It’s a fine line
  |  First Published: February 2010

Here we go again, hoping against hope for the next three months that the warm current we need for the mackerel and other tropical visitors will remain close offshore, but that the wind won’t blow too hard across all that warm water and bring in deluging rain.

It’s a fine line to tread and on one side of that line is champagne pelagic fishing, while on the other lie endless days of muddy water, possible fish kills and general misery. Everyone is hoping that for once we win the weather lotto, with the first division prize delivering humid, flat-calm mornings, light afternoon sea breezes and a gentle shower sprinkling about 8mm of rain every weeknight – no harm in dreaming!

The sort of mackerel season everyone has been hoping for over a decade has been shaping up very nicely, with promising brief shows of mostly small spotties when the inshore water has cleared up and some extremely welcome Spaniards.

I hadn’t seen it for almost 20 years, but for the last half of January there were small Spaniards belting into the white pillies most afternoons off Airforce Beach at Evans Head.

The north-easter would blow strongly onto the outer banks, pushing the bait schools hard against the surf line, and the macks would scythe through them under the wheeling terns. It was great to see the elongated fish flashing as they jumped in the afternoon light.

Some evenings, you could spot two or three macks in the air at once and although they were mostly small, they were enough to get plenty of people excited.

The ocean by then was too choppy for all but the largest trailer boat but a few crews tried trolling the back break each morning, meeting with some success at times.

I had a suspiciously mackerel-like snip-off at first light one morning while flinging 20g Lazer Slugs at the chopper tailor which also were plaguing the pillie schools. Normally a better class of tailor will take at least a second or two to bite through 20lb leader but this time I cast, cranked and then everything went limp and the Jinkai came back with a clean cut.

The only mackerel I ever caught from the beach was almost 30 years ago. It had the treble from a 40g slug on the very tip of its bottom jaw and got the old ABU7000 drag yelping pretty well for quite a while.

If the heavy rains stay away, spots and Spaniards should become more at home over the inshore reefs this month and we could even see a few of the more exotics like shark mackerel and school macks.


If the weather is right, they’ll stay as long as there’s bait around and there’s nothing any mackerel like more in these parts than small slimy mackerel. Autumn is a good time to encounter slimies schooling in local waters so they make the final part of the great mackerel equation that goes something like: warm current + bait + good weather = bliss!

Under the feeding mackerel there should be improving numbers of snapper.

Time was, there was reasonable to great snapper action available all year from Brunswick to Evans but it appears that diminishing numbers and increasing recreational and commercial fishing effort, combined with an entrenched laissez-faire school of fisheries management, have conspired to make the local snapper fishery a seasonal affair.

Anyway, there should be more reds to chase in closer and the usual sprinkling of tropical wonders will be in there, too.

Someone caught a nice red emperor off Ballina a while back and a coral trout or two comes in every year off a couple of 40m reefs, with spangled emperor and grassies as well for the lucky ones. No matter who catches them in my boat, the skipper eats ’em and I’m sure I’m not alone there!


With the usual weather caveat, this is an excellent time for quality tailor from the beaches, walls and headlands. Last year’s tailor season was a non-event because of the floods but they did show up in March before it all came down.

The tailor are a bit like the local holidaymakers: The hordes of Christmas choppers, whippersnappers and young troublemakers have all gone back home or to school and the older, bigger, slower, angrier grey nomads move in and take over.

That’s not to say there haven’t already been some great greenbacks to around 5kg, but March is a hot time for the bigger choppers from the beaches, headlands and also over the shallower mackerel reefs.

You’ll catch the most and the biggest tailor after dark on salted bonito – you did remember to keep some bonnies when they were thick in January, didn’t you? They also are supreme troll baits for big Spaniards.

Lure chuckers will also get among the tailor at dawn and dusk. Poppers and larger minnows probably have more chance on those bigger fish because the smaller choppers can be a little intimidated by the bigger lure. But on other days you’ll just catch a greedy chopper on each treble!

The beaches should also contain increasing numbers of bream, especially if there’s enough rain to flush the rivers.

Regardless of how much rain we get, the bream and mullet will start to head downstream in March and the estuary focus will move towards the last few kilometres of the rivers. That will happen progressively unless the rain tumbles down.

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