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A crazy month of closures
  |  First Published: November 2015



November in Cairns is typified by dry, hot weather, as the season builds towards the wet. Occasionally, there is an early burst of big storms and wide spread rain but on the whole we can expect it to be a searing, thirsty time.

The fishing can be good at times but the increasing heat often slows the fishing down. The other shutdowns this month come in the form of closures, with the 3-month barramundi closed season having started on 1 November and the second of the two coral reef fin fish closures from 9-13 November.

With barra off the menu and the reef closed for five days, it’s time to look at the other target species in the estuaries and at the reef. Mangrove jack, grunter and golden snapper will be the main focus of estuary anglers and pelagics, like Spanish mackerel the name of the game at the reef, especially during the reef fin fish closure.

Also on the move in the estuaries will be small to mid-sized trevally, queenfish and tarpon that should arrive in preparation for the schools of sprat that will appear soon after the adults have spawned. If the massive schools of mini baitfish arrive, the estuaries will be alive with fish and birds getting in on the action.

Forget about fishing in school hours, as it’s just too hot and uncomfortable and the fish are just not interested. If an early storm comes through, it’s certainly worth hitting the water right behind it but generally the storms arrive later in the afternoon and into night. Make sure you are preferably off the water or sheltered somewhere if you get caught out in a storm. I was in a boat that got hit by lightning over 30 years ago and I still remember it as a terrifying experience I have no intention of repeating.

Work the heavy timber and rock areas for jacks, using small lures and live baits or very fresh dead baits. About the only frozen baits that work well on mangrove jack are squid, cuttlefish and the good old pilchard. The cephalopods are particularly effective if they still have the ink with them, making the cuttlefish the better option, as they are more commonly sold uncleaned. Pilchards are particularly good in dirty water, as they send out a solid scent trail.

When luring, pink and red are particularly effective colours for jacks, with small soft plastics, in the 3-4” range, fished on a weedless jighead, very deadly. Hardbodied minnows, in the same size range as the soft plastics, are also very effective at times. Larger lures will still work but are more likely to get the attention of barra, which are off limits this month. Work the minnows with a short, sharp, twitch and sit action, for best effect. Neutral buoyancy minnows are particularly effective using this retrieve.

Golden snapper will be on the prowl in the deep holes in all the river systems, Trinity Inlet, along all the headlands north and south of Cairns and the inshore islands and wrecks. Jigging soft plastics is gaining a considerable following when targeting big golden snapper and this technique works wonders from a few metres to 30m+.

A quality eggbeater is the best reel to use, as it makes it easier and quicker to get the jig back to the bottom each time. Use a jighead weight that will drift to the bottom rather than plummet. Braid is by far the most effecting mainline, with 30-50lb breaking strain most suitable. Around 20lb braid will work on smaller fish, but will leave you short on stopping power with fish over 70cm and 5kg. If you have found a clean, open area where they feed you can get away with 20lb braid but I won’t use anything short of 30lb, and even then I get smoked at times.

Fluorocarbon leader is a must in my book, with 40lb ideal with 30lb braid and 50lb leader with 50lb braid. The good thing about golden snapper is they feed well on the quarter moons, while the majority of species are more active on the bigger tides around the full and new moons. I tend to target them on the small quarter moon tides and move to other species on the bigger tides, making every day a fishing day. It’s only a job that gets in the way!

Grunter will be around on the hospital flats and any shale and weeds flats around the estuaries, headlands and inshore islands. The bigger tides around the new and full moons are the best time to target grunter, with the last two hours of the rising tide the best bet. Generally, they are more active on the biggest tides, so try and plan your trip around the biggest high tide of the day you are fishing. Chase jacks on the smaller of the high tides, as they won’t be pushing so far up into the mangroves on the smaller high tides.

Outside the coral reef fin fish closure, there will be a mixed bag of reef fish on the menu, with no particular species really dominating. The reefies will be more scattered, so lots of moving or even drift fishing will help in locating feeding fish. Generally the reef fishing will be in short bursts, so make sure you are ready when the bite comes on, as they are usually short lived this month.

One fish you can happily chase all month long is the iconic Spanish mackerel and there will still be a few of these silver bullets hanging around, particularly in the XOS sizes. These monster mackerel are often referred to as ‘homers’, as they tend to hang around and not join the main migration. There are enough of these beasts still around to make them a genuine target worth putting in the extra effort to find.

The islands, like High, Russell, Double and Snapper are all worth a look, along with any wrecks, pinnacles and reefs that commonly hold mackerel, in season. Deepwater pinnacles are a particular favourite of homers. If fishing for Spaniards during the reef fin fish closure, it is preferable to troll or drift with floating baits, so there is no doubt in Fisheries’ minds that you are targeting pelagics and not trying to catch reef species in the closure.

Deep trolling tends to be more productive in the warmer months, with wolf herring, gar, mullet and pilchards all worth a go. Deep trolling live baits is even more effective but a bit more difficult to master. Having a spread of 3-4 baits at different depths and distances from the boat will increase your chances and make it easier to turn with the baits still out.

November offers plenty of options, even though the fishing probably won’t match that of the past couple of months. The key to enjoyable fishing this month is to fish early or late, to avoid the heat and maximise your chances of coming home a winner.

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