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 swell, the swell, the swell – its never-ending. But then there was a forecast of lower seas, so I decided to try some fishing in the surf. The swell had created some good gutters and so I drove down to the beach, just south of New Brighton on the north shore of the Brunswick River mouth.
I arrived just before first light at about 5.40 am. High tide would be at about 6.00 am. It would be new moon in about three days. I walked out with my Daiwa Crossfire 1062 (10 foot, 6 inch – 3.2 metre) rod and Shimano Stella 4000 reel. This is spooled with 30lb braid and as I wasn’t expecting anything huge to swim by – a 14lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a 1/4 ounce , size 1/0 hook jighead and loaded it with a GULP 4′ Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour.
The horizon was now lit up and I cast out into what looked like a decent gutter. After a few casts I caught a small (25cm) bream, swiftly followed by a couple more. The fish flicked the plastic off so I tied on a GULP 3″ Paddle Shad in the Nuclear Chicken colour. This is a new shape from GULP and I like it a lot – now we just need them to produce it in my favourite Pearl Watermelon colour. This found its mark after about ten minutes. I felt a bit of weight and the rod tip bent over. This time it was a a flathead, about 45cm long.
The sun was now just coming over the horizon and I swapped to a another Paddle Shad, this time in the pink colour. I moved a little further along to the mouth of the gutter and kept casting. I felt a few urgent bites and drops. Then I caught a dropped a dart and eventually stayed connected to one.
By about 7.30am the swell had stretched out as the tide started to run out and I gave up for the morning.
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.
The swell was building and the rocks were effectively out of bounds during the first week in December. The weather was windy and hot but the edge of a tropical low was about to dump a week of rain on us. I decided to see what I could find fishing in the Clarence River, a few km upstream from Iluka. I would be fishing the sand and mud flats around the Goodwood Island Wharf, near Browns Rocks.
Even though it was hot and the water was warm I pulled on my waders. There are lots of rays and oysters around on these flats and I am not keen on stepping on the various ooglies that inhabit the shallows. All along the south side of Goodwood Island there are patches of beach that slope or drop off into the main Clarence River channel. In winter these are good flathead fishing areas, but you can also catch tailor, whiting, bream and mulloway here.
I would be fishing with my NS Blackhole Amped II 6′ 6″ S-602 Ultralight spinning rod matched to my Daiwa TD Sol III 2500 spin reel. This was loaded with 12lb braid and just over a metre of 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I have not had this rod long and it is performing pretty well. I would prefer and even faster tip but you can feel just about everything your soft plastic touches on the bottom. I like a 6 foot short rod so that I can flick lures around in the mangroves and other tight terrain.
The area I was fishing was covered in yabby holes. These ran right to the muddy riverbank that was lined with patches of mangrove. I started at about the top of the tide, casting into water that was about 50 to 60 cm deep. I was using my favorite prospecting soft plastic – the GULP 4″ Minnow in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I was using a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. The water was clear and the wind was a 12 to 15 knot north-easterly.
I soon found some fish. They had moved up quite close to the shoreline mangroves, with the incoming tide and they were now gradually retreating. They were flathead. I caught three very small ones in quick succession. All around 25 cm long.
I then spent the next hour wading and casting without getting a bite. Then, as the tidal flow got stronger I found about five more flathead, but they were all tiddlers. I was hot and thirsty so at about 3.00pm I gave up.
The next morning I fished soon after dawn in roughly the same spot. The tide was running in. I swapped through a few slightly bigger soft plastic jerkshads on the same weight jighead. The results were better – of the 12 flathead I caught in a couple of hours, three were big enough to keep – all just over 40 cm long.
That afternoon I tried a quick cast in the late afternoon. I soon caught another small flathead, close to the small rock wall that lines the shore. Then, as I was hopping a soft plastic along the bottom towards me it stopped dead and I thought I had snagged a rock. There was a big swirl and and long slow powerful run. It was a ray and despite trying hard to dislodge my plastic, for some reason I disastrously high-sticked my rod as it came close and that was the end of my NS Blackhole Amped II S-602.
