Mackerel high on most anglers’ minds
  |  First Published: August 2016

If the last couple of years are anything to go by, August should serve up sublime weather interspersed with howlers. Ultimately, it depends on the eastward march of high pressure systems and how much reprieve there is between each arrival. This is characterised by an extended period of howling southeasterlies, along the high ridges up the north Queensland coast.

Between highs, so far this winter, the fishing has varied from average to sensational, with no real degree of consistency. When fish have cooperated, the results have been outstanding. Quality fish are coming from the estuary, inshore and the reef. However, reliability has been lacking – there are plenty of dud trips between the gems.

Mackerel will be high on most anglers’ minds this month, as traditionally, August serves up more than its fair share of silver bullets. The speedsters will be biting from inshore, to the outer reef, and doggies are the main player in close. The Spaniards are the headline act out wide. There will also be spotties and grey mackerel on the bite, depending on the location and good luck with these less regular species.

The small boat brigade will be taking advantage of any opportunity to shoot out to the inshore reefs, wrecks, islands and channel leads, whenever the wind backs off. Maximise your fishing with a pre-dawn start, line out to coincide with the first sign of daylight. Often, there’s a couple of hours of relatively light, offshore winds before the southeasterlies set in for the day. Most days, winds from 15-20 knots down are fishable for at least a couple of hours after dawn.

Choose your location based on the likely scenario and when things look like blowing up early, stick to more protected locations, like the Trinity Inlet leads. The good thing about the leads is that you can go out as far or as little as you like, depending on the conditions on the day. While the mackerel fishing is usually better at the Fairway marker, there are still plenty of mackerel, especially doggies, caught along the channel and even in the inlet itself.

Generally speaking, the clearer the water – the more likely mackerel will be closer to the inlet. The presence of bait schools is another big swinger along the channel markers. Look for bait schools on the sounder and focus your effort around them for the best results.

Bait selection is a big consideration. While a good old pilly on chained hooks will do the trick, the more reliable bait is live sardines. Flick them out on a light single-strand leader, about 30cm long, with a 3/0 long shank main hook. Add a small sliding keeper hook and let them drift down to the bottom. You can even feed out more line as it sinks, if the current is strong. Quite often the doggies are sitting deep, but this method will still find them.

In strong currents, you can use a small sinker above the swivel to get the bait down, but it’s preferable to avoid doing, if you can. Cast at right angles to the current and let the bait sink as it drifts with the current, to help get the bait down deeper without the use of a sinker.

Spanish mackerel will be the star attraction in the mackerel arena, and they should be on the bite from close inshore to the outer reef. Trolling livebaits like large sardines, mullet, gar, hussar and fusilier are the big producers when they’re quiet. After that, trolling rigged deadbaits of gar, mullet, wolf herring and pilchards will see plenty of action at times. Finally, trolling lures or jigging are okay. All methods will have their day in the sun – it’s just a matter of having a few options up your sleeve when hitting the water. The more options you can present the more likely you are to pin down the flavour of the day, and increase your chances of success.

Float a pilchard, gar, mullet or wolf herring out the back as a fallback strategy for reef fishing. Concentrate on the more sought after bottom dwellers. In past years, fishing at the reef has been sensational when the weather cooperates, and many anglers have hit their bag limits on reds and trout. Plenty of fish push into the trophy category.

Trout up to 5kg, red emperor and large mouth nannygai in the 8kg+ range will hopefully be on the agenda. Reds and trout won’t be the only players, but certainly star attractions. There will also be a sprinkling of reef red bream, Moses perch, spangled emperor, long-nosed emperor, Robinsons sea bream, cod and trevally of all shapes and sizes and even a stray red-throat emperor or two coming over the side.

Light tackle enthusiasts will be hoping for a repeat of the last couple of years, on the billfish scene. Figures like 168 black marlin, 10 sailfish tagged and released in the Cairns Bluewater Billfish Tournament 2014, and over 100 small black marlin tagged last year in the same tournament, are a great indicator of how the light tackle fishing has been in August. Here’s hoping for a three-peat.

Don’t discount the estuary and headlands fishing for barra, jacks and golden snapper this month, especially when the weather is warm and winds calm. The start of winter has had plenty of quality fish taken off the rocks, the deep water in the inlet and estuaries, by those willing to put in the time and effort. Serious golden snapper have turned up along the headlands recently, along with great barra. Livebaits and lures have been producing at various times, so heading out with both options available will improve your chances of nailing a trophy fish.

The estuaries will continue to produce the odd barra, jack, golden snapper and grunter, but the main dish is bream, which should be around a lot. Those chasing a bit more action and adrenalin can target monster queenies, giant trevally and golden trevally, which will be patrolling the river mouths, while the water remains clear.


Spanish mackerel, like this beauty caught by Kelvin, will be the star attraction in the mackerel arena.


Rob Cannon with one of the serious golden snapper that have turned up along the headlands recently.

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