Summer jack encounters
  |  First Published: December 2010

Fishing in the tropics is meant to be easy, but that hasn’t been the case this year. 2010 has certainly been a challenge and, although there has been some excellent fishing at times, few locals can remember a year that has provided so few fishing opportunities because of persistent weather patterns.

September and October, which are usually jewels in the weather crown, came and went without offering much at all. This makes it difficult to know what to expect in December. The usual entry into the warmer months with accompanying northerly winds has not happened and so far we have had a persistent southeasterly wind pattern with more rain.

On the plus side, the local fisheries this year have received a boost with a much higher level of fishing protection from recreational anglers than normal. I am in favour of having seasonal closures to protect spawning fish and this year the natural consequences of weather have complemented the fishing regulation and fish stocks going forward should be in great shape.


The past month has provided some good fishing at times. On the flats there has been a good variety with blue salmon, grunter, trevally and queenfish being caught by bait fishers. In the month ahead we should have more of this, particularly if we get some light winds and a northerly influence.

In amongst the mangroves and deep water of the Cairns inlet, a few nice fingermark have been caught as well as some good jacks and a few barramundi. Remember that it is the barramundi closed season, so if you happen to catch one you’ll need to handle it with care and release it.

Lure fishing has been hot and cold, with the best action happening on the bottom half of the tide. When it occurs really early in the morning it has produced some quality jacks. In the heat of summer I recommend making an early start so you can work your lures well before sun-up.

Along with the jacks there have been plenty of by-catch species to keep the interest up, including a few flathead, estuary cod, tarpon, archerfish and school GTs.

With the barra being off limits, jacks are a good target species at this time of the year and they are superb on the BBQ. I prefer to chase jacks on a slow run-in tide and this remains a nice evening activity to try in December well out of the heat of the day.

If you are chasing jacks just remember one word: structure. Jacks are never too far away from a good timber snag or rocky area. There are plenty of spots that fit this description within the Cairns inlet but if you are a novice to this waterway I recommend having a good look around in daylight to select your spot for the night-time venture.

Use a small medium to heavy baitcaster or spin rod combo spooled up with 20lb braid. I recommend a mono trace of about 30cm 15kg line attached to your hook below a swivel and then a small pea/ball sinker or just enough lead weight to hold your rig in the desired position for the tidal run.

Any successful angler will tell you that when it comes to bait, the fresher the better – and this is especially true for jacks. Live prawns are excellent, but jacks will also respond well to fresh strip baits of mullet and gar as well as butterflied sardines and mud herring. If you cannot get any fresh bait, a good stand-by is a quality pillie. Trim the tail off to set up a small berley trail.

Fish with your reel set in strike drag and don’t be too far away from your rod holder as jacks hit hard and fast. You will need to be on hand to wrestle the fish away from the cover otherwise you will lose out.


Reports coming in from boats that have braved it and made it out offshore have indicated good catches of coral trout, various sweetlip, emperors and nannygai. The bottom fishing action will probably taper off if the water temperatures continue to rise, so you might want to try looking for the coral trout in deeper water this month.

A good option worth considering if the weather allows is a night-time trip chasing red emperor and nannygai in between the reefs. If you do head out at night, just be aware of the evening storms that can occur in summer. Also, if we do get some early season flooding there usually is floating debris to watch out for.

While bottom fishing, it is always worthwhile putting a floater out in case there is a stray mackerel around. The abundant mackerel have thinned out – as we would expect in the summer months – and this time of the year usually turns up a lot of sharks and large barracuda to contend with. Still, you might get lucky!

Jacks are well worth chasing this month. Local angler Darryl Schwilk with a quality specimen taken from the Cairns Inlet.

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