Emperors are red; Spaniards are blue
  |  First Published: December 2016

Happy New Years readers, I hope you all have had success on the water over the holiday period. With the festive season coming to a close, the true summer period of Cooktown is in full swing. Battling the hot, humid days, sudden downpours and the occasional storms was a true trial but those fish in the esky made every second of it worth the trouble. The lucky anglers who decided to stay in Cooktown for the holidays were blessed with perfect weather and great fishing. There has been a plethora of reports coming in, telling of success in both the rivers and reef – it would have made for some incredible seafood feasts to celebrate Christmas.

The great weather around Cooktown over the last month has seen plenty of reef anglers getting a good feed of quality fish. These perfect weather windows will continue right through until March, so there will be plenty of opportunities to get out on the reefs. With the warmer water, coral trout, and large and small mouth nannygai have been filling the eskies, and when working the deeper rubble patches, good numbers of red emperor have been as well. The rig of choice has been a double hook paternoster when finding the fish, but as soon as they start firing, a single hook will do the trick.

As for pelagics, there have been good numbers of mackerel around and about, and you don’t have to go far to find them. With the bait still congregating around the river mouths, there have been plenty of mackerel caught around the headlands and inshore reefs. Trolling both shallow and deep diver lures (especially Qantas colours), and Wogheads rigged with a garfish dead bait are a difficult offering for the mackerel to resist. Some solid Spanish mackerel are still being caught in good numbers. If you are having no luck on the troll, float an unweighted pilchard on gang hookers down a berley trail while bottom bashing and wait for the reel to go nuts. Best fish a light drag before cranking it up – set the hooks before the fish wire or heavy leader for these toothy critters. The estuaries in the Cooktown region have some great mangrove jack fishing at the moment, and this will continue well into March. For the sports fisher, throwing a hardbody lure or soft plastic into a snag has been a proven measure – just remember, when fishing for jacks, you need to get the upper hand straight away. Tight drags on 15lb-20lb main line and 30lb-40lb leader would be a good start.

For the bait fisher there has still been an abundance of live bait around the ramps, wharfs and moorings. With no shortage of livies, this has been the preferred method with many reports of success from sinking a live bait on a rock bar or deep snag. The favoured rig has been a running sinker and 30lb-40lb leader with a circle hook. If live bait isn’t an option, I have found well-presented freshly dead bait will end in the same result, and in some cases better, as these fish are opportunistic feeders. As for by-catches when targeting jacks, grunter are also taking a liking to a well presented soft bait such as a mullet strip or a peeled prawn. Around the headlands and further up the rivers in some of the deeper holes there have been some quality golden snapper and cod being taken. Barramundi may also come along and snatch up your bait, but these fish must be safely released until next month. Finally, if you are fishing the estuaries, remember to sink some pots, as there are reports of some chunky mud crabs being caught. Be prepared to check pots regularly, as there some cheeky crocs with the same idea.

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