Mango madness, pelagic paradise
  |  First Published: October 2012

The mango season is well and truly underway in Cairns and the serious heat and humidity is bearing down on us.

The first heat wave of the season sends people a bit stir crazy in the north. Thus the term ‘mango madness’, which has morphed into the mango season.

While the stifling heat and humidity of the build-up to the wet season is tough on Homo sapiens, the fish love it. The warming water temperatures will have the summer species in full swing and it will be fishing heaven, provided we don’t get a massive downpour like 2010.


Barra will be on the rampage, mangrove jack aggressive and fingermark in full flight – it all spells nirvana for estuary and inshore fishos. There will also be plenty of trevally in our systems, along with some great queenfish caught on the cleaner incoming tides and quality grunter on the flats.

The smaller male barra will be congregating around river mouths and nearby headlands, while the big females will already be out on the headlands waiting for the first fresh of the season to trigger a spawning run. Most barra will have moved downstream ready for action, so focusing your efforts around the snags and rocks closest to river mouths and junctions will be your best approach.

When the winds allow, work the headlands close to estuary systems, as they will have a mix of smaller males and a sprinkling of big females. Lures and live baits will both work.

There is nothing quite as therapeutic as spending an afternoon peppering the snags and rocks with lures. The new moon tides on the weekend of 13 and 14 October and the lead up to the full moon on 27 and 28 will be the best times for this plan of attack.

If you take the approach of getting your kicks from seeing how accurately you can cast, then the strikes and hook-ups are an absolute bonus. If your only jollies come from tangling with a barra, then you can spend some long and frustrating sessions close to Cairns. That sort of outlook to luring is best kept for Cape and Gulf fishing trips.

Further up the streams, mangrove jacks will dominate and they will be aggressive, slamming lures, live baits and dead baits with gusto. Smaller lures, cast tight into heavy cover, will bring on a jack attack but make sure your gear is up to the challenge. A 30lb braid, with 30lb fluorocarbon leader and a quality spinning reel or bait caster outfit will put you in the money.

Jacks hang in much heavier cover and further in than barra, so focusing on getting your lure tight against the rough stuff is essential. Don’t make the mistake of casting over logs and rocks to get deeper into cover, as jacks will cut you off in a flash.

While barra suck a lure in and take a fraction of a second to turn and fight, jacks strike a lure on the turn, so they are already heading for cover when you feel/see the hit. Without the right equipment and a heavy drag, it’s all over before you know it’s started. That’s the big advantage of braid. You instantly feel the strike and there is no stretch in the line, so you immediately engage the fish.

The downside to braid is that its only give is in the rod and the drag, so drags must be set perfectly. Too loose and it’s too late. Too tight and the line snaps – usually at a knot. The optimum drag setting is to tighten it down until you can just pull it off the spool with a hard fast tug, while having the line wrapped around your hand. Test it with a slow pull first and if it feels right, try it with a fast pull. Jacks hit hard and fast, so there needs to be some give.

I always have leader right to the level wind, so I pull on the leader to test the drag, reducing the chance of cutting my fingers. A word of warning. If you have to pull on braid, use a glove or cloth, as nothing cuts into fingers as easily and deep as braid! I’m cringing just writing about it! Trust me. It hurts and keeps on hurting for days!

Fingermark will also be on fire with the warming water and the best places to target them will be the deep rubble grounds in inlets and estuaries, as well as the deeper headlands to the north and south of Cairns.

Trolling lures that get down 20ft+ will put you in the strike zone, as will live baits like prawns, sardines, mud herring, mullet and squid.

Bait soakers will find plenty of action, with jacks, grunter, trevally and queenfish lining up to take their baits, along with the odd salmon. A late afternoon/night session on the weekend of 13 and 14 and the last weekend in October will see anglers in with a good chance of getting into the action.

The flats out in front of Cairns hospital and rubble, shell and weed beds near river mouths will be the best areas to target.


The first of the annual Coral Reef Fin Fish Closures is on from 12-16 October inclusive, but the following weekend should still see some action at the reef in the run down from the new moon. Trout should be ravenous after spawning on the new moon, so look for them up shallow.

The deeper water will be more productive for quality big mouth nannygai and red emperor, with spangled emperor, Moses perch, assorted sweetlip and trevally also on the chew. The last weekend in October looks ideal, tide and moon wise, to hit the reef but will obviously be dependant on the weather.

Pelagics will be tearing into bait schools anywhere from close in-shore to off the Continental Shelf. It will be a matter of watching for birds, boils and clouds on the sounder, to focus your attention. Big black balls of bait will be a good sign that they are being herded together by pelagics.

There will also be bottom fish coming up to get into the action. It can often pay to fish livies and even dead baits just below the bait schools. You are far better off going down a few levels in tackle, to reduce visibility, as you are unlikely to get bricked from mid-water. Big, heavy, reef rings just don’t cut it in these circumstances.

Billfish, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, trevally, cobia and Spanish mackerel are all around at this time of year, so it can be pelagic paradise when it all comes together.

The heavy tackle season will be in full swing for those wishing to nail a legendary grander. Tangling with one of these monsters doesn’t necessarily need to involve ‘granders’ in the dollar department, with plenty of small boats getting into the action each season.

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