Conditions this month can vary from sublime to ridiculous and the start of the cool weather has had its dose of both, so it’s anyone’s guess what the weather gods will dish up. When the weather smiles, make sure you make the most of it, as chances can be few and far between. The good thing is generally the fishing reflects the weather, so when it’s all sunshine and blue skies, the fishing generally matches.
Reef fishing has been good in the 60m+ depths early this winter but patchy up shallower. Most anglers who went deep did well, while good catches were scarce up shallow. The mackerel season is off to a promising start, especially at the reef, so here’s hoping for a bumper crop this year.
Most anglers will be targeting mackerel species this month, with doggies the main player but Spaniards the real prize. There will be a few spotties and grey mackerel getting in on the act, depending on the location. Last year there were a few spotty mackerel taken in the Cairns area, but they tend to be more prevalent further south. Greys are a real hit and miss affair, with the odd bright spot occurring around Snapper Island, but generally they have been hard to find in recent years. Fortunately, doggy mackerel and Spaniards have continued to show up in good numbers and early season indications are promising.
The big bonus with mackerel fishing around Cairns is they can still be chased with a fair degree of comfort and safety, up to 15-20 knots. If anglers get on the water early and use prevailing wind conditions and land masses for shelter, it’s not hard to slip out just before dawn, while the winds have a bit of southwesterly in them, nail a few mackerel and be heading for sheltered waters before the wind swings more southeasterly and strengthens. This usually happens around 7am.
On picture postcard mornings, the pre-dawn start will simply give you the best chance of nailing some good fish and then you can stay on through the morning in comfort and hopefully increase the take. It is a much rarer day when you can head out mid to late afternoon and fish until dark for mackerel. Those days do come occasionally, so it’s a matter of watching the weather forecasts and taking your chances when they come.
The reef will be a popular destination this month when the weather allows, with bottom fishing and chasing Spanish mackerel high on most anglers’ agenda. When it’s calm enough, reef fishos will be pushing out into the 50m+ depths in search of red emperor and large mouth nannygai, while on more marginal days, anglers will use the protection of the reef to stay shallow and chase trout and mackerel.
Overnighters will be popular with red anglers and there will be some trophy rewards in the form of red emperor and large mouth nannygai over the 8-10kg mark. There will be plenty of less popular species gate crashing the party, with spangled emperor, Moses perch, reef red bream, long-nosed emperor, Robinson’s sea bream, cod of all makes and models and trevally with even more varieties on display. The lucky, or dare I say, better anglers, will come home with an esky glowing red, while less fortunate fishos will have more grey and silver shades littering their catch. On the upside, I have spoken to plenty of anglers who have managed shark-free trips recently, so here’s hoping that trend will continue to improve as the water temperatures drop.
Whether you’re fishing 60m or 20m, be sure to have a mackerel line of some description out the back. The most popular and by far the simplest option, is the good old pilchard on three chained 6/0 long shank hooks, preferably with no wire trace, under a float or drifting in the current, if there is some. This time of year this rig seldom fails to at least produce the odd Spaniard.
Closer to shore, the small boat brigade will be haunting the Trinity Inlet leads, Double Island and surrounding wrecks, Fitzroy Island and the Franklin group, with the more adventurous anglers heading further north to the Snapper Island area and south to the Barnard Islands or the mackerel grounds off Kurrimine Beach.
The more serious mackerel chasers will be trolling a pattern of swimming gar and mullet, live baits, minnows, blades, slices and spoons, in a multitude of combinations, depending on the angler’s preferences and the word on the street on what is proving the most productive this season.
When the weather allows, most boat anglers will head east, but don’t discount the estuaries and close inshore when the weather gods are smiling. As a rule of thumb, the estuaries are busiest this month when the winds are blowing but this isn’t necessarily the best approach. Fine, calm weather brings out the best of the sheltered water fishing as well, so don’t automatically charge east when the winds drop.
Bream, cod, queenfish and trevally will be the mainstay in the estuaries, but there will still be a few barra, mangrove jack and golden snapper biting for the serious anglers who are prepared to put in the time and effort to target these more sought after species.
This month last year marked the beginning of the best three months of barra and golden snapper fishing I have experienced in 20 years along the headlands and close inshore around Cairns. Most of the action was on soft plastics fished deep and slow, but live sardines, mullet and squid also worked a treat when a more sedate outing was on the agenda. With the declaration of the Net Free Zone in Cairns last November, this inshore and headland fishing will only improve, judging by the fishing in Trinity Inlet in the first half of this year.Reads: 190