Well it finally had to happen, as I write this the temperatures are dropping into winter after an unusually warm autumn. The cooler nights and still warm days are a welcome relief to the heat and humidity and also bring a change in the readily available species in our area.
Activity in our dams will slow on the barra front, but fortunately for those anglers who prefer the fresh, sooty grunter maintain their aggression and readily hit lures, flies or baits during the cool weather. Barra are not a dead loss though, and can still be found in any warmer water. Finding them is only half the battle though; getting a response is the hard part.
Calm sunny days are the best bet and the barra will often lay up in very shallow water barely deep enough to cover them. They are super spooky in this situation, and long casts and relatively light gear are the go. Shallow running hardbodies, frogs and unweighted paddle or curly tails should induce a strike. This is not the time for noisy poppers, but rather a very subtle approach is needed. Look for these ‘sunning’ barra where there are weeds or lilies and then some clear water between the weeds and the banks.
The World Sooty Championship at Eungella Dam has been run and won for another year and the quality of the fish was outstanding with an average around 410mm and over 128 fish in 3 sessions. Eungella Dam will see plenty of anglers chasing sooties through winter and the ever-reliable spinnerbaits continue to draw fish all over the dam. Small vibes and bibless lures also seem to be to the sooties’ liking and for the traditionalists, they will still hammer small hardbodies.
But the dams are not all that is available to the angler on the freshwater scene. The Pioneer River and associated creeks like Cattle Creek are all accessible at various points and while sooties are the main target, MAFSA Inc stocks limited numbers of barra into the three weirs each year. Plenty of sooty anglers have been surprised by barra up to about 750mm in the river and around the rocks and snaggy areas they are quite a handful. Visitors to our area should drop into the local tackle shops and get advice on access and what is biting where. Parting with some cash for gear always results in better quality info.
Moving further down into the mangrove systems and estuaries opens up plenty of action. The bread and butter species like whiting, flathead and both species of bream are abundant through the winter months and the pikey bream will be super aggressive as they will be lining up to breed. Bream favour snaggy channels, but can also be found out in the open, particularly if there is a gravel or rubble bottom.
The whiting can be found on the sand flats where there are yabby beds and also along the beaches. Yabbies are the number one bait here, although worms come a close second. Visitors should use the same gear and techniques here as they do further south, and we have some genuine elbow slappers here. Top spots for whiting include shallow systems like Reliance Creek and the Pioneer River in the town reaches and major estuary areas like Sarina Inlet. All our beaches fish well for whiting around the top of the tide.
Flathead are a good target to chase during the winter and just like whiting, they can always be found around yabby beds. On the top of the tide they move right up on the flats and then as the tide falls they drop back into the deeper channels and holes. This is my favourite time to chase the old flathead, and a feed of fresh fillets is always welcome.
Yabbies, prawns, cut baits and small livies are great options for bait, and for the lure angler, soft plastics, prawn style lures and smaller hardbodies will all catch fish. The soft vibe baits will also hook plenty of flathead.
As the weather cools further, species like barra and jacks become scarcer. Golden snapper (fingermark) stay on the chew and there is always a small trevally or two poking around in the creeks and estuaries.
One species that is putting in an early appearance in the creeks is the blue salmon. Blues are a great fish to chase, catch and eat if they are looked after correctly after being caught. That means immediate bleeding and icing down, preferably after being gilled and gutted. Blues tend to school in numbers, which unfortunately makes them vulnerable to gill netting, but we have our NFZ in place here and anglers are reporting improved catches already.
Blues are prolific during the winter months and can be found way up the creek systems, but I prefer to chase them close to the mouth of the creeks on the run-out tides. They can be found over mud, sand and gravel and can be caught on a variety of baits, with yabbies again being a favourite. For the lure angler, blues will respond to metal lures readily, but soft plastics, soft vibes and small hardbodies can all be effective. They have small sandpaper like teeth and it pays to check your leader after each fish. Try to avoid using wire, as it affects the action of lures and can put fish off.
Fortunately, we also have a good run of king threadfin during the winter, often in company with the blue salmon. The kings will travel way up into almost fresh water and one of the most popular lures here is now the soft vibes. I chase kings along sloping mudbanks running down into deeper water and use a very quiet approach and long casts to prevent alerting them. As they are often in really shallow water, they are super cautious and spooky.
Moving out the front this month sees the start of the snapper season with show day traditionally seeing the first concentrated efforts. My spies have been telling me about a few early arrivals during May. Look for them at the well-known spots like Flat and Round Top Islands, Danger and Reichlemans Reefs, and down around Hay Point. Further south out towards Elamang and Knight islands there is also plenty of snapper country. Fresh squid, king prawns, and strip baits will all catch a snapper or two. The soft vibes will also account for some fish, but the deeper water and hard running currents can cause problems.
The calm clear winter days also sees the first of the small mackerel schools and their mates the tunas arrive. They chase the bait schools right in almost to the beach and the harbour walls. There have already been reports of good size northern blues busting up bait balls just off the harbour, while underneath you can usually find small mac tuna. The weather is the deciding factor with these fish as the bait schools move in close with the light winds and the predators follow.
Winter time is also Spanish mackerel time in our waters with the bigger mackerel moving right in close at times. For the bigger boats, spots like Prudhoe, Scawfell and Penrith islands produce, as do smaller pockets like the Overfalls and Thee Rocks. There will be plenty of gar being slow trolled along with ribbonfish, spreads of minnows and high speed bibless lures will also account for plenty of Spanish.
On top of all that, we have plenty of trevally species to play with, not to mention delicious reef fish like coral trout, red-throat, nannies and red emperor, all of which can be caught from close inshore and to the outer reef. These species are generally caught by anglers fishing from sizeable trailer boats of 5m and bigger.
Remember no matter what the weather Mackay has options aplenty, so come and join us in Paradise. See you at the ramp.Reads: 631