A mixed bag
  |  First Published: December 2012

January is always a bit of a mixed bag in the Cairns area. The weather and the fishing can vary enormously, from sizzling hot, to dead. Anglers will experience the highs and lows as the weather switches and changes and the fishing can be just as varied.

There are no set species or location that will produce consistent results, so your fishing plans must also be flexible. This is not the time of year to set off fishing with a set plan of attack or target species. Cover your bases and go in prepared to try a variety of locations and techniques.

The freshwater is a great option, if it’s not flooding. If it is still dry and the creeks are low, work the shade areas in the deeper holes. Fish, like humans, will look for relief from the searing heat. The other important consideration is time of day. Early and late are the only options. Between 8am and 4pm is the time to lay up in the shade, have a dip, if it is safe or stay in the air conditioning. Walking in the cool of the rain forest flicking lures early morning and late afternoon is a great way to start or end a summer’s day.

Kids love exploring small streams and it is a great way to introduce them to the thrill of luring. Spend some time before departing to make sure their casting skills are up to the challenge though, as it can get tiresome, as well as expensive, continually retrieving lures from overhanging branches. A great lure for this type of fishing with kids is a blade spinner from the likes of the Celta or Blue Fox range. They are reasonably cheap, as lures go. They cast pretty well and they don’t require any fancy actions on the retrieve.

It’s easy to vary the depth of retrieve simply by the length of time you let it sink and freshwater species like sooty grunter and jungle perch just love them. Keep in mind that fishing clear streams requires a certain degree of stealth, so approach quietly and with some cover, to avoid spooking fish. At rapids and fast running sections this isn’t as crucial but still a good habit to develop. Streams don’t have to be crystal clear to be productive on lures but they do need to have a fair degree of visibility. One of the most productive times is just as the water starts to clear after a big downpour.

My unabated passion for luring was fostered chasing Australian bass in the freshwater streams on the Sunshine Coast as a teenager, and some of my fondest fishing memories come from those times. You get the whole outdoor experience all rolled into one, with a close up look at the local flora, fauna and river systems. Mountain streams are one of the few areas that remain relatively unspoiled by man’s ever encroaching development.

The reef fishing tends to be pretty patchy, with a raging current often running north or south, depending on the prevailing weather patterns. With variable winds, it can make anchoring a bit of a guessing game. The fish will also be patchy, with a mixed bag that can include coral trout, sweetlip, trevally, cod, job fish, Moses perch, red emperor, mangrove jack and large mouth nannygai. The deeper water has been producing small numbers of quality reds and a few job fish, lately.

The key to reef fishing through summer is to pluck a few fish from one spot then move on when the bite dies down. Generally the better action will be in the 40m plus range but it’s worth a bit of a look shallow at times. If you don’t have the luxury of a winch then you need to set up and learn how to pull an anchor using the buoy system. It turns the very tiresome task of pulling anchor into a relatively simple exercise, provided you don’t stuff up and foul the anchor rope around your prop. It’s best to get someone experienced at using buoys to come out with you and teach you the tricks of the trade.

There will be plenty of pelagic action on offer and these species lend themselves well to a more mobile approach to fishing. There is no need to anchor and you can move from bait boil, to current line, to pressure point, at a whim. Tuna are abundant for the sports-minded and there is still a feed to be had, with the odd Spanish mackerel and cobia on the bite. Tossing slugs, with a high speed retrieve, is a very productive method at these times. Try and get a look at the bait in the boils and match your slug size to them. If they are too small to have a corresponding slug or it would make the slug too light to cast any distance, try blacking out half or a third of the slug using a black permanent marker.

Tuna in particular can be a bit flighty at this time of year and will often go to ground as the boat approaches. If they are spooking, try turning the sounder off and approaching from up wind, as they usually feed into the wind. Sometimes it is even necessary to turn the motor off and wait impatiently for the feeding school to come to you. Chasing tuna schools can be a bit like chasing ghosts at times. Out wider at Opal Ridge, Linden Bank and the Shelf there will still be some action for the light tackle brigade, with tuna, mahi mahi, wahoo, Spanish mackerel, yellowfin tuna and the odd sailfish and stray marlin still prowling the depths.

The beaches are worth a fish once the creeks have broken through and are a fantastic spot to fish with kids. When they get bored, there is plenty of space for them to run off some steam. Keep in mind that crocs are becoming more of an issue and keep them at least 5m from the water’s edge at all times. If there has been enough rain to break the creeks through, then it’s also enough to get the prawns moving, so have a cast net handy and investigate any flicks or splashes with a cast or two. Often a single prawn skipping across the surface is a sign of a whole school feeding in the shallows.

Estuary action will be dependent on the amount of fresh in the systems. If it’s heavy, focus your efforts towards the mouth, on the top of the tide. If it’s flood free then work further upstream, using dawn, dusk and tide changes as the crucial times to be fishing.

While the fishing can be patchy there will be golden snapper, mangrove jack, grunter and estuary cod around, along with a plenty of vermin, especially juvenile sharks and catfish. Drop the crab pots in if there is plenty of fresh around, as the muddies will be on the move.

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