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Snapper here and on the job
  |  First Published: June 2014



With the cold weather, Mackay anglers can look forward to some great fishing if the weather cooperates. Mackay’s winters are fairly mild, with temps usually in the low teens and the odd night down into single figures. Days can be either very windy or, all too rarely, simply glassed out, providing ideal conditions for fishing. Those glassed out days give small boat anglers plenty of chances to tangle with migrating snapper as they come close inshore to breed.

SNAPPER

Snapper are usually said to arrive in early June, but a few make their way into our waters in April, while the main migration starts in May. By the time this issue arrives, they will be here and on the job. A 4m tinnie with a reliable outboard can easily access snapper around Flat and Round Top islands out from the river mouth, while various ‘secret’ spots around Hay Point, Grasstree and Sarina beaches are also easily reached in a 4m tinnie.

In our waters, snapper can be found around heavy rock areas as well as areas of low gravel/rubble bottom, and show up well on a quality sounder. Most often they will also be with or near bait schools, so they are not that hard to find. A number of small boats at anchor in a particular area is also a pretty reliable indicator that snapper are around, particularly if those boats seem to be in the middle of nowhere.

Mackay snapper respond to all the usual methods, but bait of squid, pilchards or other fish fillets is the preferred method, and accounts for most fish. Snapper like everything else in the sea won’t knock back a large prawn bait either, but oily fish baits are hard to beat. Plastics are making inroads into the snapper fishing here and large stickbaits on heavy jigheads work well, as do the more conventional paddle tail plastics. Remember though we have very strong tidal runs so big jigheads are the order of the day.

If you’re a visitor to the area, I suggest having a chat with the staff at our local tackle stores. They can advise you on tides, locations, the best baits, rigs and so on.

QUEENFISH AND TREVALLY

Sticking with the close offshore scene, June sees the queenfish still predominant around the islands around Seaforth/St Helens and right through down to the islands out from Sarina Inlet. These silver rockets can be found from water knee deep out to 20m+, and will take a wide range of live baits. They also take a variety of artificials – everything from plastics to hardbodies, metal jigs, poppers and flies. They’re such a versatile fish and great fun to catch.

Golden trevally and big diamond trevally are also on the chew around the close offshore areas and will often be encountered with snapper. Goldens in particular are very good eating; if you bleed them quickly and ice them down they make first class tucker. Diamonds fight really well. They like to manoeuvre their flat bodies side-on, fooling you into thinking you’ve hooked a much larger fish. Again, both species respond well to baits and lures.

MACKEREL AND TUNA

Winter weather also sees the start of the Spanish mackerel run, as these fish are fairly common here through the winter to spring months. Big Spaniards can be found off the harbour wall and as close as Slade Island just out from the mouth of the harbour. Further afield you will find them in the deeper water around Round Top Island and then further out to the fringing reef islands up into the Whitsundays. Places around the Goldsmiths and Wigton Island are legendary spots for big Spanish macks.

The preferred method here is to troll baits like garfish, pike and wolf herring on big gang hook rigs, with a suitable chin weight to get the bait down in the water column. These rigs can be bought ready made but most anglers like to ‘tweak’ them and make their own. One tip is to use swivels between the hooks in the gang as that allows the bait to swim just that little a bit better, which can make all the difference on hard days. Razor sharp hooks are mandatory, and many anglers also like to add a plastic squid or other skirt to the head of the rig to give a bit more movement and attraction.

There has also been a bit of a run of early season small mackerel and tuna on the good days since Easter. Most of the small macks (doggies and spotties) have been undersized and have come from down around the Hay Point area so far. However, as June progresses the size should improve and more legal fish should be caught.

Both northern bluefin (longtails) and mack tuna have been caught around bait schools off the harbour and out to the ‘patches’, and if you are lucky you will find them herding bait to the surface where they charge through them, scattering bait every which way. This is the time to have a good spin stick with a fairly high speed reel ready with a shiny or big jighead and small plastic ready to cast quickly around the feeding fish. Great fun on hook-up and a really solid work-out for angler and tackle.

ESTUARY

In the creeks and estuaries, whiting, bream and flathead will be the mainstays with a few oddballs like queenfish and trevally thrown in. Fingermark are around in the creeks, as are jacks, but they are not as willing to bite as they are during the summer months. Careful sussing of areas with fresh live baits or well presented lures is the go for jacks and fingermark.

Barra are also by now getting well into hibernation mode. They are still around and will take baits and lures, but the going is hard and slow. Look for those days when there has been a series of calm days, bright sunshine and smaller tides, and fish areas where the water temp is higher. Places like sand flats are good starters as the sand usually retains heat from the sun and the old barra will be looking for a few degrees higher water temp to get more comfortable. If you persist with a well thought out approach you’ll find that barra are far from impossible to catch in winter.

FRESHWATER

Freshwater barra are the same as their salty cousins and will be hard in the dams but not impossible. Kinchant Dam has plenty of shallow water with good weed beds and the barra will be around these spots. I find late in the day to be the best for winter barra in the dams and I concentrate on areas that have had sunlight most of the day. These spots will produce winter barra in both Teemburra and Kinchant dams and I suggest weedless rigged plastics are the go to lure for these conditions as the fish are way up in the shallows where there is plenty of weed and lilies. ZMan Pop FrogZ have been really successful for me in these conditions, worked super slow with plenty of pauses. Great fun!

Sooties are the saviour in freshwater during winter. While they aren’t quite as aggressive as they are in summer they will still hammer the daylights out of a lure. The recent World Sooty Championship at Eungella Dam turned up absolute horse of fish even in the most trying conditions and with overnight temps down to around 2-3ºC (see the tournament report for more details).

So winter in Mackay is pretty good and not very cold at all compared to areas further south. And, as always, Mackay throws up plenty of fishing options, so see you at the ramp.

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