Grab golden opportunities
  |  First Published: March 2013

March is typically one of the wettest months in the Cairns area, so trying to squeeze a few fishing trips in between the downpours can be a bit frustrating at times. But if you’re prepared to take the opportunities when they come, there is still plenty on offer for the avid angler. Golden snapper tend to shy away from too much fresh but barra and jacks revel in the conditions. They will hang around and make the most of the conditions – a bit like long time residents.

The barra season got off to a promising start with big river rises in late January allowing the barra population to move unimpeded by nets, before the season opened. If the rivers are running red then the river mouths and headlands are the go for barra, along with the colour changes further upstream.

If the headlands are relatively clear then stick to luring in the low light periods and even at night, especially if there is a bit of moon about. If it’s dirty, even along the headlands, then live baiting with prawns, mullet, sardines and mud herring will put you in with a good chance of a barra bounty.

Another great option in the wet is luring and live baiting all the drains, creeks and culverts around the Cairns area. Even the man-made structures will hold barra when the water is high, so don’t overlook any running water over a couple of metres wide and half a metre deep. Look for natural and man-made barriers along waterways where the water runs from shallow into deeper, wider holes. Barra love to sit in ambush at such locations, taking it easy behind an obstacle and nailing any unsuspecting baitfish that happens past.

If the shallow drains are running clear barra won’t venture into them during daylight but come dark, they will move from sheltering in cover in deeper water into small streams and drains chasing a feed. In muddy conditions they are happy to move into small shallow waterways in daylight.

Mangrove jack tend to prefer thicker cover, so look for heavy snags and rock outcrops in run-off locations. The big advantage with chasing jacks is you can use dead bait, as well as livies and lures. Generally speaking jacks prefer smaller presentations and love the red and pink colour range of lures, especially in dirty water. Baits and lures up to 100mm are more readily taken by jacks but they will, at times, smash lures nearly as big as themselves; I suspect more out of aggression than the need for a feed.

Bait must be fresh when chasing jacks. Preferably caught at the start of the session. Two of the exceptions to this rule are squid and cuttlefish of eating quality. In other words buy it from your local seafood outlet rather than a bait bar. If you would be happy to eat it, then so will a mangrove jack.

Freshly fallen mangrove trees offer plenty of cover for bait, which in turn attracts predators like barra and jacks, so don’t go past a newly fallen tree without giving it a good going over with lures or live baits. Trees with green leaves still on them can be particularly productive. Fresh snags are especially attractive if they are adjacent to deep water. If they are lying up in the shallows they may be worth a look on or during dark hours but not in bright light conditions.

Bait soakers will do best to focus their efforts near river and creek mouths, on the top half of the tide, when saltier water pushes back into the systems. Grunter, trevally, bream and the odd queenfish will be on the move on the incoming tide. Expect vermin in the form of small sharks, rays and catfish to be fairly prominent though.

Golden snapper have been plentiful, throughout the wet, along the headlands to the north and south of Cairns. Live baiting has been the most productive approach, though trolling deep diving lures and flicking soft plastics has also been turning up trumps. Dawn, dusk and night are the right times for chasing golden snapper.

The best readily available live baits for golden snapper are squid, sardines, mud herring and mullet; golden snapper can be very aggressive when they decide to feed, so pretty well anything live, that looks edible, will put you in with a chance. Any small silver fish like trevally, bony bream and even snotties will account for these fish. Small gar, barracuda or pike, under about 20cm, are an absolute killer, if you can luck onto a few with the cast net.

Throughout the wet the beaches are worth a look for the land-based angler, with any of the break-through creeks the focus of the action. Look for signs of bait, especially prawns or jelly prawns, to increase your chances. The larger of the break-through creeks will hold a population of barra and jacks, so don’t discount working up the stream. Don’t do it by wading, as all the creeks have crocs in them.

Palm Cove jetty has seen its share of action over the wet season, with queenfish over a metre regularly taken, along with a sprinkling of barra and golden snapper. Wolf herring have been particularly plentiful for those chasing baits for mackerel trolling. There have also been plenty of squid about at various times, with large sardines often plentiful for the cast netters and bait jiggers.

Prawns and crabs will also be on the move, depending on the conditions, so don’t forget the crab pots when wetting a line, especially when there’s plenty of fresh about. The prawns will be around the mouths and along the beaches, so always have the cast net handy. Investigate any sign of a flick with a couple of casts of the net. Often a single prawn flicking across the surface will indicate a whole school feeding on the bottom.

Reef fishing can be a bit sketchy in March. When conditions allow, it is still worth a look but expect the action to be more on the quality side than the quantity. Trophy-sized red emperor and big mouth nannygai are regularly taken in the deep water, with a sprinkling of trout, reef red bream, spangled emperor, sweetlip, Moses perch and all the trevally species in shallower water.

Pelagic action can be a bit sporadic, with Spanish mackerel and northern bluefin tuna the main players inside the reef. There can be a few barrel-sized yellowfin tuna off the Shelf for those with a boat and the fishing gear to a handle them.

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