Anglers who ventured across Moreton Bay through late December and January encountered numerous schools of pelagics on their travels. Tuna, mackerel and bonito were fairly prolific at times and there were periods when schools would bust up all around me. This action should hopefully continue into February to provide some high-speed fun for those hot in pursuit. February will also offer anglers plenty of opportunity to tangle with estuarine, bay and offshore species, as well as numerous crustaceans.
Prawns commonly enter the inshore areas of the bay and run up the rivers during the full moon in February, however this varies from year to year. These tasty crustaceans can be caught in cast nets on the flats out from the rivers and further within the systems. Larger cast-nets such as a 10-12ft drop models are preferred, as these cover a great area of water and do not close up before they hit the bottom in deeper water. Once your net has settled on the bottom, it is best to shake the retrieval rope as you slowly draw it in as this causes the net leads to shuffle across the bottom silt and stir up the prawns feeding in it. These prawns will flick upwards into the top of the net and will be held there if you have a top pocket model. These models make it easy to retrieve the prawns and are preferred by serious prawners.
Depending on preference, you can either use side or down imaging electronics to locate the prawn schools before you target them, or simply cast to likely looking areas. These areas include deep holes, along ledges and at the mouths of feeder creeks in the rivers. The open flats areas at the mouths of prominent systems (such as out from Nudgee Creek, in Cleveland Bay and the mouth of the Brisbane River) are also areas where large groups of prawns assemble. You will often see a numbers of smaller tinnies with several cast netting off each when the prawns are really on. Obtaining your maximum 10L bucket of prawns can be quite easy at times, but a lot of the time you will have to work quite hard for such a limit.
Over the last month or so, the spotted and school mackerel numbers have been fairly healthy throughout Moreton Bay. Anglers who have targeted these have generally returned back to the ramp with several of these silver speedsters in the esky. The spotted mackerel have commonly been found feeding right on the surface. These schools are visible from some distance on a calm day due to the surface splashing and diving birds. Sighting a surface feed really gets the adrenalin flowing in the veins of a keen angler. The area between Mud Island, the Measured Mile and the Four Beacons often holds good numbers of spotties. The Paddock area further south between the Mud, Green and St. Helena Islands group and the Sand Hills have also been prominent mackerel water. However, the Green Zone smack in the middle of ‘The Paddock’ takes away a lot of good fishable water and limits opportunity. However, as the mackerel schools feed and move with the currents, it is usually just a case of waiting until they leave the Green Zone to have a crack at them.
There has been a few Spanish mackerel travelling with the spotties, and I saw one specimen in excess of 20kg clear the water by more than a metre several times. Despite my best attempts I couldn’t get him to have a crack at my stickbait. School and spotted mackerel have been located in all corners of the bay, including the Naval Reserve Banks, Banana Banks, Rous Channel, Middle Bank, the shipping channels, Pearl Channel and numerous other areas.
While school mackerel have been found feeding on the surface, anglers jigging around the beacons in the Northern Bay more commonly catch them. Drop a chromed metal slice or micro jig adjacent to the beacon and retrieve it in either a flat stick or erratic manner to solicit a strike. Often there will be several mackerel in residence and you can pry a few out before they go off the chew. Move onto the next beacon, and you’ll be back in the action.
Other predators such as longtail tuna, mac tuna and the occasional cobia are caught using this method. Good numbers of longtail tuna have shown up on occasion, and I had a great session on them one day in early January where I managed four to 115cm on Mucho Lucir slugs and Mad Scad stickbaits. A few have been caught from around the edges of the mackerel schools and these predators will really give you a fight on light tackle.
With the occasional decent downpour we’ve had over the last few months, the mud crabbing has been fairly reliable. The rivers, creeks and estuaries are the place to set your safety pots for the best results. Deep holes, collapsed mangrove banks, the mouths of gutters and drains filtering out of the mangroves are prime areas to try. Set your pots overnight to reap the best rewards, however, a few hours can be all the time you need to score a succulent feed of mud crabs. Baits including chicken carcasses, whole mullet, fish frames and numerous other baits will attract all types of crabs.
Sand crabs are readily available through Moreton Bay. Out from Wellington Point, the channels and gutters on the outer margins of the Bay Islands and the edges of the prominent sand banks are prime areas to set your pots. Sand and blueswimmer crabs are caught in the same areas and both are succulent offerings. You will also score a few sand crabs in pots set in the lower reaches of rivers and estuaries and sometimes as far up as the Gateway Bridge in the Brisbane River.
Mangrove jack and estuary cod are prime targets for sportfishing anglers within the creeks, rivers and canals of Southern Queensland. Most target these on lures, however the livebaiting brigades also catch a few. Both jacks and cod like structure, therefore work over the bridges, pontoons, rock walls, mangroves and other submerged structure. Popular lures include deep diving minnows, soft plastics, vibration baits, and at times topwater offerings such as poppers and stickbaits. The closer you get to the structure the better your chance of getting a strike, however you will need fast reflexes and a degree of luck to pry them from their sanctuary when they are this close to it.
