Mackay mackerel mayhem
  |  First Published: July 2013

The weather might be chilly, but some of the fishing around Mackay and surrounding districts has been red hot.

During late May and early June, we have had a few of those really nice early winter days with cool overnight temperatures and reasonably calm, clear days. Those fortunate enough to have been on the water on those days have found a good early season run of all the mackerel species but some of the spotties and doggies have been undersize.

Grey (broad barred Spanish) mackerel have been up to their usual tricks of being here one day and gone the next. Greys have been caught already around the Seaforth/St Helens Islands, off the harbour and down around Flat Top Island. Most of the time the greys are not targeted but have been caught by anglers chasing other mack species.

Look for grey macks around Lonely Rock out from the mouth of Murray Creek when there is plenty of small herring or other small bait hanging around the rock, which is actually several rocks all close together. The baitfish here can be in unbelievable numbers at times and as is always the case, where there is bait, there are fish looking to feed. My best results have been here as the tide is just at its peak and then the first half of the run out. The predators stay in relatively deep water, and make forays up into the shallow stuff near the rocks and pick off baitfish.

Likely captures here include all the mackerel species, cobia, big barracuda, tuna and some interesting bottom species like fingermark, cod and very occasionally a trout or two. Fingermark are fairly common here but the sizes aren’t usually huge, but a 50-60cm fingermark is still a worthy catch and a beautiful feed of fish. Live herring, small gar or mullet are all successful baits here as well as big live prawns.

For the lure fisho, almost anything goes, from Rapala CD18s to small soft plastic paddle-tails and shinies all having a good chance of success. I generally prefer to anchor back some way off the rocks and cast in towards them or just set up a drift, aided by the electric and cover a lot more territory that way. As a general rule, any barra lure will work here and shinies or blades can be worked either fast or slow for good results. Remember though, most of the bait is fairly small and pike can be a real nuisance, but set out live pike are often snaffled by a grey, Spanish or cobia.

Lonely Island is not hard to find and if in doubt, look for other boats concentrated in a small area. The rock is shown on marine charts of the area up past Rabbit Island and is best accessed from Seaforth, which has an all tide ramp. A proper chart will also provide a wealth of information that is useful to the small boat angler and give much greater detail than the zone maps.

Still in the Seaforth area, the good days will see plenty of surface activity around the islands, but check carefully as there are several green zones around and the fisheries staff watches them closely. Fish reef on the outside of Newry Island is a good spot to chase small macks and tuna and again, keep an eye out here as there is usually plenty of bait around the reef.

Early in the morning when it is calm, longtail and mac tuna show up in the waters off Wedding Cake, which is near the southern end of Newry Island. Here they are usually chasing small baitfish and lead head jigs with small paddle-tails, shinies or flies will attract their attention. Alternatively, try trolling some minnows around while checking the sounder for bait activity.

The old fish traps in the Newry Channel is another area worth spending a bit of time, particularly near the top of the tide and as it starts to run out. This is another “all sorts” spot where I have caught queenfish, pike, small macks, bream, cod, fingermark, gar and the very occasional trout. It pays here to work the whole water depth and lures are great for this type of exploration, with a 75 to 100mm soft plastic being about the best bet. The tidal run here is also not too fierce.

Closer to Mackay, the main target has been snapper and mackerel on the good calm days. Snapper are being caught from the island off Sarina Inlet right through to the harbour with the hot spots being around the rubble patches near Hay Point and the rocky reef areas around Flat and Round Top islands. I have also heard of a couple of rippers that came off Danger Reef between the harbour and Flat Top.

Snapper fishing here usually means a pre dawn start and some of my mates get out on the water as early as 3:00 am to get in position well before dawn. Bait fishing is still the main method here with whole small squid, squid cut baits, fillets of mullet and sometimes live herring being regularly used. The squid can usually be caught on jigs around the harbour lights or around the island at daybreak. Another old and reliable snapper bait is a whole pilchard on a gang rig and a neat little trick is to cut off the tail which helps stop the bait spinning, it also lets out a small berley trail.

