New tricks for old dogs
  |  First Published: September 2016

The winter that never came has allowed the summer species to remain in the systems for so long that there has hardly been any changeover to the winter fish, and most of the favourites were all around at the same time.

My predictions from last month were cut short with an unusual weather event that saw the local area and most of the catchment of the Fitzroy River receive unprecedented amounts of winter rain. Some parts copped up to 500mm in less than 48 hours.

The river

This has changed the whole complexion of the river and all of Keppel Bay. The river is still running thick chocolate brown, and only barramundi and king threadfin have been taken in the upper salt reaches below the barrage. There has been lots of rat barra around the drains and small creek mouths, particularly around the high tide.

The bigger fish seem to have moved down towards the delta where there area lots more baitfish for them to eat. The large schools of threadfin have also moved downstream with the odd resident fish staying in town. The majority of baitfish and all of the small prawns were washed down the front, with predators following closely.

Port Alma and Connors Creek are the pick spots for the bigger barramundi and threadfin at the moment. Big black jew are another fish that has skirted the floodwaters and featured in a number of recent captures.

The town reaches will improve as the month goes on and the salt levels increase right back up the river. The bait and the bigger fish will move up and things should be in good shape once more. The best result from the floods has been the return of the mid-sized fish to the patches skirting the dirty water. They have moved back into the zone where they can remain in the saltier water and still take advantage of all the food flushed out of the river.

Spots like Barren, Outer and The Pinnacles are showing plenty of large mouth nannies that have increased in quantity since the storms.

Out the front

The fresh flow into the bay has disrupted the migration of many of the mackerel and bait schools, which usually pass through at this time of year. They have started out past the plume, but they may move in again as the inshore waters clear up. The expected spotted mackerel run has stalled for the moment, and should with any luck be back on track within weeks if conditions allow the bay to clean up a bit more.

September is usually prime spotty time for the small tinny anglers. They start in the southern end of the bay and work north through the multitude of mackerel patches in the area. Lures and pillies are both very good options when the fish are on the chew. Spotties respond well to berley, and will often follow the stream right to the boat. In previous years, they have hit spots like Quartz at the same time as the ribbonfish. This presents another issue of trying to get a chrome down though the wolfies and ribbonies to the macks.

Red emperor, red-throat, sweeties, tuskies and coral trout are going well at most of the offshore reef patches and this mid-season period normally produces the bigger fish. The wide grounds and shoals are the best option when the conditions are right.

Wahoo are arriving again in numbers at the shoals and anywhere there is fast water around a reef is good a spot to try. The faster trolled lures and skirts are best for wahoo.

New tricks

I live by the rule that if someone can do something better than you, then ask them for advice. Up here we have an abundance of young anglers who have mastered the latest styles and fishing trends. Whether it be jigging vibes on the reef, skip casting into mangrove root bases or stickbaiting for species us old hands never dreamed of, they are opening up a whole new game.

One of the top youngies has been giving me some great tips that enhance what I already do. Last weekend we checked out as many shallow reef spots as possible to test some of the new bream shads and paddle-tails. We wanted to find spots that had a current pushing into them while still being fishable from a small boat. Luckily, between the Keppels, Curtis and Facing Islands, there are a stack of those sorts of spots.

The first thing to get right is how much weight you need for the purpose. I found that weights up to 1/2oz got the plastics to the bottom in the moving water we fished, and went down to 3/8oz in the slower stuff. There were a lot of hardiheads and other baitfish present on all the headlands and reefy shelves, so we matched lure size to them. Over the course of a day, we had landed hundreds of fish from hussar, Moses perch, stripeys, wire-netting and gold spot cod.

At times we scored a fish per cast for fifteen minutes at a time, and lost count of double hook ups when it reached two hundred. The advantage of finding so many fish allowed us to try lots of techniques and tune our methods. In the end, the natural colours easily beat everything else and both vibes and paddle-tails caught the same amount of fish.

The retrieves varied for each different lure, and experimentation is the key. Don’t be afraid to stop your lure mid retrieve and let it settle, because the moment it moves again it can get hammered. I also learned that there are so many more fish in our heavily fished areas than I ever thought.

Skip casting is something the majority have never tried. After watching Connor Duffy putting lures into spots that us hardbody lure anglers can’t reach, I have begun to practise. There are so many fish that stay out of reach behind the mangrove curtain, and skip casting is a way you can get your lure to those fish and increase your catch rate substantially.

Mangrove jack and big bream will latch onto near anything if it falls in front of them, and often you don’t need to do anything fancy, just let the lure sink for a second and if it doesn’t get nailed, start a slow retrieve. It won’t take long for a strike if there are fish there.

All those mangrove banks lining the majority of saltwater estuary systems have fair populations of these iconic fish. This is a skill worth learning, and if you need guidance, there’s many tutorials online. After fishing with Connor and another friend Glenn Davis, I look at the mangroves completely differently to how I used to. One of the by-catches of chasing jacks is barramundi, and that is the sort of by-catch I like!


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