The big chill brings change
  |  First Published: June 2013

We’re half way through another year and it is starting to get a bit chilly for us up north with night temps down to the low 10s. However, daylight still brings sunshine and temps up around the 20ºC mark – no wonder so many southerners head this way at winter.

Despite our mild winters, the change of climate indicates a change of target species. And there are plenty on offer this month.

During the warmer months, barra are probably the number one target species around the district, but that cold (ok, coolish) weather means lots of work to score a barra or two. But just about any other species that inhabits the creeks, rivers and dams will stay on the chew except in the foulest of weather.

Down in the mangrove systems and estuaries, clean clear water is the norm during June, unless there are unseasonal downpours. Almost every creek and river around Mackay features lovely clear blue water and this time of the year usually sees them running cleanly, which is a great help to the lure angler, but can mean that the bait fisho has to take extra care rigging and presenting baits.

Species wise, one of the standby targets during winter is the humble flathead, and while we don’t get the huge ones seen further south, our local bar tails grow to impressive sizes and fight well on light gear. Flatties are just about everywhere but look for them around the sand bars in Constant, Murray and Sandy creeks and in Sarina inlet. At high tide, the flatties will be right up on the flats, so as the tide drops they move into deeper water and that is the time to be working those drop-offs and sending your lure up into the shallows and work it towards the deep stuff.

On the run-in tide the flatties will work right up into the shallow water, which at times will barely cover them, but they are skittish and a quiet approach is needed. This can be achieved by long casts along a bank, or use an electric outboard to move around quietly. The electric is also a good trolling option for working the deeper waters at low tide, and means that the lure does not have to be worked so far behind the boat.

Flathead lures are pretty well known and they will hammer any barra style hardbody provided it comes close enough. But usually when specifically targeting flathead, I like to use lures around the 75mm mark, as they cast well and perfectly imitate small forage fish.

Plastics are great for lizards too and the range is mind blowing, but any plastic with a fairly strong action, such as paddle-tails or curly tails will appeal to flathead. Go for the more neutral colours or plain white. The plastic prawn lures are also well worth the effort when luring flathead, with Prawnster, Zerek and others making very life like imitations.

Baits for flathead include yabbies, prawns, live herring and small mullet as well as strip baits. If no live bait is available, then use the freshest bait you can get your hands on. An unusual, but very successful, bait is a pilchard fillet rigged on small ganged hooks, and no doubt the oil from the fish acts as an attraction for the lizards.

If you are cleaning fish around a sand bar, throw the entrails out and then put a fresh bait in the same area and you will often find a flathead comes mooching around attracted by the scent in the water.

One great thing about chasing flathead is the variety of other species commonly encountered. Anglers can expect to tangle with grunter, bream, whiting, salmon, small queenies and trevally as they can all be found in the same general habitats. Not bad variety there too, but as the man on the telly said, wait there’s more!

At low tide when working the deeper holes, there will often be some rocky areas and they will hold other species. These are the areas where cod will be hanging along with jacks and golden snapper. As the weather gets cooler, golden snapper seem to be more common than jacks, and are always a welcome addition to the esky. Occasionally you are also likely to score a barra when working these areas either with lures or live baits.

There have been quite a few decent muddies around coming into June although winter is not generally regarded as prime crabbing weather. Still a pot or two set out while fishing can turn up a feed of crab, and fresh crab sandwiches with pepper are a delightful treat.

June also sees the snapper arrive in good numbers and on the good days, getting a park at the river street ramp means a start well before daylight. The river allows access to Flat and Round Top islands only a few kilometres offshore and they are among the favoured spots for the snapper angler.

Rubble beds down around the Hay Point areas will also see plenty of snapper action during June, and the easy way to find these spots is the ever-reliable method of ‘look for the boats’, and fish that area without anchoring on top of other anglers.

There are several wrecks in our area that fish well for snapper, but they have just about disappeared over the years, so I would concentrate efforts around the islands mentioned or Hay Point.

Squid or strip fish baits are the most common used, along with the ever-reliable pilchard on a gang rig. We have some pretty fierce tidal runs here so usually plenty of lead is needed. At slack water though, you can go right down to small pea sinkers that will let your bait drift slowly down, and this is deadly on snapper as well as reef species.

Many local anglers are using plastics for snapper and a trip to one of the local tackle shops will get you the good drum on what lures to use and where to chase a snapper or two. Local knowledge is always a great help and our tackle shops all employ very keen anglers who know the ‘good oil’.

Winter also brings the Spanish macks and big queenfish in close and it is worth anglers’ time and effort to have a floating rig out for these while chasing snapper. Golden trevally are also on the cards and are a top angling and eating fish as well. That floater line could just save the day when the snapper don’t want to play.

The dams will find barra pretty well shut down for the winter, although on clear calm warmer days they are still catchable. But like everything else, effort equals results so it pays to be persistent and work hard for them. Look for warmer water and weed beds; don’t be too deterred if temps are in the low 20s as MAFSA members have found barra in Eungella dam when doing net surveys with surface water temps as low as 18ºC.

Sooties and sleepy cod are on the go right through winter, with sooties liking the slightly warmer waters and sleepy cod preferring rocky areas. One good spot for sleepies is around the walls of Kinchant dam, and near the ledge where the dam drops into deeper water. Look for the sooties near standing timber and you will also be successful close to the shoreline around lay downs that extend out into the water some distance.

While it can be hard getting out of bed early on these chilly mornings, as always, Mackay offers plenty of variety for anglers during June, so see you at the ramp.

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