Use a standard bottom bashing rig or paternoster setup and at slack water and use only as little weight as needed to drift the bait down. As the run picks up, heavier sinkers are the go. For those anglers who like to chase snapper with soft plastics, the same rules apply, use only as much lead as you need to get your soft plastic offering wafting down.

Snapper are fairly easy to pick up on a good sounder and will usually be close to the bottom. If there is a lot of mid-water bait around however, they will often come up off the bottom, and show as good ‘arches’ on quality sounders. Quality sounders these days don’t cost a fortune and my little Lowrance Elite 4 combo sounder/GPS unit continues to amaze me with its performance and all for under $500 bucks, even with a map card.

Not all Mackay winter fishing is offshore though, as most of that fishing is very much weather dependant, and like anywhere else, Mackay fishos can get blown out for weeks at a time.

The estuaries and creeks continue to fish well with plenty of good size whiting finding their way into iceboxes for both the tinnie fisher and the shore-based angler. The whiting run in the Pioneer River continues, with a good number of genuine ‘elbow slappers’ caught around the city reaches on the incoming tides, with the best ones being caught after dark. The trick here for the boat angler is to keep moving up with the tide as the fish don’t hang about in one area for very long. Often it’s a case of picking up a couple of fish and then moving on as they have already shifted upstream.

For the shore-based angler, whiting can be found along all our beaches, with areas like McEwens Beach and Dunrock offering drive up access and yabbies in the area to pump. Harbour beach, Blacks Beach, Eimeo and Shoal Point are all spots that also fish well on the run up tide for whiting and all can be accessed in a 2WD vehicle. The mouth of Reliance Creek is also another hot spot but it is a long walk from Shoal Point and is very definitely 4WD ONLY. Many a standard vehicle has become inundated by the tide here when stuck and quite a few 4WDs also have been lost. Shank’s pony is probably best here and enjoy the exercise.

King salmon, fingermark, bream and flathead have been dominating the creek captures of late. Some really nice kings continue to come from the Sarina area, with Rocky Dam creek producing some absolute horses. Kings are found in most creek systems and over the last year or so have made a reappearance in the Pioneer River, mainly upstream of the Ron Camm Bridge.

They can be notoriously fussy about baits, but live prawns, yabbies or small fish baits will all go off. Strip baits of mullet, whiting, pilchard, ribbonfish or gar are also met with Mr Kings approval at times. Soft plastics have meant that many more kings (and blues for that matter) are being caught on lures, with prawn imitations and large paddle tails proving popular.

Threadybusters and Transams are also accounting for plenty of fish and the slim profile 16g Threadybuster is getting to be a real ‘go to’ lure for many anglers. Both these lures really should be in any anglers tackle box these days. Both come in a variety of colours, but I prefer to go for the more subdued herring-like colours.

Fingermark are around in all the deeper holes and among rock bars right through the creeks and are generally around the 50-60cm mark when caught in the creeks. Larger models can be caught around the headlands and close offshore islands but the creek ones seem to be all around that similar size. Fingermark are a bit like kings, here and gone, but they also respond to a wide range of baits and lures. Try all the usual baits such as yabbies, prawns, live fish and strip baits for the fingermark and hang on, because they go hard!

Lure anglers also have a wide choice, with barra style minnows (preferably deep diving or suspending), such as Rattlin’ Spots, plastics and the Threadybusters and Transams all proving useful on them. The best thing is all these lures will also score a jack, cod or barra if they happen to be mooching around.

The fresh stuff is finally starting to settle down although a recent trip to Teemburra dam showed a fair amount of inflow still coming down Middle creek and I expect that Teemburra creek will be the same. This water is cold and only now starting to clear. The barra would not play ball and a couple of small sooties was the sum total. With the cleaner water though, the fishing will look up even with the cold weather.

It’s really just a matter of getting out there, so see you at the ramp.

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