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School’s out, schoolies are in.
  |  First Published: September 2013



Anglers fishing the waters of the Great Southeast should be in for awesome angling action throughout the coming month.

Many winter species will still be in abundance and in addition we will see an increase in the prominence of adversaries such as school mackerel, cobia, mangrove jack, estuary cod, flathead, longtail tuna and others. With school holidays upon us, now is the time to think about getting the family out onto the water. As the weather warms during September, so will the angling action so discard the flanno, fling the beanie and warm to the action ahead.

COBIA

Cobia are one of my favourite bay species and I am really looking forward to targeting a few in the coming weeks. These bay bruisers can be found in decent numbers and sometimes to fairly impressive sizes with specimens exceeding 40kg being caught every year.

Apart from being stubborn fighters and a real piscatorial prize, large cobia are exceptionally tasty. In fact, the larger specimens are better table fare than the smaller one. The flavour of a fish’s flesh can be somewhat dictated by what they consume. The impressive table quality of a large cobia is probably due to the large numbers of crabs that they consume. As such, crabs are great bait for these bay brutes that can engulf and crush a large sandie with ease. Some fishermen regularly use crabs for bait, however be compliant to any relevant size restrictions for the crab species that you choose to use. Other prime offerings for cobia include large squid, whiptails, reef species (adhere to size limits) and bonito. The classic live baits of slimy mackerel and yakkas can work, however I find that the aforementioned larger offerings reign supreme most of the time.

Wherever you fish, you should be able to catch your bait on site, as this is what the cobia will be here to consume in the first place. Rigs can be fairly basic, yet I choose to use a circle hook rig with 2 hooks snelled a short distance apart (this distance will depend on the size of bait used). Usually this rig will be made from 80-130lb monofilament or fluorocarbon with 9/0 Owner Inline Circle hooks or 8/0 Gamakatsu Big Bait Circle hooks. The leading hook of the rig is placed sideways through the nose and the trailing hook through the tail area with enough slack to allow the bait to move unencumbered. Ahead of this 1m snelled circle hook rig, I will generally have a 2-3m wind-on-leader of around 130l-150lb. This thicker monofilament leader allows you to coerce a fish close enough to the gaff without the leader cutting into your hands. The main line in my rig is generally 15kg although I have used line classes between 6kg and 24kg to chase cobia on occasion.

Good Moreton Bay locations to target cobia can include around prominent shipping channel beacons (NE, NW and M series beacons), Yellowpatch, Western Rocks, wrecks, artificial reefs, shallow natural reef and coffee rock areas. Cobia can occasionally show up anywhere and will even cruise up to anchored boats to investigate on occasion, especially if you have a berley trail going. Occasionally cobia can be sighted close to the surface around the edges of surface feeding schools of mackerel and tuna. Once located, cobia are generally fairly easy to entice if you have quality live baits, although on occasion they will even eat dead offerings such as pilchards, squid and gar. The minimum size limit for cobia is 75cm and you are only permitted to take 2 over this size. This is more than adequate, however even one large cobia can yield many kilos of quality fillets.

SCHOOL MACKEREL

As reported last month, school mackerel numbers are generally fairly good throughout this period of the year. Schoolies are commonly found in major channels such as the Rous, NW, NE and Kianga channels and the shipping lanes. The bait schools around many beacons will also attract school mackerel. Try around the Measured Mile and the beacons north of The Four Beacons.

During this time of the year, school mackerel are rarely found surface feeding but are instead commonly located fairly deep in the water column. Because of this, schoolies are taken on deeply trolled lures and baits fished close to the bottom.

Small live baits and the humble pilchard are both prime offerings in this arena. Live baits are commonly fished on a single hook or twin hook rig with a short, single strand piano wire leader. Ganged hook rigs are best for pilchards however there are many variations in the rigs (hook styles and linking methods) and the way of pinning the bait on the rig. My preference is to make my ganged hook rig (usually 4/0 or 5/0) with a VMC 9255 as the leading hook then 2 Tru-Turn 711s to complete the rig. These work best when linked with swivels instead of joining eye-to-eye, as each hook can now move independently. This increases initial hook up rates and decreases the chance of hooks working against each other and then tearing out during the fight. It also makes baiting up easier and increases the flexibility of the bait. I find that rolling swivels seem to fit best and you will need to choose one that has an eye large enough to go over the hook shank but small enough that it doesn’t go over the hook barb. Your local tackle store will be able to help you out in this regard. My preference is to pin the bait down through the back so that the majority of the hook passes through the thick back section yet the points end up in the soft gut cavity. The leading hook of my rig (the VMC 9255) passes centrally through the head approximately half way between the nose and the eye. The rig should be flexible and it pays to slightly bend the pilchard back and forwards to make it suppler.

When rigged correctly, your bait should waft in the water but not spin, even in a fairly strong current. This increases its appeal and results it more ferocious strikes that increases the chance of a solid hook set.

Trolling lures around the fringes of the bay islands, along the edges of prominent banks on a rising tide or on tops of larger bank systems on the higher stages of the tide can also be highly successful. Keep your offerings small (less than 15cm in length) and use light braid (8lb to 15lb) to get them as deep as possible. School mackerel can provide a great deal of sport and are damn tasty when lightly cooked. School mackerel have a minimum size limit of 50cm and a bag limit of 20 per person.

