More mad seas and wild weather came through in early February so I decided to fish the north bank of the Richmond River in Ballina. The only advantage of wild weather is that there are quite a few less boats on the water and that means that the fish are often not disturbed between several tide cycles. Typically flathead move up and down with the tides; following bait up as it comes in and and slowly retreating again, as the tide runs out.
I was fishing from the shore, not far from the Ballina Memorial Swimming Pool. I fished for four sessions over 7 days and caught flathead during all of them. The wind was swapping between south easterly and north easterly and the moon was a week or so away from new. The water quality was not too bad, but after all the rain it was very dirty on the bottom of the run out tides. Despite this, the back half of the run out tide produced the most fish.There was not much tidal flow.
I was fishing with my light spinning outfit and 10lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. My starter soft plastic was the GULP 4″ Minnow in the Smelt colour. As I cast and retrieved it, the bait scattered in showers, especially in the shallows close to the base of the rocks. In fact, this is where I have caught most of my flathead. It seems they like to sit in the sand/ mud just inches from the rocks, under the bait. The bait was thick and several times I pulled up a plastic with mini-live bait attached.
The great thing about this stretch of shore is that it is less than 5 minutes walk to the River Street and all the shops. A coffee/ lunch break is the perfect time to have a cast and you may catch dinner.
It was back to the southwall at Ballina for my first fishing session in February. I arrived a few minutes after first light and walked out to the wall. I arrived at the end of the wall just before sunrise and started off fishing on the ocean side. I started with a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour on a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I caught a small bream, and then another. It’s amazing how often that first cast produces a fish. A few casts later I lost the end of the jerkshad to something fast – presumably a tailor.
There was a bit too much swell at the end of the wall and as the sun came up so did the north easterly wind. It it is quite disturbing how many of the huge concrete lumps have been broken down by the swell over the summer.
I decided to retreat a little and fish the river side of the wall. I caught more small bream and the foul hooked a small tailor. I cast the remains of the soft plastic back out and caught another small tailor. It was bleeding and hooked in its guts so I decided to offer it to the osprey. I broke its neck and left it in the middle of the path, while I re-rigged. Not more than a minute later I saw the shadow of the bird coming over me for a look. The gulls fussed over the fish but they could not lift it. The osprey made three circuits before swooping down and grabbing the fish. I watched it fly off down to a log on the beach to the south.
The wind was howling so at about 9.30 am I gave up and walked back to the car. I am looking forward to a calmer swell so I can fish the end of the wall soon.
A couple of days later I returned for a dawn fishing session at the mouth of the Richmond River. I started just before dawn on the rockwall I had fished a few days before – just upriver from the ferry. I caught a couple of bream but despite/ or perhaps because of the big moon there seemed to be less fish around.
I decided to move nearer the river mouth. I drove up to the locked gate on the road out to the rockwall. I packed up my gear and decided to make the trek out to the wall, stopping to fish at a few spots along the way.
I was fishing with my ultra light spinning setup. Because of the full moon it would be a very big high tide and the water was much clearer than it had been a few days before. I was not expecting anything big so I was using a 12lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead.
I stopped at a my first spot and put on a GULP 4″ Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour and let it sink down in the current, fairly close to the shore. I slowed it down as I pulled it towards the bank and the fish struck. It was a flathead and it must have been resting no more than an a few inches from the base of the rocks. It was around 45 cm long.
I moved a little further along the shoreline and caught a couple of bream – both were over 30cm long. It seemed the fish got bigger as I moved towards the river mouth. I walked all the way out to where the rock wall meets the beach. By now I was fishing with a Gulp 3″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour and I caught another bream on the river side of the wall. I cast a little further out and got bitten off. I re-rigged and caught a small chopper tailor on the first cast. At about 11.00 am I gave up for the day.
I came back to the same spot on the 29th (the day after the full moon). This time I started off the casting with a GULP 4 ” Minnow soft plastic lure in the Pearl Watermelon colour. The first taker was a flathead. It was sitting close to the base of the rocks, on the river side of the wall. It measured in a 48 cm. I photographed it and let it go. If there is fish in the fridge, then it’s pretty much catch and release fishing for me.
I made my way out onto the wall past the resident osprey. He/she always seems to be sitting at this spot – which is a very good sign. Ospreys only eat fish. Just before the end of the wall on the open ocean side , I took up position. I was now fishing with a 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and I swapped through three or four different coloured minnow soft plastics. I caught bream on all of them – the biggest was about 34 cm long.
By lunchtime the wind and swell had built up significantly so I gave up for the day.
The fishing community both online and in person assured me that despite the big swells and significant rain the Richmond River at Ballina, was teaming with bait. So I decided to try fishing it in late January.
