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Mackerel malarkey on the coast
  |  First Published: March 2016



The warmer months have produced quality-fishing action in Moreton Bay and through the estuaries. Species such as school and spotted mackerel, longtail tuna, threadfin salmon, and mangrove jack are regularly the talk of successful anglers. Crabs and prawns are an added bonus for those who target them and many have enjoyed a seafood bounty after a successful day on the water. Let’s explore just a few of the possibilities.

LONGTAIL TUNA

So far it has been a great season for longtails with decent numbers of large specimens on offer. The amount of 15kg+ fish that have been hooked yet not always landed is surprising. Those anglers that fish with tackle 10kg or lighter are in for quite a fight with fish of this size, and can expect to spend in excess of an hour on the more stubborn specimens. I managed to get among a few quality longtails this summer and consider myself lucky to convert the majority, however I did lose a few due to pulled hooks and the ever present sharks, usually bullies who wait until the tuna is nearly exhausted before mowing it down. Longtails have responded to a broad array of offerings, tempted with chromed slugs and slices, jighead rigged jerkshad style plastics, stickbaits (such as Duel Adagio and Bassday Bungy Cast) and on occasion pencil poppers. I have caught most of mine on Maria Mucho Lucir but have also scored a few on the Nomad Mad Scad 42g and Duo Press Bait Saira.

At times the longtails have been exceptionally easy to approach and will attack almost anything cast at them, however plenty of anglers, including myself, have had a lot of difficulty getting among them when they’ve been flighty and fussy. The area between Mud Island, the Measured Mile and The Four Beacons has been my honey hole, however reports have filtered in from all corners of the bay. The area around Peel Island, the Banana Banks, Naval Reserve Banks, Shipping Channels, Middle Bank, Pearl Channel and numerous other locales have held longtails at various times. The March-April period is usually a good time for anglers who chase longtail tuna.

The area along the front of Bribie Island often fishes well during this period and anglers have found fish very close to the beach. Gilligans Island, out from Scarborough Reef and the mouth of the Pumicestone Passage often produce good numbers of longtail tuna, especially towards the top of the tide and the start of the run-out. However, longtails are generally where you find them, so going on a tour-de-bay is often required to find some serious action. While longtails are a great sportfish, they are also excellent table fare when lightly cooked and consumed immediately.

MACKEREL

We had a fantastic spottie season this year after poor catches during the past few years within Moreton Bay. Spotted mackerel numbers were spread through the bay, however plenty managed to fill their bag (five spotted mackerel over 60cm each in length) in the waters between The Four Beacons and the Banana Banks. With a green zone smack bang in the middle of The Paddock, anglers needed to wait until the mackerel moved out of the zone to have a crack at them. When a bust up occurred, I witnessed up to a dozen boats race towards the commotion, trying to get there and have a cast before the action subsided. It was quite comical to watch at times, with tinnies, half cabs, bay cruisers and even game boats all trying to get into them. I chose to avoid these situations and simply travelled until I found another school that I could approach without getting mowed down by other boats. This generally didn’t take too long and I regularly found spotties around the northern boundary of the Paddock green zone, between Mud and the Measured Mile and around Middle Bank.

The area around Peel Island also held decent numbers of quality spotted mackerel, especially towards the top of the tide early in the morning or late afternoon. Most used metal slugs of some variety to catch their mackerel, including me, however plenty of other offerings were also put to work, especially jighead rigged jerk-shad style plastics. A chromed or coloured metal slice is very cost efficient and works a treat when retrieved flat stick. Popular lures include the Halco Twisty, Spanyid Raider, Javelin Lazer, Samaki Flash, Gillies Baitfish and River2Sea Sea Rock, however a broad array will produce. Reels that can return in excess of a metre of line per turn of the handle will generally make the job of chasing mackerel a lot easier. You generally can’t wind too fast for these silver speedsters and as long as your slug stays under the water surface, then the fastest retrieve you can do will generally produce the goods.

The surface feeding schools will be somewhat limited during March however you should still be able to seduce a few mackerel into the esky. Drift with baits such as pilchards, live yakkas, slimy mackerel, and pike are generally successful. Around the margins of the Bay Islands, the Harry Atkinson and Foul Ground, The Measured Mile and the beacons along the main shipping channels are all good places to try. Use a minimal of lead and rig your pilchards nice and straight so that they drift on the current instead of spinning and you will likely attract any mackerel within the area. Add a little berley, such as cut slices of pilchard, and your chances will be heightened considerably. By-catch can include snapper, sharks, longtail tuna, yellowtail kingfish and others. Trolling with spoons (such as Halco No.3 Barra Drone) behind a paravane is a great way to cover a degree of water in your search. Other good offerings for trolling can include bibbed minnow lures and small blades. With decent numbers of tuna and mackerel around during March it is definitely worth having a spin rod ready-rigged with a metal slice when transiting through Moreton Bay.

