RIVER OF LIFE: The cream boat on the Richmond River at Coraki about 1973, a simpler time when the river was
RIVER OF LIFE: The cream boat on the Richmond River at Coraki about 1973, a simpler time when the river was "a thriving, vibrant living thing”. The Northern Star Archives

Fishing: Now is the time to explore our rivers

EVEN if you're not a river angler, it's worthwhile getting out on the Richmond anywhere from Lismore to Ballina at the moment. It's almost like a journey back in time.

It's been a considerable number of years since the Richmond has been as clear, clean and full of life as it is right now and that's all thanks to exception- ally low rainfall for the past few months.

Minimal runoff means time for sediment to settle, with clearer water enabling aquatic plant and plankton growth to establish in places where it has not been able to get sufficient light, sometimes for years.

That lack of runoff means no releases of oxygen-depleted water to rob fish, shrimp, crabs, worms, barnacles and anything else with gills the opportunity to breathe.

No runoff also means no acidic reaction eating through the protective slime layer over a fish's scales or gills.

Fifty-one years ago, almost to the day, my brother and I canoed and camped from Grays Falls, Casino, to Kilgin, near Broadwater, over five days.

Even where the plentiful piggeries and dairies washed their effluent into the river, the water was a clear green.

Through the hottest parts of the first couple of days, we paddled mile after mile in the overhanging shade of the then ubiquitous weeping willows.

Another exotic species that has since replaced the willow, the South American coral tree, existed only in a few spots at Lismore and just downstream.

Wallabies, bandicoots, rabbits, foxes, water rats, goannas, water dragons, ducks, grebes, swans, moorhens, bitterns, turtles, freshwater herring, mullet, shrimps and bass ("perch") were plentiful.

I trolled one of the Flopy lures (three shillings and ninepence, jacked up to 40 cents three months later when decimal currency arrived) on a short 20lb handline behind the little canvas- skinned Canadian canoe.

The soft rubber French lure with the adjustable diving bib provided our first catch and release feast.

At times we had to stop so often to drag in another fish that big brother told me to "keep that bloody lure in" so we could cover some distance.

Somewhere near Codrington, a strong fish took the favoured dark green Flopy but the remaining orange one caught plenty, too.

The night we camped below the Glebe Bridge at Coraki, I could hardly sleep because of the river a few metres away, where abundant life was being played out in a cacophony of gurgles, boofs, flops and crashes mingled with the night calls of the plovers, mopokes, owls and bats. And the odd car clunking over the bridge.

Come to think of it, the birds on that trip may have inspired my brother, then in his second year of a UNE science degree, to become the internationally acclaimed ornithologist he was.

After a nasty storm soaked our Buckendoon camp, the southerly change dampened our spirits.

A good feed at a Woodburn cafe revived us up but big tides sapped our strength and the red paint over the canvas began to give up, meaning we had to paddle five minutes and bail out water for three, so we called Dad from a farm near Kilgin and our adventure ended.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that even a century after white settlement of the district, with its massive land clearing, total river de-snagging for the ships that were its major transport, and intensive drainage of wetlands - just 50 years ago - the Richmond River was still a thriving, vibrant living thing.

A few months without the downpours the region is famous for and we can see that there's still something kicking in the heart of the Richmond. But you don't need a degree in environmental science to know that the river these days is on life support.

If you have any curiosity about what it used to be like, now is the time to explore.

Even the "dead zone" from Woodburn to Wyrallah, that the scientists gave an "F" rating to a few years ago, is indicating it might still have a weak pulse.

Why not get out there and check it out now, and take your kids so they can have something to tell their kids.

Before the heavens open and the fatal runoff begins again.

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