I arrived at the ferry to South Ballina at about 9.00 am. I crossed the river and drove back up river a few hundred metres and set up by the rockwall that runs alongside the south side of the riverbank. It was about an hour after high tide and the water was still fairly murky. Low tide would be at about 1.30 pm. It was 4 days to the full moon. The current runs fairly quickly along this stretch of river bend and it always looks fishy.
Bream, flathead and possibly a few trevally or a jewfish were my target. I would fish with my ultra light rod and reel. This is currently the Samaki Zing Gen II 562SXL matched to a Daiwa TD SOL LT III 2500D reel. It has a very fast action and the tip is ultra sensitive – it reminds me of my old G.Loomis GLII. You can even feel when your jighead is bumping along a rippled sandy bottom and suddenly hits flat sand or mud. You can certainly instantly tell the difference between a bite and a snag. I set up with a 10lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce and, later a 1/11th ounce, size 1 hook jighead.
The mullet were everywhere. They were cruising close to the bank in big schools. I cast my small soft plastics and paddle tails in amongst them hoping there might be something bigger lurking underneath them. They would nudge and snap at the soft plastics on the way down. There were lots of jelly prawns and small baitfish hanging close to the rocks and the bream soon came calling. I caught plenty over the next few hours. The largest was just over 30 cm long. I only caught one flathead – just under 40cm long.
Christmas means time spent with family (or perhaps not, if COVID border nonsense turns it upside down). My general view of visiting relatives is – glad to see them, glad to see the back of them. I ate too much, drank too much and just as I reached my fattest, the aircon broke down. The wind and swell did drop off on a few days during the Christmas break but the estuaries appeared to be fairly brown and murky after an east coast low had passed through.
I finally got away for a fish at South Ballina in early January. I chose Mobs Bay at South Ballina – quite near to the mouth of the Richmond River. I had chosen to fish the top of the tide as I felt the water would be slightly cleaner and saltier at this stage. I started about an hour after high tide at about 2.30pm.
I was fishing with my new Samaki ultralight rod. I started with a GULP 3″ , Nuclear Chicken coloured Minnow soft plastic on a 1/8th ounce, size 2 hook Gamakatsu Round 211 series jighead. I like these jigheads for small soft plastics and they certainly improve my hook up rate on bream, tailor and whiting. I am not sure they are as effective when used with a bigger soft plastics or when you are specifically targeting flathead.
I waded around on the flats and caught a few very small bream. There was plenty of bait fleeing my soft plastic lure, as I hopped it along in the shallow water. The water was clearing up but was still stained brown by the tannins leaching from the surrounding teatree swamps and cane field drains.
I fished hard but it took two and a half hours to find a keeper size flathead. It grabbed the GULP Nuclear Chicken coloured soft plastic minow, very close to the base of the rockwall that runs across the front of Mobs Bay.
At about 5.00 pm the midges, mosquitos and a lack of fish overcame me and I headed home. My first session of 2021 had been uninspiring but at least I dodged the relatives and more mince pies.
On Wednesday the swell was forecast to drop right off to about 0.7 metres all along the northern New South Wales coast. So it was time to try fishing off the rocks again. Low tide would be around 6.30 am so I decided to fish at Flat Rock, just to the south of Skennars Head.
I arrived about 5.45 am, just after first light and walked out on to the eastern edge of the rock platform. As the sun came over the horizon and low tide approached, the swell remained a good deal heavier than the forecast 0.7 metres.
I was fishing with my light rock fishing rig – Daiwa Crossfire 1062 rod and Shimano Stella 4000 reel, 20lb braid and 12lb fluorocarbon leader. I started fishing with 1/6th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead and loaded it with a 4″minnow soft plastic in the pearl watermelon colour. After half an hour I had only felt a couple of light tugs at the soft plastic so I decided to move round to the southern edge of the rock platform and fish there.
This was just too hard as with persistent swell I could not cast my hard bodied or soft plastic lures over the ledges into the deeper water beyond. With no luck and now thoroughly soaked, I went back round to the eastern side. The tide was now coming in. I put on a GULP 2″ Shrimp soft plastic in the Nuclear Chicken colour and cast it out as far as I could. A fish picked it up on the drop and the rod tip bent over. It was a solid dart, just of 40 cm long. I kept casting and the dart kept coming. When I ran out of my Nuclear Chicken Shrimps I swapped to a GULP 3″ Lime Tiger minnow soft plastic and this continued to catch more dart. They seem to like the high contrast colours. I also caught a couple of small bream.
Eventually the tide forced me to retreat from my spot. The final tally was 14 dart of which I kept the best five for supper.
In early September the wind began to signal a change of seasons. The northerlies kept creeping in but they were often tempered by a persistent cool westerly, in the mornings.
On the first Monday of the month I decided to fish off the rockwall at South Ballina. The moon was in its waning gibbous phase and would be 77% full. An easterly wind was forecast and the swell was still stubbornly high, so I wasn’t expecting much. Low tide had passed at about 5.00 am. I took the Burns Point Ferry across the Richmond River, just after it started running at 5.30 am and walked out to the end of the south wall at about 6.00 am. The sun had broken the horizon a few minutes earlier but almost immediately been obscured by a band of low cloud. I said good morning to the two resident ospreys who were surveying the beach gutter from their rocky perch.
