Bring on the Fingermark
  |  First Published: December 2006

Ideal fishing conditions continue for local far northern fishers as we break in a new fishing year.

Hot summery weather continues and at the time of writing there are no signs of expected heavy wet season rains that are bound to arrive soon. January usually brings with it a share of unpredictable days as overnight downpours can produce flooding creeks and rivers and completely change conditions forcing us into plan B.

There have been some excellent fish about throughout the local rivers and estuaries with trophy sized beauties of many of our favourite species including extra large barramundi, fingermark, queenfish, golden trevally, GTs and others making anglers’ days. There have also been some good runs of blue salmon and smaller numbers of king salmon that have added to the catches of those anglers willing to put in some time on the water. The presence of good numbers of big breeding barra over the closed season is an encouraging sign for anglers in this area for the future although just how many survive the onslaught of netting come February is a sobering thought.

Offshore, top water game fishers have continued to pick up marlin, sailfish, a few yellowfin tuna and some mackerel. Bottom fishing on the reef has produced excellent catches of coral trout and sweetlip while in between the reefs on the rubble patches, nannygai and red emperors have been taken as well.

This time of year one of my favourite species the fingermark, big scale red or chopper bream as it is sometimes called around here is an ideal fish to chase. If you are a newcomer to the tropics, these magnificent salmon-pink coloured fish are sure to get your excitement meter buzzing. The fish whose scientific name is Lutjanis johni (spotted scale sea perch) and who is also known by the northern territorians as golden snapper is captured around Cairns frequently and my records show that often in January some of the biggest specimens on record are taken. A few years ago when I was chartering we captured one that went 97cm and I have heard of others close to a metre that have been caught right here in the Cairns inlet. Here are some tips to get you started.


Fingermark will readily take a trolled lure and slow trolling lures such as RMG Scorpions and other hard bodied deep divers will do the trick. Good fish are taken by trolling deep-diving lures in areas where there is rough bottom and snags in 5-6m of water. Selecting the right country will be the hard part, however they will more often than not be found in similar places to jacks and barramundi however they do seem to have a preference for the deeper holes, especially if the bottom is rough or has some structure to hold them.

The most common catching technique is livebaiting, but these fish will take quality dead baits as well. Up in the Northern Territory and north west of WA the golden snapper is taken commonly on reef areas on dead strip/flesh baits. The rig used to present the bait can be either a running ball sinker (size to suit the current/tide run) above a mono leader (50cm of 45lb Schneider) with a 5/0 or 6/0 hook, or a dropper rig (paternoster). I prefer the running sinker method, and I use a medium to heavy 2m fast taper rod teamed with a quality reel spooled with at least 10kg mono line or if you prefer 30lb braid. Reel choice (spin or baitcaster) is not that important provided the reel has a smooth drag and a reasonable line capacity. When baitfishing, the recommended method is to fish in strike drag and have the rod in a rod holder and only pick up and strike when the rod tip has a curve in it from the bite. Be on the job quickly when you get a take because fingermark are a powerful fish. If you do not get their head up in the initial stages of the fight they’ll take your line quickly into the nearby structure before you are then cut off.

Many baits will work. My top choices are live sards, mud herring, mullet, feather bream, squid, and prawns. There are many anglers who prefer to catch their live squid at the fishing spot using a squid light and then immediately drop down the live squid to convert into the desired fingermark.

While anchored up and fishing, hang your squid light over the side of the boat and wait for the squid to appear out of the darkness. Use a fine mesh landing net with a long handle to come in behind the squid, or use a squid spear. Be sure not to wear your best rags, as the black ink that invariably gets jettisoned by this squirmy creature is sure to find its mark on your best clothes. It is wise to not depend solely on catching squid at night and take along some back up livies you have caught and have stocked in your live bait tank.

To find fingermark use your sounder to pick out the deeper holes of any inshore estuary or rocky headland, look for structure, rough bottom, or soft coral patches. I’ve heard of occasional big fish being taken in shallow water, but fingermark do tend to prefer the deep sections. The Cairns Inlet just out from the sugar terminal is a favourite spot and the water depth here is over 50 feet and I’ve caught many opposite the navy base on the eastern side of the harbour channel where it is a bit shallower. Kings Point offers deep water, rough bottom fishing in over 80 feet and the Cairns Harbour entrance leads is a much shallower option where anglers fish into the pylon structure in around 30-40feet. Both of these locations are excellent alternative spots to chase fingermark.

Fingermark are most often captured on the top of the tides but they also like the slack water low tide changeover. You can catch them both night and day. I prefer nights without much moon, and the smaller neap tides definitely produce better results. Finally, plan your available fishing time carefully, and work backwards from the time of the tide when you want to be fishing! This is used to determine departure time and could mean allowing up to 2-3 hours for bait collection if the bait is scarce. What it does mean though is that you are fishing during the prime bite time, in the right place with the right bait instead of still chasing your bait while the bite is on and arriving when it is all over. This is the difference between coming home with fish or without. Planning the trip to coincide with fish activity hours instead of ‘gentleman’s hours’ is another way of spelling out this success.

Till next month, good fingermark fishing!

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