The swell dropped off again for a few days and rock fishing looked possible at Iluka. High tide would be around 7.30 am, so I decided to fish through the dawn and the beginning of the run out at Middle Bluff. The moon was in its waxing gibbous phase, a few days off full. The swell was forecast to be about 1.1 metres and the wind would be a very light north-westerly through dawn. I have mentioned many times before that I have caught a lot of my better fish in the 30 to 40 minutes between first light and dawn. So early nights are a central part of my fishing ritual. It is also best to set up your rods and reels the night before, if you can.
I walked out on to the beach at Frasers Reef in the dark at about 4.30 am with one of the planets (not sure which) shining brightly, just above the horizon. The moon had set behind me about an hour earlier. I headed walked north to the far end of the rock platform at Middle Bluff. The night sky is amazing in the Bundjalung National Park as there is virtually no artificial light coming from urban settlements or street lighting.
I started casting with the heavier of my two fishing set ups, the Daiwa Demonblood 962H rod, Daiwa TD SOL III LT6000 DH reel, 40lb braid, 40lb fluorocarbon leader and a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I put on a GULP Jerkshad soft plastic in the Satay Chicken colour ( yellow belly with a pumpkinseed coloured back). I dropped the soft plastic down close to the ledge and paused, once I felt it was on the bottom. I twitched it along and on about my third or fourth cast I hooked a fish. It was a small school jewfish/ mulloway about 60 cm long. I walked it along the shore to some stepped ledges where I could pull it up by the leader. I photographed it and then sent it on its way. I walked back to the original spot straightened the soft plastic on the jighead and dropped it down in front of the ledge, again. One hop off the bottom and I had another bite. The fish tried to take off out to sea but after one significant charge I turned its head back to the shore and a few moments later, I landed it. It was a little bigger than the first mulloway.
I had managed two fish before sunrise. The last one had destroyed the soft plastic jerkshad so I put on a slightly smaller GULP 4″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. I fished all along the rock platform for the next hour and had a few touches and bites from smaller fish and changed the soft plastic several times. I caught the jighead in the rocks and had to snap the leader and re-rig several times. This is why my fish works out at about $200/ kilo.
Things had gone a little quiet so I dropped down to the lighter rod – Daiwa Crossfire 1062 matched with my Shimano Stella 4000, now spooled with 30lb braid and a 25lb fluorocarbon leader. I stuck with the Lime Tiger coloured minnow soft plastic and 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead.
Just after six, a fish grabbed the soft plastic, close to the ledge and took off under the rocky overhang. Typical trevally behaviour – and that is what it was – and an angry looking one. I felt the line rubbing on the rocks and flicked the bail arm open and hoped it might swim out. I waited for about 30 seconds and then flicked it back over, tightened the drag and wound hard. The fish came clear and was now worn out. I towed it along to a lower ledge and pulled it out by the leader. I love to eat fresh trevally, and this size makes a good meal (it was about 45 cm). I despatched the fish, bled and cleaned it in a rock pool.
The leader was not damaged so I cast out again to see what else might be around. The trawlers had been struggling to find good prawns. There were plenty of small ‘schoolies’ around the river mouth but no big ones. The trevally had a stomach full of these small prawns. I kept casting and about 30 minutes later the line pulled tight and a fish had eaten the minnow soft plastic, again. I only had the light rod and so the fish felt pretty solid. It was another mulloway and landing it was a bit of a process. It put in two good runs and then got tired and surrendered. However with the 25lb leader I could not really risk a big lift our of the water. Fortunately teh swell was now fairly light and predictable so I kept the line tight and jumped down to a lower ledge, between wave sets, and let it wash up to my feet.
I measured it against the rod handle and was pretty sure it was a keeper. I then grabbed it and put it in a rock pool, out of reach of the swell. I measured up at about 73cm – perfect eating size, so it too was sent to meet its maker and joined the trevally in the rock pool.
At about 7.30 am the wind was already blowing hard from the north and making fishing difficult, soI packed up. There would be fish for supper for a few days.