Big snapper make big news
  |  First Published: August 2014

Another month gone and hopefully we have seen the last of the cold weather here in paradise—I mean to say things are getting a bit rich when we have overnight temps down to 5-6°C, but at least our days stay warm with high teens or early twenties temps.

Thankfully we have also had some patches of balmy winds that have meant the snapper have featured in many catches as well as typically winter run pelagic like Spanish mackerel.

The nobbies (snapper) have been the big news though with really top quality fish being caught on most of the local haunts and even a few stragglers being reported from north of Mackay around the Goldsmith Islands area. Most of the catches though come from Mackay or just south of here. There has been the odd snapper caught around the patches between Mackay and St Bees/Keswick Islands but the best catches so far, and I expect this to continue, being slightly south, with the Hay Point area and the Islands off Sarina being very popular.

August will see the snapper still around, and they usually last here until September with the odd fish still being caught into early October. Wouldn’t they make a great tagging project to find out where they migrate from to our waters and where they return to after spawning here? Being such a valuable recreational species you would think some really forward and positive thinking State or Federal Department would be interested—sadly it seems not.

If chasing snapper in our waters, look for them around the close islands out from the Pioneer River. Places like Flat and Round Top islands are good starting points and these are easily accessed in a 4m tinnie. The Hay Point spoil grounds are shown on marine charts and are worth checking out as is any low and hard rock or reef in deep water down around Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay. These are coal loading facilities and restrictions apply as to where you can and cannot fish, so unless you are sure, check into the local tackle shops for some good advice. They will also know if the snapper are on the go at Cullen Island, Elamang, Knight Island or wherever.

The Spanish mackerel are moving inshore and there have been some good catches around Round Top Island with anglers using large wolf herring or ribbon fish for bait. These are usually rigged with 7/0 or 8/0 hooks from head to tail and with a weight under the chin, and yet Spanish mackerel can still chop up a bait and miss the hooks! Unbelievable, but they manage. Gar on gang rigs with a squid or ‘wog head’ are also popular here as a troll bait. Floating a pilchard out the back while at anchor has also accounted for plenty of Spanish.

The harbour walls are good spots for the Spanish mackerel and plenty of 20kg plus fish are landed every year from the breakwalls. Unfortunately the southern wall is shortly to close off for more repairs so that restricts landbased anglers to the north wall. Tackle World’s Rob Sabbage recently landed a beaut 11kg Spaniard from the very end of the southern wall on one of the new Rapala 54g XXXRC14 hardbodies in the chrome mackerel colour. The substantial single hooks and quality split rings handled the fish without a problem.

I reckon these lures are going to account for heaps of mackerel of all types as well as plenty of other pelagics. Rob tells me that there is a smaller version due to be released shortly and they should also be deadly on pelagics. The 54g model casts like a bullet and sinks reasonably quickly but in a horizontal pose and the highly reflective chrome attracts plenty of attention. Flash is the name of the game here!

The early run of smaller mackerel and tuna is still a happening thing but as August moves into spring weather, expect plenty more of these species to feature in the catches locally. A small tinnie means you can get onto these great sporting and eating fish anywhere from Midge Point south and best of all the weather should really start to settle down in late August. Stay in touch with the local tackle outlets and they will give you the good oil on what’s around and where the most likely spots will be. Unfortunately, with the closing of the south wall of the harbour, that usual trick, of a drive out to the end to check for birds and fish activity is off the cards.

But August is not all about pelagics and snapper, as there are plenty of flathead and bream around in the creeks. Pikies or black bream, as some call them, have been in all the creeks in pretty good numbers through July as they are in winter spawning season. Pikies are great fish, and can be caught on lures, baits and flies. Sight casting to these fish among the mangrove roots is great fun and here an electric outboard is invaluable, as it lets you sneak along quietly at a comfortable casting distance out form the mangroves. Plenty of barra and salmon are caught while casting for pikies as well as the oddballs like archer fish, tarpon and cod.

Genuine elbow slapper whiting are around too and the Pioneer River is one of the top spots for them. Just up from Cullen Island is a good spot for whiting, but the best trick is to drift up river from near the mouth, with the tide and keep in touch with the schools. There are some really nice grunter mixed in with the whiting, and the gravel areas near Cullen Island are ‘specials’. Plenty of flathead are also in the river at the moment, so a feed of quality fish is not that hard to come by.

Gooseponds stocking

On the freshwater scene the big news at the moment is the discovery of the dreaded tilapia menace in the Gooseponds in North Mackay, but fortunately it looks like at this stage they have only recently been put in there, obviously by someone who couldn’t bear to kill their precious aquarium fish. The discovery was made by Tim Marsden a biologist with Reef Catchments and community uproar and care for the environment, resulted in $8,000 being raised within weeks with substantial donations by Mackay Recreational Fishers Alliance, Tackleworld Mackay, MAFSA, Mackay’s Light Gear Clubs Association, Mackay Reef Fish Supplies and numerous individual donations including Member for Mackay Tim Mulherin.

That money paid for 1,000 barra at 300mm long which were released into the Gooseponds under the permit issued to Reef Catchments. MAFSA members were heavily involved in sourcing, collecting, transporting and overseeing the release of the fish. Plenty of publicity meant that there was a heap of help from the general concerned public who assisted with the release of the fish. Helpers from grand parents to 10 year old kids turned up to do their bit for the environment and hopefully control or eradication of these pests.

The next step in the program is removal of weeds from the Gooseponds system to reduce the hiding places for the tilapia and give the barra a real good go at them. Further releases of smaller barra will take place before the wet season in the upper reaches of Jane Creek, which flows into the Gooseponds. The acknowledged impact of these pests on our native fishes has galvanised the local community into action and they are very supporting of the attempts to eradicate this cane toad of the waterways. The commitment of the local anglers and community in general has been fantastic.

Anyway apart from the pest tilapia, Mackay during August and into spring has plenty to offer anglers in both fresh and saltwater, so see you at the ramp.

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