I started with my heavier rock fishing rig with a 30lb leader and a 60g slug. I cast out to the north east and ripped the lure back pretty quickly. After two or three casts, I felt a fish grab it, drop it, grab it and then I hooked up. It was a 35cm tailor and I pulled it up safely to my feet, un-trebled it and threw it back. I carried on casting the slug for a while and had a few more bumps and grabs but no hook ups, so I decided to change tactics.
I tied on a 3/8th ounce 1/0 hook jighead and loaded a GULP 4″ Minnow in the Smelt colour. I would always rather fish with a lighter jighead, so that the soft plastic spends more time sinking but the easterly onshore wind would have made casting anything lighter a real challenge. As it was, I could only get the jighead to land 10 to 15 metres out. On my first cast it was hit on the drop. Unfortunately I did not hook up but instead pulled up a soft plastic with a neat bite mark but no fish.
I put another of the same plastic on and cast out. It only took a couple of hops and I was on to a fish again. This time it was a small bream with a big appetite. I threw it back. The bream kept biting the tails off the minnow or pulling the soft plastic off the jighead. So I swapped to a 5″ GULP Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. These tend to stay on the jighead better and I was hoping the bigger profile might attract a bigger fish.
On about my fifth cast with a bigger plastic, I felt a hit at the base of the rocks but jumped the lure up quickly, thinking I might be snagged. A few minutes later I felt a similar hit and I paused to let the fish eat the plastic. It obliged and took off. Initially it ran out to sea but as I had to keep the tension on the line, the swell soon pushed it back in to the base of the rocks. It was a school jewfish, it looked around 70 to 80 cm long. It was soon washed in between the rocks at the base of the wall and I could feel the leader rubbing against the rocks. Then – snap, and it was gone and was gone.
I re-rigged with a stretch of 45lb leader (the toughest , I carry) and the same set up and cast out again. About five casts later and a found another one in the same spot (that’s why they are called ‘school’ jewfish). I tried to wear it out and pull it gently up to me but the hook bent and pulled out and it dropped back to the water and swam off. I worked through a few soft plastics and they nearly all found a fish in this same spot but I could not land any of them. I need to buy, and learn to use, a gaff.
I was frustrated but the fish were clearly biting so I swapped back to a metal lure. I chose the 40 gram DUO Drag Metal Cast Slow (I assume this sounds more catchy in Japanese). This is a slow jigging lure that can be used like any other metal slug. My Japanese angling friends say it is great to use from the shore as it flutters around a lot, even at very low retrieve speeds. I have been trying it whenever I think the tailor are around, to see if they like it. I cast it out towards the centre of the river mouth and jigged it back towards me. After two or three casts I hooked up, quite a long way from the shore. This lure has two assist single hooks at one end and a single hook at the other. I was making progress but then my line went slack. I picked up the retrieve again and a few moments later I had hooked up again. This time the hook stuck but the fish felt more powerful. I backed off the drag a little and let the fish run. I then gradually retrieved line and tightened the drag again. It was a decent tailor and it leaped clear of the water a couple of times but stayed hooked. Fortunately, two of the hooks had pinned the fish and I was able to pull it up to my feet. It was just over 50 cm long. One of the three hooks on the lure was gone, perhaps the first fish that hit it, took that one. Much as I would have liked a jewfish, it would have to be tailor for dinner.
IMPORTANT NOTE – Last time I visited South Ballina – in early October, 2020 – the road out to the rockwall had been closed by National Parks. They have had it surveyed and the initial finding is that it is no longer safe for vehicles. This means fishing at the end of the wall requires a 1300m walk before and after – see photo)
On the 28th of August I fished at White’s Head, at the northern end of Sharpes Beach, near Ballina. The swell was forecast to be low and the wind light, so I arrived before first light and walked down to the rock platform and started casting. The full moon was still about a week away and the tide would be low at about 10.00 am.
I was using my heavier rock fishing set up. I had rigged a 25lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/6th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead. For my first cast I loaded a GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. I lost this one to the bommies out front, so I trudged back to the tackle bag to re-rig with the same set up. I cast this around for a while and felt a few bream hits. Then I had a good bite and run from something bigger. The soft plastic came back hanging off the jighead, so I pulled off the front end and put the shorter version back on.
At about 6.30 am, a fish grabbed the lure, very close to the base of the rocks. I could soon see it was a jewfish, I let it run a couple of times then tightened my drag a little and pulled it up to my feet with the aid of a wave surge. It was just over 65 cm long so I took a couple of pictures and released it.
