them on the deck, for instance, because they’ll probably start bleeding and then if you do release them they’re likely to end up as little more than shark poop.

Some of those Spanish mackerel that have been hanging around should also move closer to shore this month, especially after we get a bit of a westerly and the mullet make their run.

These ‘beachcomber’ Spaniards tend to follow the schools of mullet and tailor almost as closely as the jewfish and sharks, so no doubt there’ll be plenty of stories from beach anglers about seeing 2m mackerel launching themselves into the air from just beyond the breakers.

Already the shore break is full of quite dense schools of hard-gut mullet and any bullies that remain in the rivers after the fresh will certainly join them at sea late this month or early in May.

With the bream also kicking into spawn mode, flatties, whiting, trevally and jacks still around, this month probably provides the best of the most – enjoy.

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