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Time to tackle the reef
  |  First Published: June 2013



The cool, dry season is upon us, so gear up for a spell of winter fishing. The rivers and creeks become a bit more challenging at this time of year but the offshore fishing on the Great Barrier Reef is now in full swing, and has been for quite a few weeks already.

The reef reports gathered serious momentum around mid April with water temperatures dropping and the fish coming on the bite in a nice fashion. For around six weeks the fishing has remained rather consistent on the reefs with a variety of fish on offer.

The large mouth nannygai have performed admirably and are always a prime target for any angler. In tow can be a variety of other species including red and spangled emperor, gold spot, tea-leaf and golden trevally; plus Spanish mackerel are also generally lurking in the vicinity as well.

Those in the know are fishing their deeper marks in the 35-50m depth range on rubbly patches upon open ground and isolated bommies and pinnacles away from the main sections of reef. These marks will often show on the sounder a prolific supply of bait in a scattered formation and your compact big blotches will be your large-sized fish in a tight school.

Some of the catches returning back to base of late have been very, very impressive to say the least. The only downside at times when targeting the large mouth is that the sharks have been around and nothing passes the jaws of these guys as you are trying to haul your prized catch to the surface. If this happens to occur you’ve got no choice but to pick up anchor and put in some considerable distance between yourself and those pesky critters, which may entail travelling a few miles.

In the slightly more shallower water, say from the 20-30m depth range on isolated bommies, it has been really promising to see the small mouth nannygai schools are on the return having gone missing in decent numbers for a couple of seasons. These would have to be one of easiest fish to catch when they are on song and the entire school can be ignited into a feeding frenzy starting with the very first fish caught. As the fish on the end of line is fighting it triggers the others into action and if there is another bait dangled in front of the noses it will be devoured. If you are fishing with some mates and these fish come on the bite, always leave a fish on the end of the line down in the water column until another bait is presented and results in a hook-up.

It has been seen by many that these fish can be brought literally up through the water column collectively as a school using this method and can be seen only metres away below the boat – it’s pretty incredible stuff to witness. Working in tandem with each other can see your esky fill up pretty quickly, but do keep in mind the bag limit of nine nannygai per person.

Quite often in this 20-30m depth range there will be other species that will get in on the action as well, including Moses perch, coral trout, stripeys, sweetlip, cobia, reef mangrove jack and trevallies. So when you do hit the mother lode on the small mouth nannygai schools you will also generally have a healthy spread of other fish on ice as well.

It’s also time to start putting some time into your Spanish mackerel, which have made a steady impact over recent weeks. Not only should you always have floating rig with a pilchard or live fusilier out the back while reef fishing, but if you are managing some Spanish at any location as you are bottom bashing, it’s really worth running some lures over the area as well on the troll.

It pays to have a good spread of presentations. For a standard charter boat, it would be a shallow and a deep diving lure on the short lines just beyond the prop wash, and garfish on wog heads on the outriggers back out a bit further in the clear water. It only takes a few extra large-sized mackerel to really turn a good day on the reef into a great one.

If the rivers and creeks are still your preferred option there is still some value to be found. A good range of mid-sized queenfish and GT are being caught on live sardines as they come steaming in through the main channels on the bigger incoming tides. There’s also been some handy golden trevally and grunter being caught across the shallower mangrove flats and if live bait is difficult to find, fresh dead prawns and strips of mullet are equally effective, particularly if the water is discoloured.

For the lure angler, any of our river systems in the region with brackish water further upstream are a good place to catch and release your juvenile barra and smaller jacks using small poppers and hardbody lures.

If you like to fish with really light gear, the bream fishing is dynamite during the winter months, particularly around the harbour pylons and rock walls. A peeled prawn is all you need on a running sinker rig.

As always the mud crabbing has been quite productive as expected at this time of the year and a few pots put in place might just improve your quarry for the day.

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