I looked for another but I could no entice another bite so I moved further round to another small bay and swapped down to the light rod and 12lb fluorocarbon leader. I caught a couple of bream on small minnow soft plastics and the a couple of solid 40cm plus dart.
I am an early riser so I prefer to fish the dawn, rather than the dusk. I like the fact that if the fishing is good in the morning you have the whole day ahead of you to carry on. I find casting out into the fading light at the end of the day much harder.
The next day I had dawn session in light swell at Skennars Head. I fished at Iron Peg (a rocky promontory that sticks out from the shore). I find this is a dawn or dusk spot. It is also very dangerous unless you are fishing in virtually no swell and around a low tide. So watch the swell and always were a life jacket. Remember if you arrive at any rock fishing spot, look at the swell and have to think about whether it is safe or not, then it probably isn’t. If in doubt, don’t.
My session was disappointing. Just on dawn the dolphins came through and had a good rummage around. I cast a big hard body and a metal slug through dawn with no results. I swapped down to a soft plastic and then caught these three:
This spot always looks promising so I will persist.
In summary the bream had been a good size but slightly less plentiful through August. The fishing had been best when the wind was from the south-east or south-west. When the northerly winds blew the dart reappeared. I still can’t pick what turns the jewfish on but there were a few around.
We had some wild weather and rain over the weekend, so I decided to fish on Monday. The swell was set to drop throughout the day. I walked out onto the rockwall at South Ballina just after first light but about 20 minutes before dawn. The wind was cold but light from the west. As the sky lit up, the birds started circling as did the dolphins, so the bait had to be there. Sunrise was at 6.15 am and high tide was at about 7.00 am. It was three days to the new moon.
I started fishing with my heavier Daiwa Demonblood 962 rod, Daiwa TD SOL III LT 6000 D reel, 30lb main line braid and 30 lb fluorocarbon leader, a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead, loaded with a 5″ GULP Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. I caught a couple of decent bream, but then I started losing the tails of my soft plastics at the base of the rocks. I then swapped to a 60 gram Halco twisty and threw that around until just after dawn. That lure did not elicit any hook-ups.
Once the sun was up, the birds started dive bombing but there were no surface bust ups.
I swapped back to soft plastics and a couple of times I saw decent sized tailor follow my soft plastics in and swipe at them but they always missed. I swapped down to Daiwa Crossfire 1062 with 20lb braid, 16lb leader and 1/6th oz size 1/0 jighead. Then predictably, a big tailor grabbed my Mad Scientist Lime Tiger jerkshad (I had finished all my GULPs in the Lime Tiger colour) at the base of the rocks, pulled for a few seconds and then bit through. I re-rigged with a 1/4 ounce jighead and put on a GULP 4″ minnow in the Watermelon Pearl colour. This caught a solid 35 cm plus bream, followed by a few smaller ones, then they bit through the tail. I put another Mad Scientist Lime Tiger coloured Jerkshad on and, after a few casts I hooked and landed a decent 50 cm tailor.
The birds were really working now, but always just out of reach. I was casting and retrieving fairly quickly now. I saw a group of tailor follow the lure in and right at the base of the rocks a decent sized one swallowed the jighead and lure and bit through. I moved back to my heavy rig and tried the 60 gram Halco Twisty for about twenty casts with no luck.
I fished here a few more mornings later in the month, after the new moon. I caught and was bitten off by tailor during both sessions but it was long time between the fish. As usual I swapped down to my lighter gear when things got quiet. I caught a few good bream and then got monstered by something at the base of the rocks. Not sure when I will learn some patience.
I fished off the South Ballina rockwall for the first few days of August, in the run up to the full moon on the 4th. It had been consistently cold at the end of July but the weather warmed up for a few days and the wind and swell kept changing. Each morning, I arrived just after firstlight and was fishing before sunrise. The resident ospreys were always in position, above the gutter on the ocean side of the rockwall.
One morning I was taken for a ride by a couple of big fish that I could not stop. I presume they were jewfish/mulloway. I was fishing a 5″ Powerbait Nemesis paddletail soft plastic in the ‘bleak’ colour, on a 3/8th ounce jighead (see pic) on the first occasion and a 4″ GULP Minnow in the ‘smelt’ colour on a 1/4 ounce jighead, on the second occasion. They both headed out to sea around the end of the wall and rubbed through my 30lb leader.
I caught plenty of bream in the first few mornings of the month but they slowed down a little on the day of the full moon. The were nearly all decent sized, with most measuring over 35cm. I filleted a bagful for our weekly fish pie.
The tailor were completely absent. We had some rain and then a north westerly wind for a few days. This flattened the sea and perhaps it pushed the bait away for a while. The surprise catch was an Australian salmon, on a 5″ GULP Jerkshad soft plastic in the ‘lime tiger’ colour rigged on a 1/4 ounce jighead. It was part of a huge school that floated around the rivermouth for an hour or so. I tried everything in the lure box to get another one, without success.
