Red hot snapper and Spaniards
  |  First Published: August 2012

Even though we are now in the depths of winter, the fishing scene, on at least two fronts, is red hot. Snapper and Spanish mackerel are the target species for those able to get offshore and the fish have been around in great numbers.

While the weather has been pretty cool for us thin-blooded northerners, those who have managed to rouse themselves in the wee small hours have been reaping some fantastic fishing as a reward. Snapper fishing in this area is best early morning and preferably just as the sun is coming over the horizon. Combine this with a tide change and the chances of tangling with some quality snapper increase markedly.

The snapper are being caught even as close in as the harbour walls where a few fish are being landed, however if you want to really get into the action, a small boat is needed. Even 3.6m tinnies are able to access the snapper grounds on calm days, and coincidentally that’s when the snapper are really on the chew.

Cold nights with light breezes make for ideal conditions to get out to the close, handy spots and target snapper. They are most often caught either out from Sarina Inlet or out from the mouth of the Pioneer River. Between these two areas there is plenty of snapper country around the Hay Point and Victor Harbour areas.

Fortunately snapper show up pretty well on a quality sounder, and with GPS technology, there are now very few secret spots left.

Snapper will take a wide range of baits but the most popular ones around here are squid and pilchards, with cut baits a close third. Most of the snapper fishing is done in less than 30m of water and while we do have strong tidal runs, use as little lead as possible to get the baits down to the fish.

Soft plastics are being used more and more and snapper fishing is no exception to this phenomenon with many locals having good results with large paddle-tails and stick or flick baits used with fairly enthusiastic rod work. Snapper will also hit smaller metal jigs on occasions, but these are usually an incidental catch when chasing other species.

The snapper will hang around the area at least until mid September so don’t despair if you have not yet had the chance to get amongst them. Late winter and into early spring usually sees calmer seas and more opportunities to get offshore.

Spanish mackerel are well and truly running with plenty of quality 15kg fish being landed right from the Whitundays down to the islands off St Lawrence. Initially they were well offshore and only those with larger trailer boats were able to access them, but of late the close inshore brigade has also been getting into them.

Inshore hotspots handy to Mackay include the southeast corner of Round Top Island, Slade Rock and Slade Island and all these are readily accessible in a 4m tinnie on calm days. Calm days are the best for chasing Spanish mackerel and they will take trolled or drifted baits such as garfish, ribbonfish, pike or the humble pilchard. If trolling is your thing, then ready-made troll rigs with chin weights are available from tackle shops. These rigs are very popular and work well.

Live baits will always attract Spanish mackerel, and any small reef fish will do. They do have a particular liking for fusiliers, which are not a good eating fish anyway, so if caught don’t waste the fish, hang it out under a float for a Spaniard.

Trolling lures, both high speed metals and minnows, is another good way to cover water searching for mackerel. Use any well known brand and generally any barra lure will double as a mackerel minnow. Old favourites like Rapala CD18s still keep on catching fish and remain a top lure. Spaniards will also take big paddle-tail plastics, but with either a single hook or one with a stinger, the hook up rates aren’t really good and the plastics are a one hit wonder considering their dental work.

Another species worth chasing is the black jew, which are common around the harbour as well as a few other spots in the district, such as Newry Island. Jewfish are a winter only species in our area and the best results will be had night fishing around the full moon. The harbour walls are renowned for jewies and any night near full moon will see boats jostling for favoured spots and anglers lining the wall near the mouth with heavy gear.

Whole squid is the go for jew, but large cut baits will also score a few fish. Fresh squid jigged up in the harbour is the number one bait.

The harbour walls also yield a few fingermark during the winter but loss of gear is at a high rate. You have to get the bait or lure right on the rocks as you don’t get a second chance with fingermark.

Mackay in the depths of winter is not just about snapper, Spanish and other offshore offerings; the creeks offer plenty of action with good numbers of queenfish and small trevally around the mouths of most systems. Steelbacks are usually around in good numbers and can be a pest at times when they hit baits targeting other species.

Blue salmon have been the big news during winter with good numbers being found along the beaches and in the creeks. Blues will take many baits like yabbies, prawns or cut baits as well as lures like shinies, minnows and soft plastics. Plenty of these blue salmon have been up around the 70-80cm range and at that size they are a top sporting fish and, if properly looked after, a top table fish. Bleed your salmon straight away and get them iced down quickly and that will enhance their keeping qualities.

Several mates are using small Cryovac machines for their fish fillets before freezing them and the results are excellent with extended freezing times being the norm. It works for beef so there is no reason for it not to work with fish, especially considering we put so much time and effort into catching them.

Barra have been around right through winter so far, although most of the ones I know about have been relatively small fish and under 750mm, with a lot around 500mm – a good sign for the upcoming warmer weather.

The freshwater scene has been quiet, and a visit to Teemburra Dam to run in my new rig was a fishless exercise, but at least I got some time in the boat which so far has exceeded expectations.

Teemburra has suffered from water inversion and the dam has ‘turned’, with the result being a fish kill of thousands of small bony bream – fish from 50-100mm long littered the shoreline everywhere. I went in the dam and the pelicans, shags and fish hawks were all looking particularly well fed. This is a common occurrence but it is still a shame to see all those baitfish dead.

So that’s a wrap on what’s on at the moment in paradise. We are all looking out for a bit of warmer weather in August, but as always there are plenty of opportunities on the angling front, so why not come and sample paradise for yourself. See you at the ramp.

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