The good news about the New Year in Cooktown is that with it comes glassed-out seas, hot and humid days (and nights), freshwater run-off and red hot fishing action. January is my favourite time to fish in Cooktown as the favourable weather conditions open up so many diverse fishing options.
In good glassed-out days we have literally done 3 different types of fishing in a single day. The morning usually consists of flicking timber lures around the headlands between the Endeavour and Annan River mouths for jacks from Russell's 5m Hornet, and then we shoot home and grab The Lure Shop's Haines 702 centre cab. From the Endeavour River, we then head out to the reef spearing trout and crayfish for the arvo. We then have a feed while watching the sunset over the mountains before heading to the rubble patches to chase saddle-tailed sea perch and red emperor.
It almost sounds too good to be true doesn't it! This is a similar scenario for many of the town’s local fishos and the town can appear deserted on a glassy week of 5 knot winds. The reality of it is that after 9 months of 25 knot trade winds, you make hay while the sun shines as it can be months between offshore trips!
Another favourite thing about the summer months is the amount of jacks that can be caught inshore and offshore. They can be seen in clear water schooling up like sardines as they prepare to spawn. Catch and release after you have enough for a feed is your best bet as they are so easy to catch if you are using bait.
As per usual with most northern estuary species a small running ball sinker onto a 2/0 Gamakatsu SL12s is my go-to bait rig. At either the top or bottom of the tide, the sinker can be done with live unweighted sards/herring around 75mm.
When the jacks are schooling up, it is not uncommon to catch over 20 jack in a session, however many will be undersize rats. This is where the lures come into their own as I rarely catch jacks under 350mm long on hardbody lures when flicking snags in Cooktown.
Shad profiles around 75-90mm are also the go, however jacks of all sizes often cannot refuse a Leads Hijacker even though the 150mm profile may seem like a big jack hardbody. Most of the time when using a Hijacker, the lure will get smashed within the first turn of the handle if there is a jack sitting on the snag.
We often get asked by grey nomads in The Lure Shop about how to catch their first mangrove jack. People have often not put the hours in to try and sort out a regular jack fishery in their home town and after pointing them in the right direction and armed with a few kilos of pilchards, they usually have nailed 20 odd jack in a few days of bait fishing the Annan and Endeavour. When it comes to small jack, up to 400mm long, the waterways between Starky and the Bloomfield are riddled with them.
When chasing saddle-tailed sea perch at night in 18-28m, it is not uncommon to come across big numbers of reef jack in the 650-900mm range. These fish are pound for pound the hardest fighting reef fish out there and are old pensioners once they get over the 750mm mark. As hard as it may be, keep one or two for a feed and release the rest or move on to another mark. These fish actually release okay from the 18m range and I have never seen swim bladders or any other sign of barotrauma when caught under 20m.
One session we caught and released 18 jacks over 650mm from one mark in 15m; we even caught and released the same fish twice! We eventually moved on to a deeper mark as the jacks were coming over every drop and nailing everything from Deka Vibes to 7" Gulps.
Until the barra season opens up most of the fishing will be aimed offshore and January is a good month to chase sailfish inside the Ribbon Reefs. Russell has raised them on a few occasions around Dawson Reef, which is less than 3nm from land.
While Billfish in that close may be the norm in other southern areas and on the west coast, however it is not the norm for Cooktown outside of the Dec/Jan window. Skipping gars are a good option, however they are usually cagey in the 10m depth in close.
Until next month stay safe on the water and be sure to check out the range of handmade timber barra lures I make. Check us out and hit the like button on Facebook by searching Twin River Lures.Reads: 995