Just another Manic March Day
  |  First Published: March 2011

March is a month where the fishing is seriously influenced by the severity of the weather and anglers are often forced to change their game plan to cater for heavy downpours, freshwater run-off and dirty water.

Unfortunately these influences stretch much further than just the creeks and the rivers with the bay and inshore islands also affected by these variables.

On the bright side, March traditionally tends to favour more stable weather in Bowen than the previous months and when a window of opportunity arises and the creeks, rivers and inshore waters settle down, there will be some red hot fishing on offer.

The creek fishing in March is mayhem! This is one of the best times of the year to tangle with some big barramundi in the waters around Bowen.

With the barra season well and truly open, anglers should take advantage of periods of stable weather to froth the waters with surface and diving lures around likely looking snags, deep holes, rocky points and open exposed structure holding headlands to snare a big barra.

Concentrating efforts around the rocky points and mud ridden mangrove banks on the top of the tide between Adelaide and Duck creeks is always a good option, as this spot tends to hold plenty of mullet and prawn bait. Locate the bait and the fish will not be too far behind.

Luring around the top of the tide will allow the water and bait to push right up against the structure on the outsides of creeks and with plenty of freshwater in the creeks many of the barra will move out to find where they are holding.

These waters can often be particularly shallow so shallow running minnows, twitched stickbaits and slow rolling softies like Berkley Hollow Bellys and Pro Range slick rigs are excellent choices. If the water is dirty use high visibility colours; white is a particularly good all round choice.

Find a good piece of natural structure that looks fishy and spend time thoroughly fishing the spot. Change lure types, colours, and even retrieves as barra can be fussy eaters and sometimes it is all about finding the pattern that works not the quality of the cast to find some success.

Live baiting will be the best option if you want to soak a few baits for barra and it is hard not to go past many of the deeper holes at the mouths of creeks.

The deep hole at the mouth of Boat Creek just north of the Don River mouth is always a good spot to start especially with its contoured deep gutters and copious amounts of mangrove structure. This spot fishes at its best around the bottom of the tide when the barra move in to await the run-in tide and the bait that pushes in with it.

Large live mullet baits around 20cm long pinned either in the mouth or shoulder will deter pickers and unwanted fish and will fit the best in a big barra’s bucket mouth. Live baiting for barra can be a tricky job and bait runner reels will definitely be a big help.

Barra will often mouth the bait and run slowly with it for a short amount of time before actually swallowing the bait properly. Striking too early will often see the fish jump out of the water and spit the bait out, which can be very frustrating, especially when it happens right in front of your eyes. Allowing the fish to run with the bait for about ten seconds is always a good idea before striking hard.

The other big predator that will be running hard in the creeks in March will be the ferocious mangrove jack. These fish have been feeding hard over January and February often right at the tops of the creeks and should start to move back down around snags and holes in the creek as the weather begins to stabilise.

Finding the pattern of the bait is crucial and if there is plenty of bait working at the tops of creeks then this will be the best place to wet a live herring or mullet or concentrate lures. Many of these fish will be thick and very heavy shouldered after months of active feeding, so make sure your drags are tight and your knots are well tied or you may end up donating your tackle to the trees.

Whether it is jacks or barra you are chasing, try focusing your fishing peak times around the early mornings and late afternoons. The heat associated with the middle of the day is often too oppressive for both anglers and fish and getting a bite when the sun is high can be difficult.

If you are planning a trip up the creek make sure you set a few pots as the crabs will be consistent around March and while they won’t be about in massive numbers, crabbers will find the effort is worth it.

March tends to see pots full of just under legal crabs so make sure you check them all before throwing them in the keeper bag. Many of these just under crabs are deceiving in size as they often have large claws but small shells. While we curse these crabs now, in a couple of months they will mature and make for a great future meal!

Out in the bay, the fishing has been very hot and cold with anglers finding the trout and sweetlip on the bite one week but gone the next. However in January there was a huge amount of just undersized coral trout coming from the islands and spearfishers have been reporting extraordinary amounts of juvenile fish littered throughout all the islands and inshore reefs.

This can be attributed to the huge amounts of whitebait that have taken up residence around these areas making for a plethora of food and some pretty easy pickings. Hopefully by March these 35cm fish will have put on a bit of bulk and size.

While many anglers will traditionally chase these fish with pilchard, sinker and hook, soft plastic options are a very viable and under fished option, especially for coral trout. Many of Bowen’s islands have slow gradient coral reef ledges that drop down into isolated bombie style structures. These spots often hold predatory fish like coral trout, sweetlip, jacks, and stripeys and all of these fish just love to inhale a slow rolled big softy.

While you won’t have any difficulty finding a likely looking coral ledge around the Islands, locating where the fish will be concentrated will take a little more effort. Keeping an eye out for where the bait schools of fusiliers and whitebait are concentrated is a good start, but the most important sign to look for is where the current is flowing, which will give away the main pressure points on the ledge.

Predatory fish just love to face into the current and when a soft plastic grub or swim bait rolls past looking injured it becomes hard for them to resist. Soft plastics of choice range from the Berkley 6” Grub for an easy slow roll retrieve to 7” jerkshads and Squidgy flick baits for a more wounded style presentation.

When fishing with soft plastics around the islands ensure your gear is suitable for the job. A good rule of thumb is to use the same strength of rod, reel, braid, and leader you would use for chasing mangrove jacks around tight structure in the creeks. Because you are fishing around very sharp coral structure and targeting fish that love to play dirty, you will need a fair bit of pressure to drag them away and into the safety of open waters.

These areas also tend to be home to some very big sportfish such as giant trevally and queenfish so having a little in reserve is always a wise bet.

March is a great time to target reef fish but fishing is best conducted early in the morning and late in the afternoons. This is especially so for those fishing deeper water shoals and shipping channels near the outer reef for nannygai and red emperor.

What’s in store for next month?

In April anglers will see the most stable weather conditions of the warmer months of 2011 and barring a cyclone the rivers and creeks should begin to clear up and settle down making for improved catches and more consistent fishing. This will be particularly so for lure fishers, who will be craving a bit of clear water.

Summer whiting really comes on the run in April and the mouths of all sandy creeks around Bowen come alive with these feisty little fish. Chasing these fish on the run-in tide is always the best time and fresh yabbies are a must. These fish also respond well to small 2” grub style plastics and small poppers.

Out a little wider the decline in extreme temperatures will see the bottom fishing improve and become more consistent and there should be plenty of excellent captures of trout, sweetlip, reds and tuskfish on offer in close and out wide if the weather permits.

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