If I had to nominate a certain time of year when the jack fishing in Bowen is at its prime then December would definitely be right at the top.
Characterised by its sultry summer days and spectacular afternoon thunderstorms, December holds all the right ingredients to ignite the mangrove jack bite into a ferocious frenzy, which will burn out the drag washes on your bait caster before the fat man makes it down the chimney!
It simply astounds me how crazy some of the mangrove jack sessions get in December around the creeks of Bowen as it can literally be a fish a cast when all the conditions line up perfectly.
While a good storm always gets them chewing, fishing the right tide is just as important and the lower the better is always a good place to start.
If you’re chasing jacks in Bowen, then your number one obstacle is not choosing what lure to use or whether your line leader or trebles will hold up to a steaming jack attack, but something much simpler – water. That’s right, times of high water makes finding those jacks just that much harder as they move deeper into the mangroves and often out of range of baits and lures. This is why fishing over the low tide is essential to success as it condenses the fish into smaller areas where lures and bait can get to, which will ultimately see more strikes.
The beauty about chasing jacks in December is that they aren’t shy and it is very common to take three or four fish off a single snag, where in earlier months the others would shy away after the capture of a single fish. This makes for some awesome fishing as when you find one fish it usually sees a string of multiple captures follow, which sees some big catches racking up.
Casting shallow running minnow style lures tight to structure is essential. Jacks will always strike on the first couple of winds so make sure you are ready to tango the moment the lure hits the water.
Soft plastic lures are also a good option and I love a 4-5” shad style plastic for this time of year as the tight rolling action and big paddle-tail always gets these big red devils biting. I am a firm believer that the bigger the lure, the better for this time of year; if you want to tangle with fish pushing the 50cm mark then forget your 80mm or even 100mm softies and start at the 130mm mark as these will be the ones the big fish will be interested in.
Jacks love to hang in packs, which can often see numbers over 10 fish a group. They are often all sizes from tiddlers right up to the 50cm+ trophies. If you throw in a small lure you are most likely going to attract the smaller fish from the school so you really want something that will discourage the tiddlers and ignite the interest of those kicker fish.
Whatever you use, make sure your drags are tight. If you fish any lighter than 20lb braid, then you are gambling especially when fishing tight to structure.
Leader is also key and I use nothing but Sunline FC Rock as I find this is the only leader that can withstand the high degrees of drag pressure and the abrasiveness experienced when going toe to toe with a big angry jack.
Jack fishing is not just for the lure chuckers, bait fishers also love this time of year for jacks. Finding a good snag or small snaggy creek with exposed roots and good overhangs and putting out a bit of berley can bring big numbers to the boat. Setting traps with freshly caught herring will bring the best results.
I love using herring as they are the perfect one bite bait for jacks, which tend to suck them down like lollypops. If you can’t get herring then slab mullet bait is the next best thing. Jacks tend to favour dead slab bait over live baits which also tend to attract barramundi as well,
While the creek fishing will be going off so will the offshore fishing as December is a top time to be fishing the offshore reefs and islands around Bowen.
The number one target species will be coral trout and they will be prime this month. These fish will be moving up into the shallows around the islands and reefs as the water begins to warm. Throwing large soft plastic across the fringing reef flats around Middle, Glouster and Stone Islands will see plenty of attention from these fish.
Top water lures like poppers and stickbaits are also worth a throw for coral trout in these areas as well.
If you are not into lure fishing then sinking a few big baits will be a top way to target trout. Isolated bommies off the reef ledges that show good holdings of bait are a great place to start. Try moving from bommie to bommie and you should pick up a healthy mix of coral trout and sweetlip.
The key to snaring the bigger fish is to use bigger baits and whole slabs of hussar and fusilier are great baits. Pilchards and squid will also do the trick but will also fall victim to the thousands of pickers these reefs hold. If you are chasing a trout make sure you stay aware as these fish will run to structure on the strike. If you can’t win that first few feet then you’ve lost the battle, the fish and your gear as well.
Finally, for sports fishers top water species like GT will also be in full swing through Bowen waters in December. Sweeping island corners heavily affected by current will hold the larger fish and the deeper the water the better. Try using large stickbaits when poppers are not getting attention and always fish when the tide is running its hardest for these awesome fish.
Next month will see further deterioration of the weather as storms become replaced by more consistent rain. This will see the creeks begin to fish a little harder as water clarity diminishes and freshwater run-off becomes a big variable.
The good news is that run-off is actually a good thing in certain spots and finding that clear water where it meets the dirty will be a good place to start when looking for those jacks.
Have a merry Christmas and hope you enjoy the best the season has to offer.
Big coral trout will be biting hard in December around many of Bowen’s islands reefs and shoals.
This solid Bowen jack was taken on 9wt Temple Fork Mangrove Rod and BVKk3 reel by John Haenke and shows just how good the jack fishing really is in Bowen waters.
Big GT will be patrolling the island edges in December and are suckers for big stickbaits.Reads: 577