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A winner in winter
  |  First Published: June 2014



The first of the cool weather arrived in early May but didn’t last long. It was enough, however, to put the brakes on the fishing, in the short term at least. June should see a continued drop in water temperatures, with winter species becoming dominant and the likes of barra, jacks and fingermark slowing down. Don’t discount these species though, as they can be caught year round with the right approach.

REEF SPECIES

The reality of June is that the best fishing is offshore but the winds can severely restrict access a lot of the time. When the winds allow, the fishing can be dynamic for both reef and pelagic species. The main target fish for bottom bashers this month will be reds, with large-mouth nannygai (saddle-tail snapper) and red emperor at the top of the wish list. Coral trout will also be around in good numbers in the shallower water but it will be the more concentrated schools of reds that will be the main focus of angling effort at the reef. Most reds will be in the 3-5kg range but there will be some real trophy fish over 8kg on the chew as well. The usual deep water, over 40m, will produce plenty of action but reds will also be found in some spots under 30m this month. It’s not uncommon to pick up quality reds off what would normally be considered a trout bommie, especially if it’s an isolated bommie surrounded by deep water.

Quality trout in the 3-4kg range will be on the chew in the shallower water. A whole pilchard on an 8/0 long shank hook, with a running pea sinker just big enough to get the bait to the bottom, can be a killer presentation. You tend to go through a fair quantity of bait when you’re fishing this way, so go well stocked with quality, small pilchards.

There will also be some bruiser reef red bream on the prowl, along with a sprinkling of Moses perch, spangled emperor, cod and odds and sods of other species.

The other fish in good numbers (or should I say bad numbers?) will be sharks. In the last few years sharks have been a real problem off Cairns in the cooler months. A few techniques can reduce their impact, however. Never throw fish scraps over the side until you are about to move. Keep bait scraps and fish frames in a bucket until you are about to pull anchor. Work hard to get fish to the boat as fast as possible. Fish a little heavier than normal, with a heavy drag. The odd bust-off is preferable to constant bite-offs.

Finally, if you’re losing the majority of fish to sharks, it’s time to move. When you move, make it a good distance at as high a speed as it is safe to travel.

PELAGICS

Pelagics of all sizes and shapes will be into the action from the rivers to the continental shelf, with mackerel of most interest to anglers. For fishos who prefer some serious arm-stretching, chasing GTs along the reef edges and pressure points with large poppers will see plenty of action. Chasing car bonnet sized GTs at the reef is becoming a bit of an art form for those who love to work up a real sweat when fishing.

Other anglers will be happy to get their jollies hunting mackerel, with Spaniards at the top of the wish list. These fish will be found from close inshore to the deep blue and will vary from lone monsters to schools of rat Spaniards in the 6-8kg range. A wide variety of techniques and depths will work on their day, so it’s worth heading out with a few different options up your sleeve. Try a few different techniques until you find one that gets their attention, then narrow your focus. Some days they will be feeding shallow and others deep, but as a general rule mackerel tend to feed shallow early and late in the day and deeper through the middle of the day. Mackerel often bite better when it’s rough, so don’t be afraid to have a go when the wind’s up (provided it’s safe). It also gives you more fishing days, especially in winter.

Inshore mackerel fishos will find a sprinkling of Spaniards amongst the school and spotty mackerel on inshore reefs, wrecks, channel markers and current lines. When the macks are on the bite inshore you don’t need a GPS to find your favourite location, as it will be smothered in small boats. A bit of angling courtesy and consideration for other boats and anglers will go a long way towards making it a pleasant day on the water in these situations.

ESTUARIES

The reality of June fishing in the north is the majority of time anglers will be restricted to the estuaries and inlets. If salinity is high through lack of rain, the big queenies should be on the hunt around the mouths and sandbars slightly upstream. Drifting the sand banks and casting small poppers with a high speed retrieve is great fun, though taxing on the arms if you’re not used to it. Work the deeper edges close to mangroves, drop-offs and current lines and don’t be surprised if occasionally you get monstered by a big GT feeding amongst the queenies.

A lot of people turn their nose up at the eating quality of queenfish, but if bled immediately and put on ice or in an ice slurry, they eat pretty well when fresh. Being a stronger flavoured fish, they are great on barbecues and in curries. They are even quite edible when crumbed if you cut them into really thin fillets, less than 5mm thick.

Barra, jacks and fingermark are still around but it’s a matter of changing techniques and approaches to have success. Go smaller and slower when luring, and deeper and slower when trolling. These fish are less active in cooler weather, so the lure has to bang them on the nose to get a strike. When live baiting, use smaller baits like prawns, sardines, mud herring and little mullet, as they tend to chase smaller quarry in cooler weather.

Barra in particular will move up shallow to feed in warmer water. Look for areas of warm water with your sounder or learn to read prevailing weather conditions and terrain to locate warmer water. Rising tides over mud, rock or rubble areas in the mid to late afternoon will often have slightly warmer water, especially if the area is also out of the wind.

Bait soakers will find plenty of bream on the chew, along with flathead, grunter and cod. Provided there hasn’t been some seriously cold weather, mud crabs should still be moving around as well. Be prepared to fish the estuaries in June but be geared up to take advantage of calm conditions and this month can turn out to be a real winner.

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