A great month on the water
  |  First Published: September 2014

The extended run of lousy weather continued well into August and winter finished with very few opportunities to wet a line, especially offshore. When the weather did let up, the fish and fishermen did make the most of it but all up it has been a disappointing cool spell. September is traditionally an exciting month to be on the water in the Cairns area, so here’s hoping our luck turns on the weather front.

The extended periods of howling southeasterlies should result in the water temperatures being slow to climb, so early in the month should see a continuation of winter species on the bite, with a late transition to summer species as the weather and water warm up.


Estuary fishing will be slow early in the month. Cod, flathead, grunter, queenfish, small trevally and bream are typically the main players, especially around the lead-up to the full moon, on the first weekend in September.

The best chance for the some serious summer species action will be just after the new moon, during the last weekend of the month. The tides are ideal and are coupled with the school holidays, so there should be plenty of anglers keen for some action. If the first week of the September school holidays coincides with a spell of warm weather and light winds, anglers should experience some great estuary action on grunter, mangrove jack, golden snapper and barra.

The big barra will be starting to move out of the systems and along the headlands in preparation for spawning. Any patch of warm still weather that brings about a rise in water temperature is the perfect time to target a trophy barra around the river mouths and headlands. Large soft plastics worked close to the bottom using a slow rolling technique and slow twitching big Bomber-style hardbody lures are deadly on monster barra.


Anglers with medium to big boats will have their focus drawn east with everyone hanging out for light winds. The action on the bottom and the surface should be hot when the opportunities arise.

The inshore wrecks, reefs and islands will still hold a few mackerel, mostly consisting of the lesser species, with the odd Spaniard still around to liven up proceedings. Most of the pelagic action will be out wider however, with mackerel, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, giant trevally, cobia and black marlin all on the agenda, from the Paddocks to the continental shelf. Many of the southern game boats will be making Cairns home for the next few months and they will be fishing a mix of light and heavy tackle, depending on how the season progresses. It is not uncommon for the odd 800lb black marlin to be tagged in late September.

Reef fishing will be the main focus for anglers with a boat to get out there, with the big three of large-mouth nannygai, red emperor and coral trout the target catches. If I could only fish the reef one month of the year, September would be my pick. The reds are in serious numbers and size, the trout are feeding up to spawn and the weather is more likely to cooperate, as the winter high pressure systems fade from memory to be replaced by the pre-monsoon doldrums. As well as the big three on the bottom there will be a good sprinkling of reef mangrove jack, spangled emperor, Moses perch, stripeys, long-nose emperor, cod and trevally to add variety to the esky.

Bragging rights reds will be on the chew in 40m+ depths, especially at night. If last year is anything to go by there will be plenty of 7-10kg fish among the schools. The turn of the tide was the key to reef fishing last year, so keep that in mind when planning your trip. Try to be there for at least one but preferably two tide changes to increase your chances of coming home a winner. Look for isolated bommies in the 40-60m range that are holding bait or have the odd big fish showing.

Trout will be schooling up in the shallows waiting on a sudden rise in water temperature to coincide with a new moon so they can spawn. Knowing which bommies are holding fish can be a challenge, but generally any really rough bommie that is holding bait and exposed to a bit of current has the right ingredients. You need to be prepared to move around a bit when chasing trout, so if a keeper hasn’t come aboard after 30 minutes it’s time to try another bommie.

Sharks have plagued reef fishos all year and will most likely continue to take more than their fair share of the spoils. Make the most of the action before they move in. After that it’s a toss-up between sticking it out and trying to run the gauntlet when you hook a fish, or pulling anchor and trying somewhere else.

Always have at least a pilchard out the back under a float if the current is slow, or just drifting in the current if there is a bit of run. Have another rod ready rigged to take a live bait when a suitable fish comes over the side, as a livey is often the difference between nailing a Spaniard and missing out.

September is the month to be on the water in the Cairns area, so make sure your gear is serviced and the brownie points are in the bag so you can make hay while the sun shines.

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