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Stride into March with abundant fishing
  |  First Published: March 2017



March can be an interesting month with all manner of weather conditions possible. Plenty of angling options are available. Often it’s a hard decision to choose the species to target next. Options include mack tuna and bonito, demersal species like snapper, sweetlip, tuskfish and cod, or estuarine fish like threadfin, mangrove jack, flathead, trevally, cod, tarpon, bream, whiting and numerous others.

Additional succulent crustaceans such as sand crabs, prawns and mud crabs can guarantee a seafood smorgasbord after a successful day on the water. If your casting finger is trembling in preparation for some awesome sportfish or your mouth is watering in anticipation of SEQ’s finest seafood, you’d better check these options out.

PRAWNS

The prawning season has been excellent with good catches consistently reported since a week before Christmas. Rivers on the northern side of Brisbane were the first to fire. The Pine and Caboolture are two of the more consistent. By late January, areas around the Jumpinpin region and the bay islands, including the Saltworks near Karragarra Island, were producing good catches. Most areas have been fairly steady since, and keen prawners with custom-made nets, as well as amateurs with store-bought nets, have all been getting amongst them.

Maximum limits (10L bucket of prawns) have been reached much of the time. The quality of prawns has varied a lot. At times anglers have managed to obtain their limits in less than ten throws of the net, which is prime prawning in anyone’s books. The falling tides are often preferred. The period around low tide is popular for those probing the deeper holes in the estuarine systems.

How long the prawns hang around is anyone’s guess, although we often score them well into late April and even early May. Because they came on a little earlier than usual this year, maybe they will taper off a little earlier than usual too. The best time to catch prawns is when they are around, so take the opportunity to get amongst them while they are present in the deeper sections of most prominent rivers.

BAY PELAGICS

The mackerel season on Moreton Bay has been a little sporadic at times. Occasionally large schools are located. Mostly it has been smaller numbers of mackerel intermittently surface crashing or simply cruising close to the surface in search of fodder. During late January and early February, large schools of small mac tuna and frigates were located throughout the bay.

More than one angler thought these were mackerel and proceeded to cast their arms off trying for a strike. However, these smaller tunas and bonito are often very profile-oriented and extremely hard to hook. Repetitive casts with lures of all profiles usually go unmolested. Occasionally a small baitfish-profiled fly cast into the melee and simply allowed to sink will get slurped up in the chaos.

A few times, spotted mackerel were found around the perimeter of these schools. Some anglers even reported large Spanish mackerel jumping clear of the water near the bust-ups of small tuna. I haven’t heard of any captures. I’ve cast large stickbaits around these schools in hope of a Spaniard and so far haven’t been rewarded.

Schools should still be present well into March and possibly April. As the size of the baitfish increases, the strike rate on small chromed slugs and slices will rise accordingly.

Major beacons, such as those in the shipping channels, especially the Four Beacons and Measured Mile will hold decent numbers of school mackerel as well as a few spotties. Jigging chromed slugs and slices in an erratic or high-speed manner around the beacons is often enough to elicit a few strikes. Around the tidal change you can deploy pilchards rigged on ganged hooks with enough lead to get them close to the bottom near the beacon bases.

Trolling deep diving minnow lures along the edges of prominent banks and channels will also yield a few schoolies and spotties. If you’re fishing one of the artificial reefs, or the bay island margins, then drifting a pilchard out the back will often result in a succulent silver streak.

Longtail numbers have been fairly good in recent months. With the huge amount of small baitfish in the bay, I have often found them hard to tempt. Chromed slugs, stickbaits of numerous types and jighead-rigged plastics have all been ignored as the longtails casually cruise around slurping baitfish at will. A well-presented baitfish-profiled fly fished on an intermediate line and allowed to sink may get slurped up by a cruising longtail.

I have landed a couple of longtails recently and have had several eaten by sharks a few minutes into the fight, which has resulted in lost lures. At times I haven’t even been able to get spotties to the boat before the men in grey suits have taxed them. Longtail numbers should improve in the coming months and their feeding will become a little more erratic and frantic which will afford anglers more opportunity to get connected.

WHITING

For anglers fishing the numerous flats and channel edges throughout the bay and estuaries, whiting have been a major capture. Specific targeting is usually required to get amongst these tasty morsels in good numbers. They sometimes show up as by-catch for anglers chasing other species. What they generally lack in size they make up for in numbers and palatability.

Anglers are often able to score a limit of whiting for a few hours of effort. Small, tender baits such as blood or beach worms, yabbies (nippers) and squid strips will usually produce the best results when fished on a longshank no.6 or no.4 hook close to the bottom. As whiting roam the flats searching for morsels, many anglers choose to drift instead of anchoring, endeavouring to cover more ground.

