There are plenty of opportunities here in January but, like anywhere in the north, the wet season can be unpredictable and ruin the best-laid plans. Fortunately, our wet season proper usually doesn’t come in until February, and a moderate amount of rain in the meantime would be a great help as it would stir up plenty of activity.
This is particularly so in the mangrove creeks and estuaries as the rain gets the prawns running, and where there are prawns there is always a fish worth catching. In recent weeks the area has had good but patchy rains, with falls up to 250mm. This has started the crabs and prawns moving. The prawns have been tiny but they will quickly grow into good bait or pot size.
Just about any fish worth catching will snaffle a prawn, but old frozen prawns aren’t nearly as good as fresh ones. A short session with a cast or drag net will get plenty of fresh, lively prawns, and just about every fish finds them irresistible. If you hang your prawn under a float, drift it with the tide, or anchor it with a running sinker and long leader, you are almost assured of a fish. Unfortunately, little undersized bream will happily smack a prawn. If the pickers become a problem, I recommend moving somewhere else. It’s better than losing all your baits.
Good prawns can be found in all the creeks like Reliance, Constant, and Murray/St Helens to the north and Bakers, Sandy, Alligator, Plane and Rocky Dam creeks to the south of Mackay. As you motor along, keep an eye on the edges under overhanging mangroves and at gully mouths as the prawns will often jump as the boat wake hits the bank. A few throws and you’ll have one of the best baits going.
Crabs are also getting on the move with the rain stirring them up in the creeks. If we get heaps of rain, look for the crabs right out the front of the creeks on the flats, but stay close to your pots. You don’t want them to get stranded at low tide or get robbed. Crab stealing is pretty rife in our area, but many crabbers are now setting up digital cameras around their pots. One commercial crabber got clear images of a family robbing his pots, and they have been fined $1200. An expensive feed of crab, but they got what they deserved.
Almost anything will do for crab bait. You will get good results with fish frames, but I reckon a couple of pilchards are even better. Cut off their tails so there is a natural mini berley trail, secure the pillies in gutter guard or similar close mesh and secure them inside the pot. Legal estuary cod and bream are often a by-catch with this set-up.
Fish-wise, the creeks will be wet weather dependant. After the big Christmas tides, the creeks often change and form new holes, banks and so forth, so it’s a good time for a bit of exploring before the barra season opens on February 1. The standouts during hot muggy weather are the mangrove jacks, fingermark and cod, with grunter and flathead being found in the more open water, especially over gravel beds.
Any live bait will do for all these species, but with the run of prawns around, these tasty crustaceans are an obvious choice. Small live fish (watch legal sizes), strip baits and yabbies will all work well too. Ribbonfish strips or strips of the belly flaps of small macks are also a good choice.
For the lure/fly angler, the choices are endless and range from soft plastic vibes to large hardbodies and surface lures. I always have a good supply of plastics, both paddle-tails and curl-tails, as well as vibes like Transams, Threadybusters or Quick Catch soft sports, which have been quite successful for me. The Z-Man range of plastics have a deserved reputation as fish catchers and I use them a lot, along with Tsunamis, Atomics, Squidgies and several others. Check with the local tackle shops for advice.
Hardbody options are as varied as the plastics, but I use Rapala X-Raps, Reidy’s, 80mm Warlocks, Bombers, Richo’s, RMGs, Manns and Koolabungs to name a few. I use shallow or deep divers depending on the location, and I prefer floating types which can be drifted up and over snags and walked through some pretty rough stuff with a bit of care. Chuck in a few poppers and walk-the-dog surface stickbaits, and you have a good starting selection. Always remember you can NEVER have too many lures!
A selection of flies is also handy to have. Some Clousers, Deceivers, Tarpon Frogs, Whistlers (‘Pink Things’) and prawn imitations will cover most of your creek and estuary needs. An #8wt is ok for the mangroves, and a #6wt will give you plenty of fun in more open waters, such as around sand bars and mud flat drains. The minimum hook size that I tie most of my flies on is 1/0. On the bigger stuff I go as high as 6/0.
Close inshore there should still be some macks and tuna about but that will depend on the winds and rain. The fish will clear out quick smart if there is substantial run-off of dirty freshwater, but there will still be plenty of trevally and queenies around, particularly near the close islands, like off Seaforth, the harbour and Pioneer River mouth. As always, I recommend visiting a tackle shop (who gets tired of doing that!) to get the latest info.
On the freshwater front, the big news is that MAFSA’s hatchery is up and running again after some upgrading and modifications to the spawning side of the hatchery. The mods are pretty much finished and the bio filters have been ‘seeded’ and are running sweetly. Members will now be on the hunt for sooties starting to roe up, and hopefully MAFSA will have a successful summer breeding season. Sooties bred by MAFSA will be used to top up stocks in Kinchant, Eungella and Teemburra dams.
Since the formation of MAFSA in 1994, over 2 million barra, sooty grunter and sleepy cod have been stocked. The proof of the success of MAFSA’s stocking program can been seen in the dams, with Kinchant rapidly becoming the go-to spot for big barra. Recent catches have been over 140cm and it won’t be long before some lucky angler pulls a 150cm+ barra from Kinchant. Nights around the full moon through spring and summer always see plenty of boat activity on Kinchant, while the barra fishery in Teemburra just keeps rolling along, with fish regularly coming from the open dam basin and in the timber as well.
Eungella is of course renowned as an extraordinary sooty fishery, and it is a reputation well deserved. I can’t wait for the first 60cm+ sooty to come from the dam. MAFSA’s premier comp, the World Sooty Championship, is coming up rapidly and will again be held in the first weekend in May. Further details will be released closer to the event.
During January all of the dams will keep motoring along, and with plenty of 26ºC+ water around, the fish will be active and moving about. If you’re after barra, look around the weed beds where the water drops out into 5m or deeper, preferably with a sloping bottom with some old lay-downs or stumps. If you find this scenario and a prominent point or end of a bay, give it a good work-over because it’s prime barra habitat. Barra will also be hanging around weeds and lilies in among the timber, and that makes for heart-stopping fishing.
Sooties are less particular. Any snag with some horizontal timber just above or below the surface will likely hold a sooty. Use your sounder to find them deeper around the timber as the sun gets higher, and use vibes or deep divers to get down to them. Jighead-rigged plastics jigged vertically will also get hit. With sooties, the main trick is to get the lure within 30cm or so and then hang on.
Spinnerbaits seem a bit different though; sooties will chase after them well away from a snag. Barra don’t mind whacking a spinnerbait either.
So 2014 gives us much to look forward to here in paradise, so why not mooch up and share it with us? See you at the ramp!Reads: 808