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.
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.
I arrived for a few days of fishing in Iluka. With everybody locked in to Australia, it is getting hard to find accomodation in some of my favorite fishing spots – especially at the weekends. So I had booked ahead for this week. Unfortunately the weather did not play ball. A big southerly storm blew in on the night I arrived and the wind was forecast to be blowing around 25 knots for a few days.
So on the Wednesday afternoon I decided to get out of the wind on the Sandon River, just to the south of Brooms Head. This is a very shallow estuary that is only worth fishing from about high tide. I set out in my waders about an hour after the tide had started running out. The water was crystal clear and running out quickly. I was fishing with my light spin set up -10lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead. I started with the paddle tail soft plastic I am really enjoying using that was recommended to me by Mark Berg. It is from the Scandinavian brand Westin and it is called a Shadteez. I was using the 10 cm/4 inch. It has a great paddletail action but I particularly like the orange belly on the ‘Dirty Harbour’ colour. I hopped it along the bottom and soon found some flathead, but they were all pretty tiny. I swapped to a soft plastic minnow and cast it along the edge of a big weed bank. I caught a couple of small bream but I could not find dinner.
The next day I decided to have a look around in the Clarence River. There are are some good sand flats towards the southern end of Goodwood Island. On the Wednesday morning I drove down to the Goodwood Island Wharf (just downstream of Browns Rocks) and waded out to look for some flathead. I am always amazed at how dramatically the underwater terrain changes in a big river estuary. The tides, current, rain, sun and wind all conspire to make it unrecognisable from one year to the next. Several years ago this area was carpeted in sea grass and muddy yabby banks. Now the seagrass has disappeared completely and the yabby banks are sandier and (thankfully) a little firmer under foot.
The tide had just started to run in strongly and despite the howling south-easterly the water was very clear. I started with a GULP 3″ Minnow soft plastic in the Lime Tiger colour. I loaded this onto a 1/8th ounce, size 1 jighead. I waded in the direction of the river mouth putting in long casts up into the incoming tide and then slowly hopping the lure back towards me along the bottom. I was staying about waist deep in the water. I caught a couple of very small (25cm) flathead that were moving up with the tide.
I was moving slowly and quietly and suddenly heard a ‘boof’ and a splash between me and the river bank. I paused and it happened again, about 10 metres from me in about 25cm of water. Something was chasing the tiny jelly prawns that are currently plentiful in the shallows. I cast in that direction, counted to ten and slowly lifted then jigged up my rod tip. I paused for another ten, then the same drill. On the third lift I hooked the fish. It was a flathead just over 40 cm.
The flathead were clearly here. But as I slowly found out they were mostly very small. I moved between shallower and deeper water. I changed from a slow to fast retrieve and even contemplated pumping some yabbies. But despite frequent soft plastic and hard bodied lure changes, I could not catch another legal sized flathead. I caught plenty of small ones – about 12 in two hours, but most were between 20 and 30 cm long. I had found the nursery. Next session I would be looking for the grown ups.
It was back to work in February so there was little time for fishing. In March the hot days continued with no sign of autumn on the horizon. The usual wind pattern was a light south easterly or south westerly in the morning, turning around to a strong northerly in the afternoon. The water stayed pretty warm.
The Brunswick River was crystal clear. In the transparent warm water, I resorted to casting out almost unweighted 3 inch minnow soft plastics on very light 6lb leader, in order to entice the bream to bite. I caught a few keepers this way but I lost plenty of soft plastics to either bigger bream, cod or perhaps mangrove jacks. There were a few flathead around but most were about 30cm to 40 cm long, so I released them.
There was about a week of heavy rain later in the month. The water running off the surrounding swamps turned the Brunswick River brown for all but an hour around high tide. This increase in fresh water in the system changed things and I had a few sessions where all I caught were grunter bream. I caught them all on 3 inch soft plastics, using a 10lb fluorocarbon leader. They were mostly too small to keep, but one or two were close to 35 cm.
So there were plenty of fish in March and the river had plenty of bait but there were not many big enough for supper.