January is a time to reflect on the past year and to start planning our fishing experiences for the coming year. 2015 was a memorable year for Mackay with both positives and some unfortunate negative aspects from the perspective of an angler. Rainfall records indicate that this was the driest year since 2005, which has had a dramatic effect on fishing and fish recruitment for the future. My rainfall readings were about 50% less than 2014. We missed the late spring and early summer storms, which will impact on barra – particularly as these conditions set them off to head to the islands and headlands to breed.
Positives were many, and the biggest news of the year was the declaration of a Net Free Zone (NFZ)on our doorstep. The area from St Helens to Cape Hillsborough is a popular rec fishing area, and anglers can now look forward to catching plenty of fish that are not just undersized. Undersize fish are commonly caught after a creek system has been ‘sieved’ with nets, but now this shall be a thing of the past for this stretch of coastline. Praise is due to the Mackay Recreational Fishers Alliance for their hard work, persistence and sheer stubbornness in pursuing this NFZ for so long, to finally see it become reality.
Fish stocks in our area did receive a welcome boost in the freshwater impoundments and the Pioneer River system. MAFSA has been very active, and plenty of barra have been stocked, alongside sooty grunter produced out of the hatchery after a complete revamp of the systems and equipment by the members. Barra have also been stocked into the Gooseponds in North Mackay by Reef Catchment Solutions as part of the ongoing program attempting to control the tilapia found there.
The discovery of these pests in the Gooseponds was one of the negatives of 2015. Unfortunately, late in 2015 it was discovered they are also now in the McCready creek system on the northern side of Mackay between Slade Point and the northern beaches area. These fish most likely got into this small creek via various drains that connect the two spots during heavier rainfall events. The attempts to contain them in the Gooseponds appears to have been a case of the horse having already bolted, by the time anyone knew they were in our area.
On balance, the positives for 2015 outweighed the negatives and we can look forward to 2016 with renewed enthusiasm and with all that new gear the man in the red suit delivered on 25 December. January is normally a transition month in Mackay. It falls between the storm season and the normal start of the wet proper, which here generally starts in February. But it is not that uncommon to have a cyclone or flooding rain during January.
All the summer species are still available and on the chew. The small mackerel species are exception, as they move further south following bait schools. A few stragglers are still around, particularly off Sarina to the south. The tuna will also be around but in smaller numbers than early in the summer.
For the close inshore angler, now is a good time to chase the reef species, with plenty of variety available particularly around the islands off Seaforth, but watch the zones and get a map from your local tackle store before venturing out. Trout, snapper, bream, cod and good size grunter can be found around these islands and will respond to fresh cut baits, large prawns and live baits fished right in close to the islands.
Deeper water around the islands also yields these same species plus quality golden snapper (fingermark), one of the best eating fish around. Live baits, and fresh squid will tempt golden snapper, but as they live among some pretty rough ground, hooking and landing them is not always easy.
For the lure and fly angler, all of these fish will respond to soft plastics or a well-presented fly. Plastics such as the various prawn styles, paddle-tails and stick baits will tempt any of the reef species and rigged weedless lure losses can be kept to a respectable level.
Fly fishers are best advised to use an intermediate or sinking line with clouser style flies to get the offering down to the fish. Clousers have the advantage of riding hook point up and are less likely to get snagged so are a popular choice. Work the lure or fly around prominent headlands or outcrops of rocks and use a good hard wearing leader like Schneider nylon as most of the reefies have teeth and they live in rocky areas that can shred light leaders quickly.
The creek and estuary fishing will depend on the rain or lack of it. If we start to get an early wet season, there will be a run of prawns in the creeks, which will draw plenty of predators. Barra are still off limits but there are plenty of options.
Pikey bream, grunter, flathead, king threadfin, blue salmon, jacks, cod, and golden snapper are all on the chew and fair game in the creeks, so that is not a bad lot to choose from. Throw in a few small queenies, and trevally and there will be hot action for the anglers. Depending on the prawn run, one of the hotspots is around the mouths of small side creeks or gutters draining either out of the mangroves or off the mud flats.
It also pays to have a couple of pots out, as the crabs have run pretty well. However, we need some good rain to really get them stirred up and on the move. Don’t neglect those small side gullies when setting out pots but make sure you can get to them to check them as the tide drops. While crabbing keep a keen eye out for crocs, as there are plenty in our creeks and they aren’t all small ones either. I have seen several approaching the 4m mark, these are serious crocs, and not to be taken lightly.
Up in the dams, the barra have been going off big time. All three dams are firing, with Teemburra fishing the best it has for some years, with plenty of fish ranging from 50cm runts to monsters up around the 1.2m mark. Kinchant dam as usual is very popular especially around the full moon and continues to produce huge barra with many now up well over 1.2m. Eungella Dam has also been producing its share of barra, but sooties remain the main focus for anglers.
Look for the barra around weed beds, prominent points and near the islands that are starting to appear in Teemburra as the water level drops. Barra in all of the dams will respond to the same tactics, the most reliable of which is large paddle tail plastics worked with a slow steady retrieve.
Among the most popular lures are the black and gold Squidgies in various sizes. The range of plastics is immense, and the local tackle stores staff can give advice on what is ‘the’ lure of the moment. Of late some of the really large plastics (200mm+) have been scoring some massive barra, but for starters stick to those around the 100-120mm sizes as they seem to replicate the bony bream the barra feed on.
With the New Year, comes new possibilities and much to look forward to with our NFZ, and well stocked dams.Reads: 893