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Early angler catches tasty treats
  |  First Published: December 2013



With the Christmas rush over and many still on annual holidays, January is a great time for anglers young and old to get out and enjoy the aquatic action on offer.

The weather can be a little volatile at times during January with warm days and frequent storms being the norm over the last few years. However, hot, calm mornings offer great opportunity for early risers to get amongst the hot angling action. A host of awesome piscatorial targets are on offer with pelagics, demersal species and crustaceans providing a lot of fun and some tasty seafood treats for a summer feast.

ESTUARY OFFERINGS

Warm, balmy days provide heightened activity amongst many estuarine species, especially mangrove jack and estuary cod. Warmer water increases their metabolism making them a lot hungrier and more likely to engulf your offerings. Both these species like structure, especially rock walls, mangrove snags, jetties, pontoons, bridges and the like.

Most anglers who target the jacks and cod will do so with lures, however live baits are also highly effective. Getting your lure close to structure will greatly increase your chance of a strike but will also heighten the possibility of a hooked fish busting you off, so you need to apply maximum pressure to pry them away from their sanctuary from the offset. Good lures can include bibbed minnows (both floating and suspending models), soft plastics (mainly paddle-tails and prawn profiles) and to a lesser extent vibes and blades.

Surface offerings have become more popular in recent years for those targeting mangrove jacks. Poppers and stickbaits are good choices with the Lucky Craft G-Splash being one of the more favoured poppers by many serious jack anglers. These are worked close to the structure or over the top of it and a lightning fast response will be required to set the hooks on the strike and also to get the upper hand on your quarry. However the savage surface strikes are worth the effort and there is great satisfaction when a plan comes together and you have a chunk of crimson assailant in your grasp.

Many thinking anglers choose to release most of the mangrove jacks that they land, which is why their numbers have been increasing steadily over the last few years. Many of the land-locked lakes around Brisbane and the Gold Coast will also hold mangrove jacks with many of these being trophy specimens, better than 50cm in length. Sometimes these lakes have minimal structure in them, which makes landing a trophy mangrove jack a little bit easier, however none of them will subdue without a spirited battle.

Large estuary cod also give a great account of themselves and what they lack in speed they definitely make up for in low down grunt and doggedness. It is often at the point when you think you have them beaten that they have one last lunge and reach the sanctuary of their snag or rocky crevice. These too are very palatable yet many anglers will release the majority.

Both black-spot and gold-spot estuary cod can be caught within the estuaries of southern Queensland however the gold-spot is generally more common in the inshore estuaries and the black-spot is more commonly found on the shallow inshore reefs.

Banging and rattling your lures over the rock walls and other structure is a great way to get amongst a few as they commonly hunt crabs, baitfish and prawns in these zones. The rock walls at the mouth of the Brisbane River and on the eastern and southern sides of Mud Island are good places to try. They are also commonly found around the bases of the jetty pylons in the Brisbane River, the various pontoons and jetties in the canal estates and around rock bars and mangrove snags in the estuaries.

Live baiting in the estuaries will produce estuary cod and mangrove jack, as well as numerous other species including flathead, trevally, big bream and others. Best offerings include prawns, herring, mullet and pike. There are copious rigs that anglers favour for fishing their live baits but the main thing to keep in mind is presenting the offering as natural as possible, and keeping it alive as long as possible, while providing the best chance of a hook up when the assailant strikes. Baitrunner style reels or baitcasters with a ratchet will allow the best chance of success but you will need to strike quickly once the bait is taken.

Trolling small minnow lures along the edges of sand and mud flats during a falling tide will provide you with plenty of opportunity to hook a flathead, bream or whiting during January. Trolling lures is also effective when working along mangrove-lined banks and rock walls and this method can take a plethora of fish species, including the aforementioned mangrove jack and estuary cod. However you will need to apply maximum pressure and swing the boat out into the main channel to give the best chance of getting the hooked fish away from the structure. A good degree of luck doesn’t go astray either.

CLAWED CRITTERS

Crabs are fairly prominent throughout the estuaries and Moreton Bay during January. If we have received any substantial rain then the mud crabs will be a little easier to locate than normal. They get flushed out of the creeks, drains and gutters when there are substantial downpours and are flushed into the larger rivers and estuaries where they can be readily caught in the traditional safety pots. Normally however, the best results will come by setting your pots well up the drains and creeks where the larger bucks like to reside. Those who go to the effort to access the more remote and hard to reach locations are most likely to get the biggest and gnarliest bucks.

Sand crabs are most prominent throughout Moreton Bay but can also be located around the river mouths at times. The main gutters and ledges in the bay, especially those around the bay island margins, will provide some excellent opportunity for a haul of sand crabs. Setting your pots for several hours will generally be required for decent numbers. I always like to have my pots in during a tide change as I reckon the crabs move around more during this time and are more likely to find the baited pot.

Both sand and blue swimmer crabs can be caught in the bay as well as several lesser species.

Safety pots are the main way to secure these now that the witch’s hat style dillies were outlawed several years ago. Setting these pots with mullet, tuna chunks, fish frames and similar baits will produce both mud and sand crabs. There are strict rules on the labelling of pots and differing size and bag limits for both mud and sand crabs so check before venturing out. Incorrectly or non-labelled pots may be seized by Fisheries Officers if you are in breach so it pays to make sure you are up to date with regulations.

