Ripper mackerel season
  |  First Published: May 2014

What has been a patchy blue marlin season thus far on the Coffs coast developed into a good bite in mid March, with Sawtell Canyons and south to Nambucca Canyons the place to be. Not much in the way of birds or surface bait, just the occasional flying fish, dolphins and pilot whales to interrupt the deep blue, 27-28ºC carpet — and a rampaging blue or two tearing it to shreds.

Although doomsayers have declared it a write-off, this season has all the feeling of being a month late. Marlin don’t read calendars. Although it’s a little late compared to what we’re used to, April might just prove to be the hot month this year.

The local charter boat Black and Blue continues to blitz it, finding blues and blacks seemingly at will, while the rest of us are just picking fish up here and there (or not at all). Mind you, they put in some hard yards earlier in the season under trying conditions without much success, so it’s just reward for effort.

Some Solitary Islands Game Fishing Club newcomers have certainly been making waves lately. Juniors Wade and Shania Hoogenboom had a great day aboard Matador, tagging a blue each on their first attempt at game fishing, and the skipper’s wife Astrid Linjawi caught her first blue a few days later. Ian Fergusson also joined the ‘first marlin/first day out’ club aboard Foreign Exchange the next week — that’s pretty hard to beat!

Speaking of the SIGFC, the club will have hosted its fourth Heavy Tackle Challenge by the time you read this, so there’ll be a full report on all the fish and fun next issue.

It’s unlikely that the blacks are going to kick into gear at this late stage, but some continue to bob up behind the transoms of mackerel boats, and a few cocky specimens are still lurking well offshore. A pre-teen black, full of bravado and self-confidence, brought to the boat on 37kg blue marlin tackle is usually pretty green and ready to have a swipe at anyone that gets too close. There have been a few near misses, with angry fish catapulting across transoms and outboards, much to the horror of wide-eyed crew, happily with no injuries and nothing more than injured pride on the fish’s part.

That’s the drawback with trolling the big guns though — sometimes the lure spread isn’t even in before the little fish are boatside waiting for a tag!

After a bit of an absence over the last couple of months, some jumbo mahi mahi are eating marlin lures, and the odd wahoo is figuring in lure catches as well. Nice yellowfin to 40kg are being seen out wide, although frustratingly not caught.

The mackerel season though — wowee! It’s still going on! Lots of big spotties, lots of Spaniards, mostly 6-12kg, but a few larger ones just to keep the game interesting.

Finding enough live slimies can be problematic on some days, and it may be necessary to scour all the known bait reefs to collect a tankful, but carrying a couple of dead baits is a very worthwhile last resort. Crowds can be bad first up if the word gets around, but they often thin out by mid morning, leaving the better reefs largely vacant and that makes it easier to work pinnacles and/or bait schools.

A downrigged bait is a decided asset, and the set-up doesn’t have to be anything too elaborate either. A 5kg bomb tied off to a 10m length of Venetian blind cord is sufficient to get into the game. As live baiting is done at walking pace, the cord diameter isn’t really an issue. Just remember to pull it up during all the excitement of the hook-up though.

As an example of a downrigger’s value, I watched two gents score their bag limit of mackerel on downrigged slimies one morning, while I never had so much as a touch towing surface baits. A snapper sinker rubber-banded to the leader produced one spotty and a couple of misses, but I felt the weight of the sinker was inhibiting a clean hook-up. There’ll be a downrigger hanging off my transom next season though!

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