For the past two years May has been pretty much a blow out, with strong winds and extensive rain. We are due for a good one, so here’s hoping. When the weather cooperates, fishing can be sensational, with a mix of summer and winter species on offer. As the temperatures drop the summer species will slow down and winter fish will become the norm.
Recently, poor weather has been matched with poor fishing, however when the sun has shone so has the fishing. Barramundi and mangrove jack have been the main estuary players, with coral trout and big-mouth nannygai (saddletail snapper) the pick of the reef action and mackerel showing up spasmodically.
While the water temperatures hold up, barramundi fishing will continue to produce, with the fish generally more cooperative down deep. Those in the know have been nailing trophy barra in Trinity Inlet and that should continue until the first cold snap. Cold snaps slow the barra down initially but they will come back on the bite after the initial shock, so keep them on your radar.
Mangrove jack are still on the chew in the heavy country but will become less aggressive as the water temperature drops. Shifting to dead bait that is first and foremost fresh and also has a strong scent will continue to entice these red devils. Strip baits of mullet, sardines, mud herring, local squid and cuttlefish will all do the trick at various times, along with the good old half a pilchard.
The humble bream will start to take over proceedings in the rougher country but remember they are very line sensitive. If you’re targeting mangrove jack and fingermark, 30lb braid and 30lb leader is a great combo but you need to move down to single figure breaking strains if you are serious about bream fishing. Fishing a heavier rig in the real rough country and a light outfit slightly away from the heavy snags will give you a better than even chance on both species. Expect to get bricked by the odd monster on the light line all the same, as jacks and fingermark are equally as partial to light line as bream are.
This approach will also see you in the money for a few grunter that will still be around. The ever-present estuary cod will be on the chew and will take just about anything. They always make a quality addition to the table, even if they’re a bit slimy and messy to handle.
Trevally species will start to make their presence felt, especially around the estuary and inlet mouths. Juvenile giant trevally will be the most likely visitor, with the odd golden trevally making an appearance. Look for surface action and birds working to give away their location. If there are no signs of life, give the drop-offs, current lines and pressure points a work over with small poppers, slices and live baits, just to be sure. If salinity levels are high then larger queenfish will start to move into the systems, especially near the top of the bigger tides.
A patch of cool, clear weather will see the school mackerel start to appear around the inlet leads and inshore grounds, so keep your eyes and ears tuned for any sign of them. They will mostly be down deep and are an absolute sucker for live sardines and mud herring drifted down in the current. Fish with no sinker or as light a sinker as you can, to get the bait to slowly sink to the bottom. Once it is resting on the bottom, retrieve slowly and cast again. A whole pilchard, dead sardine, mud herring or small mullet is also good back-up option if livies are hard to come by.
Mud crabs are well worth a look this month, especially on the lead-up to the full moon and whenever there is a bit of fresh in the systems. Muddies should be nice and full at this time of year.
When and if the winds abate, the reef fishing in May can be sensational, with trophy big-mouth nannygai and red emperor in the deep water and coral trout up shallow. The big challenge is the persistent high pressure systems that march across the Great Australian Bight with monotonous regularity at this time of year. The gaps between the highs are what Cairns reef anglers sweat on. With most anglers restricted to weekend fishing, getting the calm periods and weekends aligning can be a real exercise in frustration.
Adding spice to this reef trophy trio will be a smattering of reef mangrove jack, small-mouth nannygai (crimson snapper), spangled emperor, cod of all sorts and sizes and some thumper trevally. It is not uncommon to strike a patch of reef red bream in May and these brutes really know how to test your tackle. The really big ones aren’t that great to eat, so look at releasing these breeders if you can. Getting sharked is a never ending possibility in May and a shark-free trip is a talking point amongst experienced reefies.
Spanish mackerel will continue to increase in number as the waters cool, so always have a floater out the back, except in Yellow Zones, where fishers are restricted to one line per angler. The more serious Spaniard chasers will be trolling spreads of hardbodied lures, both deep diving and shallow, skipping gar and swimming mullet.
Another deadly approach for big Spaniards is to super slow troll live baits. Having one live bait shallow and another on a downrigger is an absolute winning combination. Most of the Spanish mackerel will be in the 6-10kg range, with the odd trophy 20kg plus model lurking around. Pelagic chasers will also find plenty of action out on the Continental Shelf, with mac tuna, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, cobia, scaly mackerel and Spaniards harassing the bait schools.
May can produce magic fishing and weather when all the planets align, so here’s hoping.Reads: 645