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Fabulous February fishes firing
  |  First Published: February 2017



It has been a fairly volatile summer so far with changing conditions, stinking hot days, regular storms or showers and wind blowing from every direction, especially the north. The fishing has been fairly good for most in the rivers, creeks, estuaries and bay. Species such as mackerel, mangrove jack, prawns, threadfin, cod, longtail tuna and many others have been popular and successful targets.

In addition, anglers have scored a lot of other species either by choice or as by-catch. Hopefully we will get some decent rain before long to give the systems a good flush before winter. For now, let’s enjoy the rest of the warmer months and explore a few of the fabulous February fishes on offer.

PRAWNS

Every year it seems as if more and more anglers are getting out and securing themselves a feed of prawns. I headed out on Christmas Eve to try and score a few for the table and stumbled upon a good patch. I managed a full 10L limit of quality banana prawns for a few hours of casting, which was great and appreciated by the family on Christmas day.

The issues relating to the outbreak of white spot disease, which has affected some prawns in the Logan system, are varied. The situation isn’t quite as widespread as some media outlets have portrayed. It is great that something was done immediately to halt the spread of white spot, as it could potentially have dire effects on our entire prawn population. Flow on effects to other species, which feed on them were also a possibility. Recently there have been no reports of outbreaks in any other systems and let’s hope it remains this way.

Although prawning has not been allowed in the Logan River system, there have been plenty to catch in other rivers such as the Brisbane, Caboolture, Pine and Coomera as well as numerous other creeks and channels in the estuaries. Large, locally made top-pocket nets ($350-450) are favoured by serious prawners. Any decent store-bought, top-pocket net of 10ft or 12ft drop will work well and secure you a good feed of these succulent crustaceans. Some anglers just cast blindly and hope the prawns are where the net falls. This can result in a lot more effort for fewer prawns.

Use your sounder to find the prawns and optimise catches. On the Lowrance in my little tinnie, the prawns show up as a blue haze and are quite obvious. You’re best to search for prawns in deeper holes and channels. Once located, make your cast and allow the net to settle on the bottom. Most standard nets will require some extra rope, because you will often be working in depths of 10m or more and the rope that comes on the net will not be long enough for the net to reach the bottom.

Once settled, small tugs on the anchor rope will get the net’s lead-line moving inwards across the bottom. This will frighten the prawns up out of the bottom silt and they will flick up into the net. If you have a top pocket net, most will be trapped in the upper pocket in the net where they are easy to remove. Keeping your prawns alive in salt water for some time will often see them purging, which makes them easy to clean later. Most creek and river systems will be worth some exploration over the coming months if you are after a feed of prawns or some prime baits.

MACKEREl

Mackerel, especially spotties, have been a little patchy at times. There are definitely enough in the bay to keep you looking. Often I have found that they are not feeding in tight, surface busting schools, but are just cruising around plucking off the occasional morsel. Birds often wait overhead, high up off the water and wheeling about in one area.

While you can’t usually see the mackerel, getting into position close to where the birds are and simply blind casting will entice a few. I got my first full bag of spotties on 1 December this way. They were all quality specimens of 78-87cm and were taken on a combination of slugs and stickbaits.

With high levels of boat traffic on Moreton Bay over the holidays, it has been hard at times to get onto the spotties. As soon as you stop near any wheeling birds you have numerous boats racing over to see what’s happening, which disperses the few fish that are there. In recent weeks, the schools have been a lot easier to pluck a few specimens from and anglers are locating spotties in virtually all areas of the bay.

Common grounds to begin your search for spotties and other pelagics include the area north of the Harry Atkinson and Foul Grounds, the northern boundary of the Paddock Green Zone to the Four Beacons, Mud to Measured Mile, Middle Bank, all major shipping channels, around Peel Island, Rainbow Channel, and adjacent to the Naval Reserve Banks and the Banana Banks, just to name a few. If you see birds patrolling a particular area, get to the general zone, cut your motor and wait. A few blind casts may reward, or the intensity could build until there is a major bust-up close by.

Most of the surface feeding schools have been spotties. A few school mackerel have also been caught. School mackerel have been more common around the beacons and margins of the bay islands than in open waters. Drifting out an unweighted pilchard rigged on ganged hooks while fishing around any of the bay islands can reward anglers with a mackerel or numerous other species. This same approach can work adjacent to the major shipping channel beacons, especially around the tide changes.

Another approach for probing these zones is to cast a chromed slug or slice close to the beacon and then retrieve it flat-out once it hits the bottom. Trolling deep diving minnow lures or a drone or spoon style lure behind a paravane is a good way to score a few mackerel along the edges of major banks and channels. Remember that there are differing size and bag limits for each mackerel species, so be familiar with these and how to identify each species before you head out.

CRABS

Crabbing has been fairly good of late with both mud and sand crabs available in decent numbers. The numerous downpours have helped to flush mud crabs into the greater systems where they are easier to target. Good downpours early in January were a boost for crabbers working the estuaries and larger river systems.

Setting safety pots in deeper holes, along the edges of collapsed mangrove banks, the mouths of gutters and drains feeding out of the mangrove expanse and wetlands as well as deeper channels will likely reward. Baits such as mullet, chicken carcasses, fish frames or a few pilchards in a mesh bag are all good choices for crabs.

