Lapping up the Highs
  |  First Published: August 2011

As with all the winter months in far north Queensland, the fishing prospects are in the lap of the highs.

If the centres of the high pressure systems are passing down near the Great Australian Bight, then the Cairns area experiences long periods of strong south easterlies.

The only respite is the short break between the highs, which invariably falls mid-week. If on the other hand, the middle of the highs pass across the centre of Australia, then the weather is magic, along with the fishing. With the early, cold onset of winter this year, I’m expecting a warm, balmy finish and the early onset of spring fever.


When the wind allows, the reef will be firing, producing a mixture of species, including large-mouth nannygai, red emperor, golden trevally, coral trout, spangled emperor, Moses perch and Spaniards. Coral trout will be starting to feed up in preparation for spawning and are usually in prime condition at this time of year.

The first sharp rise in water temperature will see them start to roe up, ready for their annual spawn. In previous years the sharks have been ferocious in August, so let’s hope they are having a siesta.


August is generally considered high noon for Spaniards, with good catches of this premier sport and table fish being taken from the shore to the outer reef. Around this time they will start to move offshore to the spawning grounds but until then they will be dancing around all the usual inshore reefs, wrecks and islands in good numbers.

Trolling spoons, deep diving minnows, and live or dead baits will all produce, as will floating a pillie, gar or live bait out in the current.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to nail a Spanish mackerel is to have a pilchard out under a float while bottom fishing at the reef. A small commercial orange and white foam float, about 2-3” long, is ideal for this method. They thread onto the line and are positioned with a plastic needle. The best all round depth to have the pilchard is about 3m under the float.

I never use a steel trace for mackerel. But I’ve found over an extended period that fishing without a steel trace doubles your hook-up rate but you lose between one in four and one in five mackerel to bite-offs. If you do the maths, you are well ahead using this approach.

The pillie is attached using four 7/0 chained hooks, with my favourite being VMC O’Shaugnessy long shanks. They are quite a fine wire hook that comes out of the packet needle sharp, chain ready and are pretty rust resistant. The other plus with this style of hook is they have no offset, which helps reduce instances of the bait twisting in the current.

Anglers that love chasing the speed brigade should also find a few yellowfin tuna out wide, along with northern bluefin tuna. A good starting point is out on the Continental Shelf around the 50-100m mark.


With a bit of luck (read warm weather) the barra will start to stir from their winter slumber. Keep in mind though, that you can catch barra all year round if you are prepared to put in the time and effort.

Usually on the August full moon the big female barra move out of the estuaries and onto the headlands in preparation for spawning. They also cop a caning from the pro netters, so there’s not many left for the rec fisho, unless you really put the time in.

The smaller male barra start to move down out of the fresh water towards the mouths and get excited about upcoming events. In spite of this movement, August is not really considered prime barra fishing time. Most of the real barra action won’t occur until the water temperature gets up over 26ºC.

If you are luring in colder water, stick to a super slow retrieve, as barra are lazy little blighters at the best of times and can’t be bothered getting out of their own road when it’s a bit cold. That means the accuracy of casting or trolling is vital.

If you don’t virtually bang them on the nose and cast the lure or live bait right in the structure, then you will go home scoreless. Soft plastics and Prawnstars are perfect for this type of casting, as you can lob them on top of the snag/rocks and let them sink right into the cover.

Hardbodied lures need to be deep divers and must be banged along the bottom. This style of lure fishing usually has a high lure mortality rate, so be prepared to lose a few lures each session.


Mangrove jack tend to handle the cold water better than barra, so always be on the lookout for these red devils.

Smaller lures worked deep in the cover are the go for these ambushers. Small, live and fresh dead baits also work a treat.

When anchoring for estuary fishing I use a dual anchor system to end up within casting distance of good structure against the bank, with some rubble ground out wider for bait fishing for bream, grunter, fingermark and anything else that may cruise past with the tide. I then put a bait out wide on the rubble and lure the snags/rocks while I wait for a bite (local fishing regulations permitting). Remember, this can’t be done in a yellow zone, as it’s only one rod or line per person.

Grunter should be around on the lead up to the full moon, so mark the weekend of 13-14 August down for these under rated fish. There are few better eating fish in our estuaries and they can certainly pull, especially on their initial run and again when they see the boat, so make sure you have the drag set light.

They are not dirty fighters like the red devils and will seldom brick you. The weed and shale beds are the places to search for grunter. Out on the hospital flats, in amongst the boat pylons and over the shale bottom in Trinity Inlet are all known grunter grounds. Bream will also be around the same areas but tend to like a bit rougher bottom, so look around the edges of the rock walls, out at the Boom and in amongst the pylons of the jetties for this table staple. The odd salmon will also be poking around, so watch for any bait schools being stirred up.

There should be a few queenfish and trevally moving in on the incoming tide, especially on the bigger full and new moon tides. Drifting live sardines in the channels or casting surface poppers will often account for these awesome sport fish. A 1m queenfish doing cartwheels across the surface can really get the heart racing.

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