Tropical winter smorgasbord
  |  First Published: June 2014

We recently made the mistake of going for a fish in the afternoon, and due to a hot bite we stayed out a few hours longer than anticipated (how do you leave a hungry pack of fingermark biting?). By the time we got to the boat ramp we were freezing cold and had well and truly learnt our lesson – winter is here so pack several jumpers in the boat. This is the end of the transition period and water temps are now considerably lower and the water is very clear. The fishing will be still great but different approaches need to be used to get results.

Hinchinbrook Channel

Cruising up the channel in the cooler months is a treat with the clear water and rippling bait schools. Anything is possible in the channel at this time of year, and along with the usual species you can have fun sight casting to tuna and mackerel around the bait schools. Just keep an eye out for splashing and birds, especially in the early hours around sunrise. There are plenty of opportunities on fly gear during winter, as the pelagic fish can really go into a frenzy if you’re there at the right place and right time.

Barra are now becoming very moody and unpredictable as the cold water puts them into a shutdown. If you are stealthy it’s not uncommon to see barra head down and tail up sulking in areas. At times like this, even the best presented bait or lure will go unnoticed.

The secret for getting the barra to bite I have found is fishing the peak times of the day. If I’m really serious in landing a barra I find the late afternoon tide changes are the best as the water has had time to warm a little. Also fishing flats on the rising tide works well as the shallower water will be a few degrees warmer. The temperature gauge on the sounder can be used to good effect during winter to find pockets of warmer water and more active fish.

Trolling is another effective way to catch a barra. It’s not as simple as lobbing lures out the back and driving around for a while; you need to choose a troll run that has a good bottom and be prepared to troll back and forth for hours. Make sure your lures are running close to the bottom, and every now and again brushing against it. And work your lures with the rod by dropping the rod tip back, causing slack line.

There are days you will get hit on your first few runs but normally it takes a few hours to aggravate a barra into smacking your lure. Also it pays to monitor the sounder closely, as one run the sounder may be lifeless and the next you’ll see big blobs and arches everywhere. That’s the time to grip your rod tightly!

Fingermark bream (golden snapper) also become a regular catch when trolling for barra, and on some of my banks I won’t see a fingermark all summer and then catch several in a session during winter. Keep this in mind when bait fishing also, as the fingers will be sitting in the snags in deeper holes and at the mouth of most creeks.

At the time of writing there have been very few reports of king threadfin salmon, but they should (hopefully) turn up soon. The blue salmon, on the other hand, are turning up in good numbers and if you’re lucky it is possible for every rod in the boat to be hooked up to these speedsters as they normally hunt in huge packs. Sight casting for them when they are on the surface is brilliant fun. It really gets the heart pumping as they attack your offerings with speed and aggression.

Jetty, Islands and Reef

Cruising out into the blue water in the early morning is cold but when the drag screams off your reel as a big Spaniard heads for the horizon, you instantly forget the cold. The Palm Islands will be holding plenty of mackerel and it is normally as easy as locating the bait and having a troll or floating out a few pilchards on ganged hooks. Mackerel will bite all day but the few hours after sunrise and before sunset will have them higher in the water and in a feeding mood.

The Lucinda jetty will also have mackerel hanging about in good numbers. School and barred mackerel love to feed around the jetty pylons, and dropping a slug to the bottom and ripping it up with speed will have you hooked up or bitten off.

The reefs such as Bramble, Britomart and Rib will hold macks on the points that cop lots of strong currents, which balls the baitfish up. Using wire will reduce the amount of hits you get, so only use wire if bite-offs are getting ridiculous, and use the finest wire possible. Mackerel also smash poppers in the early morning light, and trust me when I say there are few better sights then a completely airborne mackerel with your popper in its mouth. Just a word of warning as I have had a few near misses of macks landing in the boat very green. That’s a scary prospect for your toes and fingers.

I could go on to write about the insane GT and queenie action that the bays of Hinchinbrook and the jetty hold at this time of the year, but my arms are sore from twitching 5” ZMan StreakZ through ravenous schools that are fighting each other for the chance to eat it!

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