SNAPPER

Although some believe that the warmer months are no good for snapper, these fish are still a serious target. Although their numbers are less than the cooler months, the quality definitely makes up for this. Plenty of 70cm+ models, quite a few 80cm+ specimens and even an occasional knobby exceeding 90cm have been subdued. The usual haunts such as The Harry Atkinson, Bay Island margins, Peel Artificial, Curtain Artificial, Scarborough Reef and the numerous wrecks around the bay have all produced quality fish on both baits and lures.

Quality baits, especially small live baits such as yakkas, pike, squid, fresh banana prawns and slimy mackerel are most likely to produce those trophy fish, however even baits such as the humble pilchard and pre-frozen squid can produce. Good quality fillet baits from pike, mullet, yakkas, slimy mackerel, tuna and bonito are also prime offerings. With the abundance of prawns around during March, whole banana prawns fished close to the bottom with a minimum of lead can be prime bait. Some anglers fish their banana prawns on jigheads (the same as you would pin your soft plastics on), which give a great presentation when drifting.

Good lure presentations can include soft vibration baits, soft plastics (including curl-tails, ripple tails, jerk shads, paddle tails, T-tails and prawn profiles), blades, minnow lures and micro jigs. However, anglers are constantly finding more offerings that are acceptable to snapper. Get your presentation in front of the snapper and work it well, this is usually the hardest part of the equation as they will commonly pounce on anything they come across. Don’t think that you need to fish your offerings right on the bottom, as the better quality snapper will generally rise up through the water column in their search for baitfish such as whitebait, hardiheads, frogmouths and gar as well as squid and prawns.

THREADFIN

The Brisbane River has been on fire for threadies over the last month or more. Some anglers have managed to score more than a handful of quality fish in a session. Luckily most of these have handled the threadies carefully and released them. Some have tagged them before release, and several of these have been recaptured. This goes to show that they will survive if handled correctly. If possible, avoid removing them from the water, simply remove the hooks and send them on their way. This minimises contact with their skin from hands and landing nets and also means that the whole of their body is still supported by water.

Many successful anglers use their side imaging electronics to find the threadies before they even cast at them. Even then it is sometimes a case of waiting until they come on the chew. This may coincide with a tide change or may be a random event. It is sometimes hard to determine what the trigger is. This is not always the case, however and you may just need to try numerous presentations until you get a strike. Threadies are commonly located along the edges of the drop-offs into the main riverbed, the numerous submerged ledges and rocky outcrops, along the retaining walls and in similar locations. With an influx of prawns entering the rivers and estuaries at this time of the year, the threadfin will often move up the system with the tide following these banana prawns. For land-based anglers this offers good opportunity.

Prawns can be caught from a land-based location with a cast net and then re-deployed back into the river. Fish these prawns close to the bottom with a 50cm to 1m leader to allow them to move around a bit and you are with a great chance. Suicide pattern or kahle hooks are ideal for these baits and offer a good hook-up rate. Locations such as the Colmslie Jetty and Pontoon, New Farm Park area, Newstead Jetty, the Sunken Wall (lower tide stages), the Sewerage Shute, under the Gateway Bridge and numerous other areas are worth trying. Night sessions on a rising tide will generally offer the best opportunity however; threadies can be caught at any time of day and any tidal phase.

PRAWNS

Already as I write this report there have been substantial catches of prawns taken, especially in the Pine River. Other locations worth trying by now will include the Brisbane River, Logan River, the flats out the front of Nudgee and Cleveland, the deeper holes around Macleay and Coochiemudlo and numerous other areas. Most of the creeks and rivers north and south of Brisbane are worth trying. Cast nets are most commonly used, however dragnets could be used in some areas. Remember to clean up your mess when cast netting from any pontoons, bridges or other man-made structures. A few buckets full of water is generally enough to clean the mud and debris off these structures. This will eliminate a foul smelling mess the next day, which is not only courteous to others but will also avoid the council having reason to close these structures to fishers.

If you are cast-netting from a boat use your electronics to locate schools of prawns and the deeper holes and ledges where they are found. Cast out your net and allow it to sink all the way to the bottom before shaking the rope as you slowly draw the net up. This will make the net leads shuffle across the bottom and will disturb the prawns, causing them to flick upwards into the net. This is where top pocket cast nets are ideal as they hold the prawns in the upper part of the net where they are easiest to extract. Remember that the limit is a 10L bucket per person in possession. This means that if you already have 6L of prawns in the freezer at home, you can only take another 4L. The larger banana prawns are ideal for eating (and bait if you want) and the smaller greasy prawns make great bait.

CONCLUSION

Anglers will have plenty on offer through March. As the weather begins to cool slightly, the conditions for being in the great outdoors will be more tolerable to a lot of people. With the school holidays beginning at the end of the month this will offer good opportunity for families to be out on the water getting among the bounty on offer in the bay, rivers and estuaries. Keen anglers will be out at every opportunity sampling these piscatorial delights throughout the month either from a land-based or boating perspective.

A good variety of pelagics, crustaceans and demersal species will make the choice difficult for many venturing out. We really are lucky to be so spoilt for options in the Great South East with a smorgasbord of options awaiting us.

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