Cool catching in Cooktown
  |  First Published: August 2016

Cooktown is experiencing magical weather at the moment. The nights are cool, skies are clear and the days are sunny and warm. If you haven’t already made it to Cooktown, then make sure you do over the next few months, because it’s very rewarding and well worth it.

The geographical layout of South East Cape York has a massive variety of things to offer, for both the locals and the visitors who have already arrived in droves lapping up this luxurious weather. You don’t have to be a keen fisher to enjoy what Cooktown has to offer: mountains, freshwater streams, rainforests, inhabited beaches and coral reefs.

For keen anglers, the McIvor, Endeavour, Annan and Bloomfield rivers are clean and clear. Trolling for queenies, trevally and mackerel around the leads of the Endeavour river, or the mouths of the other rivers, near the top of the tide is very successful at this time of year. If you are land-based, skip surface lures or float weightless livebaits. Stay around the river mouth, near the top of the tide and you should experience some great hook-ups.

Further up the rivers will have grunter, pikey bream and estuary cod chewing baits around the snags, rock bars, junctions and deep holes. Try burley with small broken chunks of soft flesh, like pilchards or prawns, in these structures. Then send down an unweighted flesh on a hook. If you persist with this strategy, it will bring the fish on the bite and soon attract the bigger fish to come investigate. Just last week, a mate caught seven awesome mangrove jack from one large snag down deep in a creek that fed into the river.

Remember to always be prepared for that strike, because these big fish will hit the bait hard. They know the shortest way to having you bricked under a snag. Barramundi fishers will have more success using live baits at this time of year. If you’re keen on catching a barra, try further up the rivers, while searching for waters that are 1-2°C warmer than the rest.

The reefs off Cooktown have produced exceptional catches of coral trout, nannygai and spanglies. Chase the coral trout around the reef edge bommies that hold bait. You don’t need to be fancy with a trout rig, simply use a bean sinker running to a large straight shank hook, with a pilly baited onto it. Sportfishers might like to bounce plastics, blades or trolling deep divers across the drop offs, because this is also successful with coral trout.

Move out to the deeper rubble patches for nannygai. If there are sandy edges around the rubble, you may end up with a mix bag of spanglies and nannys. Spanish mackerel are being caught at random pressure point locations, but they don’t seem to be schooling in huge numbers as is the norm in Cooktown. Make sure you float a bait out the back of the boat at all times, while fishing the bottom, because if the macks don’t take it then there’s plenty of big cobia to catch lately.

Lakefield is experiencing cool nights and clear days, which are perfect for camping. The barra have been few and far between this year and some reports are of large numbers, while other reports can barely brag of one barra over a whole weekend. Barra are always in Lakefield, and most times you may get to spot one before you flick your lure on its nose. However, the barra don’t always bite, which can be very frustrating. It comes down to the right place at the right feeding time. Try covering a lot of ground and different waterholes until you find the barra that are actually chewing the lures.

Remember to be croc savvy near the water.


The author with a pretty spangly.


The mad-keen fishing Grandmas came to visit, and got amongst some great fish. Grandma Robinson had a metre-long queenfish!


Grandma Stack had another nice queenie. Some excellent fun was had on light sportfishing gear.

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