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Spice it up a little!
  |  First Published: February 2016



It seems like the mood has lifted in Townsville over the last few days, and even though the rain hasn’t been drought breaking as yet, it’s still a big step in the right direction. We seriously need a good wet! It is raining as I write this, so fingers and everything else that can be crossed are currently crossed.

The barra have queued up in the lower reaches of the systems, and it’s just about impossible to avoid them at the moment. Handle them gently and release them as soon as possible. Targeting a different species as a personal challenge is a great way to hone your skills on a variety of fish, and I’ve been hunting grunter with reasonable success. Anyone who uses smaller plastics is going to hit them from time to time, but it’s when you set yourself the challenge of specifically targeting them that things start to make a little more sense.

The gear I use for grunter hunting is quite specific, and has more in common with a southern bream fisher’s arsenal than the northern estuaries. It makes your job much easier when you use gear that’s perfectly matched to the conditions. I have been using the 4-8lb Samurai Inflict matched with a Shimano Rarenium spooled with 6lb Unitika Bream Braid, which is super thin but amazingly strong for its diameter. Long leaders of around 2-3m of 12-14lb Unitika Fluorocarbon make a great combination for open water soft plastic fishing. At this particular time, the 3” Atomic Prong matched with an average of a 1/4oz jighead and a 1-1/0 hook size is perfect for these finicky fish.

Water depths of between 3-7m have been the place to target with fairly consistent results. The technique is very basic, and straightforward, cast as far up current as you can, and wind in the slack as it sinks and drifts back towards the boat to keep in contact. A lift of around a half a meter to a meter with the rod tip, then a small twitch at the top of the stroke imitates a small fleeing prawn fairly well, and the take from a grunter is usually a couple of short sharp nibbles before the proper bite. This is where the longer rod comes in handy to take up any slack in the line and set that hook with a fairly solid strike. If you’ve never tried for grunter, you’ll probably get a big surprise when it all comes together, as these things pull every bit as hard as a jack on light line, but, as grunter inhabit more sandy open areas the angler can let them run when they want to.

Golden snapper

Plenty of golden snapper have been reported in the rivers, but it’s the offshore stuff that’s been quite amazing of late, and the massive schools of squid prevalent on some of the shoals has been the main attraction. The addition of a glow bead incorporated into the loop knot of the Quick Catch soft vibes, and fished of a night around the turn of the tide has proven effective. The choppers have been thumpers, with the average around the 78-80cm mark. A squid light is quite handy for spotting the schools of chopper lollies around the boat, and a squid jig should be rigged at all times to keep a fresh supply of bait coming. As for lures, the Mumblers by Bassman now have a proven track record for night time luring of these hard-fighting, great-tasting sportfish and seem to take a bigger grade of fish. The schools have been sitting in between 15-18m of water and can easily be caught through the early hours of the morning, particularly if you have a tide change around 6-7am. Just try not to rattle that anchor chain over the bow in the shallows as this can shut them down instantly – the use of an electric motor will undoubtedly increase your catch rate.

Offshore

Mackerel of several species have been on the chew and all of the standard mack techniques work once you’ve found them. Slugs like the Halco Outcasts have worked well, as have the Quick Catches rigged on a short 6” length of single strand wire. Work in a quick jigging action for plenty of Spanish and greys. Drop a floater out the back (should I have reworded that?) for good results.

Offshore anglers are catching onto the benefits of using cuttlefish to chase the deeper red emperor and large-mouth nannies. We do get boxes of the tasty little morsels in regularly at Akwa Pro Tackle, and they are a tougher bait that tends to get eaten by bigger fish more often. Just remember to remove the cuttle from the hood before you send it down to the depths, as this part of the cuttlefish can’t be digested, and without it, that chewing, crunching and shaking isn’t necessary for a fish to remove it before swallowing and the runs and hook-ups are more solid. I rig mine on a pair of Gamakatsu Suicides in 8/0 and 10/0 and 80lb leader, but many people opt for the 10/0 circle in the Gammy with great success. I have trouble stopping myself from striking when that thumping big run comes, and often end up missing the bite. Have a little stash of cuttlefish for the next outing, as these are now my favourite bait for reds.

As a sportfish, GTs have been highly regarded for decades now, and on a recent bay outing I had a medium spin outfit rigged with an 80mm Halco Rooster Popper for a quick flick before looking for some trout. On shallow reefs, it doesn’t take a big GT to bust you up, and you really can’t let them run too far if you want to land them, so I use seemingly heavy gear for a small fish, casting 30lb braid and 40lb leader for fish in the 3-4kg mark. I still get dusted sometimes when a bigger than expected model gets involved. The small rooster poppers are a great lure, and have all of the qualities you look for in a popper. The water displacement from such a small lure is quite amazing and this is part of the reason the bigger GTs smash them, but they’re also small enough to get belted by trout and other reef fish as well. In short, I landed half a dozen GTs and got smoked by a big trout in the shallows in a brief session, and I suspect this will become a more common early morning pastime for us in the future. Locals have reported that GTs are a great fish to use in Thai curry or similar dishes, and may be worth a shot as well.

If you find yourself just going through the motions on the weekend, and go to the same spot chasing the same species with the same bait or lures, try breaking out of your normal routine and enjoy experimenting. You may just find yourself a new favourite pastime quite close to home! Never rule out anything until you have tried it first.

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