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A jaunt in January
  |  First Published: January 2016



The action over the last few months has been great for the pelagic fishers in particular. Good numbers of mackerel, tuna and the occasional cobia have graced our inshore waters while further out past Moreton and Stradbroke there has been marlin, wahoo, mahimahi, tuna, sailfish, Spanish mackerel and a few others on offer. Inshore opportunities exist for mangrove jack, estuary cod, sharks, flathead, bream, snapper, threadfin and numerous others.

If that isn’t enough to get you up off the couch, then throw in the opportunity to score a feed of tasty crabs, which have been plentiful in the bay and the most systems feeding into it. Wear off a bit of that Christmas plum pudding as you tangle with some of the awesome piscatorial targets on offer throughout the Moreton Bay region.

The December and January period results in plenty of anglers and their families hitting the water while the restraints of work and school have been temporarily lifted. While the increased boat traffic doesn’t do your chances any favours, there are still plenty on offer to keep most with a smile on their face and a few beads of sweat running down the back. No matter whether you are fishing the bay or the rivers, creeks and estuaries feeding it, you will need some extra sun protection and hydrating fluids to warn off the effects of the sun and summer heat. Stopping off for a dip can break up the day and be physically rewarding.

MACKEREL

Numbers of spotted mackerel began to show up late in November and anglers have managed to find them in varying numbers ever since, along with school mackerel. The Measured Mile has been a well-used area with anglers commonly anchoring and floating out pilchards on ganged hooks during early morning sojourns.

It is common for several rods to load up and reel drags to scream in unison as a school of spotted or school mackerel cruise into the zone. Baits are commonly fished from close to the surface to mid water and a little berley in the form of minced or finely cut pilchards can really get them in the mood.

These same baiting and berleying techniques can be employed around the bay islands, other beacons in the bay and along the edges of prominent channels, such as the Rous and Rainbow. Often, you can fish the pilchard without any weight, which is ideal, however you may need to add a small sinker when fishing in stronger currents or suspend it beneath a float when the current is minimal and the pilchard simply sinks to the bottom where it is set upon by the pickers.

If surface feeding schools of mackerel (or other pelagics) are located then the best chance of success usually comes when casting small (25-50g) chromed slugs and slices. High-speed retrieves are essential and reels that return around a metre or more of line per turn of the handle are essential. This does not mean purchasing a large, cumbersome reel as there are plenty of relatively small (and light) spinning reels that can do the job.

The Shimano Stradic 5000 and Daiwa TD Sol 4000 are two that spring to mind, however there are plenty of good ones on the market, with some starting from as little as $100. Add this to a 2.1-2.4m quality graphite rod plus some 6-10kg braided line and you have an outfit that can cast far, retrieve quickly and fight fish efficiently. This same outfit could even double up as medium to heavy plastics rod for snapper and the like.

You will experience a few bite offs when fishing for mackerel and although a short wire leader may seem like the sensible solution, the bite ratio will decrease when using this bite protection. Therefore, it is often better to suffer a few lure losses in favour of an increased hookup rate. By casting to the edges of the feeding melee and beginning to wind before the lure hits the water, you can greatly decrease losses. When jigging beacons, it is best to use rear weighted chromed slugs and slices as these sink more directly instead of fluttering.

Keep eyes scanned around the edges of prominent baitfish schools as the occasional cobia can be spotted, especially along the edges of the flats in the northern bay. While these may first appear to be sharks, a well-placed cast with a stickbait or larger plastic could be rewarding. Large live baits fished around the beacons, along the edges of prominent ledges, over coffee rock reefs and around wrecks may also produce one of these bay brutes.

CRABS

January is an awesome month for crabbing with sand and blue-swimmer crabs available in Moreton Bay as well as the mouths of most rivers. Setting a few safety pots along the edges of major contours surrounding the bay islands and the in the channels and gutters filtering throughout the bay is generally a good ploy.

