More mixed bags at Mackay
  |  First Published: December 2006

Some great fish have been caught over the past month. The profusion of species can make it hard to decide what to target, but fortunately many lures and techniques will work across a wide range of species. This trend should continue over Christmas and the New Year until we get some really decent rain.


Early summer is a top time for the small boat brigade around Mackay, with the waters just offshore teeming with schools of baitfish. On a good day, standing on the harbour wall, you can see acres of wheeling birds, feeding fish and small boats as far as the eye can see. It’s a great sight.

The huge bait schools attract the attention of predators, from small pike up to very large tiger sharks. The main species that hammer the bait schools, however, are mack and longtail tuna, doggy and spotted mackerel, queenfish, cobia, and various trevally. This scenario allows small boat owners to get into some top class fishing for sport and table fish. For those without a boat, many of these species can be caught off the harbour break wall on those flat calm days when the northerly winds kick in around mid to late morning. Get out there at daylight and you’ll often end up going home with a fish or two within an hour or so. This all happens within a few km of the city centre.

This year has seen a continued huge improvement in the numbers and sizes of tuna and mackerel harassing the bait. It’s possible the banning of ring netting for mackerel has influenced this. Whatever the reason, let’s just hope this keeps up!


Boaties should launch at the harbour marina or the Pioneer River ramp (best not to do this at low tide). The east, northeast to north winds are the ones that bring the bait schools in close, followed by the macks and tuna, so you don’t have to travel far offshore. Most catches are taken by small boat anglers within 5km of the shoreline and often almost within casting distance from the beach, particularly north of the harbour.

If you decide to launch in the river, just travel out through the mouth and directly ahead you’ll see Flat and Round Top islands. Head for them and keep your eyes peeled for macks and tuna feeding near or on the surface. You’ll often see mack tuna feeding with their backs out of the water, accompanied by wheeling and diving terns.

The schools are likely to pop up anywhere so have your gear ready rigged with small chrome lures or slugs. Then all you need to do is spot a school, determine which way they appear to be travelling (often round in circles) and work out an intercept point. Shut your motor down early or use an electric motor to get right up close to the feeding fish. I have had feeding tuna bash into the side of my boat so, while they are not always shy, the quiet approach gives you the best chance of getting amongst them.

The macks are usually a bit deeper than the tuna, so when you cast to the edge or centre of the feeding frenzy, let your lure sink a couple of metres before hitting the retrieve. Go as hard as you can with the retrieve – these fish are all real speedsters and will catch any lure.

I like to use a landing net rather than a gaff for keeper fish but that depends on the size, and I always have a gaff on hand. Once in the boat, you should immediately bleed any keeper fish by cutting the throat latch and placing the fish in a large 20L bucket. Bleed it well, wash off the slime and any blood and then pack the fish in ice. If you just throw it in on top of the ice the flesh won’t be quite as good.


Doggy and spotty mackerel are the most sought after mackerel here. They are usually found together and there have been some quality specimens caught this season, the likes of which we have not seen for years. One angler reported a bag limit of five spotties for a total weight of 39kg!

Local Mark Senyard was telling me he went for a quick run out from Eimeo (half tide ramp only) early one morning and scored three fish – a spotty, a doggy, and a small Spaniard.

Cobia, queenfish and trevally are a welcome by-catch when chasing mackerel, and the cobia particularly are always welcome in the ice box.

All of these fish can be caught off the southern break wall at the harbour. The better spots are out near the end of the wall – just be sure to get there early or all the best spots will be taken.

Baitfishing is popular off the wall. Live herring are the prime bait, and you can catch these on bait jigs along the wall. Frozen local herring are available at local tackle shops and some servos. Pilchards rigged on ganged hooks have also accounted for a range of species off the wall.

If you would like some assistance, just drop into one of our local tackle shop for some expert advice.


The fish in our impoundments are going nuts, with catches of huge barra, barrel-chested sooties and the odd nice sleepy cod.

Teemburra Dam is firing, big time. Tales of metre-plus fish are common, with some guys getting several over the magic metre. Most have been caught trolling in relatively deep water of 15ft or more. Large deep divers, large plastic shads and the slow troll technique down in the open areas have been producing the goods.

Around full moon is the most consistent time, and trolling in the early evening or just on daybreak seems to work best.

Lure casters and flyfishers have been taking fish in the open bays and along the outside edges of the timberlines. Some fish have been caught in the heavy timber, but you have to remember that your chances of horsing a big barra out of the thick stuff are pretty slim.

A good technique is to motor quietly (preferably on electric power) into a bay with plenty of weed beds extending out into deeper water, and ‘anchor’ the boat on the edge of the weeds. This will allow you to fish directly out front or to fan casts down along the front of the weeds.

Don’t be too quick to move on as the fish sometimes take a bit of stirring. As soon as one is caught, get a lure or fly back in the same area, as often a barra will come over to see what the commotion is. Double hook-ups are not uncommon.

The points of the bays are also hot spots for barra. Look for a point running out with weeds and a stump or two. If the point drops off into deeper water on either side, give the spot a real hammering. This is a classic spot for dam barra and it’s rare to fish such a spot without a hit.

On a recent trip my son Lachlan scored his first fly caught barra. Just on dusk his fly rod suddenly took on an ominous curve and the little single action reel had fly line rattling off it.

With much encouragement and advice Lacho played the fish out and bought it boatside to be netted. It measured 750mm, and after much yahooing we cut its throat and placed it on ice. It cooked up very well on the BBQ after I sprinkled it with a little Moroccan seasoning, salt and pepper.

On the same trip Dave Frazer scored his first dam barra on a soft plastic, after some reminding about the need to slow down! Keeping the lure working with a slow lift and sink technique, Dave was rewarded with a solid hook-up, much leaping and splashing and a fish about the same size as Lachlan’s. Dave is now a convert to dam plastic fishing.

The sooties are playing ball in the dams as well but they are back in the timber and are typically hard to land. I recommend that you get right into the timber on daylight or late afternoon and work the edges of the weeds with a few trees close by. Keep the lures small and try some poppers. Targeting sooties on poppers is great fun as they usually hit the lure just as it plops on the surface. It makes for plenty of over runs on a baitcaster so try to get the real into gear just as the lure touches down.

Believe me, a solid sooty right in the timber on a popper first thing in the morning will blow any cobwebs away. What a top fish!


These patterns should continue for the Christmas New Year period unless we get substantial rain. Storms will put inflow into the dams and the mangrove creeks, and this can pick up or deaden the fishing for a few days.

As long as we keep getting the hot north, northeast and easterly winds, the offshore scene will keep firing. These same conditions – hot and humid with light winds – make for good times in the dams as well. But don’t take my word for it, get yourself up here to paradise and enjoy some great fishing in either the salt or fresh. See you at the ramp!


1) Lachlan Day with his first fly-caught barra – a 750mm specimen from Teemburra.

2) A sooty grunter caught on a home-made popper.

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