Running Red Hot
  |  First Published: February 2012

Hot and humid is the only way to describe the start to 2012 in Mackay, and while these conditions make it a bit uncomfortable for we humans, the fish absolutely thrive. So overall despite the discomfort, all’s well here in paradise.

The calm days with SE to NE winds have been great for the offshore anglers and also the tinnie brigade who chase mackerel in close. In fact some days it has been just too calm with oily smooth seas not being really conducive to good catches. It is much better if there is slight surface movement from wind to just get a few ruffles as the fish seem to respond better.

Well offshore has been the target of the larger trailer boats and I notice there are quite a few berths at the Marina empty so those boats are out chasing the reefies as well. Good catches of sweetlip, reddies and trout have been coming from around the islands and out at the reef proper. Stevens Reef about 50km offshore is the closest major reef system and all reports have been of good catches but mixed quality. Some really nice fish but many just around legal size.

Out in the deeper water and the shipping channel there have been some really good reds being caught. Red emperors are a quality fish and a big reddie is a magnificent sight coming up out of deep water. Fish around 8-10kg mark have been regularly taken by those lucky enough to have a decent size boat to access these offshore waters. Big baits of fish flesh, squid or pilchards have been the undoing of many a big reddie.

There have been some good sweetlip and the odd trout mixed in with the reddies as well as a good run of cod. Of course the local shark population has also managed to knock off plenty of these fish while they are being hauled up from the deep. Most anglers blame sharks for taking their already hooked fish, but often Spanish macks, cobia or some really big barracuda are the culprits.

Closer to the shore the calm days have seen plenty of tuna and small macks present. Ribbonfish and pike have proven to be a bit of a nuisance, often smacking baits or lures intended for mackerel. Ribbonfish are usually pretty welcome anyway as they make superb baits for Spaniards when slow trolled whole or as cut strip baits, they will attract almost any predator both offshore and in the creeks and estuaries. The flashy silver skin seems to be a good attraction for fish ranging from bream and flathead to reefies.

The small macks have been responding to all the usual methods, such as trolling or drifting pilchards, herring under a float and various lures. Trolling lures is a good way to cover territory and a spread of small minnows, larger minnows and shinies will cover most of the options.

Once fish are located stick to that general area and a good feed should be assured. Remember though keep your eyes peeled for baitfish and birds as the macks are very mobile and can be here one minute and a 100m away in seconds.

I enjoy casting to small macks and usually revert to casting once some have been located. Keep an eye on your sounder too and if you find a bait ball or school of small fish on the sounder the macks are usually not far away. As always sticking with the bait will generally improve your chances of a feed.

The estuaries are fishing well after the December rains and this month sees the barra season reopen on the first, so everyone here is anticipating a bumper year. Many barra have been hooked by anglers during the off season, but by all accounts most anglers are returning the fish quickly and with minimal handling. There are a few grubs that will always keep them during the closed season who seem determined to break the rules no matter what.

Most anglers realise that the barra closed season has seen huge increases in barra numbers and availability for rec anglers. This is definitely one of the better pieces of angling legislation in force.

Jacks, grunter, bream, flathead and whiting have been the main catches in our estuaries and creeks. Throw in some decent size steelbacks, the odd queenfish and trevally and the creeks are obviously a neat place to be fishing.

Crabs have been running hot in the creeks and just lately there have been some good prawns about although a bit more rain is needed for them to really come on.

Look for the crabs in smaller side gullies and the prawns are wherever you find them as they can be on the flats at the front or up in the mangroves. They aren’t huge size prawns but they are sure sweet on some fresh bread with butter and freshly ground pepper. Heavenly food!

Not to be outdone, the freshwater has also been firing well but the river has been pretty dirty which does not enhance the chances of a fish. All three dams though are still clean and pretty clear and anglers are happy tangling with barra and sooties.

On the full moon in January, Kinchant Dam in particular had plenty of anglers out chasing barra with some boats scoring well and others missing out. Trolling big lures seems to be the most successful method.

Our son Lachlan was home from the big smoke for a few days and we managed a couple of trips to the dams, as the creeks had huge tidal runs of 5.5m or more so we stayed in the fresh stuff. Several barra hooked and jumped off were great fun and I introduced Lachlan to the Pop Frogz lures and he was very impressed, particularly when a healthy sooty decided to hammer the lure just on the edge of a weed bed. He is now another convert to these lures that I almost rate on the same scale as my favourite Tango Dancers, which is high praise.

They are an ideal lure for barra as they can be rigged snag proofed, and are weighty enough to easily cast with barra gear yet they float. Combine this with the popper concave style front, and the fish attraction of the moving legs and you have a fine lure which should be in every barra anglers tackle box.

I have had most success on the white coloured lure but the others also work. I just prefer the white ones as they are easy to follow during the cast and on the water even at night.

So for February, the opening of the barra season is a major plus, there should be plenty of prawns and crabs about and the freshwater will continue to fire up. Offshore angling, both in close and well out will depend on the weather but even when it’s blowing hard, there are always other options here in paradise. See you at the ramp.

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