Steam heats the Cape
  |  First Published: December 2012

It’s the last month of the calendar year and surely one of the steamiest up in Cape York and Torres Strait. But if there is one month where some guaranteed still weather will smooth off the surface and give those mirror calm mornings where a bait-ball can be spotted a mile off, this is that month.

It is amazing what a visual spectacle fishing becomes on the windless December mornings. The wake of your boat will surprise garfish, long toms and wolf herring, which go skittering across the surface away from would be predators. Tuna will use the conditions to ball their prey against the sea surface and attack in loping ambush from below. Speedsters such as sailfish will be active in the far north and can be seen on calm days careering into the sky with their sail light up. But Spanish mackerel win the highest leap prize and can be seen early December mornings flying up to 30ft in the air with an unlucky fish trapped between those jaws.

It almost always pays to be on the water early in December, partly for the calm conditions and partly due to the intense heat that builds up throughout the day. Your best fishing will usually be between 6am and 10am and then again for a short window before dark. Some reef dwelling species will be particularly aggressive early in the mornings and popper sessions on the reef edges can produce coral trout, trevally, red bass and mackerel in many far northern locations.

The coral reef closures are out of the way for 2012 and hopefully a good spawning run has occurred for numerous species that do their thing over the new moon period. Sea surface water temperatures will become warm to hot leading into December and the onset of summer. Spearing and fishing will still be good around the shallow reef and shoal country that typifies much of Cape York and up towards the far northern Barrier Reef. However there will be lull periods when calm weather coincides with slack tides and the fishing can be very tough on occasion.

Try and pick tides heading into and out of neap tides so there is still a little bit of run. The reef and estuary systems will be particularly altered depending on tide and moon phase this time of year and similar to tides, try and also target periods leading into and out of the new and full moon periods. Some of the tide changes late in the afternoon with a large building tide will all of a sudden come to life when that tide changes and begins rushing out.

I get the feeling we are in for quite an early wet season up in the far north with signs of rain in October and November. December is sometimes an interesting month for those intrepid travellers of the Cape who find themselves on the coastal side of some heavy downpours and rapidly rising rivers.

I have had a few interesting encounters getting out of Princess Charlotte Bay after the first big rains hit for the wet season, somewhere in mid-December. Names such as the Whiphandle and Sandy creek bring back memories of getting stuck and having to dig out of soft sand. Other times, nice dry and dusty roads will change into black-soil quagmires after the first heavy rains. It definitely pays to know the risks of getting stuck and be prepared for December to deliver up some surprises.

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