Reef action is getting reel
  |  First Published: December 2016

Just about any species caught offshore around here is very active at the moment. Mackerel, cobia, tuna and other pelagics have been caught and will be about for the rest of the month at least. Coral trout, tuskfish, cod, sweetlip and various red fish dominate the majority of reef captures. Big large-mouth nannygai have moved into the closer rubble patches just behind the islands.

Several of these spots are the best bait grounds in the area for catching yellowtail scad and slimys at times. The easiest way to catch them is a bait jig. I find if you put a minute piece of squid on each hook or a smear of lure scent you will fill the jig almost every drop. We always put the first couple of livies straight back down on the bigger rods to see what is about.

We nearly always nail one or two decent nannies or a red emperor. I have never caught any big numbers there, but you can’t be unhappy with a couple 6kg fish to start the day. Being so close to Yeppoon gives you options when the weather picks up or you want to go for a run out in the smaller boats. Just on dawn is the prime time, as we don’t seem to get any big fish during the middle of the day. The rubble patches are very low and you can drive over them if you aren’t watching the sounder. More often than not it is the bait schools that mark the spot.

Most of the lesser mackerel have scarpered for other areas, except the odd school of doggies when the weather drops out and the bay is clean. Very early mornings at spots like Ritamada and Ironpot are always worth a shot. The Christmas Spanish run never disappoints the locals. Fish turn up at all the close mackerel grounds around the islands. Most of these fish are school size from 5-8kg and the bigger fish may come through in ones and twos.

Over Christmas I prefer to troll gar and small bonito if I have any left from earlier in the year. Otherwise I hook on a Crazy Deep or a big X-Rap and work the area. As always, when you see birds working with fish coming out of the water, they will more than likely be tuna. If you see birds working and no fish breaking the surface, they will most likely be mackerel. That means once we have a tuna or two for bait, we don’t bother about them. It’s entirely different when the schools of mackerel come through.

The lack of decent rain recently has all the bait and its many predators right back up the river and almost into the town reaches. I saw an angler land a 13.5kg black jew at Devils Elbow this week. This isn’t a rare occurrence. In the dry years, this particular corner is known for the big schools of grunter that sit on the undulating bottom waiting for a feed underneath the faster current. Wherever you get grunter there is a chance of black jew, especially if there is a hole or structure.

In Coorooman Creek, a couple of wrecks were removed because of the possible hazard to shipping, but they failed to remove all of the structures. On a trip last month, we found one was holding barramundi, golden snapper and some serious black jew. While we were there, the tides were too fast and the bite had shut down. It will be a prime spot when around the turn of the tides and even better at night.

Other pick spots for estuary grunter are Port Alma, Connors Creek, Coorooman Creek, Waterpark Creek, the Causeway Lake and Pumpkin Creek. Best baits are fresh prawns, flesh strips, pilchards, squid and any of the smaller livies such as herring and mullet. Vibes are really head and shoulders above other lures when it comes to grunter and they can be more productive than baits when the bite is slow. I like the plastic vibes and the hard vibes but the one I go to mostly is a gold blade vibe.

Many of the favourite estuary species remain on the chew over summer – flathead, mangrove jack, golden snapper, bream, trevally, whiting, dart, king threadfin and blue salmon are around. January and December usually put up the biggest bream of the year. Although the numbers aren’t the same as during the mid-year spawning, the size is there. One local man recently caught several fish over 450mm with one topping 500mm.

These fish are extremely hard to find and to do it regularly is some kind of effort. Most of these big fish are released with the odd one taken for a feed. Prawns, flesh strips, half pillies and yabbies are the popular baits. I like small butterflied poddy mullet and live herring to vary the baits when the bite is slow.

Like last month, big king threadfin salmon have moved right up to town. The school grew bigger over the month and takes up a large area downstream of Gavial Creek. Vibes are definitely the way to go for the fun factor. Many guys still prefer to troll and use very light gear. Some of these threadies are upwards of a metre and can go very hard. I find that as the school thickens, they get very lazy and don’t put up much of a show. Fish away from the school perform a whole lot better.

The main schools are hanging along the drop offs from the rubble to mud in approximately 5m of water. Anglers who troll prefer to use a bright hardbody with a small rattle that will touch bottom occasionally. The better fighting fish are the ones that work the mud flats and drains. Sometimes you can put a little vibe into a tiny mud drain with a foot of water and get onto a serious threadies that will go hard. Most of our local systems hold king threadfin salmon in ones and twos. You never see anything like the giant schools in the Fitzroy.

There’s only a few more weeks until barra season opens again. This is the time to get your gear together, service your reel and check your runners. It pays to scout the local systems for new features that weren’t there before and mark them for future reference.

I found some top structures, fallen trees and logs that weren’t there previously. One spot I will be going back to has a bundle of horizontal timber in the bottom of a hole just out from the main tree line. These types of spots are where barramundi will move to over the low tide. There are lots of barra in all the systems, which means the opening will be a good one, provided the weather plays the part and we don’t get flooded out.
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