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Festive Fishing
  |  First Published: December 2010



For anglers fishing the waters of the Great South East, December is a great month to be out and about. The fishing action is usually productive and varied and we should notice the prominence of species such as billfish, spotted mackerel, school mackerel, mangrove jack, whaler sharks, estuary cod, threadfin and many more.

Even anglers setting a few crab pots are well rewarded with decent catches of mud and sand crabs. Getting the family, especially the junior members, out on the water is a great way to spend the Christmas holidays.

SPOTTIES AND SCHOOLIES

These awesome and succulent, silver streaks are heavily targeted by anglers, especially when they erupt the surface in a spectacular display of wanton mayhem. Casting a small metal lure, such as a chromed slice or slug, close to the melee is usually enough to entice a slashing strike, which turns into a line burning run.

Light tackle is all that is required for these guys with 4kg allowing you to land most fish and have a lot of fun in the process.

Usually these fish will turn up a little later in the month however with the erratic weather patterns we have experienced of late this could be early or delayed, it is anyone’s guess. Hopefully they will turn up early and provide some succulent white fillets for the Christmas day feast.

A cast far, wind quick approach will work most of the time. If you are getting follows without strikes then you are simply not winding fast enough. Small poppers, stickbaits, soft plastics and other lures will also work well most of the time. A few will be taken by anglers high-speed jigging with slugs and slices around the various beacons in the bay. Drifting pilchards around these beacons will also work well.

The Measured Mile, out from the mouth of the Brisbane River, is one such beacon that is heavily fished for mackerel. Early morning sessions drifting unweighted pilchards in this general precinct can be very productive with many anglers managing their bag limit of five spotted mackerel within a short period.

Most beacons from the Four Beacons area to the northern extremities of the bay will produce spotted and school mackerel on a fairly regular basis throughout late December and January. The mackerel will work in these general areas. Just because you miss out on the first visit to the beacon you may hit pay dirt just half an hour later, so be persistent.

Anchoring up current from these beacons and floating your pilchard or live baits back to the beacon will work well. Expect strikes coming as you are feeding out the bait, so be ready to engage the reel if there is a change in the descent rate of your offering.

Berleying with a few pieces of cut pilchard every few minutes can also heighten your chances for mackerel, as well as the occasional snapper and other species. Small whaler sharks can be a problem at times however.

I like to use a rig consisting of three hooks ganged together with swivels, as this allows the baits to be put on easier. Also it permits each hook to move independently resulting in better hook up rates. Putting the hook points down through the back of the pilchard leaves them resting in the gut cavity of the fish. The pilchard will waft better in the current when rigged like this, instead of spinning.

Adding a small sinker directly onto the leader will sometimes be a necessity in stronger currents. Wire will eliminate the chances of being occasionally bitten off but will also greatly decrease, possibly eliminate, the chance of getting a strike. With ganged hooks you are best to run monofilament, or preferably fluorocarbon, leaders of a metre or more.

Trolling with small, diving minnow lures around the edges of feeding schools or along the deeper edges of prominent banks (especially on the first half of a rising tide) will regularly produce school and spotted mackerel. This allows you to cover quite a bit of water in your search, however, once you locate the mackerel then you are best to work the general area a little more extensively as mackerel are a schooling fish and there will definitely be others around.

JACKS AND COD

With the amount of rain we have had in recent months, I am predicting it to be a ripper season in the estuaries, especially for mangrove jacks and estuary cod. These two species are usually found in the same precinct and have a liking for areas with prominent structure such as rock walls, mangrove snags, bridge pylons and jetties.

Live baiting with mullet, herring and prawns will usually entice any fish in residence however lure fishing will allow you to cover many different areas in a session. Soft plastics, small to mid size minnow lures, blades and lipless reaction baits will all produce hits.

