March is usually the last of the seriously wet months in Cairns, but the monsoon has been running late this season so anything could happen. In recent years conditions have varied from picture perfect to cyclonic and everything in between. The main thing is to be ready to take advantage of any spells of good weather, when and if they occur. Mentally, put March aside as project month and that way any opportunities to wet a line will be seen as a bonus.
The fishing over the last month, like the weather, has been patchy. We’ve had the odd outstanding trip interspersed with lean pickings. Hopefully things will improve this month. When the weather cooperates, barra, mangrove jack and golden snapper (fingermark) will be on the menu in the estuaries and close inshore, while the reef will mainly produce nannygai (saddletail snapper), red emperor and coral trout, with a sprinkling of other species.
The estuaries will offer the best opportunity to wet a line, as the winds will have less impact. The amount of freshwater in the systems will be the key factor. If the salinity levels are high, poke upstream but the most likely fishing will be focused around the mouths of systems, with the last of the run-in tide the most productive.
Mangrove jacks tend to handle the extreme weather best and can really turn it on in flood conditions. Look for run-off areas with heavy cover, like big snags or rock patches, and work the area with small live baits or lures. Periods of low run in areas, where the run is severe for most of the tide, will often produce just as the run eases or is about to pick up. It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Dead bait will also do the job but live bait opens the window for the odd barra. Prawns, sardines, mud herring and mullet are ideal livies. If you can’t catch your own livies, fresh eating quality squid, cuttlefish or prawns are a good fallback. Mangrove jacks are also quite partial to half a pilchard, especially when the water is dirty and they have to rely more on smell to find a feed.
Luring with colours that stand out in the muddy water is important. Pinks, reds, gold, silver and fluoro colours all work well, with PrawnStars, soft plastic prawns, small paddle tail soft plastics and deep diving hardbody lures, under 100mm long, all producing on their day.
Bait soakers will also find some action on the flats outside the mouths of streams when the winds permit. When it’s too blowy, the flats just inside the protection of the mouth will be the best option, especially on the big morning high tides around the new and full moons. Coincidently there are two new moons this month, so you will have three weekends with ideal tides for flats fishing. (When there are two full moons in a calendar month the second one is called a blue moon. When there are two new moons in a calendar month the second one is called a black moon, which will occur on 31 March. This also occurred in January this year – so there’s a bit of trivia for you.)
There should be a few grunter, trevally and queenfish mixed in with the small sharks, rays and catfish on the flats. Fresh strip baits of mullet, gar, sardines or mud herring, along with peeled prawns, all make excellent bait for fishing the flats. Filleting sardines or mud herring may seem a bit fiddly but they work a treat. If they are big, take a fillet off one side, lay it skin-down on the filleting board and cut down the middle to (but not through) the skin. Then fold the fillet skin to skin and thread it onto your hook. If the sardines or mud herring are small, take a fillet off both sides, place them skin to skin and thread onto your hook. Grunter are particularly partial to this bait presentation.
The barra season opened slowly in February, with the odd fish caught but no great numbers. Rain and inclement weather in early February made for less than ideal barra fishing conditions. Barra will have spread throughout the systems by now and it will be a matter of working with the prevailing conditions to try to locate fish.
With plenty of fresh around, the run-off areas in streams and the coastal headlands will be the most likely locations to nail a pink eye. Run-off areas where there is colour change are an ideal place to start. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s clear water running into dirty water or vice versa – it’s the mixing of the two that barra love to work in search of an easy feed. There will be the odd monster barra on the prowl for those anglers willing to put the time and effort into finding them.
Don’t forget the crab pots, especially on the big new and full moon tides, and keep your eyes and ears open for any sign of prawns. They should start to appear along the beaches and in Trinity Inlet any time now.
The reef is a ‘catch it if you can’ scenario in March. For the past two years reef fishing in March has been next to impossible due to poor weather but in 2011 there was some magic weather and the reef fishing went off. We must be due for another good patch – here’s hoping!
If the opportunity presents itself, make the most of it but be on the lookout for sudden weather changes like mini cyclones and storms. In Cairns in 2001 cyclone suddenly formed near Green Island and came ashore over the northern beaches in a matter of a few hours. While the winds were not structurally very damaging, I would not have liked to be on the water at the time! Also remember to be on the lookout for semi-submerged logs after flooding.
If you are lucky enough to get a trip out wide, expect to find quality large-mouth nannygai and red emperor in the deep water and trout in waters under 30m. The large-mouth nannygai are often in the 7-10kg range at this time of year and they can also be around in serious numbers.
If you approach fishing in March with the attitude that anything is better than nothing, you’re much more likely to enjoy yourself. Otherwise set your sights on a major project around the house or boat, which you can then drop if the weather clears. Either way, March can be a productive month no matter what the weather gods throw your way.Reads: 1128