Have a back-up plan
  |  First Published: March 2012

March is typically one of the wettest months of the year in Cairns, so the best approach is to be ready at the drop of a hat for any sign of good weather.

But it’s also a good idea to have a ‘Wet Season To Do List’ up your sleeve to fill the idle weekends. The vagaries of the weather in the north are legendary and last year saw awesome fishing through March, in the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi. The previous five years however were marred by foul weather and the fishing wasn’t much better.

Last March I mentioned that my wet season project would be replacing the floor in my tinnie. Well, it took until November to complete but the end result has proven itself, so watch for a DIY feature over the coming months. Come to think of it, the write up can be this wet season project. Hope it doesn’t drag out as long as last year’s epic!


With the weather so volatile the most reliable piscatorial pursuits will be the estuary and inshore fisheries. Whenever the rivers are relatively clear there will be good catches of mangrove jack, barra, fingermark and blue salmon for the lure and live bait brigade, while the bait soakers can expect mangrove jack, bream, grunter and estuary cod to be active.

Prawns will be around in good numbers, so prawn imitations will match the hatch in the lure department and prawns will be the go for live and dead bait fishing. Sometimes the presence of dirty water can bring mullet and sardines to the fore, as the extra flash of livies and the smell of strip baits makes it easier for predators to hone in on your bait.

During tropical downpours it’s best to just revert to the ‘To Do’ list and forget about fishing, but as soon as it eases, hit the run-off opportunities that arise. Look for any location where there is a bridge, culvert or rock wall impeding the flow of runoff, as barra will push up against it looking for a feed.

Colour changes at stream junctions are another wet season favourite. It can work both ways, with clear water running into a dirty main stream or vice versa. The change in colour allows predators like barra to hide in ambush.


When the rivers run red, look to the headlands to the north and south of Cairns. The bait will be washed out of the systems and the predators will follow. It is also the one time of the year when the beaches can fish well. Generally, beach fishing around Cairns is pretty ordinary but the wet can be an exception.

Look for bait schools and prawns flicking as an indication of action. Heavy rain and big tides see many small creeks break through on most beaches and the mouths of these creeks are a great place to wet a line. Luring and bait fishing, both live and dead, can be very productive around these small beach creeks. When the water first runs in and out are prime times, along with dawn and dusk.

In larger streams focus your efforts around the top of the tide as the clearer saltwater pushes back into the stream. Look for structure close to the mouth when targeting barra, jacks and fingermark, while trevally, grunter and salmon will be around the drop-offs and deep holes. The odd bream and estuary cod will also be around any rubble bottom.


The great thing about the wet season is it brings a host of new snags to the streams. Look for freshly fallen timber when chasing barra and jacks. Trees with green leaves still attached offer greater cover for predators and don’t have to be very big to hold a nest of barra or jacks. New snags are also great for holding bait, hence the presence of the predators.

When chasing bait with a cast net, look for snags that jut out into the stream where there is a bit of current. Sardines in particular will sit up-current of the snag. Even if there are no tell tale surface rings where the sardines hit the top, or flashes down deep, cast a speculator into the basin up-current of the snag, near the bank.

Depending on conditions, sardines sometimes sit in the same spot down-current of the snag, so have two casts at each protruding snag. Freshly fallen snags are best but old, twiggy ones also work.

Flats country, like the Cairns esplanade, will hold good grunter at times, with the last couple of hours of the run-in tide the best bet. Slabs of mullet, gar, sardines or squid, along with peeled prawns, are the best offerings. Always try at least two types of bait to determine what they are feeding on. Grunter can be very particular at times.


Fingermark have been taken in good numbers through the wet season and should continue biting, as long as there is not a huge dump of rain. The headlands and deeper holes in all the streams are worth a go, with the headlands best after heavy rain.

Live bait or lures are the only ways to fish for this premier table fish. A dropper rig, with as small a sinker as can be used to get to the bottom, and a 5/0 to 7/0 short shank hook, with fluoro carbon leader works particularly well.

Patience is crucial for fingermark fishing, as they typically bite in spasms, with dawn and dusk particularly good fishing. If you are in good/known fingermark country stay put for a couple of hours and if they bite, don’t be in a hurry to try somewhere else when they go off the bite. They can just as suddenly turn it on again.


The barra season started out looking great, with a lot of barra reported on the headlands but the lack of a serious rain event during the closure meant large numbers of large females fell prey to the netters after the opening. There has been a lot of pressure brought to bear on the political parties to support the total closure of Trinity Bay to netters, with a petition tabled in Parliament containing 3000 signatures supporting the ban. Hopefully there will be some action after the election, as what politicians promise in the lead-up can often be taken with a grain of salt.


When the weather allows there can be impressive reef catches of nannygai, red emperor and coral trout coming from out wide. Last March the large-mouth nannygai were of gigantic proportions with many taken around the 8-10kg mark. Surprisingly good catches of trout have been reported over the past month, so if the opportunity arises, down tools and head east. It could be a long time before you get another shot at it!

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