Family fishing fun
  |  First Published: November 2009

During the latter half of December and the first couple of weeks of January, the Clarence Valley's population will swell to almost double as families come from far and wide to fish the area’s vast waterways and rich coastline.

There is no doubt that over the Christmas break some of the best fishing to be had all year in the river is laid out for all to enjoy.

The sweet little Clarence River school prawns are running and the fish and anglers alike take the opportunity to prey upon them.

Summer in the river means big flathead as the large breeding females move into the estuary, closely followed by many smaller males during their annual spawn run. It is a great time to catch plenty of flathead but remember to treat the big ladies with respect, they are prolific breeders and anything over 65cm is pretty tough and dry on the plate, anyway.

What would a Summer holiday be without putting the kids out on a sandbar with a yabby pump and a bucket or strainer? Kids just love gathering bait and, sure, they are going to squirt each other with mud and fight over whose turn it is on the pump, but think of all those prime baits they are collecting and how well the kids will sleep after a big feed of whiting that you caught on the nippers they pumped.

Blue swimmer crabs are about in good numbers. Dilly nets (five per person) are the best way of snaring some of these prized crustaceans,

Lake Wooloweyah and its entrance through Oyster Channel is a good place to start. Set your nets out of the strong current and go for a fish. Check them every hour, or sooner if there are plenty about.

Mud crabs are also on the move. Set your traps (one per person) higher up the river where the water darkens – up around Maclean or in the channels and tributaries. Remember, it’s dillies only above the courthouse at Maclean.

Muddies can also be caught in dilly nets but make sure you use the heavy-gauge net because they’ll destroy light material.

Best to leave your traps for many hours before checking them, but check your dillies more frequently.

My dear old Dad reckons there are only two species of crab – boiled and sweet chilli stir-fry!

I think the real attraction to crabbing, though, is the anticipation of lifting the traps. As the rope is retrieved, it is akin to scratching the coating off an instant lottery ticket – although if you scratch more than three crabs, it may be worth a visit to your nearest pharmacy!

While the crabs are prolific, it is a good time to keep an eye out for cobia in the river.

Cobia just love to eat crabs and at this time of year will follow the run of blue swimmers into the river. Bridge pylons, rock walls and reefs such as Browns Rocks are all worth a look.

While they can be caught on a variety of live and dead baits crabs, as you would expect, are a top bait.

Without a doubt the most anticipated species to turn up over Summer is the spotted mackerel,

Spotties will dominate any discussions among inshore small-boat fishos. Most of the talk centres on how fickle they can be, biting freely one day and shying off anything that even resembles wire the next.

There are three popular methods that will usually get a few.

The first, which is quite effective when they are biting freely, is to troll a pink squid lure rigged on light wire.

The second is to anchor, berley with blue pilchards and feed out an unweighted pillie on a short length of very fine wire.

Many anglers like to wrap their line around a small piece of polystyrene to stop it sinking too deep. When you set the hook, the line will cut through the block and it will drift away.

The third method, and most successful, is to slowly troll a live slimy mackerel on a two-hook rig with coffee-coloured 40lb to 60lb single-strand wire.

Make sure you drop in and see us at the start of your fishing holiday. The river and offshore scenes have many variables at this time of year; winds and currents can change fishing conditions overnight. We have up-to-date information and stock all the good gear that works locally. Have a safe and very happy Christmas and a very fishy New Year, from all of us at Big River Bait & Tackle, 16 River Street, Maclean, phone 02 6645 1834 – country service with city prices.

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