Pulling together a cracker Townsville trip
  |  First Published: September 2016

While the weather has been shocking with gale force warnings and cool nights, there were opportunities to have a go offshore. Mackerel have been thick in most places. Out past the island, pelagics have been playing very nicely. Radio host, Gary Powis hit a school of Billfish out from Townsville the other day and couldn’t get a bait past without it being smacked.

Problem was, the big gar he’d taken for the Spanish were a little on the large side. Fish couldn’t get them down the hatch. It’s encouraging to see the numbers are very high this year. The average size is almost double the usual wrigglers that are hooked this time of year. Mick Meirs was saying the fish they’ve been hitting have been 30-40kg, which is much larger than the average inshore billfish. They’ll have you tied up for longer than a normal Townsville billy.

There are always plenty of marlin and sails caught, or hooked accidentally by anglers trolling Laser Pros for mackerel. These regular incidental interceptions have more anglers swinging big single hooks off the back of the Lasers this year. It helps the hook stay in place.

This hasn’t seemed to worry the Spanish mackerel. Floating unweighted bait while you’re at rest, a trolled wolfie or skirted gar, a jigged slice or hardbody – they’re accepting anything they can get. While they’re being hooked throughout the day, there’s no doubt that a bait or lure in the water as early as possible has been producing the best. With a perfect plan, the mackerel hunt should be successful in the first couple of hours and allow you to chase something red for the table.

Large-mouth, trout, and red emperor are being found in good numbers. Ross from Ultimate Sport Fishing Charters has been putting his clients onto lovely big slab sided fish, out wide. The shallower reefs are holding awesome trout, and in the last couple of weeks, there’s been an increase in fishers throwing lures in the shallow reefs. It’s spectacular to throw a plastic or barra lure into a metre of shallow water and watch it get monstered by trout.

It can get costly if you’re not on the ball. Keep that fish pointing towards your boat from the second they eat your lure, but know it’s a good way to lose old lures if you hit the bigger models. Hooks need to be sharp and strong for this style of fishing. As a minimum, 30lb braid and 40lb leader will land you enough trout to keep you happy. Sometimes 50lb braid and 60lb leader isn’t enough to stop these powerful reef dwellers.

Creeks and rivers

I had a couple mates up from down south. The week before they arrived was great fishing. Barra and jacks in the creeks were just getting into the swing again. As many as 50 school mackerel were landed in one session, 30 on the fly rod. GoPro footage showed how bad the sharks were, eating everything. Casting the channel markers near the river mouth, we saw hammerheads, whalers, spinner sharks and a lone tiger.

Tony Bennett, organiser of the Mulwala Cod Classic, had a big bucket list to fill on his six-week travels. Catching up with him for the first time in several years was great fun. Bennett and Darren fished for two days with diddly to show for their efforts. I gave them heaps, but then I started my holiday and have to say it was the hardest fishing I have seen here yet. Even up in the rovers and creeks, there wasn’t an active fish.

We hit some of my favourite spots for a few raised jacks and one nice barra that never connected. I resorted to the cast net, loaded up on livies, and fed them back into some likely holes, but to no avail. Little cod, and tarpon were all that could be raised. As true mates do, they never forgot to give me heaps about the texts and pics that I send them regularly. They said, “Must be years old, because there isn’t a fish in the bloody water.”

The standout lure or slug, was the 20g Halco Outcast, with 100mm of 22lb stainless wire connected to beat the teeth. The best fly was anything white, or with a tiny bit of flash in it. I used a 10# weight forward floating line to try and beat the sharks after hook-up. Heavy weighted Clousers reached the bottom in 30 seconds, but it was eaten fast, and worth the weight. If you have a sink tip or intermediate line, it’s a better match.

A 30lb Unitika Fluorocarbon tippet and 4” of Staybrite 22lb wire finished the rig. Every night we tried to figure out what was wrong. Anything outside the river mouth was out of the question for our small boats. Rivers and creeks had to be our playground. With one last ditch effort to bend a rod, we headed to our great mate, Paul Hetherington’s grounds at Bowen, to go out wide for some reef fish.

Paul’s work commitments cut those plans down to a quick half-day session at Abbot Point. Paul and I have been trying to get a fish together for a couple of years. I’d have been happy just to catch up, but when he said we’d do the Abbot Point jetty, my eyes lit up. I’ve heard so much about, but never fished this amazing piece of structure. My youngest was looking forward to it too. The trip along the coast was a highlight for him, as a pod of whales surfaced for him to look at.

On arriving at the structure itself, Tannhym dropped a 60g Outcast to the bottom and jigged it a couple of times, before getting smashed and dragged around the boat. After a torrid battle, the hooks pulled and the fish neared the boat. After that, monster queenies chased the lure on almost every cast. We were dragged around the boat for a couple of hours. Bennett even managed a nice trout to top things off.

The standout lure was the Madeye Paddle Prawn from Halco, rigged on an Atomic 1oz head with the additional skirt. Fish climbed all over them. In 60ft of water, the Outcast, Halco Twisty Jigs and 60g Whiptails produced well. Plenty went missing in action, as 50lb braid and 60-80lb leader is sporting around the pylons.

If you take your kids there, and they’re only small like the young fella, then 30lb is going to be as much as they can pull anyway. The gentle approach coaxes some fish out without panicking them. Tannhym used my Samurai 25-40 Elevate, Penn Slammer 460 spooled with 30lb braid and a 60lb leader to grab a few from the snags. It was no use giving him a 50lb outfit. He wouldn’t be able to fish its capacity, as he only weighs about 35kg.

Tannhym was frequently bitten off by Spanish mackerel, while we didn’t hit many. He was quicker to wind out and recast once he was away from the snags. He got snipped off plenty of times, that’s for sure.

The trip home was smooth and fast in Paul’s big boat. We cruised home to end an awesome session in a new spot.


The 20g Halco Outcast slugs are perfect for smaller mackerel species, around channel markers. A short length of Staybrite wire helps with snip offs, while not reducing the night number too much.


You never know what's going to grab your lure out there, but Bennet managed to wrangle this nice trout from the structure on a jig.


This gold Tilsan Barra is a real producer on barra when conditions are tough. They get sucked right in, so a minimum of 40lb leader needs to be used, to stay connected.


Quiet in the unstable weather, you can still tempt the odd jack and barra. Hardbodies are working as this Tilsan-caught model proves. Fish them slow with lots of twitching to get the bite.


Tannhym with a nice queenie he extracted from the snags This one took a Madeye 5" Paddle Prawn and glow skirt.


The young fella has worked out the macks pretty well. While they’re not big fish, they’re still great fun on 6-8lb braid and light spin rods.


In the reef, soft plastics are catching on. Fish of this quality are common. 30lb braid and 40lb leader is 'light' if you’re to land many fish.

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