Hopeful for a re-run
  |  First Published: December 2012

We are welcoming in another year, which usually means plenty of hot weather, rain and wind. These three variables will be the biggest influence on the fishing in January.

Before I get into what’s on the chew, I thought a recap of 2012 was in order as it was one of the best fishing years we have had in a while in Bowen waters.

While there have been many reasons for the outstanding fishing bantered around, the majority believe it has been the culmination of a couple of big wet seasons that have provided the right conditions inshore and offshore for the fish to breed and populate.

Whatever it was, it certainly worked as we have seen the return of a consistent coral trout bite out on the reef, one of the strongest and longest runs of mackerel seen in decades and even the birth of a new fishery that has me jumping out of my boots – black marlin and sailfish. Plenty of these fish were caught and released through June, July, August and September, often less than 10km from the boat ramp at Greys Bay.

I was not fortunate to snare a billed beast, but close encounters while chasing Spanish Mackerel is enough to get anyone interested in chasing these sports fish. It’s not uncommon to see big runs of them further north around Cape Bowling Green off Townsville, but this is the first year they have turned up in big numbers off Bowen making many a sport fisher happy. Let’s hope 2013 brings similar results.

January can be a tricky time of year to fish as a combination of freshwater run-off caused by the monsoon, and big summer king tides can really make the creeks hard to fish. There are a couple of things you can keep an eye out for that will make the fishing a little easier.

Firstly, try picking your tides so the runs are not too big or too small. Through summer, the tides can build up to 3.5m which makes the fishing almost impossible in Bowen’s shallow systems. Fish the tides that peak around 2.6m as this will see less run and the fish won’t be able to hide back amongst the groves away from your baits and lures.

If you really want to fish the larger tides, try focusing efforts around headlands and outside mangrove structure. This is one of my favourite forms of fishing, especially if there is plenty of run-off from the rain.

Secondly, Bowen has a multitude of rocky points and headlands that really fire up in January, especially for jacks. South of Bowen just a short trip across the Bay from the Boat Harbour you will find a plethora of creeks only a couple of kilometres apart. Between these creeks are a mixture of rock-encrusted headlands and mangrove bays that really turn it on during the bigger tidal runs. Baitfish washed from creeks often congregate in these areas as the water is clearer and cleaner and there is less current to fight, making them ideal places for big schools of mullet herring and even prawns to hang out.

Finding clean water and bait are two vital ingredients to successful fishing in January and this is one place where you will find both. The water is quite shallow, often only a couple of metres deep, but don’t let this put you off. There are plenty of ambush spots amongst the rocks and mangroves, and jacks and other predatory fish love this country. In fact on the last big tide I kayaked around this area and was sight casting to GT that would have easily pushed the scales over the 15kg mark in less than 1m of water. The jacks were not hard to find either.

Tackle is simple; shallow running minnows, like the Smoking Drags Interceptor or Yo Zuri Crystal Minnow, are a very good option as they can be fished slowly and suspend quite well around snags and rocks.

If plastics are more your thing, then prawn and jerk shad imitations are a very good option. I have found the Tight Lines Jelly Prawns are perfect for these spots, especially when fishing right against the mangroves as they provide the option of staying in the strike zone via a tea bag style retrieve.

If you are fishing with bait, try working the deeper sections located on the points between creeks. Jacks are prone to feed on fresh dead bait over live bait in these spots and a combination of herring or mullet are ideal.

January is a great time to get offshore as the weather is usually pretty good this time of year. One target species that will be on the menu will be fingermark. These fish come on the bite hard in January and Bowen has plenty of man-made structures around that hold these fish.

Soft plastics, like erratically worked jerk shads (elevator heads) or squid patterns, will entice the fingermark but it is hard to go past freshly caught squid or fish baits. Softies tend to snare the small to medium fish while the live squid will definitely bring out the larger models. Once these fish get over 80cm they are like GT and really take some stopping. Don’t turn up with your creek outfit, it really is best to load for bear (and I’m not talking koalas).

Coral trout and other reefies will love the bigger tidal runs in January and the inshore reefs around Bowen’s headlands and islands really fish the best this time of year.

Next month will be all about the barra. Even though they will be back on the take list, finding them will be the issue as the monsoonal rains tend to spread them far and wide. Anglers will have to put in plenty of time on the water to find the better quality specimens.

In finishing I thought I would pass on the feelings of many locals who are a little bewildered about the loss of our Fisheries Office and Officers in Bowen; it has now been moved to Airlie Beach. While I have no issue with the decision and welcome the sharing of resources between Airlie and Bowen, many are wondering how a place like Bowen, which has more recreational fishing boats than people and one of the largest commercial fishing ports on the East Coast of Queensland, has been left with little to no policing. I and many other Bowen fishers hope the Fisheries boys will travel up to Bowen as frequently as possible as it’s always great to see them on the water keeping everyone safe and, sadly at times, honest.

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