Mess with Mackerel in Mackay
  |  First Published: October 2010

We are now powering downhill to summer and the hot weather is already enveloping us.

The hot early summer weather can bring some pretty fierce storm activity, but by October we should start to settle into the northeasterly pattern with calm weather in the morning and strong winds during the afternoon.

These conditions are great for anglers chasing small mackerel as they come right inshore after the bait schools and can be caught off the beach.

The schools of doggie and spotted mackerel are on the chew around Bowen and down to Airlie Beach with a few showing up around St Helens, but with the northerly winds they will soon be everywhere off Mackay.

This is bonanza time for small boat anglers, but I urge you all to take just what you need for a few feeds, as mackerel definitely tastes best fresh.

The easiest place to start is Mackay harbour, as mackerel will work right inside the harbour. But for best results get outside and head for Slade Island, directly off the mouth. Keep your eyes peeled for birds, fish working the surface and bait rippling as these are all signs of mackerel activity and are worth investigating.

Many locals persist in trolling heavy cord lines and spoons for these small macks, but they do the fish a disservice as there is not much fun in hauling in a 2-3kg doggie on venetian cord line.

Hit the same fish with a light spin rod or baitcaster and hang on as the fish fight really well on this more appropriate tackle. Trolling lures is a good way to locate fish and cover a fair bit of ground and if done well certainly produces results.

For trolling I like to use a variety of lures such as Toby style spoons, small shallow minnows around 75mm and a couple of deep divers. With this variety you can cover a fair amount of the water column; remember not all macks will be feeding near the surface so spreading your troll lures over a few depths will increase your chances.

Use light wire if you like to avoid bite-offs but I prefer to take my chances with heavy nylon leader, as it generates more hits, but remember to check the leader after each hit.

I prefer to cast for small mackerel once the fish have been located, and for this a good light spin stick will let you drift a fair distance away from the feeding fish and still reach them with your lure.

Alternatively use your electric outboard to sneak in closer to get in more casts into the feeding area. Don’t drive right up to them with your outboard as they will surely dive and pop up seconds later 100m or more away.

Slade Island is an obvious structure that interrupts the tidal flow so is a good typical spot to find small macks. It is only a couple of kilometres off the harbour and easily reached in a 4m tinnie.

The rocky reef that extends seawards here has a number of tidal runs and these places are sure to have a few macks on the prowl. A bit of berley can help too but with the fast tidal run, be careful or it will take both berley, baitfish and macks further away from you.

To the north of the island there are many bommies scattered at random on the sandy bottom making for a great area to troll lures or just drift around casting. The fish work their way through and around this area and you will come on them if you persist.

If you check out Slade Island and then use that info elsewhere in the district, you will find literally hundreds of similar scenarios and you will also find more small mackerel.

Mixed in with the small macks is the possibility for by-catch of mack tuna, longtail tuna, and grey mackerel as well as cobia, trevally and sharks that are usually hunting under the macks. Spanish mackerel and queenfish are often present as well.

Of course summer in Mackay doesn’t just mean we all go chasing macks and tuna as there is heaps of activity in the saltwater creeks and estuaries to keep everyone satisfied.

This month will be the last chance to nail a salty barra before the closed season and the barra guns will be out on the water with lures, flies and live baits.

All signs so far point to a bumper October as barra have been active since early August. Look for them at the Vee near the mouth of the river, which works well at night, and further up the river towards Dumbleton Weir.

The road bridges will also hold fish, but with the duplication of the main town bridge there is a ban on all boats anywhere nearby.

Constant and Murray creeks to the north are renowned barra creeks as are Plane and Rocky Dam creeks to the south. These are all typical mangrove lined waterways with plenty of rock bars and other fish-attracting habitats.

Barra will often be found right up on the rocks at high tide and on the run-out tide. Small gutters and side creeks are always worth prospecting around the mouths and isolated snags or mangroves are deserving of a few casts.

Flathead are another great summer catch that will be on the chew in October. There are also plenty of whiting and bream in our creeks along. Cod, fingermark and jacks also find summer to their liking regularly make up catch bags at this time of the year.

Don’t forget to drop in a crab pot or two while fishing as a succulent muddie really caps off a good day or sometimes saves a dog day from being completely unsuccessful.

If you are looking for some more variety, then don’t forget our very lively freshwater scene, with three dams and the Pioneer River freshwater reaches all well stocked with fish. Barra, sooties and sleepy cod are the staple species in each of these waters. Call into our local tackle shops to get the latest info on what’s biting where.

All anglers and many businesses owe a huge debt to the dedicated bunch from Mackay Area Fish Stocking Association (MAFSA) who keep our dams and the river well enhanced with fish. In 2009/10 financial year MAFSA stocked 53,013 barra and sooty fingerlings which is a pretty good effort.

Since forming in 1994, MAFSA have stocked 1,915,224 fish in the Mackay area and later this year if there is a good spawning season the stocking figure will surpass 2million fish. This is a great effort!

I remember the late Peter Finglas once commenting to me that he was passionate about MAFSA as he was confident MAFSA would “make a difference”. I certainly reckon Peter was right on the mark and I often wonder how many fish would have been stocked without MAFSA; my guess is not many.

So to all those local Mackay anglers and visitors who enjoy the fruits of the stocking program, get in and join up, show your support and continue this great effort. Call the local tackle shops to make contact.

See you at the ramp for good Mackay summer times.

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