Mackerel Mayhem
  |  First Published: June 2011

When the mercury plummets into the low teens and the strong south east trade winds begin to abate, Bowen’s boat ramps come alive with all manner of angler and they all have one fish species in mind – mackerel. That’s right, June spells the peak fishing season for this family of pelagic speedsters and if early season captures are anything to go by we are in for one terrific mackerel season.

Since early April, hordes of small baitfish have been schooling up throughout the bay and out on the local mackerel patch. This has created ideal feeding conditions for bigger baitfish like wolf herring and gar and ultimately mackerel. The inner and outer islands like Stone, Middle and Holbourne have already begun harbouring small packs of feeding grey and Spanish mackerel, which is a positive sign for things to come. By June, these fish will become more concentrated and will begin to school up making them easy targets for fishers.

Grey and doggie mackerel tend to be the first species of mackerel to school up in concentrated numbers; if last year’s numbers are repeated then there will be plenty of rod bending action on offer. 2010 saw a return to years past with huge numbers of large grey mackerel (some exceeding 12kg) taking up residents only a kilometre from the Greys Bay boat ramp, which made for some exciting cricket score catches on bait, lure and even fly.

Grey, spotted and doggie and mackerel will also be found in good numbers throughout the many islands and inshore reefs, however they will be more consistent and concentrated on Bowen’s inner and outer mackerel patches. These football field sized patches of rubble that start around 4km north of Greys Bay ramp are massive spawning, feeding and aggregation zones for these fish. It is not hard to find these spots, as a quick check of the horizon from Queens Beach usually sees countless numbers of boats marking these iconic spots.

Spanish mackerel are also prevalent in June and can be caught right in close around high current spots like Innamincka, the Patches, to further out Abbott Point Coal Loading Jetty and Holbourne Island and Nares Rock. Surprisingly, the larger fish around the 20-30kg mark tend to be caught closer inshore with many of the wider spots mostly holding schooling fish to about 15kg. Trolling live baits or big dead baits, especially wolf herring or gars, is the best method of snaring these fish.

While the blue water options really open up in June there are still some great options for those creek anglers. Whilst many fishers put away the bait casters and lures in the winter months, many would be surprised at the quality of lure fishing still on offer. Large predatory species like jacks and barramundi, whilst less aggressive and less active still feed and a well-placed lure at the right time of day will still produce good results. Just like impoundment fishing, winter often drives barra and jacks into the shallow snags and flats where the water is warmest. Finding them is only half the battle as they can often be seen sulking up in the shallows as the creek water tends to run very clear during the stabile winter months. Timing is crucial and while early mornings or evenings are still good times to concentrate fishing, the middle of the afternoon seems to prove the most effective as this is when water temps are at their peak.

Using the right lure is also important and using lures and plastics which can work on a very slow retrieve is a very good place to start. Hollowbellies, Z-man Swimmerz and the lighter Slick Rigs are good plastics to use as they provide plenty of action even at a dead slow pace. Hardbodies also have their place and using lures which have that extra bit of attraction is a must to get the edge over a sulking barra or jack.

I recently got my hands on a couple of the new Cyclone LED Balister Lure range. When the lure is exposed to saltwater, the inbuilt LED lights up providing an eerie red glow at the tail end of the lure. This added feature has proven very effective at gaining the attention of slow biting fish, especially in marinas and boat harbours where the barra and jacks tend to be very difficult to coerce. This lure has also proven effective in the snags as well and its heavy frame makes it easy to cast into the wind, which will prove very helpful in a freshwater impoundment situation as well.

The other creek species that explodes in June are the black bream or pikey bream. These fish begin to spawn in big numbers when the water cools and can easily grow over the 1kg mark. They are great fun on light line and small hardbodies and soft plastics and these can punch well above their weight. The other bonus is they are in big numbers so racking up big scores is not a difficult job. While light line is essential and the lower you go the more hook ups you will get, be mindful that even big jacks and barra love to inhale a small lure as well.

Next month should only see the mackerel populations improve in both size and number. The smaller species in particular the spotted mackerel will really begin to beef up making for some awesome light tackle fishing. The Spanish will also be on the improve and with heavier concentrations, vertical jigging with knife jigs and bumper bars will definitely be on the cards. There isn’t a much better sight than seeing a 20kg+ Spanish mack going flat out vertical after a fast moving jig.

At the other end of the spectrum, there should be plenty of squid on offer next month and are an easy target for those casting squid jigs into the sheltered areas of Bowen’s coral-filled bays. Try targeting squid on the top of the tide and look for areas of calm water especially around Murrays and Horshore Bay.

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