This season has been a beauty for nearly all species, inshore and offshore, from barramundi through to Spanish mackerel. The floods that we all whinged about earlier in the year have left a legacy in the form of abundant baitfish and prawns that has kept a lot of the migratory fishes here for much longer than a normal year, and the rest of the year should follow suit.
Spanish mackerel are everywhere at present, with the best eating 6-10kg fish in close to the Keppels and the bigger fish just a bit further away. They usually hang around in big numbers until the end of May before they taper off leaving the residents and the odd passing school to keep us interested. I think because of this we are going to get a much longer season and the decline is probably going to be less noticeable for another month or so.
Liza Jane out from the southern end of The Capricorn Coast is a fickle spot that requires big tides to get the best out of it. When the tides are around the 4m mark, then approximately 10am is the optimum time to chase these tasty sped demons.
Liza consists of a bunch of pinnacle type structures with a rubble, reefy bottom over a fair sized area. The mackerel circle the gaps between the bommies picking off the unwary baitfish pushed through the funnels to the open water on the other side. If you haven’t got an exact mark for any of the structures it pays to troll the area and mark the features where the fish are hanging.
Another tip for fishing Liza is to take notice of any bait schools you see so you can match the size. Plenty of time has been wasted by towing a big ribbonfish or bonito for no results while the Spanish have been feeding on northern pillies or rainbow runners at less than half the size. Try putting out a pillie and the session will turn around for the better, sometimes the opposite is the go.
The next most popular mackerel spot is Barren Island, or to be more precise Barren and Child. This is a great area for Spanish mackerel, which seem to be here much of the year, it is quite rare that you won’t pick up a fish on any given day. We always troll a couple of laps of Child to find the fish that usually hold on the north east point or either end of the channel between Barren and Child. Once we have a couple of fish on board and have the spot marked we drop anchor, put out a floater or two for Spanish then drop a big bait to the bottom and go for a trout at the same time. Like many of the local spots, Barren works better on a bigger tide.
Moving along the Keppels, we have Man & Wife and Outer Rock. Both of these places have a good supply of pelagics, especially Spanish and cobia, as well as lots of reefies. They are a good all round option for the smaller boats because of the proximity to cover in the event of a bad weather change. There are bommies and points at either end of the rocks where Spanish hang when conditions are right.
Man & Wife is a place that whole squid work very well for mackerel, particularly in winter when the squid are on in quantity. We often spend a little time nailing a few squid before floating them out live past the rocks to the waiting mackerel. The only problem, if you can call it a problem, is getting your squid taken by a massive cobia instead of a mackerel. Man & Wife is one of the better cobia spots anywhere on its day.
The surprising spot that a lot of locals drive straight past is Pumpkin and Sloping Islands at the southern end of North Keppel. Over the cooler months large schools of small rainbow runners move over the shallow rubble grounds around the bottom of North Keppel and Ross Reef where school-sized Spanish come into a few metres of water and have a field day. Trolling bright coloured lures 100-150mm works a treat and once you find the fish you can get a hook up or two nearly every pass. Later in the year the big females, up to 30kg+, come in very close and lay in the channels against the steep rock faces.
Conical Rocks is one of the better close spots for big Spanish mackerel The starting point is the channel between the rocks and the sunken bommie. Then slowly head out past sunken to sweetlip city and back again. There is a rubble patch that runs from about 11-14m where bait schools congregate and attract all kinds of mackerel from doggies to Spaniards.
Lots of times the mackerel will be spread out over the patch and all the boats are sticking close to the rocks and only picking up the odd fish. Always do a wide troll to suss the situation before sticking only to one zone. Ribbonfish and bonito as bait rule here, because of location there is a bigger class of baitfish most of the time.
Inside the bay not far from shore is Findlays, it is a patch of rubble and reef that attracts all sorts of fish from reefies to just about every tropical water pelagic at times. The lesser mackerels love it here and with them comes cobia and Spanish mackerel. Many times when fishing for doggies or spotties with floating pilchards a horse comes out of the depths and blows you away on light gear.
Heading north is The Pinnacles where locals usually chase grunter, scarlets and huge black jew. But in winter schools of midsized Spanish patrol the area and knock off grunter and small reefies on their way up to the surface. The Pinns work best right on daylight, so if you miss them here just keep going to the next spot, Flat Isle.
Flat and Perforated are locally renowned for Spanish and reefies, if you had to choose one spot where you could get a feed almost at will it would be Flat or Perforated. The best spots around the isles are all current lines coming off the points on the eastern side. Lots of guys troll around the islands, but we anchor and float out either livies or pillies depending on the bait schools in the area. I may harp on about local baits but the difference between a feed and a duck when times are tough can be as little as using a smaller or bigger bait.
Back onto the coast we have Manifold Island where the guys in the know head straight away for big Spaniards. This is another of those fish magnets where everything from trout to grunter and nannies can be taken on season.
With a predominant northerly current Manifold is a jewel for mackerel when all else is quiet. Apply the same tips as the other spots and you will get a feed any day the conditions allow you to get there. Heading home back down the coast we always have a troll past Five Rocks. Very few guys ever bother because they just don’t know how good it can be. I have never bagged out or even cracked a record breaker but we get a big Spaniard every time we try along the deeper drop-off edge not far out from the main rocks, and while we are there it pays to go for a scout over The Rama.
The Rama is a wreck where grunter, black jew and very large scarlets frequent around the moon. The wreck has large amounts of bait taking shelter much of the time so it is understandable that mackerel would find it at some stage.
I spent all of this column on Spanish mackerel because the effort can definitely reap rewards and each of these spots has a good supply of bottom fish to help make your day quite memorable. Too many fishers have a favourite few spots and they never venture far from their own safety net and then complain that nothing was biting. Exploration has its own rewards and you just might stumble over some territory that has been over looked by loads of others and this spot could be your next favourite.
All the estuaries are still going well with captures from barramundi to mud crabs and salmon so get out there and enjoy the cooler weather.Reads: 8750