January can be a tough month for anglers in Cape York, with unsettled weather and often the first real clean-out of creeks and rivers under the first descent rains of the wet season. You can’t fish for barra either, of course.
Still, there are options available. Here are my tips for this month.
My best tip, and one taken up by all those keen enough to jump in the water in the tropics, is to cool off by fishing under the water instead of above it. Pick a nice window of calm weather and shoot out to some shallow reef or rocky ground and have a hunt around with snorkelling gear and a spear. Just be careful to pick an area which is distant enough from creek mouths and territorial crocodiles to avoid danger. The next few months are also prime stinger months, so staying a safe distance offshore and covering up are good options.
A big mixture of coral reef species can be found over shallow reefs at this time of the year. Keep a close eye out for mangrove jack, fingermark and also Maori sea perch, which can be easily mistaken for other less desirable fish. In fact, Maori perch are beautiful looking and tasting, especially the larger models out on the edge of the Barrier Reef.
For some of the serious diving, snorkelling and spearing enthusiasts out there, January can present some of the best chances to push a long way out under calm weather. You just need to be mindful of the weather, as it can turn nasty quickly.
Crayfish tend to be at the end of their cycles by this time of the season, and the chance to grapple with a few large models in comparatively shallow country is on the cards. Crayfish tend to repopulate the same holes, cracks and crevices over time, so try to remember the spots and indeed the individual rocks and coral heads that you find them under. Smaller crays can be found even over the surface of the reef in amongst soft corals and under plate corals. The larger models tend to be a little deeper down. The first time you see 2 long tentacles quivering back and forth, and long, colourful spindly legs creeping underneath, you’ll be mesmerised.
To consistently spear crayfish you’ll need a short pneumatic or rail gun so you can more easily search under structure. One of the best things about jumping in and looking for crays is that you can do it in relatively shallow water. This makes the experience of searching around the intensely colourful and fish-filled arena of the Great Barrier Reef even more rewarding. A pair of gloves (or at least a glove on one hand) makes removing stubborn crays possible, and a wetsuit or rash vest will help prevent the inevitable coral scrapes during the process.
Painted and ornate crayfish are both quite rich meat, and there are many ways to prepare them. Experimentation is the key to enjoying them over the long run. I have started thinly slicing the clear, soft meat which surrounds the head as the body comes off, and soaking this in a mixture of chilled lemon juice with raw sugar (the citric acid in the lemon juice ‘cooks’ the meat). The next time you catch some crays, try serving up tiny portions of these lemon-soaked treats after 15 minutes in the fridge, and see what people think.
As for the tails, cutting them down the middle and chucking them on the BBQ with plenty of garlic and butter never seems to go badly. Or you can just cut your cray tails into pieces and cook them in whatever sauce tickles your fancy.
During those mirror calm, hot, flat days in January, it’s much nicer to be below water than above it. What better way to spend a Sunday morning than hovering over a patch of brightly lit corals, looking for the tell-tale quivering white tentacles of tonight’s dinner!Reads: 757