Kind weather, electric fishing and mixed bags
  |  First Published: May 2015

May can be a real mixed bag when it comes to the weather and subsequent fishing options. The winds can vary from flat calm, to cyclonic, with a good dose of southeast trade winds thrown in for good measure. However, the great thing about May is when the weather is kind, the fishing can be electric. Warm, calm, weather will see the last run of summer species, while the cooling water temperature will have the reef fish, especially red species, going into overdrive.

There have been some great patches of perfect fishing weather lately and large numbers of Cairns’ anglers have taken advantage and headed east. There were long queues at boat ramps over the Easter long weekend, when huge numbers took advantage of superb fishing and boating conditions. The angling varied from average to awesome, with many boaties returning to port full of smiles.

Trout and large mouth nannygai continued to bite well out wide, although there was a real mixed bag coming aboard most boats. Golden snapper have been on the chew around inshore reefs, islands and wrecks, with some trophy specimens caught. The odd mackerel was still being caught but I heard no reports of big numbers off Cairns. Sharks continued to be a problem for most reef fishos but I was fortunate enough to experience my first shark-free reef trip in many years, on an Easter Monday overnighter.

Coral trout will be the main shallow water target species this month, while out deeper, largemouth nannygai will be schooling up, with bag limit catches not uncommon. As an added bonus the largemouth are often in the trophy, 7-9kg size, with a good sprinkling of red emperor to fill out the esky. In other words, May is a great time to be heading out wide.

While red fish are taken quite regularly during the day, it will be the overnighters who will claim the lion’s share of the spoils. A combo trip that carries overnight but starts or finishes with a few hours of daylight can be a real winner, with the chance to nail a Spaniard and a haul of coral trout to go with the reds. Spend daylight hours in 30-40m of water, then head out wide to the 50m+ grounds on dark, is a solid plan of attack.

Reef mangrove jack is another red species whose numbers increase in May, although seldom in the sort of double figures that nannygai and red emperor can be. Add to the mix, a few Moses perch, spangled emperor, cod, stripeys, trevally and mackerel and the esky can look very colourful.

Spanish mackerel numbers should be on the rise, from the inshore wrecks and islands, to the outer reef and many anglers will make these silver freight trains their main target species through the cooler months. At the very least, every reef boat should have a floating pilchard out the back.

The more serious Spaniard chasers will use a variety of techniques, from trolling lures, dead and live baits, jigging or fishing live baits fed out under a float or free swimming, to drifting with live and dead baits. All techniques will have their day, so it pays to go out with at least two or three approaches in mind, as it can make a real difference to some trips. Focus your mackerel chasing efforts around the bigger tides that coincide with the full and, especially, the new moon for better results.

May has seen the early arrival of baby black marlin off Cairns, at the Wide Grounds, around Pixie Reef and off Fitzroy Island, in recent years and light tackle enthusiasts will be hoping for a repeat set this year. In the interim, scaly mackerel, Spaniards, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, giant trevally and cobia will have to keep them engaged.

As the weather heads towards the dry season, with a coinciding increase in salinity, large queenfish will become more prevalent. Snapper Island and the mouth of the Russell/Mulgrave are favourite locations, provided the nets don’t get there first.

Barra continue to be caught in odds and sods and this will continue while the water temperature remains over the magic 26ºC. They can still be caught in lower water temperatures but they are a bit harder to induce to bite. Focus your barra chasing efforts around the still, warm patches of weather for best results.

Golden snapper can be caught all year round, so always have this challenging species on your bucket list. Mangrove jack have been consistent throughout the wet season and they are more tolerant of cooler conditions, so always have the red devils on your target list, especially when fishing heavy country.

Bream will start to increase in numbers with the reducing water temperatures, as will mid-sized trevally, while grunter catches will continue to tick along.

The arrival of the dry season will see many Cairns’ anglers looking to get in an early trip to the Gulf, as it’s often the first vehicles and boats into an area that get the main spoils. Many stations and National Parks have set opening times, designed to protect roads and river crossings from excessive damage from over-enthusiastic anglers, so make sure you check with appropriate authorities about access.

The other species traditionally on the increase in May, is the mighty mud crab. There have been excellent catches of muddies in recent years, so here’s hoping for more of these succulent crustaceans gracing the dinner table this month.

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