If there is one month of the year that could be called ‘transitional’ then it would have to be May.
Moving between warm waters to cold is what May is all about and it’s how the angler adapts to this change, which will determine results. This is especially the case up the creeks when targeting species, such as barra and jacks. The cooler weather generally scares off a lot of anglers from hitting the creeks through May, however it is important to remember that the prolonged ‘cold’ has not yet kicked in. This inconsistency of cold weather means water temps don’t plummet into ‘lock jaw’ territory and in fact can be used as an advantage.
I find the barra and jacks actually come on the bite quite well, especially just after a couple of cold days when the fish have been reluctant to feed. Often a sneaky southwester will appear through May, which will bring in a few days of cooler weather that will shut the fish down. However, because we aren’t in a real winter pattern just yet, these wintry winds are soon replaced by a warmer easterly winds either from the south or preferably north. This change in pattern is all that is needed to get the fish feeding hard, especially if they have had a couple of days off in lock jaw mode.
The barra in particular respond really well to this and some of my best barra sessions have come through May, especially after these very conditions. The jacks also respond the same as barra to these inconsistent conditions and both fish respond well to the same type of technique, which also needs to be adjusted to suit conditions.
For these cooler months, it’s hard to go past suspending lures for jacks and barra. Over the summer and autumn months, the fish don’t need a lot or persuading because they are actively feeding and on the bite. However, if the cool weather becomes more consistent the fish will need more convincing and the best way to do this is to use a lure which will float and suspend in the strike zone for a longer period of time. For this type of work I love a strong tipped baitcast rod that allows for some solid ripping of the lure, which means it gets into the zone quickly and with plenty of depth. If your rod tip is to light you may not get that lure down deep enough on the initial rip near the snags. In terms of lures I fish predominately Lucky Craft Pointers as they have such a slow suspension rate and can sit in the strike zone for lengthy periods of time.
Barra and jacks won’t be the only target in May and with the change in temps also comes the dominance of the flathead. For some reason I really struggle to target big flathead over the warmer months, however come the start of the cool weather and I begin smacking everywhere. Whether it’s because the other fish become a little bit more finicky or they tend to congregate more during these months I’m not quite sure but they do come out and feed well.
Soft plastic shads like the Berkley Powerbait Split Belly are my go-to lure when chasing flathead. I prefer to match this plastic to a jighead that will allow it to swim just off the bottom at a slow speed with a few pauses here and there. I typically start with a 4” model and if I snare a few smaller 55-60cm fish I will go up to 6” as the bigger trophy flatties are usually not that far behind. I find upsizing plastics does work for enticing larger flathead however I have caught some rippers on pretty small plastics as well.
The crabs will also be on the run through May and you can forget the old saying that you don’t catch crabs in months without an ‘R’ in Bowen. In fact the cooler weather, especially the cold snaps really fire them up and May is probably the best month to crab in Bowen. All systems will fire and it’s best to work the bigger tides for the best results. One good way to see if they are running is to check the local fish and chip stores and when you see cooked muddies going out for less than $10 each than you know there is a few around.
The offshore scene is usually hampered by pretty strong winds through May, which makes fishing wide a problem. The cooler weather seems to stifle the bite as well with fish like golden snapper even more difficult to persuade. Large and small mouth nannygai tend to bite a little better during the day through May and most anglers will be targeting these fish around the shoals east of Holbourne Island.
The one species that will be on everyone’s lips through May will be the arrival of the mackerel. The cool weather usually heralds the run of big grey mackerel Bowen is famous for. These fish are usually around that 6-8kg size and provide plenty of sport for anglers. The last couple of years saw the big numbers of greys return to Bowen, however just like the bad old days the pros gave them a hiding just like they did in the 70s and 80s that saw the population severely decline to the point where they never came back. It’s funny how they say history never repeats itself but it was a shame to see the population finally find its feet to be met with the exact same fate. I guess we will never learn.
Next month will bring more consistent cooler weather and water temps will begin to bottom out. The jacks and barra will be a lot harder to find but still around for those keen enough to fish for them. Most will be turning their attention to the big Spanish macks that will be running around the Bay. The wind should also begin to abate as well, which means flat blue seas and plenty of opportunity to run wide.
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