The wet season is in full swing but when the big dumps come is anybody’s guess. The monsoon trough is the key to the weather in February. If it drops down onto the Cape and further south, then the skies open up, so keep your eye on the long range weather forecast.
It is not uncommon to experience extended periods of calm seas in February, which makes for great offshore boating, although it can be a tad hot at times. If there has been flood rains in the few weeks prior to heading out then be very wary of floating and semi-submerged logs. Have at least one set of eyes exclusively on log alert. Night fishing at the reef is the most comfortable and productive but also hazardous, so travel out and back in daylight and move around slowly when shifting spots at night. I have seen acres of logs off Cairns at this time of year, so take care.
Reef fishing can be pretty patchy but there are still some quality big mouth nannygai and the odd red emperor to be taken in the 40m+ water, and trout up shallower. Chasing trout on the shallow bommies using whole pilchards or lures is worth a go. Try slow trolling over broken country or flicking soft plastics to isolated bommies, for a bit of variety. While trout and reds may be at the top of everyone’s wish list, there will be plenty of sweetlip, stripies, reef jacks, Moses perch, trevally of all models and cod to pad out the catch.
Moving around regularly is the key to wet season reef fishing. At times the currents can be raging, as water is drawn into the low pressure systems, so look for areas of steady current. Dead still patches of water are usually unproductive, so move around the reef until you locate a happy medium. At times the strong currents can push schools of red throat emperor up into the Cairns area and they make a very welcome addition to the esky. Red throat often appear after a cyclone has been through.
Mac tuna and longtail tuna will be the main pelagics stirring up the surface and getting the birds excited inside the reef. There will also be a few Spanish mackerel, cobia, striped tuna and barracuda in on the action. If targeting Spaniards it’s best to use live baits, like fusilier, to reduce the unwanted attention of tuna and similar. If tuna are your cup of tea, then working the bait boils with high speed slugs can be a real adrenalin rush, to say nothing about a good workout.
The paddock between Oyster, Pixie, Michaelmas and Saxon reefs is a good place to look for pelagic action. Further out on the Shelf there will be mahi mahi, wahoo, Spanish mackerel, yellowfin tuna and a variety of other tuna on offer for the light tackle brigade.
The barra season is now open, most inshore and estuary anglers will be trying to open their account for the year. The headlands will be the go if the floods are in full roar but if it’s a mild wet, like last year, then focus on the estuaries and the run off drains and creeks. Barra are basically where you find them at the moment, so keep your ear to the ground and an eye out for angler activity to give yourself a better chance. Someone will be catching barra somewhere around Cairns, so it’s just a matter of putting in the hard yards to find them. It’s a bit of a cat and mouse game, with those in the know trying to keep it quiet and the masses trying to find the action .
Sometimes it's worth forgetting about barra and focusing on the equally attractive target species of golden snapper and jacks. There is a lot of overlap in feeding habits and territory between these three species, so focusing on the other two fish, which can be easier to catch at times, will often turn up an incidental barra bonus. Either way, who’s complaining?
If you stick to live baiting and luring through the wet season you are sure to come up trumps with at least one, if not all three of these trophy fish. If there is plenty of fresh around then prawn imitations, like Prawnstars, are the go in the lure stakes, with live prawns the best bait option. In cleaner water, stick to soft plastics and hardbody lures, with live sardines, mullet and mud herring all winners in the bait department. At times these three live baits can also be really effective in very muddy water, probably due to the flash they emit as they swim.
The beaches are a good option in the wet, especially around the mouths of all the little break through creeks that are open to the ocean. They open and close with the fluctuations in rain and tides but there is always a bit of action about when they are open. The only drawback can be that the vermin significantly outnumber the keeper species, so be prepared to tangle with plenty of small sharks, rays, shovel-nose and catfish along the way. There should still be enough grunter, salmon, barra, queenfish and trevally about to keep your hopes up though.
Keep a close eye out in Trinity Inlet, around any of the river and creek mouths, the Cairns Esplanade, Holloways, Machans, Cooya and Newell beaches and the southern end of Four Mile Beach, for prawns that can run at any time around now. While drag nets are used by the more daring/insane, a cast net is a far safer option to bag a feed. The prawns will only come into shallow water along the beaches when it’s relatively calm, so if it’s rough, stick to the Inlet and estuaries.
Keep a few fish frames in the freezer for when the rivers run red, as the muddies will be on the move. River mouths and along the coastal mangroves on the big tides in the lead up to the new and full moons are the key ingredients. Don’t expect to get a big haul of seafood at this time of year but a bit of effort and diversity to your plan of attack can produce a succulent seafood platter.
Jordy Wedrat has been doing his homework on catching trout on soft plastics and came up trumps on a recent trip to the reef off Cairns.
Watching the weather
One of the best websites I have found for predicting tropical lows and cyclones that spin out of the monsoon trough is http://wxmaps.org/pix/aus.slp.html . I have found it particularly accurate over many years at predicting the direction and intensity of tropical lows. – Garry SmithReads: 600