Snapper Show up for the Show
  |  First Published: June 2011

Half the year has gone and its show time in Mackay with the annual June show coinciding with what is generally accepted as the start of the snapper season here.

There have been reports of snapper from the islands south of Sarina since Easter and with the good weather at the time of writing, this could be a bumper snapper season in our area. It all depends on the weather gods; surely after the massive wet season we can look forward to some decent fishing weather.

The snapper migrate north to spawn and can be found from the bottom end of the Whitsunday Islands down towards St Lawrence around any of the island groups or rock/reef patches. Good numbers are sometimes located over low rubble/gravel bottoms such as that around the Hay Point area. These areas can be easily picked up with a quality sounder.

The snapper tend to be in the deeper water around the islands, so look for them in 5m of water or deeper where there is some type of structure. A few old wrecks off the Sarina coastline have been consistent hotspots for many years but as the wrecks rot away, their attraction to fish diminishes. Don’t let this deter you; it is surprising just how little structure can attract large numbers of fish. If you can locate schools of bait near structure, odds are that there will be snapper and other species close by.

Of course snapper aren’t the only species around during our winter, with some good pelagic fishing to be had as well as the usual bottom species such as trout, red throat, pinkies etc.

The winter months are when the black jew are most active and good catches of these mighty fish can be had from around the harbour and its close islands; Newry Island off Seaforth and the island around Sarina. The Mackay harbour breakwalls are the most reliable spot, but at the moment there is no vehicle access on the southern wall, which is still being repaired after cyclone “Ului” in 2010.

Best bait for the jewies is a fresh squid, and there are good numbers available in the harbour around the lights. Any small live bait and even slabs of fresh mullet have accounted for many for a jewie from the rock walls.

The harbour also fishes reasonably well for fingermark and occasionally grunter and barra, which are often an incidental catch when chasing jewfish.

The pelagics that are around during the winter months include some absolute horse queenfish, which can be found around the islands, the harbour and in the mouths of the larger creek/river systems. They often head for shallow water when small herring begin to burst out of the water in numbers. A popper, shiny or shallow diver in this situation will usually be hammered. Even when bait fishing, it pays to always have a spare rod rigged with either a small shiny, lure or popper at the ready for a quick cast.

Mackerel will be around along with cobia, but the access to them will depend on the weather. It would be nice to have Easter weather (sunny, light winds and flat seas) all through winter but that is not likely to happen. On the days when we get these conditions, all our ramps with access to the ocean are very busy and there are a lot of ‘sickies’ taken.

When the winds are up, which is all too often, fishing is confined to the creeks and estuaries, where the old mainstays are flathead, bream and whiting. Anyone from south familiar with these species will find them in abundance throughout the Mackay area and a ready source of a few feeds.

Salmon generally put in a few appearances during the winter and the odd jack and barra can also be found. For the latter two look for days when the weather is warmer and there is little if any wind (a pretty tough call I know). Estuary cod are a good target during the winter months and grow to substantial sizes in the creeks and estuaries. Look for them in the heavy snags and around rocks.

The crabbing is usually pretty quiet during the winter although it is still worth putting out a pot or two while fishing. An old saying is that crabbing is no good in months without an “R” in them so that shuts out the winter months.

In freshwater, the barra are in hibernation mode but will still respond to accurate and intelligent lure presentation. To be successful persistence and patience is needed, but the barra are there and still have to have protein to maintain their metabolism. This is the time of year to really pay attention to your temperature readout on your sounder and look for any warmer water in the dams; 1-2ºc can make all the difference. The warmer the water the better the chances are of scoring a barra or two.

Again the warmer water is usually shallow, and windless days will be better than a howling gale, so look for these conditions. Stealth in approach is also vital to success as the fish are in the shallows and wary. Use your electric and stand well off the area you want to fish and use longer casts to get your lure up in the shallows.

Remember to keep hammering a spot, as the fish will take some stirring up. I find during the cooler months late afternoon is the one of the best times to chase a barra in spots that have had sun on them all or at least most of the day. These spots can be easily located and a very quiet cruise around with the electric checking water temperatures will get you some likely spots.

As the barra are slowing up, work your lures super slowly, with lots of pauses and plenty of “jiggling” in the one spot. Remember you will likely have to stir the barra into hitting your lure, so one or two casts to a spot is unlikely to produce results. Suspending lures can be really effective here keeping the lure in front of the fish.

As always the best results will come from trying various approaches and various types of lures. Be prepared to experiment and you will get the results.

Last but not least my old friend the sooty grunter is always a worthwhile target and will be on the chew right through the winter. Like the barra, the sooties will look for the warmer areas in either the dams or creeks. At this time of year, I find it really pleasant to get a light rod, a couple of lures and go walking in the shallow creeks chasing sooties. They will not be big fish, but it is a very neat way to enjoy a couple of stress free hours fishing in some lovely country, and I thoroughly recommend it.

That’s a wrap on what’s going on in June in Mackay. The weather is coolish but really nice compared to places south. There are plenty of fishing opportunities, so why not venture up here to paradise and enjoy our beautiful part of the country. See you at the ramp.

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