Snapper right on time
  |  First Published: July 2016

As I put this article together we have had our first little taste of winter with overnight temps dropping to around the mid-teens, but our daytime temps are still in the mid 20s, so we really are pretty spoilt here in paradise.

Right on cue the snapper have started to turn up on their annual spawning migration, with the first fish coming from around the Hay Point area and the islands off Sarina, particularly Knight and Elamang. By the time this edition hits the stands, the snapper season will be in full swing and there will be plenty of small boats chasing them when the weather gods shine on us. Wind is the killer for those with snapper in their sights here, as we tend to get only pockets of a few days with calm light winds at a time and naturally these always seem to happen during the working week!

So far the leads off Hay Point have been productive, featuring both snapper and small mouth nannygai. Squid baits, pilchards and soft plastics have been drawing a few fish, and they have also been found out on the spoil grounds. These spots tend to be fairly popular, and are easy to find, by using the old rule ‘look for the anchored boats’. Snapper though don’t always hang on structure, and it is a good idea to keep an eye on your sounder and if there are baitfish shows, then snapper are likely to be there as well. A check with the local tackle shops will get you the latest up-to-date info on the snapper.

Other close handy spots to try for snapper are off the river mouth and involve a 10-15 minute run in a tinnie. Danger Reef, Flat Top and Round Top islands and Reichlemans Reef all produce snapper until about September with the rocky areas extending from the NW corner of Flat Top being a reliable spot. Most of our snapper spots have pretty strong tidal runs so heavy lead is called for when bait fishing. The same applies to using soft plastic stick or curly tail baits.

The soft vibes will also catch snapper as long as you can control the tidal drift and depth to get the lure down to them.

It is often the case that other species are mixed in with the snapper, and in particular golden trevally, generally appear at the same spots and around the same time. This happens almost every year and I doubt it’s coincidental. Goldens are partial to the same baits and plastics but also have a liking for metal jigs worked through the water column and don’t be surprised to hook up to a queenfish or two while jigging. The best way to locate the goldens is to look for bait balls or schools on the sounder then drift over them and work jigs through the bait. Any of the strong action metal jigs will work as well as an oldie but a goodie, the white bucktail jig, which can be had in a variety of weights and hook sizes. I like to give a bit of added colour to the jig by painting the jighead bright red or some other contrasting colour. The action of the bucktail seems to tantalise the goldens and queenies into striking, and the large single hook provides solid hook ups.

The calm days will also see plenty of surface action with longtail and mac tunas harassing the schools of small hardiheads right into the harbour itself. Below this mayhem you can usually find spotty, doggie and sometimes grey mackerel. The odd Spanish will also be around although many of them are under legal size so keep a sharp eye out and return all undersize ones to the water asap. Ignorance of the different species of mackerel is no excuse for keeping undersize fish.

The harbour area also sees plenty of night action at this time of the year, particularly around the full moon with black jew moving right into the harbour. Most anglers fish for them around the southern wall and at the small bay near the end of the wall. The odd golden snapper, grunter and barra get mixed in with the jewies so it can be a bit of a lottery at times, especially if using live bait.

The other species worth targeting at night at the harbour is the run of squid that show up during the cooler months. A light and a few jigs will often get you a tasty feed for little effort and is a great way to put in a few hours.

The creeks and estuaries are fishing well, with big whiting being a main target for the next month or so. The Pioneer River is fishing well with whiting being reported from the mouth right up to and including the gravel and sand banks upstream of the Hospital and railway bridges. Worms and yabbies are the best baits although some anglers like to use thin squid strips as they are more durable. A red bead or small piece of red tubing is also favoured by some anglers.

The whiting are also prolific in Bassett basin, which is on the northern side of the river and here there is a mix of mud and sand flats probably best fished near the top of the tide and first of the run-out. Care is needed as much of the basin dries right out at low tide and it is easy to get stranded. Visitors to our area should check with the local tackle shops.

Queenfish move into the river during the cooler months and can be caught on live baits and lures right up as far as the hospital reaches of the river. Small trevally are also a feature as well as grunter, golden snapper and flathead. The odd barra will also be found mooching around the rocks near the Ron Camm Bridge.

Further afield, at the moment the crabs seem to be running hot in all the creeks, with good catches being reported from both north and south of the city. If crabbing I suggest you do not stray too far away from your pots as there are plenty of ‘share farmers’ around who think nothing of raiding other people’s pots. Bloody low lives!

Up in the freshwater, the barra are going quiet with the cooler weather, although on those calm wind-free days, they can be found mooching around the shallows or just ‘sunning’ in the warmer water. Go quietly on an electric or in a kayak and they can be seen tailing in the shallows. Presented with an unweighted plastic or a frog worked discreetly around them will often mean the barra will respond with an explosive smash hit and the ensuing fight in shallow water is always exciting.

Sooties thankfully remain well and truly on the chew during the winter months, both in the rivers and the dams. All three of our dams are well stocked with sooty grunter and they grow up to about 60cm in the dams, which is one hell of a sooty. Eungella dam is probably the most reliable for sooties, but is about a 2 hour run from Mackay. Teemburra and Kinchant both have plenty of sooties and are less than 45 minutes from Mackay so tend to get more pressure. Spinnerbaits, vibes and soft plastics all work well on sooties, and I favour those lures that feature colours like gold, black or red with a contrasting colour, such as white or chartreuse.

So that’s a round up of the main fishing to be expected during July, and I haven’t even touched on the offshore stuff where the trout, nannygai and reds have been going off. The calmer weather has seen plenty of bigger trailer boats out chasing the reefies and most anglers are coming back happy, which is a good sign. Mackay always has plenty of options for anglers and the chillier winter months are no different, so why not come up to paradise and enjoy a vast variety of fishing.

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