Find the birds, find the bait, find the fish
  |  First Published: December 2014

What is the best aspect of January up in Cape York? This is a month where you can be guaranteed a fair share of breathless, glassy conditions offshore. Periods of calm lasting days on end will be interspersed with rolling thunderstorms and dreary looking skies.

With polarised sunnies it is possible to see flocks of gulls, terms, boobies and frigate birds from a mile away if the conditions are super slick. With intermittent sunlight and the ever-present chance of rain thrown at you, January conditions are made even better for seeing birds illuminated on the horizon.

One fishing technique receiving far more attention these days is the use of soft plastics and metal jigs to fish bait schools located with high quality depth sounders. Using birds as your cue for where bait is gathering, hours of fun can be had rolling, bouncing, jigging and cranking soft plastics through the schools.

All the tropical speedsters can be targeted like this. One of the only drawbacks is mackerel snipping off mono leaders, but you will be surprised at how many you can catch under constant drag pressure.

The ever-present giant trevally and queenfish are first on the list, and anglers might be impressed at how many more they can catch using sub-surface jigging techniques rather than trolling or casting poppers.

We are blessed with a range of trevally species up here in the tropics, and some of those sent to stretch the arms of anglers will be the giant, golden, goldspot, bigeye, bludger, diamond and cale cale. All of them pull hard, and good quality spin tackle with smooth drags is a requirement of remaining attached with gear intact.

A few fish that add a bit of colour to the esky and are quite plentiful around reefs, wrecks and rubbly patches are fingermark, largemouth and smallmouth nannygai. Coral trout, emperors, snappers and a range of cod species are suckers for a jig or a plastic fished adjacent to baitfish holding around structure.

Up at Cape York we have a couple of bruisers that don’t make it onto the edible species list, but they sure do fight. Red bass and Chinaman fish caught in shallow water with structure nearby are sure to leave any angler a bit trembly and weak in the arms.

Cobia or black kingfish are another species that patrols open water patches and reefs, and occur throughout the water column adjacent to structure. They can be caught near surface and near bottom when jigging, and it always pays to have a second rod rigged up with something that might entice a cobe if they follow hooked fish to the boat or are swimming near the surface.

Drifting through a likely bit of ground anywhere from 15-80’ deep, the array of modern day plastics and jigheads to get anglers using light line amongst fish holding deep in the water column is a real revolution in fishing. Thinner diameter lines that sink quickly and keep anglers in touch with their presentations for longer is the key. Those meeting with success are precisely aware of what their jig or plastic are doing throughout the retrieve, and are always focused on the rod tip and slack line created after a twitch or bounce. Fish will often hit as the lure is sinking or fluttering back down after a lift. Having a good idea of sink rate and water depth gives anglers the chance to fish the bottom 1-2m of water where many of the strikes take place.

You don’t need a big boat in January to get wide enough to see birds fluttering over bait schools. It is happening right along the Cape York coastline, and every day that miracle fishing scenario is taking place, where many predators are gathering at the table to eat together.


A nice trout jigged up in 40’ of water.


Large fingermark can be caught jigging around bait schools at this time of year.


Queenfish are quick to smash jigs twitched up quickly from the bottom.


Golden trevally will gobble anything when schooled up, and then the race is on.

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