Highs top the northern fishing
  |  First Published: June 2013

June can often bring picture-postcard weather to the Cairns area, with fishing to match. The cooler water temperature means that estuary fishing is slow but reef fishing is often on a high; although very dependent on highs.

The extent of the dream fishing is determined by the dominance of high pressure systems over the Australian continent. If the centre of the highs march through the Great Australian Bight then they ridge up the north Queensland coast bringing extended periods of strong winds but if the centre of the highs is across central Australia then it’s fishing heaven in the far north.

Be geared up and ready to grab any opportunity to head east this month, as the flat spells can often be only a matter of a few days in the gap between highs.

Quality tends to be the key feature of the reef fishing this month and it can coincide with quantity, especially when targeting reds in the deep water. Large mouth nannygai and red emperor, in the 6-12kg range, tend to dominate catches in water over 40m, with plenty of quality trout up to 6kg taken in the shallows.

Storms are a rare occurrence in winter, so overnight trips to the reef are very popular and generally far more productive, especially for reds.

Heading out mid afternoon and chasing trout and mackerel in the shallows then moving into deeper water as it goes dark will give you the best of both worlds. It pays to keep moving around during the night if the fish go quiet. While it can make for a long tough night, if you stick at it, the rewards will generally come. Grabbing an hour or two of sleep after midnight can help get you through the night but make sure you have the will power or persistent mates who will drag you back on deck for the pre-dawn bite. From 3am to sunrise can see the action really pick up, especially if it has been quiet up until midnight. Occasionally you will get a dream night where the fish will bite right through but generally they are more active either in the evening or early morning.

It pays to have a good supply of pillies and squid on hand for an overnighter. The trick is to keep the bait frozen if they don’t get used, so they are good for your next trip. John Wedrat, a long time fishing buddy and gun reef fisho, tightly wraps his boxes of bait in dozens of layers of newspaper and then seals it in a plastic bag and they stay frozen in the esky overnight. Bait that defrosts is not going to cut it if refrozen, so it’s worth going to the extra effort, as bait is getting pretty expensive.

Supplement store-bought bait with any pick fish, trevally, tuna or mackerel taken while bottom fishing. You will get more mileage out of each box of bait. Reds love any fish that has pink flesh, so bludger trevally and any of the tuna and bonito species make exceptional red emperor and big mouth nannygai bait.

When the pick fish are devouring pillies and squid as fast as you get them to the bottom, it’s time to either move or get some bone into your bait. It can pay to hang in there as the trophy reds are often among the pickers.

Rather than fillet bait fish when the pick fish are in overdrive, cut them diagonally so that each bait has fins and/or backbone in it, so it lasts longer. Add a tip of pilchard or squid to improve the scent. This is often when a trophy red emperor doubles your rod over. Keep in mind that any bait fish must meet legal size requirements.

Winter is mackerel time and all species will be around in June, so always have a floater out the back when at the reef. The dedicated mackerel chasers will be watching for birds working to reveal the bait boils, as well as concentrating their efforts around current lines, pinnacles and pressure points out at the reef, and the inshore islands, reefs, wrecks and marker leads closer to shore.

Mackerel love current so the best time to chase these silver bullets is when the tidal run is big, around the new and full moons. The neaps are better for chasing reef fish in the deep water. In the blue water there will be the odd sailfish, small black marlin, monster GT, quality yellowfin tuna and plenty of mackerel for the dedicated pelagic chasers.

The estuaries tend to get quite a pounding if the windy weather sets in but the reality is, just like the reef fishing in winter, it’s best on those picture-perfect days when most anglers head east.

Tropical species don’t like the cold and while southern visitors are walking around in thongs and singlets, locals are rugged up, as they feel the cold as much as the fish do. Cold, in Cairns terms, is any time the overnight temperature drops towards 15ºC and a really cold snap is any sign of single figures.

While the southern bread and butter species of bream, whiting and flathead revel in these cold conditions, the more tropical species of barra, golden snapper, mangrove jack and grunter get lockjaw. Queenfish and trevally certainly love the colder, clear water and are a popular target species around the river mouths, with some real trophy specimens on offer.

Sardines are plentiful and spread throughout the systems, so take the cast net and use a combination of live and dead sardines to cover your options. The best way to present a dead sardine is fillet one side from the tail to the back of the head and fold the fillet over the head. Thread the sardine from side to side onto a 2/0 or 3/0 long shank hook, depending on the size of the sardine, from the tail towards the head. Use the last turn of the hook to pin the fillet so it is held folded forward over the head. This allows plenty of scent from the stomach content and exposed flesh to attract predators. It is the only dead bait that I have found will consistently catch golden snapper in this area. Mangrove jack, grunter, cod, flathead, queenfish and trevally also love this presentation.

Mud crabs are well and truly on the menu in June and are even worth a dedicated trip focusing on chasing them. A good strategy is to drop in your pots and flick a few lures around within sight of your floats and check them every hour or so. If the crabs are feeding, it’s more than enough time for them to get into your pot but not enough time for them to figure how to get back out.

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