Seeing red
  |  First Published: April 2011

Well the weather gods finally turned it on for Cooktown for the first few months of 2011. Slight winds allowed angler to get out to some wider ground chasing red emperor, saddle-tailed sea perch (nannygai) and other tasty reef fish.

The majority of the reds have been falling to whole fresh squid baits, however large fillets and butterflied hussar, Moses perch and spangled emperor have been claiming their fair share of victims also. Don’t be afraid to use the fillet of a 50cm spangled emperor as a flesh bait. More often than not, it will allow the better quality fish to find your bait, and because it’s tough you won’t be left with a bare hook. Using a tough bait is handy when fishing the nutrient-rich tropical waters off Cooktown, as it’s not uncommon to find 10-15 rat-sized crimson snapper (small-mouth nannygai) stealing your bait a meter below the surface.

Using such large flesh bait does have its negatives as you often get bombarded by sharks, cod and big Chinaman fish. The type of ground you are fishing and the time of year often dictates what bait gets sent down to the bottom. From April through to August, anglers can usually get away with these large baits. However, the conversion ratio from fish to sharks is often embarrassing over the summer months when the warm currents from further north make their way to Cooktown, bringing plagues of sharks.

The water around the wharf has been producing some quality barra and some horse-sized river jacks (for North Queensland, anyway) when fished on a run-out tide around the full moon at night. This method has been catching big barra throughout Australia for many years. In Cooktown’s case, these fish can often be found feeding on the squid, garfish and herring that are drawn into the deck lights of the many commercial vessels anchored in the channel adjacent to the public wharf.

Whilst live baits and hardbody lures will catch fish, the easiest method to catch these large barra is by flicking large soft plastic lures. Cast your plastic upcurrent and let it sink to the bottom, then retrieve using a slow wind with a few dips of the rod tip. Due to the size of these fish (commonly around 80-90cm), and the increasing commercial pressures, please release whatever breeding-sized fish you catch. There are plenty of just-legal male barra throughout the system to keep if you are after a feed.

The river has been quite dirty from all the rain that the Cooktown area has received over the last few months. This has been one of the wettest years for a long time, with most of the country around the upper reaches of the Endeavour receiving great rainfall. Care should still be taken during this time of the year if you have not been travelling the river on a regular basis, as after each wet there are many new snags flushed down into the system which outboard propellers and skegs often do not agree with.

Walker Bay has been fishing quite well with plenty of rat-sized barra, jacks, queenfish and trevally being encountered by the lure flickers. The rock bars around Graves Point heading towards Turkey Point hold some cracker jacks, cod and fingermark for anglers prepared to put the time in.

At this time of year you will still encounter the odd glassed-out day before the trade winds swing into full form. On these days, a good plan is to flick lures around the headlands on a 2.5m morning tide and then run across to Dawson and Collishaw reefs to target trout and Spanish mackerel before running home after lunch before the wind picks up.

I have seen some massive Spanish mackerel and giant trevally chase the plentiful supply of gar and wolf herring that hold in the area between the mouth of the Annan River and Graves point. Trevallies over 1m in length are a common sight, but hooking them on baitcasting gear usually ends in tears and a sore, blistered and line-burnt thumb.

These inshore reefs also make a good inshore spearfishing option if the water clarity is good. Many spearos has been impressed with the quality of fish that can be pulled off these inshore reefs in depths of around 10-15m. Plenty of Spanish mackerel and cobia can be encountered patrolling the reef edges looking for the ever-present schools of fusiliers and gar that can be found here at this time of year.

The upcoming month usually is the start of the infamous trade winds and unfortunately is usually when the water cools enough to get the trout really chewing again. Bag limit catches of trout and Spanish mackerel are a common occurrence over the winter months by the ‘freezer fillers’. The commercial trout boats will also see their catches increase.

I have often wondered how long the live trout industry will survive with the amount of trout caught each week. It is mind-boggling to think that many of the boats in Cooktown unload over 1000 live trout each trip (usually about 8-10 days). When you think about the number of trout quotas in Queensland on some weeks there must be tens of thousands of live trout exported each month. The government thinks it’s a sustainable fishery, but this remains to be seen.

Before planning a trip to Cooktown and its surrounding areas why not give us a call at The Lure Shop and let us fill you in on what’s biting and where the action is. The Lure Shop is located at 142 Charlotte Street, Cooktown and we can be contacted on (07) 4069 5396 or via email on --e-mail address hidden-- or --e-mail address hidden--

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