Challenges Ahead
  |  First Published: February 2011

The so-called glory days are now behind us as we enter into a phase where the fishing can be at its toughest and most challenging. The heart of the wet season is here and from recent observations it could be a long tough haul with limited good fishing opportunities ahead.

The issues we’ll be faced with include flash flooding which can shut the fishing down completely for days on end, potential strong winds, and if the winds are abating they can often come from the north or even the north west which makes offshore fishing near to impossible. It’s not all dire though and what is required is some patience and the ability to strike when the conditions settle down to a certain degree.

The reef fishing has been tougher of late which is to be expected during the hottest months of the year. Often the days have been furnace like and the biggest problem has been when the winds were swinging from the north to north-west. A lot of our good structure on the reef has the steeper face of the bommie facing south-east and that is where the bait life and fish have been congregating. With the winds coming from the opposite direction it has forced anglers to anchor up on the northern edges which tend to be of a slower gradient and doesn’t offer much in the way of fish life. Knowing this in the coming month, what you’ll need to wait for is decent weather firstly and then hope for a south easterly breeze. This will at least allow you to drop anchor and then lean back onto those south-eastern walls which should be holding some form of life.

In February the reef fish aren’t necessarily chewing their heads off but you should see most of the action on the turns of the tide. When this occurs make sure you are in one of your better secret spots and you are anchored correctly. Sometimes it pays to arrive at your spot well before the tide turns and be well prepared for the small window of opportunity. By doing this you can check out which way the current is also running and you can re-adjust if need be. If all goes to plan there are still some good fish to be caught and even though the quantity may not be there, the quality generally is. Plump sized coral and bar cheek trout, spangled emperor, sweetlip, stripeys, gold spot trevally and large mouth nannygai have featured consistently during the January period. There is also the occasional big rogue Spanish mackerel cruising around so a live bait suspended under a float while fishing is always worthwhile.

Just another little tip: If we have received copious amounts of rain, the further offshore you travel the better it is to escape the amount of fresh which can stretch up to 20 miles offshore. If this is the case do watch for floating debris and semi-submerged logs which can remain at sea for weeks, even if the weather comes good. Every year there are many who have fallen trap to these obstacles resulting in severe propeller damage or even worse.

If you prefer our coastal creeks and rivers there will be quite a few challenges ahead in the coming month. If we have severe rainfall it is probably not worth even considering taking to the water. But if we receive a break there are some areas where you can enjoy success.

Fishing the river entrances is always of great place to begin, especially on an incoming tide where fresh saltwater will be pushing through. At this time of year it does pay to vary your baits between live bait (if you can source them) and fresh dead baits such as squid, mullet strips and prawns. Often the water will be discoloured and fish will be relying on their sense of smell rather than sight, and that’s when dead baits come into their own. It you do happen to source live bait fish, it seems a shame but often those presented freshly dead will produce better results. But in saying this always have a livie out there if you can. By employing these tactics you’ll come across a variety of fish including grunter, blue salmon, trevally, flathead, bream, barra and the usual run of stingrays and shovel nose ray.

With the barra season open you’ll see the best results a few days following a good downpour just as the river or creek system starts to return to its normal clarity. Upstream the run off creeks, drains and causeways will see them sitting and waiting in ambush for fresh food to come their way. Often you’ll see dirty water on the edges with cleaner water alongside, and that dirty water is where they will be sitting. The outgoing tide is the best time to be putting in most of your efforts around these strike zones. Live baits such as sardines, herring or mullet will have great effect and this is also the time flick lures time and time again into these ambush points. A very slow retrieve with a flickering action will receive some attention.

As for lure selection, keep swapping them around until you find one that appeals. As a starting point you could try a few proven lures such as the pink Flatz Ratz, silver or gold B52s, gold Bombers and soft plastic prawns. I’m sure you’ll have other points of views on lure selection but the important feature here is to have them in the water and not sitting unused in your tackle box. While in pursuit of barra at these locations you’ll also see plenty of action on the mangrove jack which seem to relish in wet season conditions. They seem to bite no matter what the conditions and probably the only species you can target at any stage. Work the likely barra spots but also work over any major timber structure you can find. They are partial to anything that resembles flesh whether it be dead or alive and are not overly fussy with what is put in front of their nose.

A couple of other areas worth considering is to place your crab pots while you are fishing, preferably where there is a good concentration of saltwater. The mud crabs will be venturing from the dense mangrove forests avoiding the influx of fresh water. Often coastal mangrove edges are a good starting point and also the edges of the main part of the system which should have a reasonable salt concentration level. Another idea if you are handy with the fly rod, have it in the boat at this time of year (or alternatively a light spinning rod). Often the deeper bends are teeming with tarpon feeding on the surface and a small white Clouser or soft plastic presentation will have fish crawling all over it. You will easily know if the tarpon are there because you will see them with their dorsal fins flickering on the surface. They’ll often be in massive schools mulling around eating small bait life. They’ll likely be between the 40-60cm mark but are a heap of fun with their acrobatic aerial displays once hooked.

So in between the rain and dodging the odd cyclone, there are opportunities at hand even though the elements may suggest otherwise.

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