The waters off Cairns have cooled significantly over the past two months with the arrival of consistent southeasters. They are now getting down to their seasonal average, allowing fishing to return to a more settled pattern. Southeasterly winds are showing indications of moving from consistent to persistent, which has the flipside of restricting fishing, especially at the reef.
Taking advantage of calm periods, when they arise, is the secret to successful winter fishing in the north. Some years we seem to get a run of calm periods coinciding with weekends and there are lots of smiling anglers. Far too often it blows all weekend and calms off mid-week. Anglers with a more flexible work schedule revel in the conditions, while most just get more frustrated as the weeks slip away.
When anglers have managed to get to the reef there have been some good to great catches coming home. Quality coral trout and trophy-sized largemouth nannygai have been the main attraction, with a sprinkling of most other reef species including red emperor, reef mangrove jack and spangled emperor.
Coral trout have been coming from all depths and the 25-40m range has generally been the most productive. Largemouth nannygai have been coming from deeper water. As waters continue to cool, fish should move up shallower, so work the full range of depths until you locate feeding fish.
Don’t discount destinations closer to shore as the waters cool. They can often be extremely productive over the winter months. The big advantage of inshore reefs, islands, wrecks, rocks and wonky holes is they are much more accessible when winds are borderline. Slipping out for a dawn raid and then turning tail for home a few hours later, while not the ideal scenario, at least quietens the angling itch until a more extended foray can be achieved.
The calmer period, from pre-dawn until a couple of hours after sun up, is also a very productive bite time and a particularly fruitful time slot for chasing mackerel species, which have gradually been hitting their straps over the past couple of months. Mackerel fishing, particularly for doggies and Spaniards, should continue to improve this month, while spotties and grey mackerel are a bit more hit and miss.
Micro-jigs are gaining quite a following in the Cairns area and are a very active and effective way to fish for mackerel. The big advantage of micro-jigs is you can work the full range of the water column, making it easier to locate feeding fish. Mackerel are sight feeders and focus on silver, so using as much black as possible for terminal gear, other than the micro-jig itself, helps improve catches.
Use a fine, dark, single strand wire, no more than 20cm in length, with a small black swivel and black hooks and you will increase your strike rate. Keep the breaking strain of the trace as light as possible, around the 27lb mark, if possible. Just replace it with any sign of kinks and it will be more than adequate.
The big plus for mackerel fishing this month is there has been plenty of bait around, especially in the Net Free Zone between False Cape and Taylors Point, which also has a very positive spill over effect. The Net Free Zone in Cairns is continuing to improve catches. Any threat to the continuation of these highly effective Net Free Zones in Cairns, Mackay and Rockhampton should be fiercely opposed at the voting booth, by anglers from all areas and not just those already enjoying the improved fishing in their area.
Estuary fishing has been switching to the winter species of bream, whiting, cod and flathead. There are still the odd barra, mangrove jack and golden snapper being caught by those willing to put in the time and effort. One of the keys to catching this tropical trophy trio, year-round, is to look for areas of slightly warmer water or bait concentrations. Even better is to find a combination of both. Obviously the warmest time of the day is in the middle, so don’t discount fishing gentlemen’s hours in the cooler months. The biggest barra I caught last winter were taken mid to late morning. Fine, calm and sunny days don’t just lift your spirits after a run of dirty weather; they do the same for fish.
Mud crabs should be on the move this month, so don’t forget to drop a few pots on the way to your favourite fishing location. There is nothing like adding a feed of muddies to the dinner menu just before returning to the boat ramp after a successful day on the water.Reads: 2579