MANGROVE JACK

One of the prized estuarine targets for anglers from now until late March is the mangrove jack. I am not sure whether it is their aggressive nature, elusiveness or crimson coloration that makes them more appealing than many other targets in this zone, but there is no denying that they are a highly desirable capture.

They respond well to both live baits and lures and their lightning fast reflexes mean that many anglers find themselves bricked quite quickly. Live offerings can include poddy mullet, herring, large prawns, pike and even yabbies. These are generally fished close to prominent structure such as bridge pylons, jetties, pontoons, mangrove snags, rock bars and rock retaining walls.

Night, early morning and late afternoon sessions are generally the most productive, especially around lighted areas.

Lure fishers can also probe these same zones with a variety of offerings including minnow lures, soft plastics (especially prawn and shad profiles), blades, vibration baits and topwater offerings including poppers, wakebaits and stickbaits. Many lure fishers hone their skills to a high level and achieve fairly consistent results, however for many new anglers to this arena you can put in over a thousand casts to achieve that first jack strike. Good technique with lures will require a good degree of time on the water, however on some days you will need to alter your retrieve and change lures regularly to produce strikes on a given piece of water.

Most major creek and river systems will hold decent numbers of jacks with the exception being the Brisbane River, which only produces the occasional jack capture for some unknown reason. The canals also offer great habitat and it is nice to be able to pry a quality jack from amongst the spoils of suburbia, often from beneath someone’s jetty.

Estuary cod will also respond to much the same lures, baits and tactics that anglers use to target mangrove jack. They can be found around any structure but especially favour rock walls due to the array or crevices and caverns along their length. These provide shelter and ambush spots to prey upon the numerous crabs and baitfish that reside and pass by these zones. Even though the Brisbane River only produces few mangrove jack, it does produce healthy numbers of estuary cod, especially along the walls at the mouth, Clara’s Rocks and around the bases of the pylons supporting the numerous jetties and wharves.

BAY PELAGICS

In addition to school mackerel, Moreton Bay often holds good numbers of tuna species during September. Mackerel tuna, frigate tuna, bonito species and the highly favoured longtail tuna will all be around in various numbers.

In my personal experience, there generally aren’t too many larger schools of longtails to be found smashing and slashing their way to gluttony on the surface. However, longtail tuna are still around, especially the larger specimens that are usually located in small schools of less than 10 fish.

On a calm day, these sashimi torpedoes can sometimes be sighted cruising the surface plucking off the occasional morsel. Casting offerings such as chromed slugs, jerk shad plastics and surface lures can achieve good results for those with a stealthy approach.

A more reliable way to achieve results is by live baiting around the beacons, along the edges of current lines or other locales where baitfish tend to concentrate. Live baits can include slimy mackerel, yakkas and pike that can be fished throughout all levels of the water column. Obviously while doing this you are likely to encounter other species such as mack tuna, cobia, yellowtail kingfish, sharks, trevally and even larger snapper and other demersal. Even anglers floating out pilchards in search of mackerel and other species will hook the occasional larger longtail.

At times longtails can be exceptionally pedantic, yet on other occasions they will swoop upon any morsel in sight. Having a spin rod ready rigged with a chrome slice or small jerk shad plastic is a wise ploy at any time while transiting Moreton Bay, as schools of pelagics can erupt in front of you at any time. A quick cast and high-speed retrieve can often be exceptionally rewarding for prepared anglers.

FLATHEAD

September is an awesome month for those who like to chase flathead as they are available in increased numbers throughout the creeks, rivers and estuaries due to their annual breeding regime. Larger females, which can reach well in excess of 90cm at times are often found surrounded by numbers of smaller males, all waiting for their chance to fulfil their natural urge. As a result, once you catch one flathead you can often achieve multiple strikes and hook-ups from the one area.

Flathead have a size slot between 40-75cm so specimens outside these sizes must be released quickly. Try avoiding removal of larger specimens from the water as these larger breeders can stress easily, which results in re-absorption of their eggs and fewer juvenile flathead. If you do need to get them out of the water to remove hooks, ensure to support the length of the body and place a damp cloth over them to protect them and limit their stress and struggling. Don’t put them onto hot aluminium floors or decks, remove hooks quickly and return them to the water promptly and they will go on to breed this season. The smaller specimens, which are generally males, are the better option if you want to take a few for the table.

Techniques for flatties are numerous and have been covered in previous issues numerous times. However, fine-tuning and adapting these techniques to your chosen waters will require a degree of thought and plenty of time out on the water. Visiting locations on the dead low tide will allow you to locate likely spots to fish during higher stager of the tidal movement. You can even get out of your boat and mark spots with a handheld GPS or a mobile phone sporting the appropriate app. Knowing your terrain intimately will go a long way to working out where flathead are likely to be during certain stages of the tide. Whether you want to drift these areas with small, whole fish baits (such as herring, hardiheads, pilchards, whitebait or frogmouths) or work them over with trolled lures, or cast and retrieve lures (blades, soft plastics, vibration baits and minnow lures) is up to you.

CONCLUSION

There are plenty of options during September for anglers fishing in the Moreton Bay area. A good array of new targets is available but seasonal favourites such as snapper, bream, sweetlip, threadfin salmon, mulloway and numerous others are still on offer.

It is a great time to be on the water as the days are generally pleasant, especially if you can fluke a day off when the winds are light. With the school holidays during September, it is a great time to get the juniors out on the water to experience one of the awesome activities that the great outdoors has to offer. It could be the start of another great angling career with them enjoying it even more than you do.

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