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Fishing After Floods

FROM a fishing perspective, floods offer many opportunities. Floods fertilise rivers and bring plenty of new life in the months after they occur. Many species are displaced by flood water as they move towards the river mouths in search of saltier water.

Over the years I’ve fished the flood aftermath quite a bit. My first memories of fishing after a big flood happened may years ago at Box Head near the mouth of the Hawkesbury. It was a time where there was no Internet, no Facebook and to tune into the fishing grape vine required word of mouth when most of the gun angler’s lips were sealed. I remember clambering down the track to the rock platform at Box Head only to meet a couple of older anglers walking up the steep path with big mulloway, probably over 20 kilos, being carried on their shoulders. When we reached the platform the water was brown, so brown I doubt you could see an inch through it. Four anglers were casting big red and white lead headed feather lures out into the mud, and after about half an hour one angler hooked and landed another big mulloway.

We were young, dumb and under gunned for this type of fishing so we spent the morning as spectators. What was clear was that these anglers were tuned into the local conditions, and someone had worked out long before that you could catch giant mulloway in pure mud water slowly retrieving a very basic feather lure. One of those anglers was Gene Dundon, who used to write for this magazine many years ago.

Since that time I’ve always been interested in fishing after a big flood. A good example of why a big flood is important to fishing relates to barramundi fishing in the top end. If the rains don’t come, the fishing is generally very poor. When there is a good wet season the feeder creeks and drains pour tons off bait off the surrounding flood plains, and the barras are lined up at the creek entrances to intercept them.

This “run off” period generally occurs between March and May and if there is a good wet season it is a time of plenty. I’ve been involved in some barra sessions in remote areas where we have caught over 200 barra in a day in these conditions. On a local level, each year we see more and more big barramundi turning up on the Gold Coast, and most of these fish have been caught after periods of heavy rain fishing the outflow of lochs and small creeks. A lot of these fish are over a metre long. A couple of weeks ago I headed out wide chasing blue marlin. We didn’t get a bite that day, but the brown water extended out to sea for over 25 kilometres. There was a distinct brown line pushing against the blue oceanic current. While we went fishless in closer to shore there was a hot snapper bite which is unusual in March.

The snapper were on the chew well into the morning and a lot of good fish, some over 8 kilos, were caught on the close reefs and some good ones also turned up inside the entrance of the Gold Coast Seaway. These fish had moved in closer to shore from the wider reefs to feed on the bait washed out from the floodwaters.

Interestingly, quite a few Spanish mackerel were also caught that day by fishing deep baits close to the bottom or trolling using down riggers. It is important to remember that the flood water generally floats on top of the denser salt water, and while it may seem dirty on the surface there is often clean water below the fresh water run- off. The first set of big tides can be a time of plenty when you fish the river entrances after a flood. As clean salty water pushes back into the rivers a lot of larger predators move into the entrances to feed on the baitfish pushed down stream by the floods. It is a great time to fish live baits chasing mulloway.

Huge schools of bream and mullet are often found at this time, and mulloway often feed in daylight hours in the dirty water. As conditions clean up, fish start to migrate back up the rivers following the salinity gradients. In my local waters a lot of anglers target bull sharks in these conditions as their primary target. These sharks are also quite partial to eating any mulloway that you hook and it is very frustrating to have your big jewie chopped off just behind the gills!

Mud Crabs can be prolific after a flood. These creatures are very sensitive to salinity and move downstream to the first deep hole they find where the water on the bottom is still salty. If you can find a deep hole your pots will generally have crabs in them within half an hour. I find that after a flood fresh chicken frames are the superior crab bait. Muddies have a passion for fresh chook! In the weeks ahead as all the water clears most fishing will improve as the fertilisation effect of the rains takes effect. Plankton and algae proliferate and small invertebrates that feed on them thrive. This attracts small bait fish that in turn attract most of our common estuary species. When there is a drought on the land there is a drought in the sea, but after the rains come it is a time of plenty for all marine life.

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