December signals the build-up to the wet season, which is typified by a mix of searing heat, storms, sudden downpours, showers and the occasional gem day.
Rather than waiting for the gems, it’s more productive to work around the prevailing conditions and avoid the worst of the heat and wildest of the storms. Fishing early and late goes without saying, as the midday heat and sun is to be avoided at all costs. Generally a pre-dawn start is the best bet, as afternoons often involve storms or strong sea breezes. When conditions allow or where the waters are protected, a late afternoon start followed through well into the evening is a pleasant outing on the water.
When the gem days have come along they have been sensational, with the weather matched by the fishing. The headlands, wrecks and islands have been producing quality golden snapper, and the reef has been giving up quality trout, Spaniards and reds. The estuaries have been ticking along with fair catches of mangrove jack and grunter. Small sharks have been a real problem around the wrecks and islands, while their bigger relatives have been wreaking havoc at the reef at times.
Reef fishing has usually fired in half days, with either the morning or the afternoon significantly better than the other. Fish tend to be fairly scattered in summer, so keep moving around until you locate fish on the bite. Cover your options, with a floating pilchard out the back and vary your depth in search of the honey pot. If the water temperature is high you’ll want to fish deep.
If the forecast is storm-free, an afternoon start, fishing for trout and Spaniards, followed by a move into the 40m+ water on dark to chase red emperor and largemouth nannygai can be a productive plan of attack. What the trout lack in numbers they often made up for in quality, with fish in the 3-5kg range relatively common at this time of year.
The reds will be scattered, so drift fishing is a good option. If you hit the honey pot, you then have the option of repeating the same drift or anchoring on the mother lode. On a fullish moon, a run home around midnight makes for a pleasant outing that doesn’t knock you around too much. The full-on overnighter can often produce the goods but it can take a couple of days to recover – certainly for those on the wrong side of 50!
Pelagic fishos will see plenty of action this month, with the odd big black marlin still present for the top shelf anglers, while the rest of us can happily chase sailfish, monster giant trevally, cobia and a whole array of mackerel and tuna species. Bait schools, as always, hold the key. Find the bait and you will find the fish, and the easiest way is to look for diving birds. If the bait is down deep, the birds might just be hovering, waiting on pelagics to chase them to the surface, so don’t discount a deep troll around hovering birds.
Estuary fishing will depend on the weather. If there hasn’t been heavy rain, the rock bars, deep holes and snags in the tidal section will be the place to chase mangrove jack and golden snapper. Grunter, queenfish, salmon and small to medium trevally will also be around.
Jacks love hot, steamy weather, which typifies December, so they are well worth chasing along the mangrove edges, rock bars and walls and in heavy timber. Luring with weedless soft plastics is dynamite with jacks, as you can cast your lure further into cover and draw the fish out, without getting snagged up too often. The deeper you can get your lure, the more strikes you will get.
Hooking a red devil is one thing, but dragging it out of its lair is another matter altogether! You need quality gear from the rod to the reel, the line and especially the leader. I have found 30lb braid to be ideal. Even though 20lb will suffice most times, 30lb gives a bit more margin for that trophy jack.
Leader is a simular proposition; 30lb will do the job most times but 40lb will give you the upper hand on more occasions. If you use quality fluorocarbon leader that is quite hard, such as Black Magic Tough fluorocarbon, you stand a good chance of resisting a bit of rubbing on rocks, barnacles and oysters.
Golden snapper have been around in good numbers and quality, especially along the headlands, with both livebait and lures taking their share of fish. Luring for golden snapper, in relatively shallow water, using the same rig as mentioned earlier for chasing jacks, is absolute gold! Fish around 70cm are about the limit on this gear, but boy is it fun! If you are chasing 70cm+ fish in heavy country, you really need to step up a level all round, with a heavier rod and reel and 50lb braid and 50lb leader. I find 60lb fluorocarbon is a bit heavy for casting but fine for trolling.
Soft plastics and large Prawnstars are dynamite on golden snapper in shallow water, as you can work the bottom from where the lure lands right to the boat. Fingermark stay close to the bottom most of the time, and most strikes come as you are bumping into structure or have just bumped over it. As a consequence, it is sudden death fishing, so the drag has to be as heavy as the braid can handle. I wrap the leader around my hand a few times and keep cranking the drag down until I can just pull it off the spool. To do this you need a quality reel. My favourite baitcaster is the Daiwa CVZ 253A (which has been superseded by the Luna, which is just as good), and my favourite threadline is the Shimano Sustain. Any reel of this quality or better will do the job nicely. I prefer to use a baitcaster in up to 20ft of water and switch to an eggbeater once I go deeper, to make it easier to get the lure back to the bottom after each short retrieve.
With Prawnstars and jerk shads, I use an action of three or four short, sharp jerks then let it sink back to the bottom. With soft plastic swimmers, the slow roll is dynamite. I don’t lift the rod at all and have it facing almost down the line. I turn the reel slowly for two or three turns, stop and let it sink back to the bottom. It pays to practice the retrieve where you can see the lure, to get the speed and action just right. Slow down the retrieve until the tail is just swimming. The strike usually comes just as you start the wind or as it’s sinking back to the bottom.
The key for these fish is to strike hard at any touch, as a golden snapper strike typically involves a sharp tap then a massive run. If you strike on the tap, you are already on the front foot. Leave it too late and it will be all over before it starts!Reads: 516