NB – Landangler is now also on instagram, so please follow me if you use that platform https://www.instagram.com/landangler/ . I am afraid attempting to create more video and a You Tube channel would most likely result in falling over even more often, so it’s off the agenda for now.
As we moved from June into early July, the COVID 19 virus restrictions eased up a bit and, if you were not getting married, buried or going to an all-night dance party, life pretty much returned to normal. Victorians continued to face restrictions and the Queensland border remained closed to visitors from outside the state, but in the little town of South Golden Beach the organic chai turmeric lattes and kale smoothies still flowed.
For most of the month the swell stayed strong (often well over 2m) and the wind was predominantly from the south-east, south west and west. Early in the month, in the run up to the full moon we had a few days of very calm conditions, but these were exceptional. The sea temperatures continued to drop and at the end of the month an offshore east coast low passed and dumped a lot of rain into the Richmond and Brunswick river catchments.
I did some of my best bream fishing in the run up to the full moon on the 5th, but I caught plenty of them all through the month. I caught a lot of fish over 35cm on small GULP soft plastic minnows/ shrimps. The Watermelon Pearl or Smelt colours seemed to work best on the minnows and the Peppered Prawn for the shrimp pattern. I loaded them on a 1/6th or ¼ ounce jighead and stuck with a light leader (12lb to 16lb fluorocarbon).
On the calmest day of the month I fished at Flat Rock, south of Lennox Head. I was generally casting off the south side of the rock platform. As long as I could get my soft plastic beyond the fringing reef, I caught good sized bream on almost every cast. I also caught a very small school jewfish (about 45 cm) in this spot and was sawn off a couple of times on the reef.
When it wasn’t calm enough to fish the rocks (which was most of the month) I focused on the Richmond River mouth, fishing both the south and the north walls. In the first half of the month the birds and dolphins were constantly smashing into the ever-present bait schools. At the mouth, the most vigorous feeding seemed to take place as the tide turned to run in and the salt water started to push back up the river. As long as the bait was there so were the tailor and I caught a few but none over about 40 cm. I also caught a few small trevally and even a Luderick during a couple of north wall sessions.
But late in the month the passing east coast low and the wild weather that followed seemed to wash out the bait and the tailor with them. By the end of the month the river was a brown soup during the runout tide. This was perfect for the jewfish/ mulloway fisherman and they were all in position most mornings and evenings around the new moon on the 21st and again for the last days of the month.
I did catch a couple of school jewfish – one at the beginning of the month which was just under legal size and so I returned it to the water and one in the dirty water later in the month, that was just on 80cm. I kept that one for dinner. In between I hooked and got a look at several more that either buried their noses in the rocks or bent my jigheads and freed themselves. I caught both of the jewfish I landed on GULP 4 inch minnows in the Smelt colour. I am still not patient enough to persist with the heavy gear for hours and wait for a big jew bite.
The swell had really limited the rock and offshore fishing in July but the fish were definitely there. August should be good.
June saw some big changes in the fishing on the Byron/Ballina coast. The most important one was the arrival of lots of small whitebait. The whales started to swim past and the tailor arrived in large numbers. The flathead were plentiful in the estuaries. The mullet schooled up along the beaches and around the headlands to feed on the thick schools of bait. The jewfish also came in to feed on the mullet and tailor. Meanwhile the bream started to gather at the river mouths to spawn.
The only thing that was not conducive to fishing was the swell. There were really only a few days in the whole month when the swell dropped below 1.5 m and so fishing the rocks was tricky. We did not have much rain and as the water temperature cooled the water became very clear.
I started the month still focusing on the flathead at the Richmond River mouth. I fished the flats and weed beds with small GULP soft plastics rigged on a 1/8th or 1/6th of an ounce jighead. The minnow shapes that most resembled the whitebait caught plenty of good flathead. If I kept to the two- and three-inch sizes, I also caught bream and small tailor.
There were a couple of flatter days and I took advantage of them to fish the rock platform at Flat Rock, south of Skennars Head. This is really only fishable around the low tide and it is very snaggy. I fished off the south side of the platform and caught some good bream and tarwhine on GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastics in various colours.
On some of the slightly calmer days I fished the end of the South Ballina rockwall. The dolphins and birds were a constant – chasing the bait schools around the end of the rock wall and out into the river mouth. As we came up to the new moon the more committed fishermen were out from well before dawn casting big hard bodied lures for jewfish. Judging by the scale piles, they caught a few.
I focused on casting slugs off the end of the wall which caught plenty of tailor and a few small trevally. When the tailor slowed down, I put on soft plastics and caught some good sized bream. A couple of times I hooked school jewfish at the base of the rocks but with the lighter Daiwa 1062 Crossfire rod running a 16lb leader (for the bream) I could not bring them round the rocks to a landing spot.
