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Chasing jacks around townsville
  |  First Published: June 2017



For the last couple of weeks the young bloke and I have been out of service as my faithful old Mercury four-stroke has packed it in after 15 years. The last four and a half years have been very hard on her, and she’s delivered us many years of hard work and loyalty. Motors can’t last for ever I suppose, but this one certainly gave it a go.

Hopefully I’ll be able to get something sorted in the near future and we’ll be mobile once again. The old Polycraft is still going as hard as ever and some fresh power should keep her happy for another 15 years.

Barramundi and
jacks

Towards the beginning of the month there were some nice barra getting around as the fresh water got away slowly, and the deeper holes and areas held good numbers of fish.

Live baits have been very easy to acquire in the form of prawns and mullet, but the prawns will become the number one bait as the water cools down. In winter plenty of barra get taken on fresh mullet and herring fillets – with lots of emphasis being on ‘fresh’.

Lure-wise, it is the smaller 3-4” lures that will usually get smashed by some surprisingly large fish. Since the opening of barra season, Tannhym and I have ended up chasing different species, and the jacks in the less frequented drains and tiny creeks have provided us with plenty of entertainment. The main reasons for our shift in focus have included the need to escape the congested traffic on some of the local waterways, and also simply because mangrove jacks are so much fun to catch on lighter baitcasting tackle.

The concentration and attention to your surroundings is an aspect of tight water casting that has its own appeal. Scanning for and spotting a fish through a tiny window of light penetrating the thick mangrove-lined banks on its own elevates the hunting aspect for jacks. That loud ‘crack’ from deep in the vegetation is enough to get any lure caster’s pulse racing.

Jacks have been pretty consistent, and will readily take hardbodies or soft plastics. The water is cooling quite quickly and this will make accurate casting as important as ever if you’re to get the most action. A skill that only comes from using soft tipped rods and lots of practice is skipping plastics into the otherwise unreachable pockets that hold some of the best snags and fish.

The use of weedless rigs is very important in the thick cover, and hook-up rates on jacks are great, as these fish smash a plastic hard enough to expose just about any hook point. The only thing you have to worry is getting them out, and that’s the most exciting bit.

Unlike in southern QLD and northern NSW waters, your average jack here is relatively small in comparison. This is more than offset by the sheer numbers in the more northern creeks and rivers. A big jack up north is 50cm, and after countless jack sessions around Townsville over the last four and a half years, I’ve only taken a handful over this benchmark measurement.

I must be getting a bit softer in my old age as nowadays we release just about all of our jacks, but I’m the first to acknowledge their eating quality. The day you have to feel guilty about killing a fish for the table is the day that we’re all in trouble.

As the water cools, one tip that may help you connect to some jacks is to downsize your lures a little bit.

GRUNTER

Grunter have been in better numbers recently than I’ve seen for some time. These hard pulling fish have an exceptional following around Townsville. The majority of grunter are taken on baits of squid, peeled prawn or fresh fillets of bait such as gar, herring and the reliable old mullet. Fresh is best though, a rule that applies no matter what bait you’re using.

SPANISH MACKEREL

Spanish have been taken throughout the year, and they are starting to kick into gear in bigger numbers as we head into winter. Traditional deep divers in the 160-200mm range work well. Speaking with some of the Spanish fanatics, it’s the smaller 40-50cm wolf herring that are the go if you’re after eating-sized fish 14kg and under. Trophy sized monsters are understandably too risky for many, myself included, to eat.

Reds and deeper species

One of the best verification devices that anglers have these days are the smart phones that are always by our side. These devices take pretty high resolution photos of those all-important fish that we all love to document. Some stonking big nannygai have been the hero subject of many of the photos I’ve seen popping up for weeks now, and the spots seem to be pretty specific. Largemouth nannygai have a tendency to hit large soft plastics that have more action, and my favourite is the 7” MadEye Paddle Prawn. Almost every angler who is using the Paddle Prawns in deeper water now believes the additional Madeye Octo Skirt to be a big benefit in maximising catch rates. I don’t get out wide all that often these days so it’s awesome to hear about how offshore deepwater lure fishing is being developed over a very short time.

Golden snapper (fingermark) are still going hard, and plenty of fish over the 80cm mark are being landed on all the usual stuff. Big catches of squid have been swarming boats of a night, and a squid light won’t take too long to pay for itself as it draws those big fish to the boat.

The most common ways to capture squid are obviously with squid jigs, cast nets or scoop nets that can be swept quickly through the water. Squid are undeniably the pinnacle of baits for golden snapper, and if these tasty cephalopods are around then you’re in with a great chance of landing some decent fish, even in waters less than 3m deep.

It’s a beautiful time of year in the north, and a transitional period for fish species. The waters clear a bit more, and the days are very pleasant, so trialling some techniques and doing something different could just pay off in a big way over the next month or two.

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