Salty jacks, grunter and fingermark shine
  |  First Published: December 2012

Wow! A new year is on us already and it’s time to get all that new gear from Christmas into use and get out on the water. The big Christmas tides have dropped off and as always there are plenty of options around Mackay.

Down in the estuaries there are plenty of good size grunter to get anglers excited and they can be found around the gravel and rubble beds usually best on an incoming tide. Right at the top of the tide grunter will feed on the mudflats around the mouths of the estuaries and will also venture a long way upstream at times, although the better fish seem to stray not too far from the creek mouths.

Grunter used to be considered a bait only species and that is still the most effective way of scoring a feed of these delicious fish. Baits such as yabbies, live prawns, small fish and fish strips will all take plenty of grunter, but the fresher the better. More anglers are being surprised by grunter when lure fishing. Soft plastics, worked nice and slow, account for plenty while small hardbodies (up to about 80mm) will also get hammered just so long as you can get the lure down near the bottom where the grunter are feeding. The first run from a decent size grunter takes many anglers by surprise as they power off, but they are generally in fairly open water and after the first big run, the grunter come fairly easily.

Jacks and fingermark have been prevalent in the salt with numbers of 40-45cm fish of both species being regularly caught by anglers through December and this will continue into the New Year. Creek systems such as Constant, Seaforth, and Victor all have plenty of rocks and hard banks suitable for jacks and are an easy drive of less than 45 minutes from Mackay. Further afield the creeks up around St Helens beach also fish well and hold plenty of suitable habitat.

Jacks and fingermark will take any barra lure, but my preference for jacks is to downsize a little and lures from 75-80mm are ideal. There are plenty of well made Aussie lures around this size and one of my favourites is the 80mm big bib Warlock which can be worked slowly in some pretty rough snags. Its buoyancy, big bib and scalloped sides all help to resist snagging.

The best times for jacks and fingermark are from half tide out to half in, and that coincides nicely with plenty of water at the ramps. Speaking of ramps, Constant Creek’s ageing ramp is being replaced with a new one just downstream of the existing one and hopefully it will be less hassle for anglers and fewer cars and trailers will end up in the drink! This launching spot has been a problem for years, and not only cars and trailers come to grief, but many anglers have come a cropper on the slippery, muddy surface. Thanks to the local council and our Sunfish branch who have lobbied hard for this new ramp for many years.

There are plenty of barra around in the salt but open season is still a month off so any hooked MUST be released immediately. Unfortunately I have heard a few rumours of barra being targeted and kept during the closed season. If you happen to hook a barra, try to release it still in the water and if bait fishing, just cut the line and let the fish go. It has more chance of survival with a hook in it then having an angler attempt surgery with pliers or whatever to get back a hook worth a couple of cents.

Of course there are plenty of barra available in our dams, so make sure your SIP is current and get out and get stretched by some of the monster barra in the dams. Make no mistake, anyone who claims dam barra are easy hasn’t hooked a biggie as they really go hard and fast. They will bury you quick time in the weeds or in the timber and it is exciting fishing. Best of all the freshwater is easy on your gear, and a good run in the dam is a great way to flush your outboard.

Kinchant Dam is 20 minutes drive from Mackay and is continually throwing up huge fish, so if looking for one over the magic metre then this is the place to go. Kinchant Dam is like a big bowl, has almost no timber and is fishable in all but a screaming south easterly, although calm days of east/north easterly winds are best. The dam has extensive weed beds and the barra cruise the edges, and the inlets among the main weed beds, so those little bays/inlets are great spots for lure or fly casting. If you can find some isolated weed islands or clumps out from the main weedbeds then fish the area hard as the barra tend to hang around these areas. The weed clumps show up easily on the sounder as do the fish due to their size.

Calm hot and humid days are what to look for and Mackay certainly will have plenty of that during January. Full moon? Yep, a great time to fish but the boat traffic can get heavy of a night and a lot of those boats are trolling so it pays to keep a keen eye out while on the dam. But don’t think Kinchant is a full moon dam only, as the barra are caught on all phases of the moon. Whether you have a moon or not, the change of light at dawn and dusk, moon rises and falls are all good times to be on the dam. The various charts depicting peak periods of activity can also be used as a guide.

The dam barra respond well to lures that run down to about 3m. Try RMGs ,Warlocks, Reidy’s, Koolabungs, Tropic Anglers and similar offerings, and the Rapala X-Raps are becoming a ‘special’ for the dams. Some lures will work ok but the hooks are rubbish, so refit with quality hooks and splits otherwise it might just be that monster 120cm barra that becomes the one that got away.

Surface lures are the territory of the C’ultiva Tango Dancer, which is THE surface lure for barra. It has plenty of bulk, casts like a bullet and can be worked at varying speeds to give good presentations. These lures are awesome and the strikes are heart stopping. Definitely a must-have barra lure, but while the original hooks are pretty good a couple of decent fish will likely find broken or deformed trebles. Cast one of these down along a weed bed and work it back with plenty of rod twitches and pauses and hang on as the barra go nuts over them.

Chasing barra in the dams with soft plastics is a fairly standard way to fish. Big paddle tails like Squidgies, Tsunamis and similar offerings will all work. Try different colours, but to me white is a stand-out colour and make sure the hook is extra strong. Many anglers tweak soft plastics, and also fit extra stinger hooks to improve the hook up rate, but they work pretty well straight from the packet. Retrieves can be as simple as a straight slow retrieve or punctuate it with pause to let the lure sink or hop it just above the bottom.

Some can be rigged weedless but will need some weight on the nose to get them to work properly. The curly tails will work completely weightless and still get that enticing wriggle to the tail. They are the ones to throw right up on and among the weeds, but of course hooking a barra is only the start of the problems fishing in this type of territory! Good fun though and there is always a chance of a bonus big sooty smashing the lure.

Offshore fishing will always be weather dependant. There have been plenty of small mackerel around and some really nice greys from waters up around Seaforth so I expect they will hang around for a while yet. As long as the bait schools are in close then the small mackerel will follow as will both mack and long tail tuna , and the best spot to start from is the harbour. The trailer park will be full and you will have a long walk to get back to your car, but a couple of nice fresh mackerel, bled well, and chilled down on ice straight away will make the long walk worthwhile. Unfortunately trailer parks take up a lot of space and tend to be either empty or chockers as everyone wants to get on the water on the good days. One way to get around this is to get on the water an hour or so before daylight, and beat the crowds.

January is usually fairly dry as February and March are our really wet months, but the weather doesn’t follow any rules, so we could have an early wet and teeming rain. Whatever the weather, Mackay is blessed with plenty of fishing options so come and try a bit of paradise. See you at the ramp.

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