Each time I fished the early morning I saw the local osprey waiting for the mullet schools to swim up the beach into the shallows. I saw him catch a few but by now some of them were too fat for him to lift. I dragged a vibe lure through a thick school one morning and caught one. I decided to keep it as I have always wanted to try the roe (eggs). This is considered a delicacy in Japan and many parts of Europe. When I ate it the next day, the fresh fillets were very good, but I could not stomach the roe (the Japanese are welcome to it!).
As we entered May we were still in lockdown across Australia. The global economy was a slow motion train wreck, with businesses shuttered and unemployment sky-rocketing. Governments everywhere pumped money into their economies and so, despite their awful future prospects some companies like our banks, Qantas, Afterpay, etc – persuaded our moronic superannuation fund managers to buy even more new shares in them.
In addition to the ever-present threat of the ‘Egyptian Papyrus’ (COV 19 virus), May brought us a delightful mini-plague of noisy green frogs. They were hiding everywhere you looked.
As the weather had cooled the flathead had increased in numbers in the Brunswick River, but they were still frustratingly small. I could be pretty sure of getting a handful on the bottom of the tide near the river mouth, but they were rarely big enough for dinner. The water was crystal clear and so perhaps the bigger fish were harder to fool.
I decided to head to Ballina and try and pick up a few bigger flathead. The strategy paid off and I had success fishing the first few hours of the run out tide. I was wading in the shallows in Mobs Bay and a few other points along the south side of the Richmond River, towards the river mouth. I also had a great session fishing the run out tide in the corner of Lighthouse Beach. The swell had carved out a small gutter at the north end and I caught four flathead in quick succession, on one early morning session.
I fished my light spinning rod with about a 1.5 metre, 10lb fluorocarbon leader tied on to 12lb breaking strain braid and an 1/8th or 1/6th of an ounce, size 1 hook jighead. As usual, the GULP 3″ and 4″ minnow soft plastics in the watermelon pearl and lime tiger colours produced the most fish.
I caught a full bag of five legal sized fish several times and used them to cook a flathead fish pie – which is a firm favorite at home.
In February I started the month with a couple of morning sessions fishing along the Ballina river bank, close to the centre of town. If you follow the riverside walkway that runs parallel with the main high street you often see big schools of bait fish hanging close to the rocky banks. I worked my way along, casting soft plastics. I caught a couple of small bream and then a few small flathead. The air was still, hot and humid and the water was very clear.
A few days later the rain started and didn’t really stop for a week. The weather turned wild and fresh water poured off the parched paddocks into the estuaries. It looked like the drought was breaking. I went down to the Brunswick River but it was a brown frothy soup.
During a few breaks in the weather I drove down to Ballina to look around. The Richmond was also running brown, full of sediment and other rubbish. There were quite a few dead juvenile flathead, bream and other species floating in the flotsam and jetsam.
When the rain finally stopped it was clear I would have to fish in the ocean as the estuaries would stay dirty and full of fresh water for some time. By the middle of the month the swell had dropped off sufficiently to try fishing at Snapper Rocks at Broken Head. I started by trying to cast soft plastics over the froth churned up by the storms. There was also a lot of weed to contend with, especially when I let the soft plastic reach the bottom. Despite the obstacles, I caught a few dart using a 3 inch GULP minnow soft plastic weighted on a 1/4 ounce jighead. I stuck with the lime tiger colour as this seems to be a favorite with the dart.
A few days later with a light swell I was back in the same spot. I was casting soft plastics again and the dart were there again. I caught a few but then got bitten off by something more aggressive. I changed my leader from 16lb to 25lb flurocarbon and after a few more casts I hooked a tailor, which wriggled off as I tried to pull it up to my feet. Finally, about 20 minutes later I landed one, it was about 45cm long. I caught one more, a little smaller, but then they were gone. I tried a metal slug for a bit but did not get any hits. I swapped back to the GULP Minnow and started casting over to the south and letting the soft plastic float down slowly beside the base of the rocks. I had a couple of hits (presumably from the dart or bream) and then something took off with the lure. It was pulling hard so I tightened the drag a little and just wound in as fast as I could. After a couple of runs a decent trevally came into view. With the aid of the swell I pulled it clear of the rocks and up to my feet.
The next day I was back, to fish the last few hours of the run out tide. I started with a 40 gram metal slug but soon swapped back the same set up that had produced fish the day before; the GULP Lime Tiger Minnow soft plastic on a 1/4 ounce size 1/0 hook jighead. This turned the fish on and I caught a dart and then a couple of tailor in quick succession. I fished on and had a few more bites but after a couple of hours I was about to pack up. Just a few more casts and bang zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz – another trevally. This one did its best to bury itself in the cunjevoi covered rocks. We had a fair fight and I thought I had lost it but fortunately it untangled itself and I landed it.
That was it for the day but this is definitely a great spot to fish when there is little swell.
