A small boat bonanza
  |  First Published: September 2014

September in Mackay equals sunshine, northerly winds, heat and small mackerel and tuna close inshore. After the winter we’ve had, when overnight temps dropped to around 5°C on several occasions, these conditions are something to really look forward to.

Unfortunately for non-boating anglers, it looks like the southern break wall of the harbour is going to be closed for continuing repairs so these anglers will be restricted to the north wall only. While this is probably not as productive as the southern wall, good catches of small macks can be taken right in almost to the beach. There is always the odd mac tuna or longtail to liven up the proceedings also.

Schools of small bait are pushed right in on the walls and beaches by the early morning calm conditions, and that is the time to be on the water. The winds usually pick up to uncomfortable levels by about lunchtime and then often drop out again just before dark. These early morning and late afternoon timeslots are the hot times, and if there is a tide change then the fish will often go berserk. Baitfish can be found either balled up or showering out of the water in their panic to avoid being eaten.

This is a small boat bonanza for anglers, and a 4m tinnie with a reliable outboard will get you plenty of action. There is a growing band of younger anglers who chase these small macks from kayaks, but with the large tiger sharks that are netted or caught on set lines near the harbour, I think I’ll stick with my tinnie, thanks very much!

Small macks can bob up anywhere but they are not usually as frustrating as tuna. Macks at least are fairly approachable, particularly when they are working into the wind and will often be within a rod length or two of the boat. Tuna, on the other hand, usually need to be approached under electric power and with long casts, so this is spin stick territory. With a 4000 size reel loaded with 10kg braid you can confidently handle just about any fish likely to be encountered.

I like casting to the macks and tuna and use a fair selection of lures, as shown in the photo. I generally stick to ‘shinies’ of one sort or other, but the blades are also proving to be good value. Plastics will always work, but the attrition rate can be horrendous and very heavy on the wallet. I also usually have a minnow rigged on a stiff baitcaster for trolling and like lures that run between 2-4m deep and have a fair bit of reflective flash.

Wire is a vexed subject. More hits will definitely happen with a quality mono or fluorocarbon leader, but bite-offs are common. This is not such a big issue trolling minnows, but shinies are usually pretty small and tend to get just about fully engulfed, exposing the leader to those razor sharp teeth. If you’re using wire, keep it fine and short and use black swivels. One last thing, shine up your shinies with polish of some sort so you get maximum flash from them.

Where to look for the macks is simple, either out from the harbour or the mouth of the river. The islands up around Seaforth produce well, as do the rock reefs off Shoal Point and Bucasia Beach. To the south check out around Hay Point, and the islands further south out from Sarina Inlet, but these involve a fair run so are better suited to boats 5m and up.

If you call into the local tackle shops, the guys who work in them will put you onto the right spots and can fix you up with the current hot lures. They can also supply you with plenty of fresh baits (pillies and herring would be the two main choices), and they can advise on rigging and so forth.

Finally, watch the legal lengths and learn to tell the difference between the species and please don’t bag out on them. Treat the fish as soon as you catch it by bleeding it into a bucket or over the side. Rip the guts out, wipe the flesh slime off, and get the fish laid in ice super quickly and the quality is top shelf.


Springtime also means that the water in the creeks is warming up quickly and that gets things moving there, too. Barra are back on the target list and the jacks also become more active as the weather warms up. Barra and jacks are often caught in similar spots at different stages of the tides, as the barra tend to cruise about to various spots while the jacks seem to find a spot to their liking and sit on it.

Barra will often be found in numbers on the same snag or rock bar, whereas with jacks you generally get one or two and then have to move to another snag.

Both species will respond to the traditional minnows but the barra in particular have taken a liking to plastics like the various vibes. However, these lures are better suited to more open water as the trebles are very exposed and snag up really easily. Although soft vibes will definitely work on snag-dwelling fish, it can be an expensive exercise – particularly if you’re using the Transams at around $30 a hit. I mostly use Threadybusters, Fuze and Quick Catch ones as they seem to work well and are much easier on the pocket.

Prawn imitations will also come into their own as the weather warms up, and these can be rigged weedless and chucked right into the snags. Getting the hit is just the start though; the trick is then to horse the fish out which is easier said than done most times. I use many of the prawn-like plastics but I have a real soft spot for the Gladiator clear 80mm prawns which can be rigged like a bait, fitted with a treble hanging under them or rigged on a jighead. I have been using the Fuze jig hooks as the orange keeper section shows through the clear prawn body and just adds another colour dimension With a bit of ‘juice’ added, the lure then has colour, action, shape and scent going for it.


It’s not all about jacks and barra, as flatties are prevalent in the creeks and estuaries, whiting are plentiful and there are still good numbers of pikey bream around. The mainstay of the creeks over winter, king threadfin and blue salmon, are also still about in numbers although the blues seem to taper off a fair bit with the warmer weather and water. (I wonder where they head off to?)

There will also be plenty of good grunter moving about in the clean water, as well as small pelagics like trevally and queenfish, which can be found from the creek mouth to well upstream. All three will take strip baits, prawns, yabbies and a variety of lures. They are generally in more open water and respond well to soft plastics particularly. Great fun on light gear too.


And just for a change from the salty stuff, the barra are firing up in the dams and we have some absolute monsters in all three dams. I wonder if this summer will see a barra over the 1.5m mark? If so, my tip is that it will come from Kinchant Dam which is largely devoid of snags except weed beds.

The members of Mackay Tournament Anglers have been getting the odd barra or two during the colder weather, but they’re are looking forward to getting stuck into their barra series as the weather warms up.

So if you are looking for a bit of frantic springtime angling action with plenty of different options, come to paradise and join us lucky locals. See you at the ramp.

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