June is a month of contrast in the far north. The weather, while consistently cool, varies from oily calm to howling gales.
High pressure systems are the dominant weather pattern in what passes for winter in Cairns. If the centre of the high is passing south of the Australian continent, then a ridge forms up the east coast and northerners are copping a wind blast.
On the other hand, if the centre of each passing high is located over central Australia, northerners experience periods of glorious weather, with cool, still, nights and bright, calm, sunny days, which can last a week or more.
If the highs are centred well south of the continent, the only respite from the howling sou’easters comes in the small gap between each system. This usually only lasts from one to three days and having it coincide with a weekend is like picking the winner in the Melbourne Cup when you can only have one bet.
Anyway, if you can jag the weather to coincide with free time, the rewards can be fantastic.
The conditions at the moment are to die for, with clear blue skies, oily calm seas and the fish are going off, especially at the reef. The blue water fishing is consistently better than the estuaries during winter, so take every opportunity to head east when the weather allows.
Mackerel are the main players in the blue water but the bottom fishing at the reef can also be magnificent. Reds and trout are on the bite, with red emperor and large-mouth nannygai mostly coming from the deeper water, with the trout biting up shallower, in the under 30m range.
Small-mouth nannygai have been a lot less prominent in recent years and some locals are blaming target fishing by professionals and amateurs. Small-mouth tend to congregate in large schools on isolated bommies and once these bommies are found the school can be decimated by ruthless operators, both professional and black market.
Spanish mackerel are the king of pelagics in June, with this prized sport and table fish high on the angling agenda.
From the inshore wrecks to the outer reef, Spaniards are the number one pelagic target. Live baits are by far the most productive fishing technique but also the most challenging method to master. Super slow trolling live baits is even better though more challenging, but certainly worth the effort. Live fusiliers, hussar, mullet, gar, pike, trevally and sardines will all be taken with gusto by these silver speedsters.
Mullet, gar and sardines pretty well have to be caught with a cast net, inshore, before departure, while the other species can be line fished at the reef or on wrecks and pylons, in transit. Use your sounder to locate bait schools, drop over a commercial bait jig and go for it. Spending a third, to two thirds of your fishing time chasing good live baits is not time wasted when chasing Spaniards. That’s how big a difference it can make to the end result. This isn’t going to be the case every time but I have witnessed the difference it makes often enough to willingly spend extra time chasing livies before mackerel fishing.
The biggest challenge is rigging the livies so they swim freely but still give you a good chance of a hook-up.
With trolled live baits a hook or treble through the mouth, in front of the eye or above and behind the eye will keep the fish swimming forward and upright (see attached factbox for species variances). The position of the trailing hook/s is the key to a successful hook-up
Spaniards are tail biters. With larger prey they will more often than not attack from the side and snip off the tail of their quarry, then come back to take the rest of their struggling victim. With smaller prey, like sardines, they take them from behind and swallow them whole. Don’t use small baits, like sardines and small mullet, if you intend to catch and release, as the mackerel are invariable hooked in the gullet.
The trailing hook is best attached with around 100lb single or multi strand wire to the towing hook and left to trail free so it sits in the saddle between the second dorsal fin and the tail.
Swimming live baits under a float, or free swimming, is a different challenge. If there is a strong current, rig them the same as for trolling, as they will soon tire and turn to swim into the current. In low current situations lively baits will be trying to swim away from the float/boat, so the fish has to be rigged with the tail facing the boat. The same rig can be used for trolling but the hook furthest from the rod tip is put through the shoulder in front of the first dorsal fin, from the right hand (starboard) side of the fish. If the hook is put through the shoulder from the left, when it lays along the side of the fish the offset on the hook tends to bury the point into the shoulder of the bait, making hook-up more difficult.
This may seem like a pedantic point but I have found that attention to detail in fishing can make a huge difference to success. The hook closest to the rod is best put through the bait above the rear of the anal fin and below the spine. Placing both hooks on the top of the bait, as is common practice, makes it harder for the bait to remain swimming upright as it tires quickly.
The lesser mackerel are also around in good numbers in June and the rules of engagement are basically the same with livies, especially sardines, with lures and dead baits a long way second. When they are seriously on the bite anything will do but they can be very finicky at times. I have seen many a flotilla of pillie fishos sitting idle while the odd boat using live baits is constantly hooked up.
The sports fisho can still get into the action trolling or casting lures, spoons, slices and poppers. Plenty of other pelagics will also jump in on the action. Big GT are on the prowl around wrecks, pinnacles, current lines and pressure points and are a favourite target of the adrenaline junkies. If you are after a serious work out as part of your fishing experience then casting and high speed retrieving of lures, slices, jigs and poppers could be right up your alley.
Estuary fishing can be a bit patchy in June but is often the only option for those in need of a fishing fix. Queenfish, trevally, bream, cod, flathead and grunter tend to be the main players with a sprinkling of barra, jacks and fingermark to spice up the esky.
Those balmy, still, warm, winter days are the best time to target barra, jacks and fingermark, while the other species handle the howling sou’easters better. Just the same, I have found estuary fishing drops off dramatically in the north once it gets a strong wind warning.
Mud crabs are often the saving grace in winter, so always have a pot in the water when wetting a line. The muddies are usually full and there are plenty of bucks around. Many a winter sojourn has turned from tragedy to triumph when pulling the pots on the way home.
Each species of bait requires a different hook placement for Spaniards:
Sardines – in the clear part in front of the eye.
Mullet and pike/baby barracuda – through the closed mouth from above.
Fusilier, trevally and hussar – on the shoulder above and behind the eye.
Gar – through the open mouth from above.Reads: 1059