Often you get a barrage of frantic bites with every bait receiving attention. Then it goes quiet until you encounter another patch of fish. The larger sand whiting (the minimum size limit is 23cm with a bag limit of 30) are the desired target during the warmer months. Anglers will still encounter the winter (trumpeter) whiting, which have no size limit and a bag limit of 50.

Whiting are a great target for junior anglers and newbies to fishing as they are easy to handle and catch. However, dedicated anglers who strive for those specimens over 35cm are very pedantic (and often rather secretive) about their rigs, baits and techniques. Whiting frames make excellent baits for large bay snapper so don’t discard them if a bay knobby is on your bucket list.

MANGROVE JACK

It has been a slower season for jacks, but the red rewards are out there for those who persist. Some anglers have managed three or four jacks for a session then had a couple more trips before even hooking another one. Most of the keener anglers are casting lures such as diving minnow lures, soft plastic shads and poppers. Often it is more important where you put the lure and how you retrieve it than the type or colour.

Keen jack anglers get a preference for specific lures for probing a certain type of structure or location. Live baits are also worth the effort, especially around prominent structure such as bridge pylons, mangrove snags and other current-altering structures. March is the last month where anglers can expect good results on jacks. Their aggressiveness and frequency will wane as the temperatures drop.

THREADFIN

All major river systems throughout Southern Queensland have been producing decent numbers of threadfin salmon for switched on anglers. Many are encountered by anglers casting lures or soaking live baits for other species. Anglers use quality sounders to first locate the threadies before having a cast. They are commonly found in the deeper holes, adjacent ledges and around other submerged structure such as jetty pylons, rock bars and prominent contours.

The Brisbane River, especially down river from the Gateway Bridge, is probably your best chance to secure a threadfin. If you are good with using lures, cast soft vibration baits or jighead rigged plastics, especially shad, minnow and prawn profiles. Try around the bases of the jetty pylons (adhere to limitations on distance), along the submerged ledges and declines into the main riverbed and any submerged rock ledges and other structure.

For a more relaxed approach, try fishing live baits such as herring, banana prawns, pike and mullet along the edges of the declines into the Brisbane River and any deeper holes, especially those around the fronts of the jetties where the ships have scoured and undercut the banks. Threadies will occasionally succumb to fresh dead baits and I have even seen a few caught on the humble pillie.

SWEETLIP

March is often a good month for anglers targeting sweetlip, especially grassies, which can be found around the fringes of the bay islands, rubble grounds and sandy surrounds. Early morning starts are desired for grassies, and being in position and anchored an hour or so before dawn will greatly increase your chances. The eastern side of Green Island is known as a good spot for grass sweetlip, as are the north-western corner of Mud Island, the reef fringes of Peel Island and the numerous rubble grounds in the Rous, Pearl and Rainbow channels.

Good baits include fresh fillets of mullet, gar, pike, bonito, mac tuna and slimy mackerel, or squid, pilchards and even raw chicken. Braided or monofilament lines of 15-30lb and fluorocarbon leaders of 20-40lb are recommended. Baits are best fished with minimal lead on razor sharp hooks for the best bite and hook-up potential.

Grass sweetlip are exceptionally strong fighters and will head for the nearest hard structure once hooked, so you will need to strike hard and fish a sturdy drag to turn the odds in your favour. The reward of tasty fillets will make the effort worthwhile. Additional captures while targeting bay sweeties will include snapper, morwong, tuskfish and numerous others.

CRABS

Good numbers of sand, mud and blue swimmer crabs will still be on offer for a month or two yet. Many believe March is one of the best months for crabbing in the bay for the sand and blue swimmers. My crabbing efforts in December and January were patchy and although I got some keepers every time I set my four pots, results were less than expected. Hopefully March and April will produce better results.

Setting pots along the edges of prominent contours and ledges surrounding the bay islands and in the gutters and drains feeding off the sand banks will generally reward. I use half a mullet and fish frames, especially mackerel heads. Chicken carcasses or a few pilchards in a bait envelope will also work. Mud crabs will respond to the same baits in the creeks and estuaries. Deeper holes, collapsed mangrove banks, and the mouths of drains and gutters leading from the mangrove flats and wetlands are all good places to set your pots.

CONCLUSION

March can be an unusual month fishing-wise, as there are many possibilities. Success with these can hinge on the amount of rain we have received or the air and water temperatures. Piscatorial possibilities are numerous for anglers fishing throughout Moreton Bay or any of the systems flowing into it during March. I often struggle to decide where to go or what to target. With temperatures starting to fall in the coming months, now could be your last opportunity to experience good results on some species, so take the opportunity to get amongst them as we stride into March.

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