Work around the weather
  |  First Published: December 2014

While the weather has been brilliant a lot of the time, with the odd exception the fishing hasn’t been that great. Overnighting at the reef and chasing pelagics out wide have been the bright spots, while inshore, estuary and day fishing the reef have been hard going most of the time.

Largemouth nannygai and red emperor have been biting well in the deep water at night for those prepared to stay the distance. There have also been a few quality reef jacks, spangled emperor and trevally to mix up the bag. Trout have been patchy during the day, with the best bet being to chase pelagics during daylight hours. It has been a great black marlin season and the odd fish is still around, with plenty of wahoo, mahimahi, Spanish mackerel and yellowfin tuna to keep the sportsfishos busy.

The estuaries have been scratchy, with the odd mangrove jack, grunter and golden snapper on the bite. This situation won’t change greatly until there is a big dump of rain. Another trigger apart from rain will be the arrival of massive schools of sprats, but I’m not holding my breath as it has been very dry in previous months and this could impact on their spawning cycle. If the bait does arrive, so will the trevally and queenfish, and things will liven up in the estuaries as the bait pushes into the streams. Here’s hoping!

January can be feast or famine when it comes to rain. Fingers crossed it’s a feast, as the land and sea have been parched in recent times, after months on end of way below average rainfall. The other big advantage of rain though, is it reduces the searing daytime temperatures.

The upside is if there are no cyclones whirling around the Coral Sea, then there are extended periods of flat seas, albeit a touch hot in the middle of the day. The best summertime strategy is to fish at night or, at the very least, leave home or come home in the dark. Avoid being on the water between 8.00am-4.00pm and fishing conditions can be surprisingly pleasant in January.

For those suffering a severe case of barra trauma, Tinaroo Dam offers a welcome reprieve. Large soft plastics have been the lure of choice in recent times, with trolling behind a kayak at night the most productive plan of attack. The traditional method of trolling hardbodies behind a tinnie still works, but more refined techniques are needed to get any consistency in catches.

Make sure you have a current SIP (Stocked Impoundment Permit) before wetting a line in Tinaroo. They can be obtained online at https://www.smartservice.qld.gov.au/services/permits/fishing/apply and cost $8 for a week or $40 for a year. Make sure you tick Tinaroo Falls Dam, Atherton, on the Restocking Preferences, so your licence fees go towards the restocking of Tinaroo. It is a great place to take the family and escape the heat and humidity of the coast, as well as be in with a chance of tangling with a monster barra.

Fishing the freshwater streams for sooties, jungle perch and jacks is another option if the skies haven’t opened up yet. Stick to the main streams, as many minor streams are suffering from very low water levels. The upside is that fish have been concentrated in the larger waterways due to falling water levels. Use small minnows, poppers, soft plastics, prawn imitations and spinner blades at the tops of holes and in any deep sections that contain logs or rocks.

Stealth is crucial, as the water is very clear and fish have amazing eyesight. Approach any waterway from cover and cast from behind a screen of rocks or bushes. Once spooked, the fish will go to ground in low, clear water conditions. If there is a fresh in the stream and the water is murky/cloudy, there is a lot more scope to move around undetected.

Productive estuary fishing will be restricted to low light periods that coincide with tide changes. If water temperatures are high, then stick to the deeper sections. Fish are like humans when it comes to feeling the heat. If you are all hot and bothered and pretty lethargic, you can bet the inhabitants below the surface are feeling just the same. Showers, storms and tidal changes can be just the trigger to get things moving again.

Mangrove jack, grunter, golden snapper and trevally will be the main players on the trophy side, but you can expect an oversupply of small sharks if bait fishing. Half a pilchard or a strip of squid are as good a bait as any at this time. Pilchards are especially good if the water is dirty, as they put out a strong scent. The incoming tides will be best, though jacks often bite better on the falling tide.

When the rains arrive, the sharks will be joined by rays and catfish, with vermin city taking an upper hand. Lure fishing will avoid most of these mongrels, but sharks and especially catties are still partial to a lure.

Once the rivers run, mud crabs will be on the move and it always pays to drop a few pots in once the heavy rain arrives. There can be the odd crab taken on the lead up to the full moon, especially out on the flats and in low lying mangrove areas.

Sport fishos can find plenty of action close inshore if the bait schools arrive off the coast; otherwise it will be happening way out wide. Mahimahi, wahoo, Spanish mackerel, yellowfin tuna and the odd billfish are likely to be working the cobalt blue waters. The birds will be the most important sign; if you can find them working, then the action will follow.

The most important factor for enjoyable fishing in January is to work around the weather conditions. Avoid the worst of the heat, be on the outlook for storms, and stay tuned to weather forecasts in case of cyclones.


Col Winter, who has retired to Cairns from western NSW, caught this 84cm barra on a good old Nilsmaster Invincible in Lake Tinaroo.

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