BAY PELAGICS

Moreton Bay offers anglers ample opportunity to tangle with a host of pelagic species throughout January. Numerous mackerel and tuna species are on offer as well as cobia, trevally and yellowtail kings, which are becoming more common throughout the bay.

Mackerel are the main target for many anglers due to their awesome fighting ability, relative ease of capture and more importantly their excellent table qualities. School and spotted mackerel can be caught but currently the spotties have been fairly scarce.

Hopefully by January, the large surface feeding schools will have appeared and anglers are having a ball catching these silver streaks. The more open areas of the bay are where the spotted mackerel are generally found en masse, however schools can pop at any time and smaller numbers of surface cruising fish can be located by the observant angler. Generally they respond promptly to a small metal slice cast in their general direction and retrieved back to the boat with a high-speed retrieve. If they are following yet not striking your lure then you are simply not winding fast enough to excite them into action.

Pilchards will also produce the goods on spotted and school mackerel and are often fished around the bay islands or the prominent shipping channel beacons. Going from beacon to beacon and dropping down a gang hook rigged pilchard or jigging with chromed slugs and slices is often a successful approach. Usually if you can catch one mackerel then there are several in the near vicinity so a little more effort is advisable before moving on. Anchoring near a prominent beacon, such as the Measured Mile beacons, and then drifting out some pilchards, while maintaining a berley trail with a steady supply of finely chopped pilchard pieces, is a very relaxing way to fish. A good feed of lightly barbecued mackerel steaks is a great way to finish the day.

There will still be quite a few cobia knocking about the bay during January. Large live baits fished around the shipping channel beacons, the Curtin Artificial, Bulwer Ledge, Western Rocks, the reef balls off Moreton or Yellow Patch could produce trophy cobia which regularly exceed 20kg in weight and are caught every year at weights better than 40kg. These are another excellent eating fish and one cobia can produce plenty of feeds for quite a few hungry individuals.

Yellowtail kingfish numbers have been increasing steadily over recent years and now anglers are encountering them more regularly. There are quite a few large resident fish around the Curtin Artificial Reef and they will readily swim up and eat your berley, yet getting one to take a bait can be a frustrating exercise. If you do hook one then they will often head straight for the bottom and rub you off on the nearest structure.

All the beacons in the northern bay and the NW and M series beacons can produce yellowtail kings on a random basis. Another good spot is around Dunwich where anglers hook them on live baits (pike, yakkas, slimey mackerel, etc.) as well as soft plastics and surface lures (stickbaits, poppers and small fizzers). They are also occasionally taken around the houseboat wreck near Peel Island and the old oyster leases north of Dunwich. Several anglers, including myself have been bricked around the Tiwi Pearl Wreck and other areas of the Harry Atkinson, which is also likely to be the work of yellowtail kingfish, although I did land a small amberjack there recently.

Tuna and bonito numbers can be fairly good throughout January with great numbers of mac tuna, frigates and bonito to be caught at times. Most anglers however are longing for longtails as they are a stubborn adversary, grow to over 20kg in weight and offer an awesome feed of sashimi if you decide to keep one. They can be exceptionally elusive at times although finding them is often the easy portion of the equation. Getting them to eat can be a frustrating task as they will readily refuse anything other than exact replicas of the food source on which they are currently dining. Once hooked, you generally have a prolonged fight on your hands, providing the hook stays in and the sharks don’t engulf your quarry. However, the rewards are high enough to keep most anglers trying and it is hard to not chase them when you see them busting on the surface nearby.

BRISBANE RIVER

During the summer months, the Brisbane River generally fishes fairly well for an array of species including king threadfin salmon, bream, flathead, estuary cod and snapper. There are even a few quality mulloway and the occasional tailor around as well, despite being renowned as cold weather targets.

Threadies can be elusive most of the time, however on occasion you will find them schooled up and hungry. This generally occurs around some prominent underwater structure or ledge early morning or late afternoon when the barometer is rising. In this situation, most offerings worked throughout the area will produce strikes. Vibration baits, blades, paddle-tail plastics, Zerek Shrimps and a host of other plastics can be put to good use.

Obviously these same lures can be worked anywhere to target threadies as well as most other desirable inhabitants of the river. Live baits, such as herring, mullet, prawns, gar and pike will also work a treat but will also get the attention of sharks, rays, pike eels and catfish. I have even seen quality threadfin over a metre in length caught on the humble pilchard so don’t discard these as worthy baits.

Snapper numbers will vary depending on the amount of fresh in the system but fishing around the Sunken Wall, Claras Rocks and the retaining wall at the mouth will generally produce the goods if things are favourable. Estuary cod and bream will also be common captures in these zones.

Don’t forget the crab pots either as the Brisbane River can produce some respectable muddies and sand crabs.

CONCLUSION

January is a very warm month that can even be quite wet with frequent storms and high humidity, however this does not adversely affect the quality of the fishing. In fact, it often promotes many species to increase their metabolism and aggressiveness, which is a bonus for anglers.

Large schools of baitfish also help to promote heightened activity in Moreton Bay and the estuaries. The heat can be a little too much for some at times so make sure you cover up and keep hydrated, as sunstroke is not a pleasant experience. This is especially important for the junior anglers as you don’t want to ruin their experience in the great outdoors. Conditions are hot but the fishing is hotter so get out and enjoy it while you can.

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