Autumn ambos offshore
  |  First Published: April 2013

So far, 2013 has seen rain, floods, wind and swell, which is somewhat depressing for the offshore fisher, but April is definitely the turning point.

The centre of the high pressure systems are starting to come through higher on the continent placing us more central to the core. Lighter winds, the start of the morning westerlies, lower swells and the start of the less volatile weather should all begin this month. I will place a disclaimer after the bizarre year to date and say ‘traditionally’ this should happen.

Autumn brings the dark morning starts, cooler westerlies on dawn and a general drop in water temperatures. That crisp coolness in the air and the water heralds the annual run of temperate species in earnest – snapper, pearlies, trag jew, kingies and XOS amberjack. For me, this is the time of year when I get really excited about heading offshore.

In April Incredible Charters usually departs at 5am so we are able to get to the shallow reefs off Cape Moreton without too much sunlight to bother us. And the fishing is traditionally good.

I’m looking forward to the show-stopping XOS amberjack to start brutalising hooked fish from unsuspecting anglers and generally tearing the arms off the undergunned and underprepared paternoster brigade. Usually ambos turn up in better numbers late May/June but according to records some whoppers are boated in April and signs are good they are already in residence. There are always a smattering of these brilliant and brutal fighting fish along the 95m ledge east of the wire weed.

Ambos will succumb to knife jigs, so you can use jigs to test likely spots for these fish. Make sure you pack an elephant gun loaded with a minimum of 24kg and some jigs or serious terminal tackle.

If you are not the energetic type, save your strength for the fight and forget jigging. Just put down a live hussar or pearly on the offshore equivalent of the ‘sleeper rig’; for example, a live hussar pinned through the back with a big hook and rod in the holder and continue fishing. Not too much technology, but if the ambos are about they can’t resist.

The tropical species hang on through April at the shallows and also Wide Caloundra providing an extra April option. This is the month to land a legal red emperor in Southern Queensland as well as hook onto other rarities such as coronation trout, paddle-tail, green jobfish, tomato cod, and much more. Fishing dawn and dusk gives you a better chance of hooking something special, especially if you are floatlining, preferably with small slimies. These are quite prolific around the artificial reefs, such as Wild Banks, so it is worth stopping at them on the way out to gather live bait.

Snapper are about on the shallows pre dawn. I have seen some locals pulling 50-60cm specimens off Scarborough Reef in early March on soft plastics, which points to a great offshore season on the whoppers. That was just after the February heavy rain came in close with flood debris and the displaced river species, juvenile fish and prawns from all the freshwater. They were caught in very dirty tea coloured water.

As the sun comes up there are still yellowtail king and spangled emperor to be had, along with the tropical species such as red throat emperor, large morwong and real stragglers such as big coronation trout. I prefer to fish east and south of Cape Moreton at this time as you get a little protection from the early morning westerlies and the larger YTK seem to be about in good numbers from Roberts Shoal south.

The lessening daylight hours of autumn will bring on the start of the trag jew season. Trag were all over Shallow Tempest in smaller sizes in March and the larger 3-6kg trag were on the 80m line. The bigger trag preferred live baits and were susceptible to a lumo jerk shad plastic, while the smaller fish were indiscriminate in their eating habits. Dusk really saw them tee off on pinnacles and sharp rising ground so if the forecast is benign then later starts are the way to go. When they are on, it is two at a time and total chaos! Great fun.

Pearl perch are the best eating fish down our way, and will start schooling up in good numbers and sizes. Pearlies are quite indiscriminate in their eating habits and will scoff down most baits with gusto. Presentation does not phase pearlies much either so paternosters work just fine. However, the deadliest paternosters available are the Silstar Jig-Em rigs. Jig-Ems have three hooks each with a soft plastic attached. My favourite is the JRST07-P (pearl). Sweeten the jigs with a bit of mullet flesh, pilly or squid on each hook, attach a 1/2 or 3/4lb dropper lead to the bottom loop, drop it down and hang on! If your local tackle shops don’t stock Jig-Em rigs, ask them to order in a few packets for you. They are that good!

There have been a number of pearlies over 50cm landed in March on Incredible using pearl white jerk shad plastics with a jighead to match the prevailing current. You may need to go to 2oz to get yourself down quickly enough to not miss the drift over the fish. Heavy but a means to an end. I expect more of these really good fish to be landed in April. March has put a smile on many faces for the coming pearlie season.

The usual coral reef culprits, such as Venus tusk fish, Moses perch and hussar are about in good numbers, add colour to the box and are all first class table fish. These can be caught in better sizes on the gravel beside the wire weed that the pearlies will be found in. It is usual to know when you are off the wire weed, the preferred habitat of pearl perch, when the first tusky comes aboard. Not that catching tuskies is a problem; I love chewing on them as well!

The cooler water and weather of April is sure to bring on the hot days hauling in the big snapper, ambos and pearlies and I can’t wait to make up for some lost time earlier this year.

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