January is a time to look back over the past year, and to look forward to angling pursuits in 2017 – and how better to look forward, than with all our new fishing gear from the Christmas score. Reflection is good, but anticipation is great, as we look at new opportunities on the fishing front.
December’s hot steamy weather is hopefully behind us now and we can look forward to ‘the wet’ beginning, providing our fisheries with a boost. Our fishing over the next three months will be very dependent on how much rain we get, and whether this is in the form of huge dumps, or more typical continuous showers and small storms.Whatever kind of rain events we get, you can bet the humidity will be running high – that usually triggers some pretty impressive bites around Mackay.
On the freshwater front, the barra fishing in our three dams has been sensational since around mid November last year, and this will likely continue. I expect there will be some rises in dam levels, and if these are not too dramatic, they won’t have much effect on the barra bite. But if there is a big run off into the dams, the barra will go quiet for a while, as the colder water running in is a bit of a turn off. They still have to eat, so a varied approach is called for.
Most of the barra fishing in the dams concentrates on more open water around the bays and points, but there are plenty of fish in amongst Teenburra’s timber, and they can be found in some very shallow water. Lay down logs running out from the banks with some lilies or weed beds nearby will almost always hold a barra or two and many of these fish will be feeding on freshwater shrimp and crays, as well as their usual fare of bony bream. Look for these spots on wind blown shores, where the wave action (and that of passing boat wakes) stirs up the minute bankside critters and the predators, from bony bream up, can get an easy feed. The food chain dictates that where there are baitfish or other feed sources, the barra won’t be far away.
All three of our dams now have large populations of 1m+ barra, with many now over the 1200mm mark. These big fish aren’t easy though, and they will certainly test out both angler and gear.
I expect that January will again see plenty of black and gold Squidgies being cast around the dams. Many anglers ‘hot rod’ these lures, by adding stingers, rattles or trimming the tail wrist to get more action. These modifications and tinkerings are not limited to plastics either. Big plastics like the black and gold Squidgy are a firm favourite locally, and our dam barra probably see more of these than any other lure. Similar offerings from Reidy’s, Tsunami, Tropic Angler, Storm, Castaic, ZMan and so on all get plenty of barra time in the dams.
Local barra anglers will concentrate their efforts on the dams for this month, but are already thinking ahead to the opening in February. The dams are also throwing up plenty of horse-sized sooties, with many over 500mm caught during December – the ever reliable sooty will continue to provide plenty of action in the dams during January. If we get a big dump of rain and lots of run off coming into the dams, the sooties will be lining up at the inflow. Not only are they looking to knock over an easy feed, but the rising, running water also triggers their breeding instincts.
During December MAFSA members injected a number of female sooties, but while eggs were produced, they proved not to be viable. However, as soon as there is any appreciable rise in the river or into the dams, the troops will be out chasing brood stock.
Sooties will often smash large 150mm barra lures, but generally to target them the angler should downsize lures and tackle. While plastics and vibes take plenty of sooties, the most reliable lure is a spinnerbait and at low light, small poppers. I prefer colours like black/gold/red/yellow and various combinations, and on the poppers I mostly tie on some small feathers or similar fly material to just give a bit of added attraction.
Moving down into the salt water, January catches will be influenced by rainfall and baitfish/prawn availability. Prawns are the number one tucker for almost any saltwater creek species, but they’ve been a bit scarce due to the lack of rain. It’s the same story for mud crabs, so bring on the wet!
Most creek and estuary catches have consisted of grunter, flathead, golden snapper (fingermark), some threadfin and plenty of mangrove jack during the hot December weather. We can expect these same species to dominate catches during January.
Mangrove jack are of course snag dwellers, but on some occasions they will be found some distance from cover, and when they are, the chances of landing the fish are much better. Chase the jacks around rock bars, freshly drowned mangroves and any substantial snag. Jacks tend to be on heavier snags than barramundi. The latter will often sit on a single small stick or juvenile mangrove.
Moving out along the beaches, anglers can expect to find plenty of delicious whiting, and although not huge by southern standards, they are every bit as sweet on the plate. Fresh whiting fillets rolled in flour and fried in butter with a squeeze of lemon or lime, a nice salad and a crisp white wine is food fit for a king. Flathead, bream, trevally and grunter will also often feature in angler’s bags along our beaches, and all these species will take a well-presented yabby or squid strip, worked with minimal weight and light line. This is good fun, and a nice feed of fresh fish is a great reward.
Towards the end of November last year, I was fortunate to attend a workshop on our Net Free Zone, one year on from the declaration, and the positive attitudes and vibes coming out of that meeting were great. Even an old cynic like me was impressed, and the data presented by Luke Galea and others was a real eye opener. Take for example the boat ramp, surveys showed that anglers catching at least one legal size fish increased by over 20% in the first three months of the NFZ. Talk amongst anglers also indicates that the NFZ is a great move for the Seaforth area north of Mackay, and I expect the positive trend in the fisheries in this area to just keep on improving over the next couple of years. But I urge all anglers to value this resource, and don’t just rip in and take everything. Limit your catch and preserve this fishery for future generations.
Offshore fishing in January will be a mixed bag with good reef fish available when the weather permits access. The small mackerel species and tuna are likely to be about at the end of their season, but there will always be a few stragglers available. Around the islands anglers can expect to tangle with plenty of queenfish and trevally, and both respond to a number of techniques ranging from live and dead baits, to flyfishing. Truly, multidimensional recreational angling is available with both these species. Many anglers are now targeting them using large plastic stickbaits and metal jigs – the soft vibes are great on both, but tidal currents can make it difficult to get the lure down to the fish. These things will catch just about anything that swims, and it is not necessary to spend $30 on a lure, as the cheaper variations around $10-$15 each will catch plenty of fish. I like the Fuze range, particularly those that are largely clear – these are great lures.
Look for the queenies and trevally around all our close islands, such as the Seaforth area, Flat and Round Top and the islands off Sarina. The larger boats will find them in numbers at places like St Bees/Keswick and up through the Goldsmith islands group. Trolling big poppers and minnows in a spread is a good system, while keeping a close eye on the sounder for any bait school shows. Find the bait, and you will find the fish – one of nature’s golden rules of survival. So while we are sweltering here in the tropics, we know that there is also plenty of red-hot fishing ready to go. As always, the Mackay area offers a huge diversity of fishing experiences, from the rainforest, dams and out to the reef, so why not, make it a point to come and join us in paradise. See you at the ramp.Reads: 771