Run Off Run Down
  |  First Published: February 2012

The heavy downpours associated with February are both a curse and blessing for Bowen fishers.

Many curse the rain and the swelling catchments which accompany it for spoiling creek systems and turning inshore, and in some cases offshore, grounds brown with sediment. However, it is important to remember that a healthy monsoon will keep fish populations, in particular barramundi, strong as these conditions lend themselves to optimum breeding opportunities.

With another La Nina on the way the recent past weather conditions will probably prevail through February which will mean run off fishing for both creek and inshore blue water fishers. Creek fishing can be a little tricky during the run off as most systems become hard to access, as well as quite swollen with fresh sediment filled water. Don’t let his put you off as this is actually one of the best times to target big barramundi.

The secret to making the most of this is to look for two things: Clean or cleaner water and bait holding areas.

To search for clean water look for certain pressure points, in particular around creek mouths that experience where the tide pushes directly onto, they tend to have a little clearer and cleaner water than elsewhere in the system. These spots are fish and bait congregation zones during the run off and it is possible to snare your bag limit of five barra or five jacks from a single spot, if the conditions are right.

It certainly pays to have a bit of a drive around looking for these cleaner water spots during this time of year and if you do find one it can be very rewarding. If everything is totally blown out and dirty water is everywhere try looking further afield to the headlands and mangrove congregations out the mouth or between systems. Fish and bait are often flushed out of hard running fresh ridden rivers and these spots are ideal places for fish like barra and jacks to live while things are unsettled. These spots are best fished around the top of the tide and the area north of the Don River and South of Adelaide Creek hold plenty of rock bars and mangrove encrusted headlands to target these fish.

The second thing to look out for when fishing the creeks during the run off is areas holding bait. Like fish, bait will tend to hold in certain areas either out of the current or where the salt content is higher. And if you can find the bait you will certainly find the fish!

During the wet of 2011 I found a nice little eddy no larger than 4m wide that consistently held large mullet and prawns on the run-out tide during the run off. This was one of the only places in the creek where the bait was concentrated, as the usual snags and structure were overrun with the swelling creek water. This spot consistently produced all types of cod, barra, jacks and salmon which pretty much moved into this spot on the top of the tide and began feeding as the tide began to change. Even though this occurred just about every day the mullet continued to arrive and replenish; and the fish kept turning up as well.

Putting a bit of thought into your tide selection is also important as the big tides in February are some of the biggest for the year and are almost impossible to fish with the increased run from runoff. One week before the full moon sees the best tides.

The creeks will also hold plenty of mud crabs throughout February. During the run off crabs also get washed out so laying a few pots on the big sand flats and weed areas are a top idea. Remember that pots must be submerged at all times.

Out wide the inshore waters will also be affected by runoff and while it may send everything brown there is still some excellent fishing to be had. Close in reef areas often become home to bait looking for better water quality and this can see good concentrations of coral trout in spots like Southern Cross and Murray Bay reefs. February usually sees some good spells of weather at times and fishers should make the most of this and head out wide when they can.

Fishing for reds is best done at night this time of year as the daytime hot temperatures seem to put them off the bite. The shoals east of Holbourne Island always produces quality reds this time of year, although if we have an early cyclone this will definitely put them off the bite.

One of my favourite species to target in February is GT. If the weather comes down it is usually really flat and, couple this with big summer tides, you have all the right ingredients for a top water GT session. We have some terrific man-made and natural GT holding structure in Bowen although don’t come under-gunned as you will be left with nothing more than a ‘one that got away story’.

Next month should see a reduction in the disturbance in terms of rainfall and as things begin to ease the fishing inshore and offshore will become a little more consistent. As the creeks begin to clear up a little more the barra and jacks should also begin to go back to their normal routine, which makes things a little easier on the fishing.

The best part about this time of year is exploring all the new snags in the creeks and doing a bit of exploring with the sounder and eye is always worth the effort. This goes for more than just inside the creeks as many large trees and stumps get washed out the mouths and begin forming good structure, which also holds quality fish.

The number and severity of cyclones will also have a major bearing on the fishing out wide and while reefs are still recovering from Yasi another cyclone like this one at this stage will be disastrous for the offshore fishing. While the media will tell you the reef suffered minimal damage the story is far from true in Bowen waters with many shallow water (20-25m) bommies completely destroyed and overturned during the cyclone. Even though the reefs are beginning to rebuild, it is still in a fragile state and another blow could see some areas completely destroyed.

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