Work with the heat, not in it
  |  First Published: December 2013

The estuaries have been fishing fairly well over the past month, with mangrove jack the main players, along with school sized fingermark, trevally, queenfish and incidental barra.


Jacks have been quite aggressive and there have been two distinct year groups on the bite. The better fish have been around the 40cm size, with another group around 30cm in length. Lure size hasn’t been a big factor, with the smaller jacks attacking lures as big as 6” Barra Baits. However, soft plastic prawns and small soft plastic minnows have been the most productive.

The jack action has mainly been in the lower tidal reaches, probably due to the fish relocating from the freshwater, due to low stream levels after the prolonged dry spell. Provided we don’t get some major dumps of rain, the jacks should hang around for some time to feed on the hatchings of sardines and sprat that will appear in local estuaries any time soon.

All the same, locals are hoping for an early wet, though there have been limited signs of any significant build-up at the time of writing. It’s shaping up to be a long, hot summer, so work with the heat, not in it. Super early starts, with a mid-morning show hooks or a mid-afternoon call out, followed by a late evening full time hooter, will not only provide the most comfortable conditions but also the most productive fishing.

Early mornings will provide the most options, as the seas are more often calm, allowing offshore fishing. There is also less chance of running foul of a storm.

Long hot spells can really impede fishing, as the fish feel just as lethargic as the human population does. Look for changing conditions such as the turn of the tide, a passing storm, a significant wind change, rain or the first of the making tides after the neaps to stir the fish into action. Try to align these conditions with dawn and dusk and a bite time in the Angler’s Almanac, and you will be in with a good chance of success.

Rocky areas have been holding the better jack populations, though there have been a few on the snags. Work the rocky drop-offs, rock walls and rocky points in the lower estuary on the turn of high or low tide for best results. When the tide is racing, trolling deep diving minnows (under 10cm long) over heavy country will give you the best chance of a jack attack.

Because they have been feeding so aggressively, the jacks have been particularly quick at trying to brick you. Even 40lb fluorocarbon with 30lb braid hasn’t been good enough at times, and 30lb leader will see you out-gunned even more regularly. During a particularly hot bite in the Johnstone River recently, we had a number of cut-offs and many shredded leaders in a great session that saw over a dozen jacks, from 25 to 40cm, make it to the landing net.


Golden snapper (fingermark) have been consistent all year, and the summer heat will hopefully turn them on even more. The headlands have been the most productive, though there have been some taken in the deeper holes in local waterways.

Chasing golden snapper fits in well with the tropical temperature cycle, as they are very hard to entice during the day. The best times to tangle with these mangrove jacks on steroids are very early, late light and all night.

Anything less that 30lb braid with 40lb fluorocarbon leader is a waste of good terminal tackle for these brutes. That’s unless you know of a nice clean weed area that they sometimes feed on. There are areas like this around Hinchinbrook Island, but in the Cairns area I have only found fingermark on country with lots of structure to bury you in. My standard armour when trying to tangle with these brutes is 50lb braid with 50lb fluorocarbon leader.


Christmas is the time to be taking the littlies fishing, but golden snapper are not the fish to be chasing with children; these fish require a great deal of patience and non kid-friendly fishing hours.

For kids’ fishing, stick to early mornings and late afternoons for sun sense and comfort reasons, and go looking for smaller, more common species such as whiting, bream, grunter, small trevally and queenfish. Kids aren’t interested in having their arms pulled from their sockets by the likes of big golden snapper or monster GTs – they want lots of small fish action.

When my children were still ankle-biters, the highlight of our fishing trips was catching our own bait, either with a cast net or yabby pump. Most kids are the same. They love plenty of action, and the muddier and messier the better (be sure to hose them down before dropping them back into the comfort of their mother’s arms, if you want to be given a repeat set).

Make sure you are safety conscious and always thinking about and watching for crocs when near the water. When alighting and boarding from a sand bank, always use the boat as a barrier between the water and the sand, and keep your head up to scan the area. Don’t let the fear of crocs be a reason not to take your kids out on the water, but do take every precaution to ensure their safety.

Fishing where you pumped the yabbies, as the tide rises, is a very productive approach. It can also be used by land-based anglers in the right location. Look for a high sand bank with a low, flat area near the water. There will often be a few yabby holes down on the low, flat sand. These can be pumped and then the family can fish from the safety of the higher sand bank as the tide rises. Instil in the kids need to stand at least 3m from the water’s edge for older kids and 5m for young ones, and NEVER take your eye off them. Kids by nature will want to move closer to the water. It’s like a powerful magnet that just draws them in. If they are sitting to fish, it’s a minimum of 5m from the water.


Anglers still in need of a barra fix will find plenty of challenges trying to nail a monster in Tinaroo Dam. If you fish soft plastics at night, in the lead up to the new and full moons, you’ll be in with a chance of hooking a bucket mouth.


The inshore wrecks and rubble grounds will hold a few golden snapper, largemouth nannygai (saddletail snapper), Spanish mackerel and bruiser trevally this month. Techniques worth trying in these areas include fishing livebaits on a dropper rig and jigging soft plastics, slices, knives and blades.

Pelagics will be on the prowl out wide, with yellowfin tuna, wahoo, mahi mahi (dolphinfish), giant trevally, northern bluefin tuna, mac tuna and the odd sailfish and black marlin providing plenty of action for the light and heavy tackle brigade.

Reef fishing has been pretty productive of late, with quality taking precedence over quantity on many trips. The deep water has been the most productive, with quality red emperor and largemouth nannygai the main trophies.Quality trout have been coming from the under 40m areas but not in big numbers.

A few Spaniards still being caught, so always have a livebait or floating pilchard out the back when bottom bashing.

Overnighters are certainly the best option in the December heat, but always monitor storms on the BOM radar so you don’t get caught out badly.

Finding the fish can be a challenge this month, so keep moving around until you locate a bite. The winds are usually fairy light in December, so drift fishing is a great approach to locate feeding fish. Sharks continue to be a problem, so be prepared to lose a few fish. It’s even worth going up a level in gear to get fish to the boat that bit faster. Now is not the time to be playing a bigmouth or trophy red emperor on 30lb braid. Get it to the boat as fast as your arms can wind!

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