Beyond barra – the top five northern bucket list
  |  First Published: May 2015

When anglers think of North Queensland, iconic species such as barramundi and mangrove jacks immediately spring to mind and rightly so as both fish are deserving of their ‘bucket list’ species status. However, there is far more to fishing in the great north of our state than barra and jacks as there are many just as worthy target species which deserve just as much angling attention.

The following are five fish species that would have to be right up there in terms of a true North Queensland angler’s bucket list, and each are without a doubt worth your attention if you ever get the chance to wet a line in this amazing part of our state.

Golden Snapper

This fish probably has the worst identify crisis due to varying names that it is given, the most common names given are, chopper, fingermark and big scale red. The golden snapper is such an awesome fish to target for the very reason they are like a monster truck version of a mangrove jack. They know how to pull plenty of string and will bury you in structure just like their red cousins, and when you have a big one on you will certainly have a bend in your back. These fish are suckers for soft plastics and can be caught using the same techniques and plastics employed for snapper down south. The biggest difference is that golden’s prefer to feed on the bottom, so make sure your plastic is being fished in the bottom third of the water column.

Golden snapper love isolated rubble structure often not far away from land, and they are certainly an inshore species that can be targeted out of small boats with relative ease. They can also be targeted on live baits such as squid or herring, but you will be lucky to get one on frozen bait, so stick with the fresh stuff. When targeting golden snapper a 4000 size spin reel matched with a 6-10kg rod loaded with 20lb braid and 30lb fluorocarbon is a good start. This will have you in the game for most fish however if you hook a big one you will need a bit of luck as well.

Having a top notch leader is a must for these fish as they are very finicky yet equally demanding on tackle, especially your leader, so you’ll need a leader that is super strong and can take the pressure of big lunging runs and being torn through the reef. When chasing Golden Snapper, Sunline FC100 fluorocarbon is my choice as it is high quality, stealthy and most importantly can take a tonne of punishment. The final word on golden snapper is they are one of the best looking and best tasting fish in the sea. The bag limit on golden snapper is 5 per person, with a minimum size of 35cm.

Black Jew

Whilst the reputation of their southern cousin the mulloway is well known, the black jew is one fish which commonly flies under the radar. I’m not sure why as in my opinion they fight harder than their southern cousin and taste just as good, if not better. The black jew looks very similar to the mulloway except that die they tend to go a darker black colour. They can be caught in deep holes in big river systems right through to semi offshore grounds, and are commonly snared when chasing golden snapper. Black jew can grow to mammoth sizes and fish over 120cm are not uncommon, however they are more commonly caught around 80cm. When you hook one this size it is like being attached to a freight train, and they pull all the way to the boat. Unlike golden snapper, black jew are not dirty fighters and tend to not bury you in the bottom, so you don’t need to go too big on the gear.

A similar outfit as the one described above with a little heavier line and leader will suffice. Once again a good quality leader is a must as jew have small fine teeth which can wear through a soft leader, so the FC100 is once again your best choice. Black jew also love big soft plastics, especially big fish paddle tail patterns or grubs, and they also prefer them to be fished close to the bottom. One important note about black jew, they do not release well in water deeper than 8m, so they are best kept when caught if over legal size of 75cm.

If you get onto a patch of black jew and they are undersize it is best to leave them be as you will probably end up killing everything you catch. Black jew taste fantastic, but can get tough once they go over the metre mark. Once again legal size is 75cm, while the bag limit is two fish per person.

Blue Spot Coral Trout

Coral trout are becoming quite a common capture from north to south these days, but the blue spot coral trout is a little different to the common and bar cheek models that most people are familiar with. The blue spot is the bad-ass brother of the coral trout family due to their sheer aggressiveness and violent behaviour. To put this in perspective there is nothing better a blue spot likes to eat then another coral trout, and their cannibalistic behaviour has earned it a hated reputation amongst pro trout fishermen in the north.

Growing to well over a metre in length the blue spot trout can be identified mostly by its large round blue spots and its non-transparent pectoral fins. They can sometimes be yellow in colour (known as a footballer) or have distinct bands across their body. Blue spots are mostly outer reef dwellers and love to cruise the edges or big isolated bombies. What makes them such an awesome bucket list fish is the fact they love a big blooping popper and will rise from the deepest depths to inhale anything that makes plenty of noise. This is because they are seriously territorial and will maul anything that disturbs their home.

When targeting blue spots you will need plenty of grunt in both reel and rod so a reel around the 5500 mark with a strong drag is a must. Your rod also needs plenty of lowdown torque as like all trout they love to head straight back to the reef. Braided lines 50lb and heavier and 80lb leaders are a must as you need that stopping power. Due to their cannibalistic behaviour blue spot trout are heavily susceptible to ciguatera so they are best released. You can legally take fish between 50 and 80cm, but at your own risk

Giant Trevally

If you are after a truly backbreaking experience then the GT is a must. Found around inshore headlands, islands and outer reef, the north of Queensland is littered with big GT, and they love a big surface lure or jig. There is little that pulls as hard as the GT and they are truly magnificent sportfish. It is not hard to find GT structure in the north as there are so many islands and reef edges, often no further than a couple of kilometres offshore.

When looking for the best GT grounds look for edges of headlands, islands and reef that hves deep water drop offs (the deeper the water the bigger the GT usually) and plenty of current. GT love current as this attracts the baitfish and the presence of baitfish on the surface or sounder is a big plus. GT love to hunt during low light times as well, and when the tidal run is at its greatest. The bigger the popper or stick bait the bigger the GT, but always try and match the hatch if you can see the bait. GT really do require heavy gear to stop them, and upgrading your line strength and leader in just like the blue spot coral trout mentioned above will get the job done. GT are a pure sportfish and are not good on the plate and should be released at all times.

Jungle Perch

The jungle perch or JP is more commonly found from Innisfail north, and whilst they have an almost mystical reputation they are more common than most people realise. In fact most clear running streams north of the areas discussed above have big numbers of JP. It can be as easy as keeping an eye out for suitable water as your driving along the Bruce Highway. JPs are commonly caught between 25 and 35cm, with a fish over 40cm considered quality, and anything over 50cm is a trophy. JPs love surface lures and will rise in packs to inhale anything floating.

My favourite all time JP lure would have to be the Lucky Craft Sammy as its tight walking action never fails to entice a fish. JP will live in water less than a foot deep, so you don’t need to find big deep pools all the time. JPs are best targeted on foot and light spinning gear (preferably shorter rods as it can be tight casting) with the 4lb braid and 6lb leader is a good option.

There is no need for expensive rods or reels in this scenario, and you really want something that is tough as your gear will cop plenty of punishment walking up streams and through the rainforest. The water you will be fishing is extremely clear so a strong, yet invisible fluorocarbon is a must. I prefer to use Sunline Rock Bite or Sniper as it can take the punishment over the rocks, but is incredibly thin and invisible. JP will live in packs but once you hook one fish from the pool they shut down quickly. Therefore it is best to move onto the next pool. JP can be taken to eat and a legal limit of 1 fish below 35cm is allowed, however they are best released.

Head North

Next time you are heading north and planning on doing a spot of fishing, why not try something different from the usual barramundi or mangrove jack. There’s plenty of alternatives to choose from, and once your give them a go you’ll understand why anglers look further afield and target more than just the big two, barra and jack.

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