Change for the better
  |  First Published: May 2015

Well as the song goes, it is certainly time for a cool, cool change. After a very hot but surprisingly dry summer (for Mackay), the autumn weather has finally arrived. Unfortunately, we haven’t had our traditional wet season, but there has been enough rain to put a number of flushes through the creek systems and this has kept the fishing at a high standard.

As I compile this report, the nights are cooling off and in a sure sign that the change is here, on the last full moon there were quite a number of large black jew caught. These will be a popular target for the big fish enthusiasts over the next couple of months.

Best close areas to seek them out include the harbour rock walls, and just inside the harbour itself adjacent to the north wall. Target these fish around the full moon using fresh whole squid, big fish fillets of mullet or similar, and of course small live baits will always attract attention. As there is usually quite a few boats in a small area, use fairly heavy gear as this is not the place for ultra light stuff. There is nothing worse than having a number of lines tangled when a big fish makes that first powerhouse run.

They can also be found further offshore around the overfall rocks near Prudhoe Island, and the same general techniques are used there. That is, big baits on the bottom and fairly heavy gear, although being so far offshore, the number of boats is usually limited, so heavy-duty spin or overhead gear can be used.

Closer inshore, a favourite spot is at Newry Island off Seaforth at Pine Point. Again, this is not as popular as the harbour, as it involves a boat trip back into Seaforth in the dark and if you miss the channel markers it would be no fun sitting on the mud for hours waiting for the tide. Use the same baits as previously mentioned, and large green prawns are also effective.

There is still enough barra activity around to keep those anglers happy, although as we move further into winter they will be harder to find and entice to hit a lure. There has been a surprising run of smaller barra right up the top ends of the saltwater creeks, with plenty of small jacks also.

One area that the barra anglers should not ignore is the freshwater reaches of the Pioneer River above the weirs. This little-fished barra spot can really fire in winter, as the shallow water heats up pretty quickly. On a recent weekend home from Brisbane, our son Lachlan received a great surprise while chasing sooties on a #6wt fly rod, when a 60cm barra smacked the fly in shallow water and gave him a good workout. The fish was revived and swam off strongly, leaving us both with a great memory of a great fish in a top spot. They don't have to be huge to be memorable!

The barra will start to go quiet in the dams, so it’s time to reflect on how the impoundments have produced over the summer. Kinchant has been the most reliable destination and the number and size of big barra that continue to be caught here is amazing. I recommend that anyone looking to land a mega size fish make their way to Kinchant around the full moon and hang on, as these fish sure have some pulling power. During the cooler months from here on in, look for barra right up in the shallows. If you can score a few days of northerly winds, then use them, as they heat the water only a few degrees, but it is often enough to get the barra mobile.

My favourite, Teemburra Dam, has been really hit and miss over the summer. It is still at almost 100 per cent capacity and the fish are definitely there, but they don't always want to co-operate. I guess this is 1 of the things that keeps us coming back, as we try to nut out the right approach! This year MAFSA has stocked mainly larger barra, and 1,400 around the 400-450mm mark were released in late in March. These were being hooked on lures within a fortnight, which is good news. Further stockings will occur early this coming summer to take better advantage of growth rates during the hotter weather.

Eungella Dam, as always, is primarily a sooty fishery and it has been fishing well around the old quarry and the weed beds in the timber further up. The barra caught here are usually an incidental catch, but there are some 140cm plus fish in the dam, as it has been stocked by MAFSA for around 20 years.

By the time this edition hits the stands, the sooty stocks for all the dams will have been boosted by the fingerlings spawned and raised in MAFSA's hatchery. The hatchery improvements and monitoring equipment have already paid off, with at last count approximately 70,000 fingerlings in the tanks. A great effort.

In the saltwater, there is a change in the commonly caught species as the weather cools off. Barra and other summer targets are obviously still around, but they take a fair bit of effort to hook and land.

Queenfish will be moving into the creeks and estuaries. Small queenies are great fun to catch and although they are a bit on the dry side, they make a nice curry. Some huge queenies well over 1m long will be in and around the creeks and a real hotspot on the making tide in the Pioneer River is up around the old hospital bridge site. There is a fishing platform there for shore-based anglers and many a good fish gets landed.

Queenies are a great sportfish, as they will respond to live and cut baits, lures, including poppers, and flies. Poppers or surface flies are my favourite way of catching them. Queenies don't only work the surface either, as they can be taken on jigs or heavy plastics in deeper water around the islands. Pine Point at Newry Island is a good spot to chase queenfish, as the deep water and the tidal currents flowing around the island bring schools of herring and small gar into the area and the predators follow.

Other species worth chasing during the cooler months include the trevally family, and the migrating snapper that usually start to arrive during May. Often, snapper and goldens are found together around the close inshore islands. Provided goldens are well bled and iced down, they provide good white fleshed fillets that are just ace on a barbecue. Best baits for these species include whole small squid, fish fillets and large green prawns. Soft plastics and metal jigs also account for plenty.

For the bred and butter species chaser, the whiting are in and around the creeks, but on bigger tides look for them along the beaches. Yabbies remain the most popular bait for these tasty little fighters. Don't be surprised when chasing whiting along the beaches to hook other species like swallowtail dart and trevally.

Bream will be on the move to spawn later in the winter and pikies are great fun to chase as they like to hang in cover. They can be sight cast to with lures or flies, as they are seen patrolling in and around the bases of the mangroves. Lure anglers will often catch archerfish when chasing bream in under the mangrove canopy, as these little fellas like to smack insects that fall out of the canopy and will readily hit a small lure or fly.

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