Here’s hoping for sublime weather
  |  First Published: September 2016

As so often is the case in the north, the weather has been the main influence on fishing in the Cairns area lately. When the winds were down and the sun shining, the fishing has been bright. Unfortunately, these periods have been at a premium. The good news is that for the past three years, September has seen a significant shift in the weather patterns, giving us long periods of sublime weather. Here’s hoping for a four-peat.

When conditions have allowed, the fishing overall has been great, although patchy. The warmer water has allowed barra, jacks and golden snapper to continue biting well into winter, and it will be interesting to see if they continue unabated into spring. As a consequence, as of late August the mackerel season hasn’t lived up to expectations. Unless there is a serious late drop in water temperature, we’re looking at a dud mackerel year.

The estuary fishing should light up this month, as the temperature rises. Mangrove jack are usually the first of the ‘Tropical Trophy Trio’ (jacks, barra and golden snapper) to become more active as the water temperature starts its climb into summer. Jacks should be particularly active in the lower tidal reaches, as low water levels force them out of their freshwater and brackish habitat.

Barra should become more aggressive and start to be more mobile, most likely around the larger full moon tides in mid-September. The partial eclipse on Saturday 17 September may put a wobble in the fishing though; I have noticed that unusual astronomical events seem to disrupt fishing.

Golden snapper will be prowling the bottom of the deep sections of estuaries and inlets – anywhere there is cover. There should also be a few monster queenfish around the sandbars towards the mouth of major streams, provided the salinity remains high.


Offshore is where most anglers turn their gaze this month. Don’t be too hasty to head for the horizon though, as the close inshore reefs, islands and wrecks often turn it on around now. Golden snapper, late season doggie and Spanish mackerel and just-legal largemouth nannygai, along with the odd island or bar-cheek coral trout have put in a solid appearance in inshore waters over the past few years. They are an ideal option for a quick pre-dawn/early morning or late afternoon/early evening raid when time is a bit tight.

Those anglers looking for some serious action, however, will be heading east when the weather allows, and September is one of the premier months for reef fishing. A big attraction this month is the weather itself – calm seas, clear skies and comfortable temperatures. The fish are usually as keen as the anglers, with coral trout leading the charge, followed closely by large-mouth nannygai and red emperor. These three species make up my ‘Reef Trophy Trio’, and I think most northern reef fishos would feel the same way. There are few fish in the ocean that are better eating, and boy – do they light up the esky with their red colouring!

Trout in the 3-5kg range are commonplace and will be biting from the deeper water right up into less than 10m, depending on the water temperature. A rapid rise in water temperature seems to be the main spawning trigger for trout, and when this occurs they will move onto shallow spawning bommies. Usually this won’t happen until October/November but it has been a weird year water temperature-wise, so who knows?

Along with the Reef Trophy Trio will be a smorgasbord of common and less common species, like spangled emperor, trevally, endless variety of cod, Moses perch, numerous variations of the lesser sweetlip and emperor, and a few serious mangrove jack. One species that few will encounter is the relatively rare yellow-spotted emperor, or buffalo emperor, like the beauty pictured. I have only seen a handful in the 20 years I have fished off Cairns.

Mackerel will still be around but their numbers will greatly depend on the water temperature. Everything seems to be late this year, so don’t be surprised if the water temperature stays low, late into spring. This should mean that anglers will be able to make the most of calmer conditions to chase doggies, greys, spotties and Spaniards in all the usual mackerel haunts.

The billfish season will be starting to light up as well. Most of the attention will be focused on light gamefishing for small blacks and sails, but many skippers will be gearing up in the hope of an early start to the heavy tackle season.

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