It’s best to leave your pot over a tidal change with a good five or six hours soak time. Night periods with decreased boat traffic will often produce better results than daylight hours. While it is ideal to leave your pots set for extended periods, you’d be wise to stay close to your pots because theft and raiding are far more common than they should be. Returning to find your pots empty, often with the entrances left open, or the pots gone altogether is extremely frustrating and will spoil your trip.

Sand and blueswimmer crab numbers have been healthy in areas. At times it seems as if the shallows (waters less than 8m depth) are the more productive zones, especially around the outside contours of the bay islands. At other times the deeper areas along the edges of the major banks and towards the Sand Hills seem to fire. I don’t crab enough to work out any pattern to this, but I’m sure the commercial crabbers are on the ball and know where to set their pots at any time to guarantee the best yield. Read between the lines.

MANGROVE JACK

For many keen jack anglers it has been a hit and miss season. At times the jacks have been very cooperative and anglers have scored several in a session. However, many anglers have had numerous fishless trips before they score results. Many systems between Brisbane and the Gold Coast are well known as productive jack waters and many anglers are working closer to home and probing the creeks and canals in the Brisbane, Redlands, Caboolture, Bribie and Redcliffe areas.

If you check out Google Maps for many creeks and canals you will be able to pinpoint spots nearby that are likely to hold these crimson sportfish. Saltwater areas with good structure in the form of bridge pylons, mangrove snags, pontoons, jetties, rock walls and the like are high possibilities to produce a few jacks. Canal developments hold a broad array of structure and are prime places to probe for jacks in the middle of suburbia.

Many anglers use lures such as diving minnows, vibration baits, topwater offerings and soft plastics. Live baits will also produce great results. Mullet, prawns, herring and pike are commonly used offerings for jacks and work well fished close to the bottom around structure and in deeper holes. Cod will also respond well to the same offerings in the same areas as jacks. You may encounter cod as by-catch when catching jacks or specifically targeting them by casting lures around rock walls, especially the ones with crabs in residence.

LONGTAIL TUNA

Numbers of longtails began to increase a little during January. They’re still not as abundant as they were at this time last year. They may be available in good numbers soon. For anglers willing to search, longtails can usually be found along the edges of major shipping channels and banks, especially on a falling tide. The Tangalooma area, Rainbow Channel, Rous Channel, a bit west of the Curtin Artificial and just south of the Four Beaconshave all been worth a look on the rising tide.

Longtails can pop up anywhere at any time, so it pays to be alert when moving through the bay. A quality pair of polaroids and good eyes will allow you to see them jumping clear of the surface from quite some distance away, especially during favourable weather conditions. The larger fish, which feed and roam in small numbers, will eat a broad array of offerings including pencil poppers, stickbaits, sliders, jighead rigged jerk-shad plastics and numerous chromed metal slugs and slices. I use Nomad Madscads, Old Dog Stix, Duel Adagio, Maria Mucho Lucir and numerous other offerings.

These larger specimens will commonly inhabit a particular area because there’s scattered concentrations of baitfish to be dined upon. If there aren’t enough baitfish to herd into a ball, they will roam and pluck off morsels at will. Drifting through areas where you have seen the odd breaching fish while casting your lures will often reward. With a good pair of polarised sunnies you may even be able to see the occasional longie cruising just below the surface. Casting ahead and bringing your lure across their path will often produce an exciting chase and aggressive strike.

Larger numbers of longtails will be found smashing bait balls on the surface if there are enough baitfish. These fish will also eat lures and will sometimes be very profile-orientated, only eating offerings close to the profile of the baitfish on which they are feeding. For this reason, it pays to have a variety of lures in different profiles. When the baitfish are miniscule, often just a 1.5cm clear body with an eye will do great. The flyfishers get the best of the pickings, as they are able to present such a small offering.

THREADFIN

The Brisbane River and most other major river systems along the coast all hold good numbers of threadfin salmon. Target these with live baits and an assortment of lures. As the prawn schools move along the river systems, threadfin are never far away. Anglers with quality sounders can easily locate these large fish and then present a vibration bait, soft plastic, jig or numerous other lures to get the strike. Often they will school in large numbers and some anglers will score numerous specimens in a session.

Mulloway, jacks, flathead, trevally, bream and several other species are often encountered as by-catch. The Brisbane River fired early in January with good numbers of 90cm+ mulloway being caught. The dredge holes at the mouth by the retaining wall, the ledge west of the sewerage shute and around the bases of the beacons leading out from the river mouth were just a few of the locales where anglers scored mulloway and other species, including quality snapper. Live baiting along the edges of the main drop-off into the riverbed is usually successful as well.

Although February can be an extremely warm month, anglers will be motivated by the quality of fishing on offer. From surface busting pelagics in the bay to aggressive snag dwelling jacks in the estuaries and thumper threadies in the rivers, there is some pretty hot fishing to be had. Seafood lovers will be taking the opportunity to score a feed of crabs or prawns. Early morning, evening and night sessions will avoid the heat of the day and are the times when many fish species are more active. Swap the Xbox for a tackle box and the remote for a rod. Get out into the great outdoors to sample some the fabulous February fishes.
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