Premier fishing this month
  |  First Published: September 2015

The weather gods finally shined upon Cairns’ anglers early last month, with a run of picture-postcard weather. The tourists responded accordingly and it was near impossible to find an empty bed in any of the tourist accommodation in town.

The fishing lit up with the weather and locals are hoping it will hold into spring. September is considered one of the premier fishing months of the year in the north. The constant southeasterlies finally give way to the northerlies, the seas are more consistently calm and the fishing goes into overdrive, with a cross section of both winter and summer species on offer.

Mackerel fishing has been sensational at times, with some reef anglers spending more time attending to their mackerel floaters than fishing the bottom. The odd big cobia has also really tested the mackerel rigs. Reef fishing has seen plenty of quality coral trout, largemouth nannygai and red emperor boated, while the estuaries have mainly yielded jacks, grunter, bream and trevally.

Reef fishing will be top of many anglers’ wish list this month and traditionally September provides an abundance of opportunities, matched by an abundance of fish. Coral trout, largemouth nannygai and red emperor will be the prime targets but there will be plenty of variety in the catch as well, with reef mangrove jack, cobia, tea-leaf trevally, gold spot trevally, Moses perch, spangled emperor and all manner of cod lining up to take your bait.

Coral trout will be starting to roe up, ready to spawn when the first spike in water temperature coincides with a new moon, most likely during the first of two coral reef fins fish closures, from 10-14 October. As the water warms the trout will move onto bommies in the 20-30m range but are readily taken in even shallower water.

Anglers who like a bit of sport with their reef fishing can have a ball working isolated bommies up on top of reefs or the reef edge itself, casting soft plastics, minnows or small whole fish, like pilchards, hardiheads and mullet. A quality rod and reel, spooled with 50lb braid, will see you well prepared for the sudden death battles that will ensue. A great approach is to use a pilchard on ganged hooks or a hardihead threaded down the middle on a single hook, with little to no weight. Flick the bait on top of or down along the side of an isolated bommie, let it sink close to the bottom, then slowly retrieve it back to the boat. The same approach works a treat with soft plastics but it can get a bit heavy on the pocket if the bommie monsters win too many battles.

This is a particularly productive approach if the winds kicks up during the day and you want to continue fishing in relative comfort. Motor up onto the back (northwestern side) of a reef and position the boat up wind of a bommie. Start casting and retrieving as you drift back towards the bommie. Make sure there is enough depth to safely drift over the bommie. The wind will increase your casting distance and drifting towards the bommie will make it easier for the bait to sink. Make sure you are keeping the line straight, without retrieving the bait, as it sinks. If you let a bow form in the line a bommie monster will swallow your bait and be back in its hole before you even know you had a bite. Coral trout and spangled emperor are absolute suckers for this approach.

The 40m+ water will be the area to pursue red fish, with no shortage of trophy sized largemouth nannygai and red emperor on offer. As always, night fishing is the best time to go in search of reds. Look for isolated bommies, gutters and drop-offs, holding bait. In really light winds, drift fishing the deep rubble country can be a very productive approach. There is often an absolute flurry of activity around the turn of the tide, so be ready to take advantage of the bite time when it arrives.

Last year many of the charter boats had to leave the fish biting after hitting the mother lode and there were plenty of small boat owners hitting their bag limits on reds. Make sure you know your bag limits or have a copy of the regulations on board, to check. A great source of information is the free tide charts that local tackle stores hand out when you purchase gear.

Mackerel will still be around in numbers, so always have a floating/drifting pilchard or live bait out the back when reef fishing. The odd spotty, doggie and Spaniard will still be roaming around the inshore reefs, wrecks and islands, for those looking for a bit of light sportfishing. The serious sportfishos will be working themselves into a lather anticipating the upcoming heavy tackle season, with hopefully a stack of small marlin tags to their name already this season. The big mamas will be starting to appear along the Continental Shelf, with September usually the start of the season, depending on the year. There will also be wahoo, mahimahi, Spanish mackerel, yellowfin tuna and northern bluefin tuna working the edges of the outer reefs.

Estuary anglers will be impatiently waiting for the water to warm up and fire the barra and mangrove jack into greater activity. Large barra will be starting to move towards the river mouths and onto the headlands in preparation for the wet season spawning but most of the early season action will be with smaller barra well upstream. Any patch of warm still weather will be the prime time to chase this prized sportfish. In the upper reaches of streams work the edges of the weed beds and guinea grass, with Jr Prawnstars or soft plastic prawns and minnows, fished weedless. On the headlands work the bottom with regular Prawnstars, soft plastic minnows or deep divers. The secret is to get down into the gutters between the rock bars where the barra are sitting in ambush.

September is a great month to be on the water, as we transition from winter to summer species. The weather is usually just right – not too hot and not too cold, so get out there and enjoy it before the summer scorchers arrive.


Sportfishos, like Jordy Wedrat, will find plenty of light action working the tuna schools.


Estuary anglers will be impatiently waiting for the water to warm up and fire the barra, like this 107cm beauty caught by Dominic Macri on a recent trip to Pormpuraaw.

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