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Heaps of red fish close in
  |  First Published: February 2016



At last barramundi season is open again. Up here barra are one of our favourite species, and the season opening on 1 February is like a whole new beginning, with reels serviced and lure boxes stuffed with all the latest guaranteed-to-work barra lollies. We are facing a new era in The Fitzroy River as it will be the first time that there will be no commercial netting. How quickly we notice the difference will probably be determined more by the rainfall and fresh flows down the river than actual time. The lack of any substantial rain over Christmas and January will have a severe effect on numbers of fish in the near future.

There have been quite a few barra cruising the town reaches in recent weeks. In January some were caught and released by anglers trolling for king salmon around Devil’s Elbow. Corio/Waterpark and Coorooman should be in pretty good shape for barramundi this month if accidental captures in late January are anything to go by.

We’re still getting big shows of king salmon, with captures in the whole saltwater end of the Fitzroy. They are at their thickest in the areas closer to town, where catches of 10+ fish in a session is fairly normal. Most anglers like to release these big salmon to fight another day, which could be part of the reason the numbers are still so high.

The hardbody lure guys find that the natural prawn type colours work well but the best have been lures with a small rattle. The average depth that the salmon are working is approximately 5m so the best lures are those that run at 4-5m so they occasionally touch the bottom but don’t drag. The other top option is plastic vibes like Transams and Threadybusters that can be used to work a patch thoroughly. The neaps period is the best for fishing the top of the river while the big tides are the best for the lower end.

While this dry spell continues, the top of the salt side of the river will produce quality fish. There has been everything from horse-sized grunter and golden snapper to bream, flathead and black jew. They have come up to feed on the masses of small prawns that haven’t had the flows to fatten up or get flushed downstream. Every little mud gutter has prawns in it, and with the bait come the salmon and barra. Coorooman Creek is much the same as it depends on decent local rainfall to get the prawns moving. The Waterpark Corio system is a bit different because of the catchment area, which has received enough rain to inject some fresh into the creeks. The prawns and crabs there grow faster than those at the southern end of our range.

REEF AND OFFSHORE

There are lots of cod aggregating at many of the local rubble patches at the moment. A few years ago we stumbled onto a patch of very large cod, and we had to stop fishing that spot because it appeared that there were way too many to be in one spot. We only kept two of them that could not be revived enough for release. Neither of the cod we kept were in roe or milt, so they can’t have been there to spawn. Both of them were chockers with Moreton Bay bugs. A very similar situation occurred recently in a similar spot a few kilometres from the original area. Cod surely can’t be the only species gorging on bugs, but to date I can’t recall other fish (aside from the odd trout) that have had them in their gut. Big cod are the reef guardians and where there are big cod the reef stays healthy. Take away those big cod and the reef ecosystem is in trouble.

The expected Spanish mackerel run is staying on track. Numbers don’t seem to have slowed, although the average sized fish is 6-10kg instead of the previous 8-15kg. Places like Manifold, Flat, Perforated, The Pinnacles and Hummocky are all the go for the slightly bigger fish. The smaller average fish can be at any of the mackerel spots around The Keppels or even right inside the bay at Findlays, Farnborough, Iron Pot, Ritamada, Corio heads, Forty Acre Paddock, Conical, Outer, Man and Wife, Humpy, South Keppel and Liza Jane. From now until May are normally the best months. The lesser mackerels have virtually gone for a while and probably won’t be back for a month or two.

There are plenty of just legal snapper to almost snapper-sized fish at a few of the areas behind the main islands. They have appeared on several trips lately among the catches of grassies and parrot on the shallow, rubbly ferny patches like Hannas and Greasey Alley.

There’s an unusual amount of grassy sweetlip around the islands at the moment, and most are well over the minimum size. The better catches are made on ultra light gear using very fresh bait. It will help your catch rates to float the bait down on the smallest leads you can get away with. The further away you can get your bait from the boat and your noise, the better. Squid, prawns and pillies are the best of the fresh frozen baits.

Prawns have been exceptionally cheap at the local food chains to the point where the good quality stuff has been half the price of bait prawns. The same goes for squid and small octopus. Whenever my wife goes shopping she has a standing order for a box of kings or big bananas that gets split between table and the bait freezer.

Coral trout are in numbers everywhere there is available cover. The easy way to find trout around the islands is to run with the current towards the points and headlands and fish the pressure points where the current hit the features. Trout like to face into the current waiting for baitfish or a free feed to come to them. Livies are definitely the best baits, although trout will readily take larger plastics and vibes.

There is also a heap of red fish at many of the close reefy patches right in very close to the islands. Red emperor and nannygai have been coming into depths of less than 12m again. There are quite a few quality fish among them.

Trevally are thick at all the shallow reef areas this time of year, and lots of them have been annoying the locals seeking a better eating fish. For those of us who like the sport aspect though, they are providing heaps of entertainment on quite light gear.

There are stacks of sportfish all around The Keppels this month. Big queenfish plus golden, bludger and tealeaf trevally have been slamming the schools of bait sheltering in the shallows of the many beaches. Plastics, vibes, poppers and chromies work equally well when targeting these guys from the beach.

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