February brought plenty of rainy days, and the rest have been hot and humid. These conditions will continue through March and into early April. Visitors to our area from the south are often amazed at the rainfall, where 200mm+ overnight is not uncommon, but Mackay’s catchments are all fairly short creeks and rivers and they clear up pretty quickly. This means that the creeks and rivers are still producing plenty of fish even though the water may not be the characteristic clear water we have much of the year.
Barra have been on all anglers’ to-do list in February and there have been some spectacular catches made in all our creeks as well as the Pioneer River. John Groves, a regular visitor from Springsure, had a red letter day in Reliance Creek with 11 barra to 110cm landed in a short 3-hour session. All but 3 were released in fine condition to fight another day.
The Pioneer River has been fishing pretty well, even with the rain which brings plenty of freshwater down to the city reaches. The road bridges are all firing and will yield barra, jacks and some fingermark during March despite the expected continuing rain and freshwater. Once the freshwater stops running the river will fire up quickly and, as well as fishing the road bridges, look around the rock walls and down around the ‘V’ near the mouth.
One area not to be overlooked when the fresh starts to clear up is the gravel bed area near Cullen Island, which can hold some hooter size grunter. These fish will take a variety of baits and soft plastics. Strip baits are a grunter favourite and whiting, gar and ribbonfish strips are all popular baits. Prawns and yabbies will also go off but often the undersized fish find them first.
Trevally and queenfish will school up near the mouth of the river, but clean water is needed to get them chasing bait in the channel, particularly on the last of the run-out tide. Again, strip baits are popular along with live herring, whiting and so forth. Oyster crackers (also called permit and snub-nosed dart) will be around the river mouth throughout March and they don’t seem to mind a bit of dirty water and rough, windy weather. Live baits or bunches of yabbies or prawns are the go for the crackers, and once hooked they motor into overdrive instantly. Great fun.
Oyster crackers and golden trevally are often found around the harbour walls during March, but as I write this the southern wall is still closed off for repairs. However, there is access to the northern wall which is often a better spot to fish for these species. Lamberts Beach north of the harbour is also worth checking out for goldens and crackers. Prawns and yabbies will score fish along with soft plastics, and occasionally a ‘shiny’ will turn up – a good result.
While barra will remain the main focus for anglers through March there are plenty of other fish around as well. Jacks have been featuring during February, and March will be similar. Fish the heavy snags and rockb ars in Constant, Seaforth and Murray/St Helens areas to the north and Sandy/Alligator and Rocky Dam creeks to the south with live baits or big strip baits for the jacks. Don’t be surprised if a fingermark or 2 turn up as well.
Any road or rail bridges across these systems are always worth a try as the jacks (and barra for that matter) like to sit in the pressure waves caused by the pylons which make ideal ambush spots. Jacks are not fussy about lures as long as it is in their face, but those with a splash of red or all red seem to get their territorial instincts flowing. Good solid hooks on the likes of RMGs, Reidy’s, Rapalas and suchlike are mandatory. Check with the local tackle stores for advice.
King threadfin salmon are another species that doesn’t seem to mind a bit of freshwater around, and anglers can expect good catches in the upper reaches of Reliance and Constant creeks with the ‘king holes’ in the latter being particularly good spots. Live prawns and soft plastics including vibes like Threadybusters are the go for the kingies, and usually several fish can be caught in short order as they tend to mooch around in small schools. Good kings are also on the go around the Murray/St Helens areas with some really solid fish coming from Rocky Dam and Bakers creeks to the south.
February and March are not particularly productive months due to the cyclonic activity and monsoonal weather patterns. It is a time when many larger trailerboats get their annual maintenance. Dirty water close inshore doesn’t help either, but on the few days that the weather drops off there will be plenty of reef fish action out wide along with possibly an early run of Spanish mackerel, but these will be well wide for the moment. Closer inshore, Spanish action usually starts around late April/early May.
With plenty of freshwater around, the dams have been a bit hit-and-miss as big inflows of cold rainwater aren’t conducive to stirring up the barra. The initial run-in often sparks a hot bite but it’s short lived as the barra move out for warmer waters. Barra to around the magic metre have been regularly coming from Kinchant and Teemburra dams even though the weather hasn’t been all that suitable.
Sooties are in spawning mode and one of the triggers is the inflow of water into the dams and a good run in the river. The sooties get all aggro and the males in particular are ready to smash almost anything that comes near them. The females are roed up but not as aggressive as the males, but either way there are plenty of heavyweight sooties waiting for anglers. One spot that often really fires up is the inlet channel into Kinchant Dam. This happens when Sunwater is pumping across from the river and the inlet channel becomes a man-made set of rapids attracting the sooties to feed. The urge to breed also means they push right up to the gates.
This is exciting fishing as the channel is only about 10ms wide, but with the fast-running water any fish hooked is a real battle to land as they get side on to the rush of water. It’s great fun and I managed to blood my new #8wt Sage here on a nice sooty just over 40cm caught on a floating line with a small trimmed clouser. Getting three sooties in about 30 minutes was great fun and I missed at least six more as the belly in the line made strip striking difficult.
MAFSA collected some broodstock both here and in the Pioneer near Marian during February, and new hatchery director Kieron Galletly has the system running. When I last checked they had about 5000 fingerlings around three weeks old and around 70,000 eggs dropped in the spawning tanks. The spawning side of the hatchery has undergone a much-needed upgrade with new and improved filtration equipment and layout so that all the filter systems are now fully enclosed inside the hatchery. The first couple of spawnings saw some disasters but that is to be expected when trialling new equipment. MAFSA members are confident the $5000 invested in new equipment and upgrades will see plenty of sooties produced for stocking in the local dams.
So despite the monsoon rains and possible cyclones, as always the Mackay area has plenty of fishy options. Come up and join us in paradise!Reads: 988