Suck it and see
  |  First Published: December 2013

Fishing in the Cairns area, like the weather, has been patchy, with some hot days and others not so hot. This pattern will continue through January, barring a major weather event.

Cyclones are fairly common in January, so when it comes to planing a TNQ fishing expedition it’s a matter of suck it and see. The ‘window weatherman’ is the most reliable indicator. Before you hit the water, have a look at the sky and then visit the major weather forecast websites to check for any major weather events.

The default weather pattern here is calm seas with afternoon sea breezes. By all means take advantage of these conditions when you can, but work around the heat because it can become overpowering if you don’t take care. Lots of water, sunscreen and protective clothing are an absolute must, even in the so-called ‘cooler’ parts of the day.

In January there is no sure fire approach to get you onto some fish. The upside is that it’s a great time to look for new country and try new techniques as you search for some action. Working with and around the prevailing weather conditions is the most important factor. If there has been recent flooding, try the river mouths, beaches and offshore. If it turns out to be a hot, dry January, work the deeper water, in the estuaries and offshore, where the fish will be heading to avoid rising water temperatures.


A fresh in the systems is just the catalyst needed to stir some action, so take advantage of any heavy downpours and work the mouths of streams towards the top of the tide, when clearer water will be pushing back into the streams. Mangrove jack, bream, cod, grunter, trevally, queenfish and every imaginable form of vermin will be feeding around the current lines separating freshwater and clearer ocean water.

In heavy flooding, forget about the estuaries and focus on inshore waters and the Cairns Inlet. The Inlet can tolerate a huge amount of rainfall before the fish vacate, as there are limited streams feeding into it. Once the numerous breakthrough creeks along all the beaches have opened up, around the mouths is well worth a fish. You can expect to tangle with salmon, grunter, trevally and any odds and sods fish poking around looking for an easy feed on bait being washed out with the tide.

The last half of the rising tide is also a good time to fish breakthrough creeks as predators poke up into the systems in search of a feed. Remember the crab pots when the floods are around, as mud crabs will be on the move and can often be caught on the open beaches, well away from any mangrove system.

If the weather is calm, fishing around the stinger nets at night is another option. The floodlights attract bait, and the bait attracts predators. You may have noticed there is always a current on the beaches, albeit very slow moving. Fishing the upcurrent side of the stinger nets and rock outcrops will see you in with a better chance than fishing the downcurrent side.

A lack of rain will mean high water temperatures, so go in search of deep water in the systems and use the change of the tide and the bigger new and full moon tides as the catalyst to stir the fish from their summer slumber. Golden snapper (fingermark) will be poking around the deep water in the systems, as well as offshore, with some real brutes on offer for those willing to put in the time, effort and lack of sleep to reap the rewards. Golden snapper are not a fan of office hours when it comes to feeding, so night time is the right time, both comfort-wise and action-wise, when it comes to chasing these elusive tropical trophies.

Trevally love unsettled conditions and will be roaming the current lines, colour changes, drop-offs and bait boils. Most fish will be on the smaller side but there will be the odd monster lurking just waiting to attack the under-gunned angler. If you find your grunter outfit suddenly losing line at freight train speed, a monster trevally will most likely be the culprit. On the other hand, if line is slowly peeling off the spool, with no end in sight, a massive stingray or shovel-nose ray will inevitably be on the end.

Small sharks can be a real nuisance in January but don’t discount them for a feed if better eating fish are scarce. If you bleed and barrel a small shark quickly after capture, it tastes pretty good. It’s not in the same class as grunter, mangrove jack and golden snapper, of course.

The other scourge of the wet season, the much maligned fork-tailed catfish, is also a better eating fish than people give it credit for. The cheap basa fillets you see in supermarkets are actually catfish, and they taste just fine. Our catfish have the bonus of coming from clean water, unlike the aquaculture fish.


Reef fishing is pretty hit and miss in January, with some great days and others as sluggish as you feel under the summer sun. Moving around a lot is the key to success. Try to find areas out of the raging current that can set in at this time of year. The current can head north or south, depending on the location of low pressure systems.

By the same token, no run is no fun, so look for manageable current rather than dead still conditions.

Generally speaking, fish will be deeper than normal to avoid the warmer water. Storms, quickly-forming lows and submerged logs all need to be taken into account when heading east in January. For the adventurous but cautious there are still rewards on offer, with coral trout, large mouth nannygai, red emperor, spangled emperor, reef jacks and the odd Spanish mackerel about. Don’t expect to come home with big numbers of any species, but rather a mixed bag.

There are usually enough pelagics around to keep the sportfishers happy, with mahi mahi (dolphinfish), wahoo, Spanish mackerel and yellowfin tuna out towards the Shelf.

Closer to shore, tuna schools will be pushing the bait to the surface and birds will let you know where the action is.

January offers plenty of fishing options if you work with and within the prevailing weather conditions. Don’t go pushing your luck if the weather is marginal.

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