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Cooling down or just hotting up?
  |  First Published: May 2013



As the cold weather begins to creep in this month, the chances of snaring a barramundi and mangrove jack in the creeks begin to decline. While cold mornings may put many anglers off, it can actually be the catalyst to some really hot bites in the waters around Bowen.

Over the last couple of years we have experienced some very cool winters, and one noticeable factor has been the red hot bite in May, especially around the first of the cold snaps. Speaking to many experienced Bowen fishers it seems this is not unusual and is in fact a relatively common scenario.

Many of these old salty anglers attribute this feeding activity to the first hint of a cool change alerts the fish to the start of winter, which triggers them into feeding before they shut down and almost hibernate over the cooler months. It is a very good idea to set yourself on the water just after the first of the cold snaps in May and, if you can find them biting, there will be a good chance of a cracker session.

Lure fishing is a great option in May as the creeks around Bowen are usually running very clear, which provides plenty of visibility. This will see catch rates increase as fish can spot lures from a distance, which means you often don’t have to put it right in their face. In fact May is a terrific time to sight cast to fish, especially jacks that lie just below the water line where the water is warmest.

Small to medium popper or stick bait fishing is definitely on the cards this month, especially for jacks. Barramundi will still prefer larger shallow running minnows worked around snags and drains at the mouth of creeks and rivers.

As the cooler waters begin to set in and temps begin to consistently get below 20ºC, creek anglers can switch tactics and begin chasing more bread and butter species in the creeks.

One of my favourite target species in May is whiting, and you must be living under a coral bommie somewhere if you haven’t seen the success anglers are having on surface lures on these feisty little fish – one thing Bowen creeks have an abundance of is sand flats, clear water and big whiting.

Small poppers or stick baits no larger than 5cm cast hard up into the sandy shallow sand banks during a run-in or run-out tide will see plenty of activity during May – the secret is to never stop the lure moving. And if you thought GT were aggressive on a surface lure then wait until you see a whiting have a crack. If these fish grew to 20kg+ I’m not sure even Daiwa or Shimano could make a reel strong enough to stop these fish as their strike is amazing for such a small fish.

Many of those that specifically target whiting on surface in Bowen prefer to leave the boat at the ramp and walk the shallows at low tide. Many of Bowen’s creek systems run almost dry on the bottom of the tide, so they make for excellent land-based options. All you need is a tide book, a small spin rod loaded with 4lb braid, some light fluorocarbon and a couple of lures and you can have yourself great day fishing on foot. Other target species include the humble but tasty flathead, trevally and even the elusive permit.

The other good news about May is that it generally sees the first break in the strong southeast trade winds, which plague April. Calm weather will see plenty of eager boaties running wide to the islands and reefs for a tasty feed of coral trout sweetlip and, my favourite, crayfish.

Bowen is littered with islands and they really come alive with crayfish, especially around the cooler months of the year. You don’t need to be a free diving champion either as they are easily located by their large antennas in often less than 3m of water. Middle Island, Stone Island and Glouster Island are likely spots to hunt a few crayfish.

If you do manage to snare a cray or two, rip off a couple of legs and use them for bait. All the Islands around Bowen are havens for big black spot tusk fish and there is no better bait then a crayfish leg. Just don’t go using 20lb outfit as these fish will leave you with nothing; they require heavy gear and strong hooks. So don’t take a knife to a gun fight. Black spot tusk fish are best located around coral drop-offs and are one of the best tasting fish in the sea.

Next month the pelagic fish will begin to appear in good numbers. The first fish will probably be the grey mackerel, which traditionally move into the Greys Bay mackerel patches in big numbers. Over the last three years populations of these fish have been healthy and with fish averaging between 5-10kg they are great sport on light gear, especially off the surface.

Spanish mackerel will also begin to appear more consistently around the outer islands and shoals. Holbourne Island is one early Spaniard hot spot and, while the fish are not huge, these 10-12kg specimens are great on the plate. Trolled ribbon fish are the best bait but they can often be a little large for these smaller early season fish, so gar is a much better option. Either way I am looking forward to the cooler months, flat seas and the chance to get amongst the relatively new bill fish fishery that has popped up around Bowen. So far the signs have been looking promising and I have already spotted a few out wide this year and I have even seen a few wahoo caught around 40km offshore. Whatever the case, there will be plenty on offer for all.

1

Big black spot tusk fish are a worthy opponent on the chew in May. The right bait is vital to your bluey success.

2

Barra are still on the bite even as things start to cool down .

3

May is the start of the most productive time to snare a few crays from Bowen’s many islands.

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