The Best of Three Worlds
  |  First Published: September 2011

September is one of the best fishing months in the far north, as it often delivers the best of three worlds.

The weather is generally sublime, and the fishing covers the transition period between winter and summer species where the best of both season’s fishing can be had at the same time. The winter run of pelagics can hang on, while the tropical trophy fish wake from their winter siesta with a bang.

The days are long and by northern standards, not too hot, with mostly light winds and clear blue skies, making all types of fishing readily available. Those that love to scamper around the mangrove creeks like fiddler crabs, are in their element, while the open water albatrosses are free to spread their wings across the ocean in search of prey.


Coral trout, spangled emperor, red emperor and large mouth nannygai will be the staple catches at the reef, with the odd reef mangrove jack and cobia adding serious spice to a day’s catch. It is not too hard to secure a feed of coral trout, which will be congregating in the shallows in preparation for spawning. They will be full of roe, awaiting the new moon spawning, if the water temperature is to their liking.

Start the search for trout in as shallow as 10m of water and work your way out until you find their feeding depth. Bommie hopping for trout is very popular at this time of year. If they don’t come on the bite within half an hour, then it’s time to move.

Don’t forget the reds though, as they can be very active in the deeper water in September. Spend some time, preferably before dawn and after dusk, chasing reds on the rubble grounds, as there can be some serious fish on offer.

While coral trout, big mouth nannygai and red emperor will be the main targets, there will be a sprinkling of spangled emperor, mangrove jack, cod, stripies, Moses perch, sweetlip, mackerel, cobia and trevally to add variety to the catch.


Mackerel will be feeding across the full range of their habitat, from inshore to the Continental Shelf. Closer inshore catches will include a smattering of grey mackerel, doggies and spotties, along with the odd Spaniard thrown in, while offshore the main interest will focus around Spanish mackerel, along with the odd sharkie mackerel.

Mackerel can be fairly scattered in spring so it pays to begin the search by trolling, while keeping your eye out for birds working, or surface action, to focus your efforts. Spanish mackerel are still the main target and the common thread is that they are mostly found in numbers in clean, deeper water with significant structure below that is holding bait. The specialists can go in search of this type of country, while the less dedicated pelagic chasers can simply have a floater out the back while concentrating on bottom species.

Those in serious pelagic pursuit have a wide range of options apart from mackerel, with small to medium sized billfish on the move, along with smatterings of yellowfin and wahoo, out towards the Shelf.

As the month progresses, the big blacks will materialise from the deep and the heavy tackle season will swing into full gear. It is an exciting time for the marlin junkies, as they gear up and go in search of the mystical 1000 pounder.

Every year a number of blacks over the magic grand are tagged and released off Cairns, making it one of the premier heavy tackle destinations in the world. There are plenty of locals with boats in the more modest, under 7m range, that catch marlin fever and spend spring in search of the Holy Grail out around Opal Ridge and Linden Bank.


With the water temperature on the rise, the tropical trophies of mangrove jack, fingermark and barra are on angler’s minds and the fish are ready to play ball.

Lures and live baits will account for the huge majority of captures, while the odd fish, especially jacks, will be taken on fresh dead bait.

Expeditions that overlap with dawn or dusk will be the most successful. If you are not either heading out or coming home in darkness, then you are not giving yourself the best chance of nailing a trophy. Besides the comfort factor, as it can get pretty hot in the middle of the day, most action will occur around sunrise and sunset.

All my life I have watched in amazement as angler after angler arrives after the action has faded with the coming light, or head for home with the sun, to leave the dedicated to the action.

Barra will be taken throughout the systems, with the bigger females concentrated around the mouths and headlands, while the smaller male fish will be further upstream. Low tide periods around dawn and dusk are ideal for chasing barra; though don’t discount high tide in the right location.

While low water tends to concentrate the fish, sometimes targeting a shallow mangrove edge or rocky headland, as the tide drops can be incredibly productive. A rising tide along the mangrove edge isn’t usually as productive, as the fish tend to push up into the trees in search of prey. However, with the falling tide they are more likely to be patrolling the mangrove line, waiting for bait to emerge, making them easier to target.

Often where there are barra there will be jacks, but fingermark tend to be a different kettle of fish. While they are certainly taken alongside barra and jacks, they generally tend to prefer deeper water. Look for rubble country up against heavy rock or coral bommies, around the estuaries and inshore and you will be in the right area.

Live bait and lures are the only options when targeting fingermark, with tackle one level up on barra fishing. Braid in the 30-50lb range, with fluro carbon in the same weight range, will put you in with a chance.

Live squid, prawns, sardines, mud hearing, mullet and whiting, along with any small trevally will be readily attacked by fingermark in a feeding mood.

While they are an incredibly difficult fish to successfully target, it’s not so much that they are finicky biters but rather the opposite applies. When they decide to feed they are ravenous, attacking a wide range of baits. It’s just that they tend to have shorter and more concentrated feeding periods than most fish. You can be sitting there for hours without a bait being touched, when suddenly the lift off switch is flicked and it’s 30 minutes of mayhem.

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