With the silly season well and truly upon us, anglers will be excited at the piscatorial opportunities during the holiday period and also the possibility of some exciting new tackle to be scored from the fat man in the red suit.
December can provide some exceptional fishing due to warmer water temperatures, which increases metabolism and promotes heightened activity amongst most species, especially the pelagics. Moreton Bay and the filtering waterways can offer up some pretty special action during the summer months, so let’s explore a few of your options.
Although school mackerel have been located within the bay periodically over the last few months, it is likely that the spotties will begin to show up over the next few weeks. If the usual baitfish species show up en masse, we will be treated to good numbers of surface feeding mackerel and tunas.
This scenario can provide some pretty special fishing with schools of whitebait and pilchards being predated upon by hordes of mackerel, all smashing and slashing their way to gluttony on the hapless baitfish. Most small baitfish imitating lures will put you into the action if they are cast close to the action and retrieved in a ‘bat-out-of-hell’ manner. The faster the retrieve, the greater the likelihood that the mackerel will strike your offering.
Most anglers opt for reels that retrieve in excess of a metre of line per turn of the handle for this pursuit. A quality 2.1-2.4m casting rod (preferably graphite) capable of handling line classes between 4-10kg will allow you to reach the schooling fish from a distance and also to fight and subdue the prey.
You do not need to fish heavy drags and bully the mackerel as they are clean, open water fighters and too much pressure will only result in tearing hooks or breaking lines.
Some good lures for this form of fishing include chromed slugs and slices, jighead-rigged jerkbait plastics, small stickbaits, weighted casting minnows and sliders.
Mackerel will also respond to flies, however fly anglers often have trouble getting enough speed to excite fussy mackerel. Even a double-handed strip can be met with refusal.
Some good flies can include bay baits, flashy profiles, surf candies, bay candies and numerous others.
A small piece of wire just in front of the hook will decrease bite offs, but will additionally lower the initial strike rate. This also applies to those using lures and generally you are best to suffer the occasional lure loss to solicit the extra strikes. Casting to the edge of the action and cranking the reel into gear before the lure hits the water will help to decrease the attrition rate with lures.
Good places to begin your search for surface feeding mackerel are the shipping channels, Pearl Channel, the middle bank area and The Paddock area (although be careful not to drift into the large green zone, which is roughly located between Mud Island and Moreton but extends a fair way north and south).
The Measured Mile is a popular area for anglers fishing with whole pilchards suspended beneath a float. The early morning rising tide is a good time to be fishing this area and often every rod will load up together as a school of mackerel enters your zone.
Both school and spotted mackerel can be located during December with the better action on the spotties usually comes towards the latter period of the month. However, a few can be taken from numerous locations such as the margins of the bay islands, the artificial reefs and various other locations therefore having a pilchard floating out the back, even when you are plastics fishing, can reap rewards.
Jigging the beacons in the northern bay with chromed slugs and slices will also produce a few, but you may need to move around a bit to find them.
Around the changes of the tide these same areas can be probed with pilchards rigged on ganged hooks.
Be aware of the different size and bag limits that exist for each mackerel species and know how to positively identify each to avoid an infringement of the regulations.
Those searching for surface-feeding mackerel will also be confronted with schools of tunas and bonito. These can include mac tuna, frigates, longtails, Australian bonito and Watson’s bonito. Whilst it is only the longtails that are targeted as table fare, the other four species can provide a lot of fun when tackled on lighter line classes.
Additionally, they make great bait, either fresh, frozen or preserved. Salted tuna makes exceptional bait for a broad array of estuarine, beach and reef species and is simple to do (see my Tech Tricks in the November Issue).
These species are also a prime target for junior or inexperienced anglers and are a great way to teach them the skills in fighting a quality fish.
Fly fishers will also have a lot of fun targeting them on small baitfish profiled flies, but they respond prominently to a small chromed slug or slice cast into the fray and retrieved flat-stick. Although the rewards may not be on the dinner table that night, targeting these smaller tunas and bonito can provide an awesome amount of fun.
December offers some exceptional crabbing with both mud and sand crabs being available to those who make the effort to set a few pots. The creeks and rivers hold the best concentrations of muddies with the harder to access areas often producing those big, gnarly bucks. Therefore, going to the effort to set your pots in likely spots will generally pay dividends when you check them.
Some likely locales include the mouths of drains and gutters feeding out of the mangroves, along collapsed mangrove banks, the edges of the channels and in the deeper holes, especially the smaller creek systems.
There are a lot of baits you can use, with some of the popular ones being whole mullet, chicken carcasses, fish frames, tuna heads or even a few pilchards in a wire mesh envelope. These baits are the same for both mud and sand crabs and although the zones for these species cross over around the mouths of the rivers and estuarine systems, those who are specifically targeting muddies are best to work the waters further out into Moreton Bay.
The areas surrounding the bay islands, the channels between these islands plus the deep channels and gutters meandering throughout the bay and along the edges of prominent sand banks are prime locations to set your pots. Both blueswimmer and sand crabs will be caught in these zones with a single pot sometimes producing double figures of succulent crabs, especially when set overnight.
Don’t think that because it is the warmer months that you can’t catch snapper. In fact, some of the better snapper I have caught were taken during summer. Although they are lesser in number, there are still plenty around to make targeting them worthwhile.
They will respond favourably to an array of soft plastics, vibration baits (both hard and soft), minnow lures and a host of other offerings. Baits such as pilchards, squid, gar, pike fillets, large banana prawns, hardiheads, herring, yakkas, slimy mackerel and many others will work a treat. Live offerings are much more likely to produce a better quality fish, therefore heading down to the Four Beacons or some of the bait grounds in the Rous or Rainbow channels to jig yakkas, pike, slimy mackerel or large herring will generally be rewarded with quality snapper.
