Put a little grunt into your fishing and bag a sooty!
  |  First Published: May 2016

May is the month the tropical north begins to cool off fairly quickly, which indicates changes in the patterns of species that are available to anglers. It also means we get a large influx of southern visitors who come to paradise to enjoy our beautiful weather and great fishing.

We have had a great year so far for barra in both the freshwater and the creeks and estuaries. Recently the barra have still made up angler catches in both the Pioneer River and most of our creek systems. These fish feed on prawns, which are in plentiful supply – a good feed of prawns is not hard to come by with a cast net.

As the weather cools off, look for barra in shallow warmer water and in the creeks that become sandbanks at the top of the tide, and around rocks that retain some heat. Even 1-2°C difference in temperature can trigger a good bite. The warmer water in the dams is usually quite shallow and where the water gets most of the sunlight. This behaviour will continue on into winter.

Mackay is not only about barra, we have plenty of other great fish available to anglers. One very popular fish that seems to be on the increase in the NFZ is the king threadfin salmon, and what a great sporting option they are. Use fairly light line with a solid mono trace around 20kg and get ready for plenty of sport. Threadies will take bait, lures and flies, but they can be frustrating at times, particularly on bait when they will fiddle around with bait and not take it properly. Patience is the key here, and baitrunner type reels are very useful. Keep feeding line and eventually the fish will knock off your bait and hopefully reward your patience with a solid hook-up. Threadies, like barra, will move right up into the shallows and can often be seen with their backs out of the water feeding on jelly prawns. When faced with this situation, an electric motor will work wonders, as it allows a stealthy approach. Come roaring up on a petrol motor and the fish will scatter.

Look for threadies anywhere there are signs of prawns. This can be up under overhanging mangroves, in gutters, along gentle sloping banks or in deep holes. One of their favourite haunts is around the edges of prominent holes such as those in Constant Creek known locally as ‘the King Holes’. Live prawns, a bunch of yabbies, or soft vibes will all catch them. They are suckers for small plastics, but need a good solid hook to hold them, and once that big fork tail gets traction in the shallows they can really motor. Great stuff, it’s just a pity they are a pain to fillet!

Often there will be schools of blue salmon in the same areas, and while generally they don’t grow as big as threadies, an 80-90cm blue will go pretty well on light gear. Blues get stuck into the same baits and lures listed above, but also have a hankering for very small metal vibes worked down current. Blues generally aren’t a shy fish and will school around boats and numbers can be caught quickly. Remember to limit your catch as blues don’t freeze well and are best eaten fresh.

Jacks and golden snapper are still in good numbers with some really nice golden snapper coming in off the close inshore rocks/reef areas. Plenty have been caught on the harbour walls and down around the Hay Point area too. Live squid, plastic squids, soft vibes and plastics account for most of them, but with our strong tidal runs, a fairly heavy jighead is needed. If in doubt, have a chat to the guys in our local tackle shops.

We also have plenty of the ‘bread and butter’ species like bream, flathead, whiting, and grunter. All of these species provide top quality tucker if looked after properly upon capture. I am a big believer in bleeding fish quickly and packing them in ice, rather than just throwing them in an esky to die slowly. If you go to the trouble and expense to catch a feed, then it’s logical to take the best care of it and enjoy the results.

Sooties are like freshwater jacks – they hang heavy in cover and hit like trains, which is why we love them so much. They don’t slow up during the cooler months and can be readily caught in the dams and upstream creeks and rivers. Sooties don’t really play favourites with lures – if it gets in their face they can’t resist hammering it. A smashing strike and a full steam dash back into cover leaves a white knuckled angler trying to hang on and a tonne of great fun! The only preference I have noticed from sooties over the last 20 years or so, is that gold lures and those with black or red, or a combo of any of these three colours, seems to work well. Mind you, plenty of other anglers have found different colours that work for them, so make sure you have a good variety. If in doubt, talk to the tackle shop guys.

MAFSA has had a great year breeding sooties, and over 90,000 have been spawned and reared in the hatchery. By the time this edition hits the streets, most, if not all of them, will have been released. The majority are going into Eungella Dam. MAFSA will also hold the annual World Sooty Championship competition at Eungella early in May. All funds raised go toward buying barra fingerlings to stock into the Pioneer River. The Association is truly living up to their motto – ‘For a better fishing future’, with barra and sooty stocking going full steam ahead.

In May the weather will be beaut and the fish co-operative, so why not come up and join us here in paradise? See you at the ramp!

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