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Reefs rife with reds
  |  First Published: October 2010



The Endeavour River has finally cleared after what was probably Cooktown’s wettest winter in more than 10 years.

There is an unbelievable amount of baitfish in the Endeavour and Annan systems at the moment. The warm clean waters found around Cooktown at this time of year are a blessing to both tourists and locals. The abundant plankton, krill and baitfish that follow these nutrient rich waters around, allow a never-ending food source for other fish from small sardines and wolf herring right through to Spanish mackerel, sharks and 1000lb black marlin.

The run of big Spanish mackerel from the wharf appeared later then usual this year with dribs and drabs being caught from June onwards, but they really made an appearance this month.

Fish to 17kg have been taken with most of the larger models falling to unweighted live pike.

When chasing big Spanish mackerel in a land-based situation, use live bait on a decent quality spin reel with a smooth drag and a lightweight rod around the 8kg class.

I have found a 5000 size Shimano Saragosa spooled with 30lb braid matched with a T-Curve 782 Spin is ideal for this style of fishing. This combo is light enough to be held when fishing all day long, yet has the drag capacity and stopping power to pull up most fish that you will encounter while land-based fishing around Cooktown.

The most efficient way to rig your live bait is with a short 30cm length of 69lb mason single strand wire connected to a single Gamakatsu SL12 10/0 hook.

When targeting Spanish with big live baits (40cm+) using a single hook, I pin the fish about 5cm behind its tail as Spaniards almost always bite off their victims’ tail first and then turn around to finish their meal.

A Tasmanian tourist left Cooktown with a bruised ego last week as he had a queenfish around 90cm taken from him in two bites from a large Spaniard estimated to be more than 25kg. All this action without leaving the centre of town; it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours early in the morning.

Cooktown has a variety of rocky headlands that can be fished from the land with some truly amazing captures regularly taken. Bar-cheek trout, tuskfish, barra, fingermark and mackerel can usually be found around any deeper sections of these headlands with Archers Point and Cherry Tree Bay offering good fishing platforms.

While there are countless methods that can be used to target these fish like soft plastics, surface lures and traditional diving lures, big fresh flesh baits are often impossible for a tuskie or trout to refuse.

The wharf has been firing with regular reports of barra being captured. The barra hold under the structure of the pylons and can often be found in quite large schools. These fish are best targeted with large live yellowfin pike or greenback herring and a basic running ball sinker rig.

While the barra can be caught under the wharf all year round, the best time to target them is the first 3-4 weeks after the bait have moved back into the creeks and estuaries. This can be a bit hard to gauge for travellers, as the bait will only be found in good numbers once the water has cleared from the previous wet season.

This year the water cleared lot later then usual, with the coffee coloured wet season water hanging around until mid to late July.

During the last week in August, 18 legal barra were caught (and some released) off the public wharf by various anglers. Standout fish included various 90cm+ models, three fish over 1m and one 121cm beauty.

The reefs are still firing with many of the reef species feeding ferociously as they prepare for spawning.

I often wonder how effective the reef closure dates are in relation to when the trout spawn. This season I have caught trout full of roe from as early as mid July and fish still full of eggs at the end of August yet the closures are later in the year.

There have been some amazing fish captured on the rare occasions that trailer boats have been able to get out onto the reefs.

We recently had a remarkable session on XOS reef jack from a shallow rubble patch with stand out fish weighing more than 9kg. These fish go incredibly hard in shallow water and push even top shelf gear to the limits.

These hard fighting brutes will try their best to bust you off and we only landed about 25% of the jacks we hooked during that session. When you start getting done by jacks on 80lb braid and 110 Schneider leaders, you know that you are getting amongst some absolute thumper fish.

We caught and released countless jacks during this session and I believe that you have not experienced the best of Cooktown’s offshore fishing until you have had your thumbs burnt trying to slow the blistering run of a rampaging 80cm+ jack.

On this particular night we released more than 50 legal fish consisting of large-mouth nannygai, red emperor, spangled emperor and mangrove jack. Although the smaller jacks are a good eating table fish, I am not fond of the softer flesh and rather strong flavours of 5kg+ fish.

We had more than enough red emperor and nannygai to last us until our next trip so we released all of these monster jacks, which in turn will hopefully allow them to breed and produce more of these dirty fighting brutes.

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