January Brings Best and Worst Conditions
  |  First Published: December 2011

January brings the best and the worst of weather to the Cairns area. The seas will be oily calm or cyclonic, with little in between.

In the past three Januaries, seven cyclones have hit the Cairns area. 2009 saw 400mm in one day and cyclones Charlotte and Ellie, while 2010 saw the arrival of cyclones Neville and Olga, only to be topped in 2011 with Ziela and Anthony and finished with Yasi entering the Australian meteorological zone on January 31. Let’s hope 2012 has more of the oily calm days and fewer cyclonic conditions.


The reef fishing sea conditions will be idyllic between blows but it can be a bit patchy fishing wise. The significant January weather patterns have a strong influence on the currents, which can be raging to the north or south, depending on the location of low pressure systems. It’s often a matter of finding areas of steady current and nailing a few fish from one spot before moving on as the bite dies. The results are usually a bit of a mixed bag, with a sprinkling of coral trout, sweetlip, Moses perch, spangled emperor, red emperor, reef jacks and large mouth nannygai. Plenty of species, however none are consistently biting. The fluctuating currents don’t allow fish to school up readily and settle into any regular feeding pattern. A small live bait or pilchard drifting in the current will also account for the odd Spaniard, cobia or reef red bream.

The trevally species like strong currents, so there is always the odd bludger, tea leaf or GT ready to give the arms a real work out. Targeting these species with a heavy duty spin stick on the pressure points, pinnacles and current lines can produce action hot enough to match the weather.

Night fishing is by far the most comfortable option but be very wary of storms and rapidly changing weather. This applies both night and day. I recall in 2001 a small low suddenly formed mid-morning near Green Island and tore in across Trinity Bay, making land around lunch time. My wife had taken my daughter to dance practice in the city for the morning and came home oblivious to the whole event. It would have been a completely different ball game if you were sitting out in the bay with a line over the side!


Besides the odd Spaniard and all sorts of trevally species around the reefs there can also be good numbers of mac tuna working the bait schools. Look for the birds to pinpoint the action. Longtail tuna can also show up on the scene and they are a prized fighter. Try sneaking up on the feeding schools and casting metal slugs through the boils. It can be a bit difficult and frustrating trying to get close enough to cast. Turning your sounder off can reduce the chance of the school going to ground as you approach. Otherwise try and position yourself in front of the school, switch everything off and wait for them to come to you. Chasing tuna schools can be a bit like chasing ghosts, especially at this time of year!

The light tackle scene can be more productive out wide at places like Opal Ridge and Linden Bank. The best technique is to troll a spread of rigged garfish and lures, with mahi mahi, wahoo, and yellowfin tuna the likely takers. Lucky anglers may even come up trumps with a sailfish or black marlin, which are still about at times.


Anglers can avoid the heat of the day in the creeks and estuaries with the best action occurring early and late in the day. Fingermark, mangrove jack and estuary cod are leading the way, although tarpon and trevally can be around in the deeper holes, especially if there are schools of small sardines in the system. Work the incoming tides on dawn and dusk for the best and most comfortable action. If the systems are in flood then focus your efforts around the mouths of the streams on the last of the rising tide as fish like grunter, salmon and trevally will be pushing back into the systems with the clean water. It can be vermin city in the wet season, so be prepared to release plenty of by-catch between keepers. When all the rivers are running red, the Cairns Inlet is the best option. It has far less run-off than nearby rivers and can produce red hot action in the wet season.

It’s always worth tossing out a few crab pots when fishing during flood times. Stick to the river and creek mouths, the shoreline mangrove forests and even along open beaches when the rivers are in fresh.


If you are itching for a barra fix, take a drive up the hill to Tinaroo Dam. Being a stocked impoundment, it’s legal to catch and keep barra from Tinaroo all year round. Just make sure you have bought your Stocked Impoundment Permit (SIP) online beforehand. Go to www.smartservice.qld.gov.au/services/permits/fishing/apply and fill out the form and pay by credit card. It costs a mere $7.20 a week or $36.05 a year and you can indicate on the application which dam you want your money to go to for restocking.

Tinaroo barra love the hot still days, with dawn and dusk and the new and full moon periods the most productive times to fish. Find weed or timber on a shallow point next to deep water and start casting. The secret to Tinaroo barra is persistence. If you are confident with your location, just keep casting. The barra tend to move through in schools when feeding, so it’s long periods of nothing with short periods of mayhem. Large hard bodied and soft plastic lures are the easiest options with trolling also being very productive. Talk to any of the tackle store staff in the Cairns area and they will help gear you up. These barra grow up to 100lb, so everything has to be oversize, especially the hooks. These monsters straighten standard trebles like they are made of copper wire.

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