Snapper are finally here!
  |  First Published: July 2014

Half a year has gone, the Mackay Show holiday is done for another year and the snapper are here! Unfortunately so is the cold weather and fairly strong south easterly winds, but there is not much anyone can do about that! So it is just a case of grin and bear it and take those rare opportunities of light winds when they happen.

The snapper are coming from all the usual haunts around the top of Flat Top Island, off Round Top and the close in reefs will all produce, when you can get to them. There have also been some nice snapper coming to the boats down around the Hay Point area, both from the spoil grounds and any areas of low rubble. Keep a look out for boats anchored in specific areas early of a morning and at this time of the year it is a pretty sure bet they are chasing snapper.

Bait fishing is still the main way to target snapper. Cut baits, whole pilchards or a fillet of pillie, and squid are the most commonly used baits. Strip baits can be mullet, gar, ribbonfish or small mackerel belly flaps and adding a bit of scent or dipping them in tuna oil will not hurt your prospects one little bit. Unfortunately with our strong tidal runs, it is necessary to use fairly heavy lead to reach the bottom quickly, but a small sinker that makes a bait ‘float’ down slowly can also bring results. In fact it’s not a bad idea to set one rod up like this with a drifting pillie or big strip bait.

If you are a visitor to our area, I suggest calling into any of our local tackle shops as the owners and staff always know what is biting and where. They can assist with general areas to fish, but don’t expect to be given any super secret spots, but they will give out plenty of info. After all, the tackle shops know the more anglers are happy with their trip to our area, then the more likely they are to return and hopefully bring some mates too.

As in years past, the snapper season also brings on a great run of golden trevally, which live here all year round, but seem to be prevalent close inshore during the winter/early spring months. Goldens have saved many a trip from being a disaster, and a good 5-10kg golden is a great fish to catch, and looked after is also pretty tasty on the plate. Bleed them thoroughly straight away, get them chilled down on ice and the pinkish meat is great for curries, casseroles or just on the barbecue with some nice sweet chilli and lemon or lime juice.

The goldens are not particularly fussy fish, and will take a floating pillie, or a bottom bait intended for snapper. They are also avid lure takers and that is about my favourite way to catch them. Metal jigs, blades (either plastic or metal), jerk shads, deep diving hardbodies will all score goldens and sometimes they will even smash a popper. Pretty versatile fish and man they fight really well like all the trevally clan.

Goldens show up pretty well on a good sounder, and will often be located with bait balls, or bait sitting on a small rise or pinnacle. For the small boat angler, there are plenty of these types of spots within 5-10kg of the harbour or mouth of the Pioneer River. Again talk to the staff at the tackle shops and get the good oil.

The early run of northern blue tuna has continued and they will be around probably until the end of the year. Northerns, or longtails as they are now more commonly called, are a great sportfish and are typical tuna – strong hard running fish that just don’t want to chuck in the towel. Longtails can often be seen feeding on small baitfish at or near the surface and they feed differently to small macks. The macks tend to slash through the bait, same as mac tuna, but the longtails seem to spend less time visibly chasing the bait.

Typically they will hit the surface in a high speed run, sound and then bob up 30m or more away in a matter of seconds. This can be pretty frustrating at times, but watching their feeding patterns will generally show they feed into the wind and up current, so plan your attack using these factors and you can usually ‘head them off at the pass’.

Longtails will take trolled lures and pilchards, but the most exciting way to catch them is to cast high speed small lead slugs to the front of feeding fish and crank like crazy. Don’t use wire and keep your knots small and compact and if you land one, again don’t waste it, bleed the fish thoroughly, get it on ice and when filleting discard the dark red blood line. The rest of the flesh should be a pale pink and it is top tucker.

The creeks are also firing up pretty well with big whiting coming into the systems and there are plenty of genuine elbow-slappers about. The Pioneer River is a hot spot for big whiting and it is a neat way to get some tasty fish from right in the centre of the city. Launch at the River Street ramp, move across to the trainer wall and pump some yabbies, and then drift up with the tide. This is best on a rising tide in the early evening and the fish can be followed all the way up past the hospital, although care must be exercised around the rocks and pipe near the Ron Camm Bridge. Downstream of this bridge around Cullen Island is a renowned hot spot for good whiting. Again seek advice from the tackle shops, to avoid disappointment.

There has been plenty of other action in the creeks and estuaries, with king salmon featuring in many anglers catches and they are probably the best bet around at the moment apart from whiting. Kings can be real enigmas, here one day gone the next, but put in the time and you will get fish.

King salmon are more commonly caught on live baits, like small mullet, herring, whiting and prawns, but will often take a bunch of yabbies fished almost right on the bottom. An old, old trick was to rig a fillet of pilchard on a 2 gang hook rig with the sinker just above the hook and just heavy enough to find the bottom.

In later years, lure fishing for kings has become increasingly popular and while they will readily take hardbody lures, soft plastics are made for king salmon. I have always been a fan of rattling spot style lures, which are now referred to as vibes, but the soft plastic vibe lure revolution is showing new ways to catch kings on lures. Transams were first cabs off the rank followed closely by Threadybusters, but both these brands are not cheap, with the former usually selling around $30 each and the Threadybusters around $20. If fishing around snags or rock bars, the attrition rate and expense can be quite high, but lately 2 cheaper versions have come to my notice.

I have used Quick Catch vibes for quite a while now and have caught barra, cod, grunter, pikeys and small jacks on them. They are usually sourced via their web site and while there is a limited 5 colour range, they work well and seem to be to the fish’s liking.

Another lure that the guys from Tackleworld Mackay are singing the praises of is the Fuze Pulse range in 95 and 115mm sizes. Like the Quick Catch ones, these are proving very able substitutes for the dearer brands and when lost it is a bit easier on the hip pocket nerve. The Pulse lures have been well tested by the Tackleworld guys and have accounted for barra, king and blue salmon, jacks, queenies and trevally, so they seem pretty versatile too.

So for those anglers out there that would like to try the plastic vibes, there is no need to go to a $30 lure for a trial run. The vibes can be worked super slow on a ‘sink and draw’ retrieve which really is just casting out letting the lure sink and then working it up off the bottom with the rod, take in the slack and let it sink, then repeat the process. They can also be cranked up for queenies and other pelagic and I reckon they will account for a few goldens, longtails and the like over this winter, so give them a try.

While we find the winter here cold it really is nothing compared to further south, so why not come up to paradise for some sunshine, warmth and hot fishing during winter. See you at the ramp.

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