Popular and productive grounds include the bay islands (especially Peel, Mud and St Helena), the Harry Atkinson, Peel Artificial, Curtain Artificial, Peel Houseboat, Benowa Track grounds and various other wrecks and rubble grounds.
With the increase in baitfish numbers during the warmer months, snapper can be located almost anywhere that there is prominent baitfish activity. As such, larger snapper can sometimes be located out in open water underneath baitfish schools, which are being harassed by tuna, mackerel and other pelagics. A soft plastic (such as a jerk shad) cast into the melee and allowed to sink beneath the main conglomeration of schooling fish will often be engulfed as it sinks.
During the warmer months, the dawn and dusk periods are often the most productive time to be wetting a line, regardless of tidal phase, especially around the bay island shallows. In addition to snapper, numerous others such as estuary cod, sweetlip, morwong, school mackerel and others will be encountered.
Anglers probing the estuarine waters, including the creeks, rivers and canals will be spoilt for choice during December. Mangrove jack are the key target of many anglers due to their elusiveness, fighting ability and eating quality. Although they are a prime table fish, most serious anglers choose to release the majority of their mangrove jack to ensure the viability of the species in our local waters.
Jacks respond well to a broad array of soft plastics, vibration baits, minnow lures and others. Around deeper structure such as bridge pylons, jetties, rock walls and collapsed mangrove banks, many anglers will use deep diving minnow lures such as the Lucky Craft Barra Pointer 100xd, Atomic Hardz 100 Deep Shiner, Jackall Squirrel Deep 79 and Duo Realis 100DR Jerkbait, just to name a few.
Additionally there are plenty of quality ‘old school’ lures that fit the bill including Tilsan Barra, Killalures Flatz Rat, Old Dog Barra Snacks Deep, RMG Scorpion and numerous others.
Shad and prawn profiled soft plastics are also extremely popular and can be rigged on a jighead or in a snagless fashion. When rigged snagless, utilising systems such as the TT SnakelockZ, TT Chinlockz, TT SWS or the Owner Jig Rig and Beast Hooks, you are able to confidently deliver your plastic into the thickest structure where the jacks like to lurk. The closer you get to structure the more likely you are to tempt a jack, especially when they aren’t highly active.
In Southern Queensland we are lucky to have a myriad of canals, harbours, rivers and other areas where jacks are likely to lurk. The man-made structure in these systems offers similar fish holding structure as the reef systems further north, therefore mangrove jacks will often lurk in these inshore systems for a lot longer before moving offshore. This means that specimens to over 50-60cm can be taken by anglers probing these areas with lures, live baits and occasionally dead bait.
These same zones are also popular spots for estuary cod to lurk. Cod to over a metre lurk in these systems but they are rarely ever subdued on the average 6-15 spin and baitcasting tackle that anglers commonly use for jacks and other estuarine dwellers.
Smaller specimens (both black-spot and gold-spot estuary cod) to around 50cm are the most likely to be encountered and these will respond to the same techniques as the jacks. However, due to the cod’s love of crabs, they are commonly taken along rock walls that line the canals and some river systems. Targeting these areas can heighten your chances for cod, especially if you bang and rattle your lures across the rocks.
Live baits are also likely to get them to leave their holes amongst the rocks but you will need to strike hard once they take the bait to prevent them burying you back in the structure.
Other species commonly taken from the estuary during December can include flathead, bream, whiting, trevally, tarpon, threadfin and numerous others. Over the last few years there has also been a few barramundi taken from systems throughout Southern Queensland. These include the Brisbane River, Logan River, Caboolture River, Elimbah Creek, Scarborough Harbour, Mooloolabah Harbour and the Jumpinpin area. Although the barra have mainly been by-catch by anglers chasing other species, they may hopefully breed to the point where they can be a target species. Luckily most anglers have released their capture, which goes a long way to ensuring that they get a chance to copulate and populate our waters, like the threadfin did many years ago.
Getting the kids out on the boat to fish the estuaries is a great way to introduce them to the great outdoors. Ensure they are protected from the sun and have plenty of food and drinks and they will usually have a great day. A stop off at a nice sandy area for a swim will increase their enjoyment.
Just drifting in the sandy channels with a few baits aft is enough to score a few fish. The changing scenery also helps to relieve their boredom between bites. Flathead, bream, whiting, trevally and numerous other species can be taken with this method. Their enjoyment on the first few trips can make or break their keenness to go fishing so ensure they have a great time and they will start to love the great outdoors. It is a lot better than any animated game.
The warmer months are prime times to target the numerous whaler sharks that enter the bay. The majority of these will be less than 15kg in weight, making them a lot of fun on light line. They can be encountered throughout most areas of the bay, however, I generally target them around the spoil grounds and outer margins of the bay islands.
Drift these areas with a whole fish bait (gar, mullet, slimey mackerel, pike or yakka) trailing behind the boat into a tuna oil slick and you are in with a great chance, especially early morning and late afternoon. They can also be taken in numbers from the Brisbane River and most other systems. I will talk a little more about this next month.
With so many options during December, anglers will have a hard time deciding what species to tackle next. Both the bay and estuaries have a lot to offer the avid anglers and novice alike.
Ensure to slip, slop, slap and slurp to avoid the effects of the heat, sunshine and dehydration, ensuring you enjoy an awesome day in the great outdoors.
I hope you have been good enough this year for Santa to put some awesome new tackle in your stocking. Have an awesome Christmas with plenty of enjoyable and safe adventures for you and your family throughout the holiday period.
See you next year!Reads: 481