February and March are my two favourite months to target barra around Cooktown as it usually means that there are prawns around every headland and creek mouth and that there is a plethora of species gorging themselves on the prawns.
This time of year also sees anglers getting the chance to target beautiful yellow-tailed, silver sided barra from my favourite barra spot, Walker Bay. Whilst there are fish holding on all of the river mouths and rocky foreshores in the immediate Cooktown area, there is something spectacular about Walker Bay. I first fished it with my old man when I was 7 years old, and I was mesmerised by a nice barra that he caught on one of his homemade red cedar barra lures. 21 years later I still get a buzz from seeing a Headland barra get pulled from a weed bed in gin clear water, surrounded by coral. The multitude of coral-dwelling reef species there would look equally at home in an exclusive hotel foyer aquarium.
February is also a great month to stock up the freezer with reef fish fillets, and it can often be the last decent weather that Cooktown will see for a while. The slight drop in water temperature also sees your catch rates improve as the shark numbers offshore seem to thin out a bit.
This is a prime time to chase red emperor and large-mouth nannygai (saddle-tail sea perch) on the more exposed rubble grounds near Two Isles, Forrester Reef and also out towards Big Uncharted Reef. The water depths are a lot shallower than red fisherman further south are used to, and a good spot to start looking during daylight hours is the 36m line. At night you can push closer in around the 24m depth and still catch good fish.
The owner of Cooktown Barra Charters, Thomas Nevins, is the most fanatical reef fisherman that I know of in Cooktown, and he has put me onto countless bag limit trips of red emperor and nannygai. We usually started fishing his rubble marks in 32m. Not only did we nearly always come home with a full esky of reef fish, we lost half as many fish to sharks as when fishing the wider Ribbon Reef areas of 50m+. One downside (if you can call it that), when fishing the 30m lines are the hordes of 12-15kg gold trevally that sit off the wrecks and rubble! The first few are good fun but they will literally nail every plastic or bait you put down before the reds can get a crack.
The month ahead should see the rivers continue to produce good fish for the bream, jack and grunter bait fishos. The upper reaches will offer some great light tackle options for the 4lb anglers with plenty of tarpon, barra and jacks smashing the bait in the run-off. Small plastics are the go and a 3" Swimming Mullet in pumpkinseed is a sure thing!
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: 646