The reef turns red
  |  First Published: May 2013

May is like a breath of fresh air as it signals a change of seasons from the humid and wet to the comfortable and dry, and with these changes comes a shift in focus towards fishing the Great Barrier Reef.

At some stage this month we can expect the ocean currents to change from running from the north to running from the south bringing up fresh cool water along the coast. After months of a luke warm ocean this change in water temperature triggers our reef and pelagic species into feeding mode.

Over the years I’ve seen some of the best returns on the reef stem from this initial change in events; the fish can come on the bite in droves.

In particular, the large mouth nannygai schools (which do have other species mixed in including golden trevally and red emperor) seem to revel in these changes. Having remained relatively dormant for a few months they tend to go straight to the top of the list of most fish caught. Already there’s been the odd day when they come on the bite in a super aggressive way on our local charters and anglers have found  themselves reaching their quota in a very short period. This type of form will only become more common as the days and water temperatures get cooler.

In the warmer months you have to fish the 50-60m mark to find schools of reds in significant numbers, but you can find them now roaming the rubble patches to the 35m mark where a range of other species will become available.

In this 30-40m range you’ll come across your coral trout, spangled emperor, Moses perch, red emperor, sweetlip, the dogged cobia and the formidable reef mangrove jack. At this time of year your floating mackerel rig will come under scrutiny by the reef jack, which are quite a common catch. They’d have to be in the top handful when it comes to intensity on the end of the line and their eating qualities are worth the effort.

I’d also expect the Spanish mackerel to return in better numbers with the cooling ocean. There’s nothing more enticing than a live fusilier under a float to tempt the mackerel mob. Providing the winds aren’t howling, reef fishing becomes a lot easier for anglers as wind and current are normally running together and this makes anchoring position on your favourite marks considerably easier. Armed with a size 7/0 to 9/0 hook with a pilchard and a squid slipped over the top on a paternoster rig you could well find yourself hauling fish in one after the other this coming month.

There still should be a bit of action on offer closer to home as well. The surrounding headlands, islands, inshore patches and wrecks such as the Snapper Island region have been fishing quite well for a few weeks now. There’s been a healthy supply of fresh bait following the rain periods and it has attracted the likes of big 1m talang queenfish, mac tuna, trevally and Spanish mackerel. Trolling metal spoons or retrieving poppers and metal slices in around surface activity has been rewarded with some great light tackle sportfishing. Even better still, if you can source some live sardines and suspend them down the water column your catch rates will double.

Heading into our river and creek systems these should remain productive until that winter cold snap overnight arrives, which has been in late May in recent years. With a late run of rain this wet season the barra, golden snapper and mangrove jack have been quite consistent and should continue to bite for a few weeks to come.

There’s been healthy numbers of mid sized queenfish, trevally aand tarpon moving in and out with the tides as well, so there remains some good value for the calm water enthusiast. However this will slow down, but the offshore fishing will definitely improve.

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