Diving minnow lures are ideal for around snags, especially rock walls as they can be worked down until they hit the structure yet paused and allowed to float up over the structure to avoid snagging. Popular offerings include Smith Cherryblood, Richo Sardine, Reidy’s Little Lucifer, Mann’s Stretch 10+, Jackall Squirrel, Lucky Craft Pointer 78 and Staysee 90, Smith Saruna and Tilsan Barra although there are many other lures that will also produce the goods.

There is myriad locations in our local area. Additionally, there are some great grounds in the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast areas that are ideal for targeting jacks. This kind of fishing also produces some pretty awesome bycatch with trevally, bream, flathead, school mulloway and others smashing the same offerings.

The walls at the mouth of the Brisbane River and walls on the eastern and southern sides of Mud Island are all great areas to try for cod. The occasional jack will be caught but they are not common. Cod however can be around in great numbers at times and over ten fish in a session is possible. Most of those encountered are in the 35-45cm bracket but larger fish are not uncommon. These are often as hard to land as the jacks and will regularly bury you in the closest crevice or hole, yet they lack the lightning fast reflexes of mangrove jack.

SHARKS

As water temperatures warm, shark activity will increase dramatically and anglers who specifically target these dogged fighters can achieve good results for numbers and quality.

In Moreton Bay, the average whaler encountered will be in the 4-15kg bracket but there are plenty of larger models to test your skills and stamina on. They are relatively clean yet dogged fighters so plenty of persistence will be required for a successful outcome.

Drifting with whole fish baits, especially gar, mullet and pike, or larger fillet baits, will provide good opportunity around the bay islands and the spoil grounds. Adding a slow, yet consistent, tuna oil slick will bring the sharks to your baits more readily.

These whalers provide a lot of fun on lighter line (3-10kg) and many anglers believe their fillets are worthy cuisine, although I am yet to be convinced of this. Larger specimens are landable on lighter line yet you will require a good degree of patience, skilful boat driving and some luck. I have had several fights eclipsing the five hour mark on light line, some have ended in my favour and others have not.

If you want to tangle with a larger shark (you are not allowed to keep one over 1.5m in length) then try using larger baits such as whole mack tuna and mackerel around the edges of the prominent mackerel and tuna schools. Large whalers (pig-eye, bull, spinner etc) and tigers are common, with specimens to several hundred kilos possible. You will require heavier line (15-37kg) to get these close enough to the boat to cut free and release.

Sharks are not everyone’s idea of a positive piscatorial experience but I think they are a bit of fun and quite interesting specimens.

BILLFISH AND PELAGICS

Better numbers of marlin and a few sailfish should be expected throughout December and the coming months. The great run of sailfish on the Sunshine Coast grounds during September and October was hopefully an introduction to the season.

The billfish action we have experienced in seasons past has varied dramatically. If the old proverb ‘drought on land, drought on water’ proves true then we should be in for some great fishing after the huge rainfall we experienced throughout October.

Our waters (Hutchinson Shoals, The Trench, The Group, Flinders Reef and most areas in between) will all produce a few marlin and sailfish, although how productive this season will be is anyone’s guess.

If we get prominent bait schools, which I believe we will, then dropping down a bait jig to get a few livies and then presenting one back into the school will generally produce hits on billfish and other pelagics in residence. Bait schools that appear on your sounder with scallops or holes in the sides are generally rather productive as these indents on the mass are made from marauding predators.

Bait schools that bust up suddenly are usually the result of pelagic species also. Circle hooks pinned through the nose of the bait or rubber-banded to the head are ideal for solid hook ups in the corner of the mouth if you let the fish run a little before engaging the reel.

Trolling with skirted lures is a great way to cover some ground in your search for pelagic action. Small, skirted lures to around 20cm in length are generally preferred with brands such as Bahama, Black Bart, Hollowpoint, Pakula, Meridian and Black Snack being reputable producers of most pelagics such as billfish, wahoo, mahi mahi, mackerel, yellowfin and occasional others. Working the edges of current lines and zones of changing sea-surface temperature will heighten your chances.

BRISBANE RIVER

Threadfin are becoming a hotly targeted species in the Brisbane River all year round. The warmer months see heightened activity for threadfin and several other species, including cod and sharks.