Crabs use these contours like underwater highways and travel along these paths as they search for food and transit throughout the bay. Being able to set your pots for a good portion of a tidal phase is ideal. Those able to crab at night are often rewarded with better catches. Crabs will often venture into quite shallow water at night as they forage for food but are more commonly found in the deeper areas during the day.

For muddies, setting your pots in the deep holes within the estuaries and rivers, along the edges of collapsed mangrove banks and the mouths of gutters and drains feeding out of the estuaries is a good approach.

A broad array of baits will work with chicken carcasses, whole mullet and fish frames being popular and productive choices.

Remember that there are strict laws relating to the labelling, size and use of crabbing apparatus so ensure that yours comply or you might be in for a hefty fine. Additionally there are different size and bag limits and ways of measuring mud and sand crabs, so ensure you know the difference between each species and the males and females before heading out. If you are apprehensive about tying up and securing crabs then just drop them into an ice slurry for a few minutes as this will slow them down greatly.

BRISBANE RIVER

A popular spot during the holiday period, especially when the weather is less than favourable for bay or offshore sessions, the Brisbane River has plenty on offer for fishers of all skill levels. Those drowning a few baits around areas such as Clara’s Rocks, the Gateway Bridge, the Sunken Wall, retaining walls at the mouth and along the declines into the main riverbed are likely to encounter bream, flathead, catfish, sharks, snapper cod and numerous others.

Although they are occasionally taken on dead baits, threadfin respond exceptionally well to live offerings including prawns, herring, mullet, pike and the like. These baits will also entice snapper, mulloway, cod, flathead, larger bream and numerous other species. Naturally, you will also encounter plenty of undesirable species such as rays, sharks, catfish and pike eels when fishing baits.

For this reason and also the sporting challenge, many anglers opt to use lures when targeting species in the Brisbane River. Smaller, curl-tail plastics and blades are great for bream, flathead, juvenile snapper and more. If threadfin, mulloway, cod and snapper are your target then try larger shad-tail and prawn-profiled plastics, vibration baits and in some situations, minnow lures. The vibration baits are probably the most commonly used as they can be sunken into the depths to the strike zone easily in the faster current and can be worked enticingly throughout the zone.

While most anglers commonly fish the waters downstream of the Gateway Bridge, there is good opportunity for quality captures further upriver, especially as far as threadfin salmon are concerned. The entire length of the Brisbane River, right up to the Mount Crosby area, holds numbers of threadies. Good areas to search are where lights shine onto the water at night, places with current altering structure and deeper ledges or declines. Quality side imaging sounders make the task of locating threadfin and other species a lot easier in these areas.

SHARKS

A species that is popular with many during the warmer months are sharks. The Brisbane River has a healthy population of bull sharks and other whalers. While these can reach weights in excess of several hundreds of kilograms, they are most common at weights of less than 10kg. This makes them an ideal light tackle sport fishing target, although a lot of anglers target them specifically for food.

In the Brisbane River, the best bait is a live mullet or small catfish, which are prime fare for the sharks in this environment. These are generally suspended beneath a float, as this keeps them out in the open and encourages them to struggle, which soon gets the attention of the sharks. Baits can be fished on, or close to, the bottom in shallower areas with minimal bottom structure.

Ensure when rigging up the catfish baits that you have a hook pinned down near the tail as the sharks will commonly bite the tail off the catfish, just behind the three prominent (and painful) spikes on the dorsal and pectoral fins. The entire length of the Brisbane River contains sharks, predominately whalers, therefore a huge area of fishable water is available to for both land-based and boating anglers.

Further out in Moreton Bay, the array of shark species increases, where whalers, tigers, hammerheads and even white sharks can be encountered. While the whites are off limits, the remainder can offer a lot of fun, although you are not permitted to retain a specimen over 1.5m in length.

