Dry and blue or wet and brown?
  |  First Published: December 2009

Quite often the whole seasonal cycle revolves around January, which frequently begins with gorgeous holiday weather and regularly ends with a semi-cyclonic flourish.

With oceanographers and climatologists talking of a reasonably strong El Nino pattern presiding this Summer, we might just avoid a damaging early flood similar to that of 2008, but after a very dry Spring and early Summer, the irony is that we really could do with some rain.

Nobody, especially the many thousands in the region living under canvas for the next week or so, wants to have their holiday fun washed out. So let’s hope we can get by with a few days of showery weather and a couple of gentle storms to refresh the vegetation and replenish the rivers.

The best thing about a dry spell is that the ocean current isn’t disrupted by vast plumes of silt-laden water spewing from the local rivers.

That means we might get a better ration of blue-water pelagics, including billfish, tuna, mahi mahi and mackerel.

People fishing the waters off the Richmond might be forgiven for asking what these fish are. We haven’t seen too many in recent years, thanks to all that fresh water pouring out, but there’s always a chance.

The baby black marlin run doesn’t look too promising if all reports from southern Queensland are a guide. They mightn’t be in big numbers this year so we may have to rely more on the fast-growing, always-breeding mahi mahi.

There are I&I Fisheries FADs installed off Byron Bay, Ballina and Evans Head and there should still be plenty of snapper traps from 36 fathoms and out, so there’ll be plenty of structure for the dollies to hang around.

When the FADs get as crowded as they can during holiday season, it’s worth remembering that good mahi mahi can be caught a fair way away from the structure itself – not all fish are stacked up within metres of the floats.

Try within about a kilometre radius, especially towing a small bridle-rigged live bait. Any livie works, from a poddy mullet to a slimy mackerel.

Did somebody say mackerel? Similarly, there haven’t been too many reports from Moreton Bay or the Gold Coast as yet but you never know.

There was a brief flash of small spotties down off Woody Head in November but the almost incessant northerlies soon shut them down and they moved on, unfortunately. They need southerlies, good bait schools and warmer water to stick around.

When the Queensland ringnetters were given their marching orders a few years ago, we all had high hopes of a spotted mackerel resurgence but if numbers have revived any, they certainly seem to peter out again before they cross the border. What’s happened?

We should also see an improvement in the bottom fishing in closer this month as the water warms from top to bottom. Along with the usual snapper and teraglin there should be a few early visitors from up north, such as sweetlip, moses perch and the like.


At least the normal Summer staples – flathead, whiting, bream and tailor – should be in reasonable numbers in the rivers and on the beaches.

Where the best concentrations of fish are depends on how much rain we’ve had and the clarity of the water.

Early last month the best concentrations of fish in the Richmond were between Wardell and Broadwater, where the slightly discoloured water was full of prawns, whitebait, poddy and bigger mullet and shoals of herrings.

Naturally, any predatory fish needing a feed were there in numbers, including school jew, flathead, bream and estuary perch.

But if you went a few kilometres upstream or down, the water became clearer and carried less bait and fewer decent fish.

That beautiful, clear blue water down near Ballina or around the towns of Brunswick or Evans might be great for swimming and general holiday mucking about, but in dry times it’s best to go looking for water with a bit of colour and life in it.

Conversely, if we get the rain we need, concentrate your efforts around the interface between the fresh, discoloured water and the incoming ocean water.

Mud crabs should be in full cry by now and can afford exciting holiday fun. They like hanging in that same murky, life-filled water that the fish like – well upstream in dry times, well down when it’s very wet.

Remember that traps are not allowed upstream of Woodburn bridge, downstream of the Burns Point ferry at Ballina or in the Evans River downstream of the bridge.

With so many crabbers about, you’ll need to stay close to your own properly marked traps to prevent the ubiquitous ‘share farmers’ from checking yours – either that or tether a pit bull in a lifejacket to your floats!

So dry has it been that the farmers are talking about a ‘green drought’ and up around Casino there has been an outbreak of blue green algae on the Richmond River, where the fertilizer that should have been on the paddocks has sparked a nasty bloom.

Casino people are agog with the news of a methane gas field discovered nearby and the prospect of a power station to exploit it.

Let’s hope it’s not going to be a station that needs a whole heap of water, or one that’s going to modify vast stretches of the river with hot runoff.

The poor old Richmond is in such a sad state now that it needs some proper loving, not more ruthless screwing.

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