The heat is on
  |  First Published: September 2012

September heralds the start of the heat in Cairns. The season is changing and the air temperature is nudging past 30ºC, with the water temperature quickly following. The birds started their spring songs in the first week in August, so we could be in for an early start to the hot weather.

With this transformation comes a changing of the guard in the water, with the winter species fading away and the summer species gaining dominance. The southeasterlies are the key to the switch. When they abate and the afternoon northeasterly sea breeze arrives – the heat is on.

It is a great month to be on the water, as the fishing options are enormous. A favourite trip of mine in September involves chasing fingermark and barra along the headlands north of Cairns in the early hours of the morning, then heading out to the inshore wrecks and islands as the sun rises to chase Spaniards.

September is typified by long periods of little wind, so take advantage when they come and head east. Reef fishing has been excellent when the winds have allowed access. Large mouth nannygai, red emperor, coral trout, reef red bream, golden trevally, spangled emperor, stripys and Moses perch have all been on the chew, with trout and reds the main players.

When it is really calm, fishing the deep water 30m + has been very productive for big mouth nannygai, with a good sprinkling of red emperor in the 10kg plus range. Trout will be feeding up ready to spawn on the September new moon, provided there is a sharp enough jump in water temperature to trigger them.

There is no Coral Reef Fin Fish Closure in September, with the two scheduled for this year from October 12-16 and November 11-15, so you will be able to fish through the September new moon.

Sharks can frequently be a real problem, but it’s often dust or diamonds. Sometimes you can’t get a fish to the boat and at other times it’s happy fishing.


Quality Spanish mackerel will still be on the chew, so have a pilchard or live bait out the back when bottom fishing, or spend a day targeting these silver speedsters. The lesser mackerel will also be around until the first heat wave. Grey, school and spotted mackerel will hang around while the bait schools remain, but the warmer water will move them on. Keep a keen eye out for birds working as a sign that they are feeding.

Out in the deep blue water of the outer reef and Continental Shelf, wahoo and yellowfin tuna will be on the bite and the mighty black marlin will have an increasing presence, with the odd 800lb+ monster being tagged and released. September heralds the start of the heavy tackle season but there will still be plenty of action for the light tackle brigade out around Opal Ridge and Linden Bank.

Queenfish and trevally will still be around, especially towards the mouths of the major streams with the last of the rise and first of the run out tide the best times. The morning and evening high tide on the new moon weekend would be a good time to target these speedsters.

A good plan of attack would be to chase barra, jacks and fingermark with lures in the afternoon warmth, then cast net some live bait mid afternoon and sit out the sunset in a deep hole near the mouth. Having a floating live sardine aimed at queenies and trevally and one on the bottom near structure for a barra, jack or fingermark will cover your options.

Trophy trio

The tropical trophy trio of barra, fingermark and jacks will stir from their winter slumber and become more active as the water warms. While barra will be the main target for most anglers keen to get back into the summer species, it will be fingermark and jacks that wake first. Barra will become more active as the water temperature climbs above 26ºC and heads towards 30ºC.

The last weekend in September looks the best for a barra bounty, with the full moon tides ideal. Spend an afternoon flicking lures around the snags and rock outcrops before switching to live baiting as the tide fills towards dark.

If the seas are calm, the headlands to the north and south of Cairns are also worth a look. Luring, trolling and live baiting are all viable options. It’s invariably calmer in the morning, so that’s the best time to target the headlands, especially by boat.

An early hours start chasing live bait and fish until daylight, then a switch to trolling or casting with the light will give you every chance of coming home a winner. If that’s too early, slip down to the headlands for a flick off the rocks as soon as you wake. Gentleman’s hours will sometimes produce a result but the serious rock hoppers will be walking out onto their favourite headland with torch at hand.

In the estuaries, jacks will accompany the barra, so sticking to smaller lures will increase your chance of tangling with a red devil. Lures in the 8-15cm range will maximise your chances with these brutes, but once you get up over 15cm, only the seriously hungry and aggressive jacks will compete with barra.

The bigger tides leading up to the new and full moons are ideal for chasing grunter on the shell/weed beds around the flats and river mouths. Fresh strip baits of sardine, gar, mullet and squid will put you in with a good chance of nailing a javelin fish. Focus your efforts around the last half of the rising tide and the first hour of the fall.

The start of the warm weather also stirs the local croc population into breeding mode, so it pays to be a little more cautious than normal around the water. There are crocs in almost every creek and drain in the Cairns area and they are becoming bigger and more brazen with time. Provided people are sensible around our waterways they are not a serious threat.

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