A good approach is to present whole fish baits from mid-water to close to the surface. These are generally suspended beneath a balloon or simply presented with no additional weight on the line. A tuna oil slick can definitely aid in attracting the sharks to the vicinity of the baits and having them primed and ready to eat when they do locate your morsel.

I commonly use a rig consisting of two 8/0 circle hooks snelled around 15cm apart onto some nylon-coated wire. Above this, I have a wind-on-leader of around 80lb, which is attached to the main line via a bimini twist or spider-hitch double, looped to the dacron on the wind on. This rigged has proved extremely successful over the years I have targeted sharks within the bay. I commonly fish around the Foul Grounds and wide of the bay islands. Most sharks encountered are less than 15kg in weight, but plenty of specimens eclipsing a 100kg or more are hooked. I like to target the smaller specimens on light line and commonly fish 3-8kg line when chasing them. Although I don’t eat the sharks I catch, I am led to believe that they can be good eating if the flesh is removed soon after death.

EStUARY OPTIONS

The warmer months offer some good fishing in the estuaries with species such as bream, mangrove jack, flathead, trevally, estuary cod, whiting, threadfin and numerous other species on offer.

Night and early morning sessions are common among anglers who like to target mangrove jack. Most of these anglers either deploy live baits such as herring, mullet, prawns and pike or cast and retrieve lures around likely locations. These generally include structured spots such as bridge pylons, mangrove systems, pontoons, jetties and rock walls.

The canal developments and most of the larger rivers offer great opportunity for jacks, estuary cod and other species. Lure fishers commonly use minnow lures (mainly deep divers), soft plastics, vibration baits and sometimes poppers. Good presentation and retrieve technique can often be more important than the style or colour of lure, which is the reason why experienced anglers commonly outfish the newbies.

Bream anglers down-grade their tackle and lure sizes in their quest, however this doesn’t deter jacks and other larger specimens, although the encounters are generally short-lived.

Threadfin numbers are on the increase throughout the estuarine and river systems in the South East and reports of specimens outside the Brisbane River system are now common. Side imaging sounders have greatly increased anglers’ abilities to find these fish and from there it is just a case of good lure presentation.

Those who want to specifically target estuary cod should concentrate their efforts around the older rock walls where crabs are present. Although cod can be encountered anywhere throughout the system, their love of crabs will generally result in them being more prevalent in these areas. Bouncing a lure across the submerged rocks or presenting a live bait into this zone is generally very successful. Once the strike is forthcoming, some fast and firm rod work is generally required to get the upper hand. Fights will not always end in your favour as cod have a tendency to head for the nearest hole in the rocks and they are hard to stop over a short distance. Targeting estuary cod can be a lot of fun and a real angling challenge on moderate tackle. Additionally, they are exceptional table fare if you decide to keep one.

Flathead will still be hitting lures trolled along the edges of banks on the falling tide. Small, brightly coloured, diving minnow lures are favoured for this pursuit. Working these same zones with soft plastics, blades and soft vibes cast and hopped down the declines is another great approach.

Just drifting a well-presented bait in the deeper channels, especially on the lower stages of the tide, is a sure way to encounter a good cross section of estuarine species. A whitebait, hardihead, frogmouth or herring pinned on a set of #1-#1/0 ganged or snelled hooks is a great presentation that will appeal to flathead, bream, trevally, mulloway and numerous others.

CONCLUSION

January offers anglers plenty of possibilities within Moreton Bay and the surrounding waters. A broad spread of pelagic and demersal species are on offer for those willing to brave the heat. Early mornings are prime times to be on the water and the early morning coolness can be a nice welcome to the new day. Being on the water as the sun cracks over the horizon will require an exceptionally early start but the rewards can make the effort worthwhile. With many still on holidays during the first few weeks of January, the waterways can be a little busier than usual, especially during the week but there should be plenty of fish and crabs for all. Don’t forget to protect yourself from the elements before heading out to avoid spoiling your day. Get out onto the water and enjoy a jaunt in January!

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