Mackeral Christmas and a snapper New Year
  |  First Published: December 2016

December in Mackay is hot, humid and a great time to be on the water! There’s a great variety of species and spots. December is a good time for early morning starts for a few hours of fishing, and night fishing can be very enjoyable and productive with no baking in the hot sun.

The reef closure has now run its course and many of the larger trailer boats will be heading wide looking for a good bag of reef fish for Christmas. Reds will be on the chew out in the deep waters of the shipping channel, which is the closest reliable spot to target the big reds. A quick chat to the local tackle shop staff will give you an up to the minute report on what’s biting and where.

Those heading wide will also target the shallower reef areas for trout and red-throat which will be on the chew. Pilchards are one of the best baits for trout with a small sinker to allow the bait to waft down slowly. Be alert, as the trout will come a fair way from their reef holes to nail the pillie. With slack line in the current, it’s easy to miss the hit. Super sharp hooks are a big help and generally they’re never sharp enough out of the box.

Good size Spanish mackerel are still mooching around out wide, so at anchor it’s always a good idea to float out a live bait of reef fish like a hussar or a gar, ribbonfish or pilchard on a gang rig. That setup will also attract cobia, which are welcome, and barracuda and sharks that aren’t welcome.

Closer in shore, northerly winds are finally starting to blow with a bit of consistency. Until early November, we would get a couple of days then the changes would come through, so the bait schools weren’t consistently inshore. Just over the last few days, there have been large bait balls around the harbour and Flat and Round Top islands, with plenty of decent size 80cm+ doggies and spotted mackerel working them. The small macs don’t work right on the surface like tuna. To pick up the macs, I like to troll barra-style lures down 2-3m until the fish are found. Then if there’s plenty of bait around, I switch to casting shinies or plastics and have some fun on the lighter spin gear.

The mackerel and tuna will follow the bait into surprisingly shallow water and at times can be caught off the beaches. This is remarkable, as our beaches are very shallow and gradually drop out into deeper water. Any small isolated rocks or snags will attract the bait and the predators won’t be far behind.

The macs can be caught on a huge variety of lures and the humble pilchard on a gang rig with a small sinker is probably the most used method here. Trolling big spoons on cord lines can account for plenty of fish. Heavy lines don’t give the small macs much of a chance to put up a fight, so I prefer to use the lighter gear.

Fresh mackerel or longtail tuna is top tucker provided the fish is bled immediately and then well iced down. Look after your catch and enjoy the fine and healthy food afterwards. Grilled mackerel, basted with a mix of melted butter, light soy and sweet chilli with a fresh salad is a great light summer meal.

Small mackerel will be around all the islands off Seaforth (watch the zones) around Shoal Point, the harbour and Hay Point and down to the islands out from Sarina. On the good days with a light northerly in the morning, all these places can be reached in a small tinnie. Watch the weather, talk to the local tackle shop staff, get out early and enjoy the great run of mackerel and tuna, and a feast afterwards. It doesn’t get much better!

In the creeks and estuaries, the jacks will be kings, as barra are off the menu until February. Look for the jacks around any rock bars or isolated rocks in the main and side creeks. Don’t be put off by shallow water – they can be found in water only 30cms or so deep, as long as there is some cover and a food source. Jacks can also be found around rocky foreshores and some islands seem to have a resident population. A 50cm jack in our area is a damn good fish, fun to catch and beautiful tucker.

Live baits account for most of them, but lure fishing is gaining popularity. You can cover a lot of ground quickly. I prefer to use a mix of deep and shallow floating divers, as the lures can often be backed up off snags and rocks, which minimises the losses. A lure retriever is also a must have and mine extends to about 3.5m – it comes in very handy.

Soft plastics rigged on weedless worm hooks are another way to target the jacks in the shallower water. In deeper water, the extra weight needed to get the lure in the fish’s face can mean more lure losses through snagging. Jack fishing is mostly boat fishing, but there are a few spots accessible on foot, like the rocks around the Highway Bridge in North Mackay and the trainer walls in the river.

Golden snapper are often found during the hotter months in the creeks, but they seem to prefer the deeper holes towards the mouth or just offshore. The harbour can also produce some nice ones along with jacks, but the harbour seems to fish best at night. Work the walls around the lights in the unrestricted areas, with either live baits or lures. Good cod will also get in on the act and it’s not a place to be using light gear, as you’ll need to drag the fish away from the rocks.

Barra are off the list in the salt, but the dams can still be fished with a one fish take applying. The hot northerlies have really got the dam barra on the chew and both Kinchant and Teemburra dams are firing, as the recent ABT results show. It’s apparent that MAFSA’s stocking program is working well and orders have already been placed for ‘top ups’ this summer.

Dam barra tend to feed around prominent points and bays. Sometimes it can be a bit of a waiting game until the fish move into the shallower waters from deeper water to chase boney bream, which are their favourite food in the dams. If you see large fish on the sounder in deeper water, head for the nearest point, anchor up quietly and work the area thoroughly. The black and gold squidgy rig is still the most popular lure for dam barra, although any of the recognised names like Reidy’s, RMG or Koolabungs will catch fish.

Don’t forget to try some surface action late in the afternoon and into the night, as the strikes are heart stopping and often happen almost at the boat. Tango Dancers, ZMan frogs, cup faced poppers and fizzers will all catch barra on the surface. This is my favourite way to target these great fish. Don’t go too light on the gear, because both dams have fish that are now well over a metre – they’re no slouches.

Sooty fishing tends to take a back seat during summer months, but MAFSA’s intrepid bunch of stockers will be out chasing brood stock for the hatchery. Kieron Galletly has fired up the hatchery and all systems are go, once we have some decent rain in the Pioneer catchment to get the sooties in spawning mode. Good fun and more volunteers are always needed, and made very welcome. Contact them through any of the tackle shops or through Facebook.

In the run up to Christmas, Mackay has heaps to offer. Don’t forget to drop those hints about new gear from Santa! I wish you a happy and safe Christmas with plenty of time on the water. I’ll see you at the ramp.

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