Live baiting with mullet, prawns, herring and similar will yield a broad array of possibilities for anglers with boats, and also those land-based. Working the edges of ledges and the decline into the main river basin is a good ploy, especially during a falling tide when various species predate in these areas.

Most of these spots require a boat to access, however land-based anglers also achieve surprising results from a variety of locales including Newstead Jetty, Mowbray Park, Colmslie Jetty and Pontoon, underneath the Gateway Bridge, New Farm Park and anywhere else that you can find an access point. Fishing around the various bridges at night is usually a good option as the lights attract baitfish species, which in turn attracts an array of predators. Dead baits, including mullet strips, pilchards, squid, hardiheads and the like, will also work at times but will also attract less desirable species such as catfish, pike eels, rays, shovelnose and many varieties of sharks.

Lure fishing can be highly productive and anglers casting Jackall Mask, Trans Am, various soft plastics, blades and other offerings can be assured of a mixed bag. Threadfin are usually the main target however cod, bream, flathead, mulloway, trevally, cod, snapper and others will also snavel a well-presented offering.

OTHER OFFERINGS

Apart from the aforementioned species, there will be plenty of others on offer for anglers throughout December. Flathead numbers are still good in the creeks and rivers and will be taken on drifted baits, trolled minnow lures and various cast and retrieved offerings including blades, plastics, lipless reaction baits and minnow lures.

Bream are also a serious target for anglers fishing in these same areas and are common to decent sizes around the shallow reefs fringing the bay islands. Casting small surface disturbing stick-baits and poppers is a good technique in these margins.

Canal systems are worth a look with anglers working their offerings around the various structures including pontoons, moored boats and along the rock walls. Don’t be surprised if you get dusted by a mangrove jack or estuary cod when working lures in these areas on light line.

Crabbing will be good throughout December with sand and mud crabs available. Setting a few pots up in the estuaries, especially overnight, will likely reward you with a few tasty bucks. Most of the major creeks and rivers will produce decent results but those accessing the harder to reach areas are more likely to succeed. Muddies can be caught well up the Brisbane River, even past the city reaches. Sand crabs will be taken around the mouths of estuaries but are more common in the open waters of the bay proper. They regularly travel along the gutters and contours in the bay so setting your pots here is a good ploy.

Snapper are still worth targeting and this summer will probably see better catches than usual, due to previous rainfall that has washed plenty of nutrients into the water. Casting plastics around the edges of the bay islands, Scarborough Reef, around the artificial reefs (Harry Atkinson and Curtin) and also the various wrecks littering the bay will provide good opportunity. Bait fishing will also work well if you present quality baits with finesse rigging. Drifting will give better presentation than at anchor but you will have to endure more snags. Plenty of other species including sweetlip, morwong, tuskfish, bream, flathead, cod and others will be tempted in these areas.

Cobia will still be a distinct possibility for those live-baiting around the beacons, artificial reefs and patches of coffee rock in the Northern Bay. Anywhere that you can catch juvenile sweetlip, snapper, whiptails and others is worth a crack, as cobia are likely to be in the precinct. Specimens over 40kg are caught within the bay waters every year.

overall

There are plenty of options for anglers throughout December. Whether you fish offshore, in Moreton Bay or the filtering creeks, there are plenty of opportunities, even if you don’t have a boat.

Pelagic activity in the bay can be excellent at times so it pays to look for activity when traversing its waters and to always have a spinning rod rigged and ready to cast.

There will be heightened activity at the ramps and on the water so be courteous and patient. Have everything in the boat ready before backing down the ramp, including your bungs in and unnecessary strapping taken off.

The summer heat creates its own problems so make sure you cover up as much as possible with protective clothing, sunscreen and polarized sunglasses. I hope Santa brings you all the new tackle-store toys you wished for and that you have a safe and prosperous Christmas and New Year period. Most of all, I hope you get to do lots of festive fishing.

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