Livebaiting will also work in these areas and anglers often achieve success on prawns, herring, mullet and pike. These are generally caught on sight with a cast or drag net and kept alive with regular water changes and an aeration device. When pinned lightly on a suicide or a shiner patterned hook and sunk into the snag or close to the structure, these baits are generally too good for the jack or cod to resist. Again, quick reflexes and serious rod work is required to get the upper hand. Regular by-catch includes bream, flathead, trevally and other species occasionally.
With the warm conditions experienced during January, shark activity will be at a premium in the bay and larger rivers. Lots of anglers aspire to catch a bull shark in the Brisbane River, and with the right approach it is a fairly simple task. Catfish are a prime food source for river whalers and make great bait. Suspending a 20-35cm cattie below a float will have him struggling to get to the bottom. These vibrations are like ringing the dinner bell for any shark within the vicinity. A nylon-coated wire trace with two hooks snelled far enough apart so one can be inserted into the cattie just behind the dorsal spine and the other in the tail, will do the job a treat. I like to use circle hooks, however, suicide patterns are also good. The average shark is less than 8kg in weight but they still require respect when handling as they can easily inflict a life threatening injury.
You will mainly encounter bull and spinner sharks in the river, especially the upper reaches, however, as you get closer to the mouth and out into the bay the species list will grow. More than a dozen whaler species, whites, tigers and hammerheads are all a serious possibility. While live offerings will also work in the bay, dead baits of whole fish such as gar, slimy mackerel, mullet, pike, as well as tuna, mullet and bonito fillets will work exceptionally. I usually use these, as they are easy to obtain and produce results.
If you drift out from the Bay Islands, in the foul grounds, shipping channels, and edges of major banks systems with these baits, use a berley trail of tuna oil slick. This trail can extend for several kilometres and it’s sometimes possible to see the sharks on the surface as they make their way up the trail looking for the source. I use circle hooks to let them mouth and run with the bait before engaging the drag and allowing the pressure to take up. This promotes a solid hook set in the corner of the mouth. I use an oversized landing net to secure sharks up to around 20kg, and a tail rope for larger specimens as I release all my captures. Additionally, you are not permitted to keep a shark over 1.5m and white sharks are totally off limits and must be released. The smaller whaler sharks are apparently decent to eat, but it is best to fillet them immediately after capture to avoid an ammonia taint to the flesh.
The action in the Brisbane River should be fairly good, however, the amount of rain we receive can make a big difference to results. Regardless, there should still be quite a few good fish about, especially in the lower reaches downriver from the Gateway Bridge. Threadfin, snapper, bream, flathead, estuary cod and numerous other species are commonly caught. Livebait along the edges of the drop-off into the main riverbed around the oil pipeline and you’ll achieve good results, especially on threadfin. Live prawns, mullet and herring are commonly used, however the humble pilchard has also been known to tempt the odd one. Specimens can often exceed a metre in length and will give a good show, however they stress easily so it is best to unhook them boat-side to offer the best chance of survival if you plan to release them. If the ships are not in port at this location, then you can get close enough to the shipping buffers to cast baits and lures in around the bases of the pylons. You will often hook snapper, cod and bream in this zone, as well as numerous ‘unstoppables,’ probably XOS cod or groper.
Fishing along the retaining walls at the mouth can produce bream, cod, flathead, snapper and occasionally threadfin and mulloway, especially in the dredge holes just out from the wall. These are easily found using a side imaging sounder. Drift over these holes and probe them with baits or lures for results. Another successful method is to anchor up current from the holes and float your baits back to them. Claras Rocks, just outside Boat Passage is another popular spot where anglers commonly anchor and deploy baits. Live offerings are best, however pilchards, large green prawns and several other offerings also work.
There will be plenty on offer for those fishing around the bay islands. Snapper, bream, sweetlip, mackerel, tuskfish and numerous others can be taken on both baits and lures. While fishing from anchor, or even drifting, it will pay to have a pilchard deployed out the back to tempt the odd mackerel that comes cruising by. Soft plastics and vibration baits are a great way to score a mixed bag, however most use these offerings to tempt snapper. These will be fewer in number than in the cooler months but there are still enough quality specimens around to make the effort worthwhile. February can be a good month for grass sweetlip, which are common around the fringes of the reef and rubble grounds and the channels between the Bay Islands.
Quality fresh baits such as gar fillets, green banana prawns and mullet strips generally work well. Aim to be anchored, with baits deployed an hour or so before dawn. Green Island and the ledges out the front of Wellington Point are popular haunts for those chasing sweetlip, however they can be found around all the Bay Islands and numerous other areas. The shallow rubble areas adjacent the islands, especially around Mud, are popular with anglers targeting large bream during February. Most use small topwater offerings and occasionally light blades and soft plastics. They can be a lot of fun, with most strikes visible in the shallow clear water.
February is a little hard to predict as some years are hot and dry and others are very wet with seasonal rains, however, the fishing is generally exciting. Plenty of pelagics abound in the bay, with a broad array of other options for anglers keen on wetting a line, soaking a crab pot or probing with a cast net. With the kids now back at school the traffic on the waterways will be lessened, especially for those able to get out during the week. Keep your eyes open and your spin rod rigged and ready when transiting the bay as there should still be plenty of pelagics to provide some fast February fun for you.Reads: 935