I was away most of January but I managed a couple of fishing sessions at the end of the month. The first was at Flat Rock, just south of Skennars Head and just north of Ballina. This area is best fished through a falling or low tide. I fished with my lighter rock fishing rig – this is currently a Shimano Stella 4000 matched to a Daiwa Crossfire Surf 1062 rod.
It was a great sunrise but not a particularly good mornings fishing. I caught a couple of very small bream on my first two casts and later I caught a decent sized dart. I got everything on the Gulp 3′ minnow soft plastic in the orange and lime green “Lime Tiger” colour. The dolphins kept patrolling the edge of the rock platform, so I am sure the fish were there. There was a fairly stiff onshore breeze which made casting tough and I snagged plenty of my jigheads.
A few days later, I fished the run out morning high tide for about three hours from its peak, at Mobs Bay, South Ballina. As I waded in the shallows, I found a few fairly small (25 to 35 cm) flathead. But it was the bream that were out in force. I caught 5 keeper sized bream and a few smaller ones. I was using my light spinning rod and reel rigged with 12 lb braid and about a metre of 10 lb breaking strain fluorocarbon leader. I caught them on a Gulp 3″ minnow soft plastic in the watermelon pearl colour, rigged on a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead. I was amazed at how happy they seemed to be, cruising around the mangrove roots and weed beds in less than a metre of water. I started to catch them as I slowed everything down. I would let the plastic sit on the bottom for as long as 30 seconds before starting the retrieve. They would often then strike as soon as I lifted the lure of the bottom.
I fished a few evening sessions in the Brunswick River without much success. The holidays delivered a fairly constant stream of paddlers and boats which made it hard to find an undisturbed stretch of water to fish. There were a few whiting in the shallows and plenty of tiny flathead, but I could not land dinner.
With bills piling up I had to disappear overseas in October and November to earn some money. There is no doubt that fishing is an addiction and an expensive one. Still, there are far worse things you could be addicted too and occasionally it provides dinner!
In December we had the continuing drought and the bush fires to deal with. I woke up several mornings to an ominous smoke filled sky at our place in South Golden Beach. Fortunately although I could smell them, the fires stayed a long way away.
It was hot and the winter species had long departed. The Brunswick River produced a few small flathead at the river mouth – especially on the very last hour of the run out tide. But, of the 10 flathead I caught over two sessions casting soft plastic lures, only one would have been legal to keep.
Just before Christmas I fished a few sessions in South Ballina, on the flats around Mobs Bay. My preference is to fish from the top of the tide through to about half way out, in this location. This worked fairly well and I ended up with three good flathead at each outing. I was fishing with my light spinning rig. This is a NS Blackhole 6′ SGII 602L trout rod. This rod is a true ‘Ultralight’ and picks up even the slightest of bites and touches. It does not have any grunt but it can handle a good sized flathead. I have recently swapped my 2500 Shimano Stella for a Daiwa TD Sol III 2500D LT reel. It is a bit clunkier than the Stella but I like the sturdier design, as I am always dropping it. The drag is good and I like the heavier bail arm. I had teh reel loaded with 12lb braid and about a metre of 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I was fishing with a 1/8th of an ounce/ size 1 hook jighead and the GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic in the pearl watermelon colour got the flathead to bite.
At the beginning of September I fished a couple of sessions at the end of the South Ballina rockwall. I caught a few good bream, chiefly on small minnow shaped soft plastics. I also landed a few luderick and a couple of small trevally. I am sure the tailor come and go around this headland but I have yet to encounter them.
For the rest of the month. I focused on wading the flats and fishing for flathead in South Ballina. I had success in two areas – the mud flats, just to the south of the Burns Point ferry landing and all around the sand banks and weed beds of Mobs Bay. This is a big bay near the river mouth with all the ingredients that flathead love; rockwalls, shifting sandbars, weed beds and good tidal flow.
Research suggests that flathead will spawn throughout the year, apart from in mid to late winter. Despite this I often catch fish full of eggs in August and September. They certainly still seem to school up with the bigger tides in the lead up to the full and the new moons.
I fished Mobs Bay with soft plastic lures. Typically I used a light spin rod and reel loaded with 10lb breaking strain braid and a 10 or 12lb fluorocarbon leader. My favourite brand of soft plastics are still the Berkley GULP range and if I had to pick my ‘go to’ pattern for flathead, it would be the 4″ minnow shape. In the pearl watermelon colour it looks very much like a small pilchard.
I fished about 5 times in September and caught plenty of flathead. The vast majority of the fish I caught were in the 25 cm to 35 cm size range and so they went back to be caught again when they are big enough.
I caught the biggest flathead (about 60cm long) in the lead to the full moon on the 12th, at the base of the rockwall, near the river mouth.
