Beach, reef, river fire up
  |  First Published: April 2009

I’m looking forward more than usual to May – I’ll be taking some holidays and sticking around to take advantage of what should be some great fishing.

It’s been a while since I had a full month fishing around Evans head without other serious commitments and I think I’ve picked a good time to do it.

People from further south mightn’t reckon it gets cold around here but June and July certainly can, while May represents the last of Autumn’s comparative warmth.

May marks the last of the Autumn transition period; by the middle of next month the current will be running uphill and cold with the first of the humpback whales, the Australasian gannets fly in from New Zealand on the southerly gales and the Victorian and South Australian grey nomads settle into the local caravan parks.

But in the meantime the ocean is warm enough to retain a few nice mackerel among the increasing numbers of snapper, the tailor really kick into gear and the bream and blackfish stack the lower estuaries.

It’s a damn fine time to be casting a lure or soaking a bait and with a smattering of luck, the weather should be a lot more stable than March and April were.


We always seem to cop a hammering over Easter in this part of the world, with some brilliant weather mixed in with appalling stuff. That’s typical of an Autumn weekend entailing a full moon, as Easter is by its very nature – the Sunday after the full moon following the equinox, according to the liturgical calendar.

This year seems to have excelled, with the traditional blend of calm, blue days quickly followed by easterly gales, massive seas and deluges which seemed like they’d never stop.

The ‘Easter’ weather seemed to run for weeks, with the beaches taking a battering. Day upon day of big swells hacked away at the dunes until they were undercut, with vertical banks up to a couple of metres high in places.

So the prospect of some more nice westerlies this month to smooth out the surf and settle the ocean will be most welcome.

The westerlies will also get the mullet running along the beaches and the bream gathering in the lower estuaries.

After the rain we’ve had, these fish will have no choice – there’s been a strong fresh surge down from the headwaters, which is quite a shame, really.

The middle reaches were just starting to pick up very well for bream, small school jew and a nice blend of small GTs and big-eye trevally.

It’s a shame because these middle reaches from Coraki to Wardell that are the most susceptible to major fish kills. It’s no coincidence that this area features the most floodgates backing up drains with high concentrations of the monosulphidic black ooze that plays such a strong part in producing anoxic ‘black’ water so fatal to fish.

So far there’s been no word of major fish kills but with the Richmond River being what it is these days, there’s a strong possibility of not being a case of ‘if’ but of ‘when’. The only hope is that the majority of the fish escape before the killer water comes out of the drains.

In the meantime, the bream have stacked up pretty well around Ballina with good catches on lures before the fresh and mullet, mullet gut and chicken gut working a treat once the dirty water hit town.

Blackfish began to arrive early at Ballina, with some good catches made in early April mainly on cabbage baits, although a bit of highly desirable green weed started turning up in the drains before the rains came down and slowed down all that.


Going by results over the past decade, May also presents the best chance of a good spotted mackerel bite.

A local of about 15 years told me the other day that the spotty season doesn’t start until Anzac Day and I guess over that time, he’s right. Back in the good ol’ days it used to be from the beginning of February to about mid-June but I guess spot numbers have diminished and maybe currents have changed.

Anyway, now’s the time you’ll see scores of boats crowding the bait reefs off Snapper Rock before dashing down to the Middle Ground between Kahors and the South Reef, where they’ll anchor, berley and put out live baits.

Every one of those anglers should be aware that they’ll be fishing right in the middle of what the National Parks Association wants to make a no-take sanctuary zone in a proposed Bundjalung Marine Park.

These marine Taliban want to run a park from Snapper Rock south to Iluka, including Jerusalem Creek and the Esk River, with the area from Kahors to South Reef to be a sanctuary zone.

There’s no doubt some of their dream park would benefit from small sanctuary zones to protect some species of fish, corals and molluscs that are very special residents of this area from possible future human interference entirely removed from recreational fishing.

I know these species and places because I’ve been enjoying them for the past 50 years but do you think I’m crazy enough to tell a bunch of green extremists what and where they are? These dopes would just fence off the whole thing and impose a blanket ban on fishing in these areas – talk about using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut!

Herein lies the awful stupidity of letting clowns like the NPA set the marine park agenda: They quickly alienate anyone treading the middle road of reason and polarise the community.

Increasing numbers of snapper will also be caught in the planned sanctuary zone this month, as the fish move inshore.

It’s just another example of how foolish these people are – for half the year their planned sanctuary has hardly any fish, simply because of the migratory nature of the main recreational target species. This outfit doesn’t want to help fish, it wants to stop fishing.


The next few months offer the best beach fishing you can get around here.

The tailor fire up in increasing numbers and the quality is usually very good, with some fish of 4kg and more likely. Already there have been nice greenbacks around but only single fish or small pods – this month there could be some wolf packs of big guys slashing through the suds, especially after dark.

Chunks of bonito, striped tuna and mackerel tuna work extremely well in the dark, although you’ll need wire to beat those shear-like teeth on a big greenback. Some fishos mount a strip bait on a gang of three 4/0 Mustad 4200-type hooks to avoid the wire while others opt for fine 50lb mono wire between chemically sharpened 5/0 Octopus/suicide-style hooks with a short length of similar wire above the top hook.

But for real cardiac-arrest fishing, try hurling a popper into a quiet, deep hole or gutter at night, either on a pitch-black new moon or with a full moon directly overhead.

You’ll need something at least 15cm long, substantial with stout hardware and a strong popping action. Work it slowly and hang on when it gets crunched; you mightn’t see the hit but you won’t miss it.


The freshes have flushed jewfish of all sizes to the river entrances, where they’ll no doubt fatten up on the abundant feed washed from upstream.

With their sensitive hearing (check their large otolith/‘jewel’/ear bones) and their prominent vibration-sensing lateral lines, the dirty water suits these predatory fish fine, They’re better equipped to hunt in dirty water than just about any other fish.

There are heaps of small jewfish in the system and plenty more off the beaches, where I’ve been catching plenty of barely-legal soapies on 60g tailor slugs.

One of the best lures for jewies in dirty water used to be a heavy lead-head jig of red and white feathers, with these alert predators able to pick up on the sound of the feathers, even though the water was the colour and consistency of a cappuccino.

So it’s no surprise that a jewie can nail a soft plastic in dirty water but any of the rattling bibbed or bibless minnows is also definitely worth a throw.

And anyone who’s encountered a jewfish in the estuary on a vibrating blade lure meant for bream will tell you how effective blades can be.

As soon as someone makes a vibrating metal blade you can cast 60m or more on a decent jewie outfit, you watch the other lure makers start copying – they’ll be dynamite.

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