Majestic Mackay has plenty of cool water options.
  |  First Published: August 2013

Winter weather can be wonderful in Mackay, with calm winds, fairly flat seas and an abundance of fishing opportunities, or it can be windy, wet and rough.

So far we have had about a 50/50 chance on the weather and the good days have been gold for both the offshore angler and the creek and estuary brigade.


Starting offshore, the annual snapper run has been popular, with plenty of good size snapper being caught from the Sarina area up to around Mackay Harbour. Snapper weather usually starts with calm winds, beautiful red sunsets and a distinct chill in the early mornings, dipping to 8-9°C, which is pretty cool for us in the tropics.

With these conditions, the tinnie angler can be on the water well before daylight and be fishing as the sky starts to lighten, prime time for good fish!

Snapper in our area will haunt rubble grounds, such as those down around Hay Point (be careful of ship movements) rocky reef areas like Danger Reef, Flat and Round Top islands and any isolated rocky spots in otherwise flat areas. Without giving away anyone’s secret spots, there are plenty of these types of areas within a few kilometres of shore that are safely available to small tinnies in the 4-5m range.

Naturally, a sounder is of enormous help, and a GPS to mark spots is also helpful, but don’t just look for bumps on the bottom, if baitfish show on the sounder, then it is a pretty sure bet there will be snapper in attendance.

All the usual baits will catch snapper, with pillies, squid, mullet and gar cut baits all finding favour with local snapper fishos. Large prawns, small live baits and strips of school mackerel belly flaps are also useful. With the mackerel belly strips, rig 2 on the same hook flesh-to-flesh so that there is plenty of the silvery skin flashing in the water. For bigger baits, use a 2 or 3 gang rig.

Using lures for snapper is slowly catching on with quite a few falling to soft stick baits and minnows like those in the Zman range and some of the larger Berkley jerk shads and similar plastics. Colour does not seem to be a big issue, but talk to the local tackle shop staff and they will know what’s working at the moment. Vibes like Transams and Threadybusters would work a treat too, except they are hard to get down to the fish with the strong tidal runs we have here. Big heavy jig heads with curly tail grubs also work well, and it is really a case of finding the fish and getting your plastic down to them, and using a jigging motion to get the hit. Metal jigs also work quite well on snapper but this can be tough working a metal jig up and down, where quite a bit of rod work is needed to impart action. The soft option in my opinion is easier on angler and gear and is just as productive.

As seems to be the case each winter, the golden trevally seem to be hanging near the snapper and they are often caught together, particularly around isolated rocks or over reefy areas. Goldens are great fun to catch, fight well and are very acceptable table fare provided they are well bled and iced down quickly. Goldens will take all the snapper baits and lures in the deeper water, and also show a liking for metal vibes worked up through the water column. At this time of year, if you’re mooching around offshore and your sounder shows bait, then you can almost bet there will be goldens hanging around.

Goldens of course aren’t limited to offshore areas and plenty are caught along our clean ocean beaches and in the estuaries. Check out the beach areas around our small inshore islands. These areas usually produce the smaller models, but are good fun just the same.

Wintertime is also jew fishing time in Mackay waters and there have been some real quality fish caught of late. The favourite method here is to fish the night tides running up to the full moon in places like the harbour walls, the harbour mouth and around Slade Island. Newry Island off Seaforth is another well-known hot spot as is nearby Cape Hillsborough.

Most jew fall to baits of whole squid, large fish fillets or live baits and the majority would be caught on heavy handlines. Not terribly sporting, but good fun and effective. Try them on 6-10kg gear and they are a truly great sportfish with long runs, plenty of headshaking and general difficulty in boating. They also look magnificent and have long been favoured as a good eating fish with fillets that can be cooked on a barbie, baked or used in curries, casseroles or soups. They are definitely a fish for the versatile cook to utilise and experiment with.

Lately though, a few good jew have been caught during the day while anglers were chasing other species. These catches have mainly happened just offshore in the areas between Hay Point and the harbour, after finding bait on the sounder with larger fish in attendance. Several have been caught on firetail jigs with a large plastic grub fitted and larger size metal vibes have also racked up a few jewies.

The Spanish mackerel have started to show in better numbers with good catches of quality fish coming from the north around the Goldsmith Islands area, and down to Elamang and Knight islands off Sarina Inlet. Flat Top Island on the SE corner is a good starting spot and a top place to drift out a big bait such as a ribbonfish or similar.

The Spanish don’t just favour the deeper water and will come right in along the harbour walls and around Slade Island, just off the mouth of the harbour.

Late July and August are probably the most productive months for inshore Spaniards, although they can be found right through until the start of the wet season, if there is enough bait around.

The Creeks

The creeks have been firing pretty well with plenty of mega size whiting (yes, genuine ‘elbow-slappers’) being caught along the beaches and up in the creeks. The Pioneer River fishes really well for big whiting from the V right up through the town reaches and up past the Base Hospital. Yabbies and worms are the preferred baits and the better quality fish are mainly caught at night on the run in tides. Again, check with the guys in the local tackle shops and they will give you the good oil.

The pikey bream are in spawning mode and can be found all through the mangrove creek systems. I love pikey bream as they are aggressive, live pretty close to cover and hit lures of all types with plenty of gusto. I use light sooty gear on them and they are heaps of fun, and often can be sight cast to as they mill around the mangrove roots or other snags. Flyfishing is another exciting way to catch pikey bream and our son Lachlan enjoys chasing them with fairly bulky flies on a 6# and intermediate line.

Both king and blue salmon are around at the moment in pretty good numbers and there have been some real quality fish caught. How does it sound when blues are running up to 80cm and kingies to a metre? They are great fish, and great fun to catch. When those big tails start beating and the turbos light up, hang on and hope all your knots and leader are up to the mark! Live and strip baits account for most, but don’t discount a bunch of yabbies on a hook. But remember, you can’t beat a live prawn as bait for salmon.

Both species will take a variety of lures from soft plastic grubs, paddle tails, prawn imitations and vibes to small shinies, so there are plenty of choices. All our creeks and beaches have salmon and one recent hot spot has been the Pioneer River upstream of the Ron Camm Bridge all the way up to the top of the tidal influence.

Flathead, grunter and golden snapper have also been on the chew in the creeks and estuaries, and will take a variety of baits and lures. For the visitor (and we have plenty of them during winter), the humble yabby is probably the best bet for a feed of beautiful fresh fish, and what could be better?

As always, Mackay and its varied waterways offers plenty of fishing action for both boaties and land based anglers, although a small tinny opens up many more opportunities. See you at the ramp.

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