In August the weather had warmed up a little but the water had finally cooled down. I tried a few different fishing methods in the Brunswick River, where the bream can be easy to find but hard to catch. I started with small soft plastics, which would mostly just catch small flathead. In the end I worked out that throwing in some burley (small bread cubes) seemed to get the fish in the mood. Once a decent crowd of fish had assembled I would pull a jighead with some bread on it, along the bottom. This method caught a few fish. So I refined it and started floating an unweighted size 6 hook with a small dough cube down towards the fish. This worked better but, overall it was hard work and most of my catch was barely big enough to keep.
I was only fishing the river when the swell made fishing the beaches or rocks to tricky. Whenever I found a good gutter on the beach between the northwall of the Brunswick River and South Golden Beach, I would go down at dusk and try flicking soft plastic lures around. I found a few little flathead using this method (but not many keepers) and no tailor.
On a couple of calmer mornings, I fished the beach at Lennox Head. There is plenty of structure here and if the swell permits, it is great to fish the gaps in the rocks for flathead and bream. Over a few days I caught trevally, bream and flathead, all on soft plastic minnows. The back half of the run out tide was the most productive time to fish.
I also took advantage of the lighter swell to have a fish at Flat Rock, just north of the Richmond River mouth, near Ballina, in August. This is a great fishing platform but it requires wind, tide and swell to be friendly – to deliver the fish. I started off fishing the eastern side on a falling tide and caught a beautiful elegant wrasse on a soft plastic. A little later, as the tide turned to run in I caught a few bream on the same lures.
I then moved round to the southern side, where I have seen fishermen catch some very good tailor and jewfish. I was using my Daiwa Crossfire Surf 1062 rod matched with a Shimano Stella 4000 reel. I wrigged them with 20lb braid and a 16lb fluorocrabon leader. This rod is just big enough to throw a 40 gram slug and so I tied one on and threw one out over the reef ledge into the surf. After a few casts I hooked a fish which I though was a very solid tailor. It pulled really hard. When i finally go a look I was very surprised to see it was a small kingfish about 45cm long. I released it and carried on casting but did not get another.
I rounded out the month with a trip across the river on the ferry to South Ballina. I fished my lighter spinning rig along the south rockwall and caught a few flathead and bream. The end of the wall always seems to produce good bream and there are usually flathead around, as you move upriver and the water gets shallower.
It took a long time for winter to arrive in 2019. In fact, the water stayed warm pretty much all through June and July. I persisted with exploring the beach fishing to the north of the Brunswick River mouth, whenever possible.
I also had a few sessions on the headlands between Lennox and Ballina. I did quite well fishing soft plastic minnows at the north end of Sharpes Beach. Over a few mornings I caught some 35cm + bream, trevally and even a few jewfish, one of which was just over 70 cm long and therefore big enough to keep.
As most of my followers will know I love to fish with soft plastics and light rigs. I was catching the odd flathead and bream in the surf on a traditional jig head rigged soft plastic minnows and shrimps, but I was putting in a lot of casts for very few fish. So in July I experimented with rigging my GULP 4″ minnows, unweighted on a regular baitholder or trueturn hook at the end of about 30 cm of 20lb fluorocarbon leader, running up to a small swivel and sinker. This seemed to be more successful and I had a few quite good bream sessions on the beach.
As we moved towards the full moon in the middle of the month, I noticed a few keen local anglers fishing for tailor on dusk, on the beach near North Head. On the evening of the full moon I decided to join them and with a GULP 4″ minnow rigged on a size 4 Trueturn hook with a size 1 sinker further up the leader. I was using my 3.6m / 12 foot Daiwa Crossfire Surf 1202L, 20lb braid and a 20lb flurocarbon leader. I was casting out as far as I could and letting the plastic waft around. I started about 40 minutes before sunset. Just after sunset I felt the rod tip start to bend and as I took up the slack I realised there was a fish on. This rod does not have much power so I had to be patient but after about 15 minutes of back and forth in the swell I pulled up a chunky tailor about 55cm long.
So on reflection there was plenty of variety on June and July, especially in the run up to the full moon
In December I did not get a lot of time to fish. The weather was windy and so when I did get time for a session it was not on the headlands or beach. I drove down to the Richmond River at Ballina and decided to fish the shallows on the south side, near the river mouth. There are good tidal sand flats – lined by oyster covered rocky shore and mangroves.
I waded around with a light spin rod, 10lb fluorocarbon leader and a few of my favorite soft plastic lures. I generally used a 1/8th ounce, size 2 hook jighead loaded with a small 3 inch GULP Minnow or Shrimp shaped soft plastic. I was fishing the run out tide through the middle of the day. I did not have very high expectations but its is always good to explore for the early morning and dusk sessions, which are when I am most likely to catch supper.
My session started with a couple small bream in close to the shoreline. As I waded around and the tide headed for low, I started to catch small flathead. I caught about 8 in a few hours but only one would have been just about legal size. So they were all released today.
In summary this looks like it will be a productive spot in the cooler months and I will definitely be back to fish it.