A change in the air
  |  First Published: May 2012

The first little bit of chilly weather has hit Mackay with overnight temps dipping into the high teens, but day time temps still up around 28-30ºC.

But this signals a change into the cooler months leading into the winter season, and that means anglers start looking for different species that are more prevalent with the winter weather patterns. Of course there are still plenty of barra and jacks around, it’s just that they aren’t quite as willing to play as the water temps start to reduce.

May is sort of a transition period with plenty of hot days and many opportunities to chase barra, but they do become just that much harder. The Pioneer River is one spot locally that fishes well for barra right through the year; my best barra from the river, a 15kg fish, was an August capture.

The vee near the river mouth has been fishing really well for some XOS barra and quite a few jacks as well as the odd fingermark. Most of these have been live baited, but there are more fish succumbing to soft plastics particularly on the run-out tide.

The weather is not the only transition taking place here, as more and more anglers switch to lure fishing, which I believe is a by-product of the fantastic barra fishing in our stocked dams. Anglers who score a few in the dams invariably start to try the same lures and techniques in saltwater, and bingo, success. The raft of fishing shows on TV also promotes lure fishing and I reckon 95% of my own angling is using lures of one type or another.

Soft plastics have been an absolute revelation with the large number of species that can be enticed to munch on a softie; even more traditional bait-only species like grunter are showing a distinct liking for a well presented plastic.

The range of these lures is really mind-boggling and most times for me a trip into the local tackle shop ends up with some new plastic and a few dollars left behind. Soft plastics are pretty good value for money too and a few jigheads can be used for many diverse types of plastics.

While their success is well documented, my personal preference for luring is to use surface lures and May sees the queenfish in action both in the creeks and around our close in islands like Flat Top, Round Top and Slade Island.

Queenies are great fish, they are spectacular fighters, take all sorts of lures and baits and are a really attractive fish with their gleaming silver flanks. Looked after properly, they also make more than acceptable tucker, with a bit of a change from the old deep fry everything approach.

Try queenies in a rich curry sauce or with other seafood in a tomato based soup for a great meal. Years ago I tried some hot smoked quuenfish from one of those little smoker boxes and it was pretty damn tasty, too. But whether you keep them or not, catching queenies is top fun.

One of the top spots for queenfish is along the inside of Flat Top Island, just off the mouth of the river. Other areas where queenies are often found include the harbour breakwalls, Slade Island and the rocks off Lamberts Beach. Barra anglers often catch them in the river at the vee as well.

For the lure angler, a mix of surface poppers, jigs, and minnows should see you into the action. One way to find the queenies is to troll a surface lure like the Tango Dancer and have plastics or jigs rigged on another rod. Once they are found, work both the surface and down deep as many of the queenies will hang quite low in the water column. Remember where you find one queenfish, there will usually be more.

When working rocky reef areas close inshore, don’t be surprised to run into some good size trevally, fingermark, or various mackerel species, at this time of the year. All of these fish are being regularly taken on big soft plastics worked deep in the water column.

Because we have a pretty fierce tidal run here, big jigheads are the go with XXX strong hooks. You can really take your pick of the body style as they will all work. Single tails, double tails, curly tails, paddletails or sliders will all score fish as long as you get it in the right place. A visit to the local tackle shops will assist as they are all staffed by very keen anglers.

One of the better captures lately was a nice GT that Patrick Morgan scored near Slade Rock, while chasing some headland barra. Using a 10cm Atomic Prong on a 3/8 jig head, he hooked up solid. On 30lb line on a 3000 size reel, he really had his hands full when the monster hooked up. After 1 hour and 45 minutes the fish was finally netted, an estimated 40kg fish that was revived and released to hassle some more anglers. Definitely a hand full on such light gear and a great catch.

The rocks off Lamberts Beach and Slade Island are also home to some very healthy fingermark and cod, and both these will also happily munch on a soft plastic, provided it is bounced almost on their nose. A quality sounder is a real help in finding these fish close to the bottom, and is really an invaluable tool. Aren’t they cheap these days, too? I remember paying almost $1000 for my first decent Lowrance unit many years ago, and I am now amazed at the qualities of sounders only costing $200 or $300 dollars.

The cooler months also see more anglers targeting the sweet tasting whiting, with some real elbow slappers being caught even now. The Pioneer River is a favourite spot for these fish right from the boat ramp reaches up as far as you can go.

Bassett basin along the north side of the river also fishes well for whiting and flathead at this time of the year. Yabbies are the favoured bait, but if you can get hold of some blood worms or beach worms then a feed is almost assured.

The two new bridges completed recently in the city centre now provide even more spots for bridge-based anglers to fish from. There is one sure way to tell if the whiting are biting and that is to take a drive over the bridges at night time. When the whiting are on, it’s like a picket fence with rods propped on the railing right across the bridge.

As always the cooler months in Mackay offer plenty of angling opportunities in a variety of habitats, from dams to offshore.

Don’t forget there will be small macks on the calm days offshore; snapper are coming and the creeks are firing up with plenty of action, so this is a perfect time of year to come and join us in paradise.

See you at the ramp.

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