Pelagic power play
  |  First Published: June 2014

The signs of a cracking pelagic season have been extremely positive leading up to June with the Spanish mackerel showing up in big numbers already out wide.

These fish have been thin on the ground around the closer haunts such as the Bowen Mackerel Patches and Abbott Point. However, those who have searched further afield have found plenty of hungry fish around Holbourne Island and the shoal grounds and pinnacles nearby. This can mostly be attributed to the much cleaner water out around these spots, with many of the inshore spots still very murky from the bigger tides and river run-off.

The quantity has been excellent and so has the quality, with many of these offshore Spanish mackerel pushing the scales beyond the 20kg mark which is a terrific sign. Typically early on in the season the majority of Spanish mackerel caught out wide are usually the smaller male fish which tend to be around that 6-8kg size – great eating fish that are easily targeted using trolled lures and gar baits. This year, however, it seems there are plenty of bigger fish amongst them already which is pleasantly surprising. This is great news for Spanish mackerel anglers, especially those who chase them within inshore waters around Bowen, as it signals a very good season ahead with plenty of trophy fish on offer.

June should signal the start of the migration of these fish towards inshore waters as the tides slacken off and the clean water moves into the bay. The other good news is there is no shortage of bait throughout inshore waters, with plenty of gar and wolf herring already taking up residence around the inshore islands, reefs, and shoals. The key to targeting Spanish mackerel is to find the bait as this is where these fish will be feeding. The bait in Bowen tends to congregate around the natural shoals like the mackerel patches whilst manmade structures like Abbott Point and the various inshore wrecks are also hot spots. I cannot stress enough that even iconic spots like Abbott Point will fish very hard without the presence of bait so if you don’t mark any on your sounder it’s time to move on.

Spanish mackerel are not the only pelagic fish which moves into inshore waters in big numbers during June – the smaller mack species are also coming on the bite. Typically the early runs are dominated by grey and doggie mackerel with the spotties usually turning up later towards July and August. Sadly the dominance of these fish will be once again determined by the level of commercial pressure placed on these fish. Two years ago we had a bumper season which was quickly brought to an end by a ridiculous number of commercial netters who virtually wiped out the breeding stock over a period of a week. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen this year. I don’t begrudge the commercial boys their fair share but we do need some fish left behind to breed.

Like the Spanish mackerel the smaller macks will be drawn in by the clearer water as well.

The other fish which will be jumping all over jigs and lures will be queenfish. Queenies are a very underrated sportfish and when they get over a metre long they are terrific to chase, especially off the surface. Typically a bycatch when chasing Spanish mackerel jigging or GTs on the surface, queenfish are easily targeted by scaling down your surface lure size to around 100mm and jigs down to around 60g. The good news is when you locate a school you can catch them until your back gives out.


In the creeks the action will begin to slacken off, especially on the jacks and barra front. The first couple of cold snaps will fire them up though so don’t let these opportunities go to waste. When targeting these fish during the colder months you will need to use lures which sit in the strike zone for much longer periods. For this application it’s hard to go past soft vibe style lures as they fish tight to structure, can be jigged slowly across the bottom and are more prone to be eaten by fish which are sulking on the bottom.

Another important tip is to spend more time covering structure. Where you may have put in three or four casts try increasing that to eight or nine, as the fish will need more convincing.

The most important tip, however, is to scale down your line class. I run right down to a 10lb Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon leader in the cooler months and this sees a big improvement in catch rates. The cleaner water will make heavy leaders really stand out so stealth is a major factor which needs to be considered. Going light means you will need to consider the quality of your leader material so make sure you are using good gear or you’ll be wasting your time and your lures.


Next month Bowen anglers will find themselves knee deep in pelagic action, with July usually being one of the real hot bite times for a big Spanish mackerel. The larger fish will be moving into the bay in greater numbers which will be excellent for those smaller boat owners chasing a trophy fish. The smaller macks should also begin to dominate the patches, especially if this bait sticks around.

July has also been proving a top time to chase a sailfish and small black marlin in the waters from Holbourne Island to Cape Upstart. Whilst not much is known about this fishery I’d dare to say it’s pretty much untouched so if you’re keen for some exploring then don’t be surprised if you come up tight on some terrific beakies.

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