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Tensions high while we wait for snapper
  |  First Published: July 2017



With the arrival of mid-winter, not only do we have relatively low overnight temperatures, but we also see a change in the fish species anglers we will be chasing. Our temperatures are predicted to get down to 10°C or just below, which is pretty cool for this area.

The biggest change is the annual snapper migration into our waters, and fortunately they come right in close, well within the reach of anglers and 4m tinnies. Every winter, the odd snapper is caught from the harbour rock walls, but most are caught in deeper waters around the close in islands off Mackay and further south. A few stragglers get caught up off Seaforth, but the bulk of the snapper are around Mackay and Sarina islands.

The snapper will hang around for about 2-3 months, and you can bet that any calm wind-free days will see plenty of ‘sickies’, as well as plenty of bosses out on the water chasing snapper. Most locals know the hotspots around Hay Point, the islands off Cape Palmerston, and the close islands off the Pioneer River, but visiting anglers who come to enjoy paradise during the winter should check with the local tackle shops for the good info.

Baits here are the same as those used down south with squid, pilchards, and cut baits all getting plenty of use, and large prawns are always worth having on board. Berley is a difficult option in our area due to the tidal range, which means very strong currents, so heavy weights are needed to get baits down to the fish.

Very big plastics are also getting more use, but again they need plenty of weight to make sure your lure is in the fish zone. Extra weight can be added by using sinkers in a loop knot rig to get your plastic plummeting quickly, as it’s not much use finding fish on the sounder, dropping a plastic over and having it drift 10-20m away from the fish. Ideally, your plastic should be able to be followed down in the sounder beam to the waiting fish.

As the snapper are here to breed and are schooling up, it is possible to load up in a short time. Remember, they are breeding for future fish stocks, so it is important to be mindful of bag limits and not take too many. A decent size snapper will yield plenty of quality fish flesh, so a couple of fish will be plenty for most anglers and still leave some to give to friends or relatives.

Every year golden trevally and queenfish seem to like mixing in with the snapper and are an interesting and hard-fighting by-catch. Both species are good eating, but a bit of thought and preparation needs to be done to get the best from them. Unfortunately, many times they are pulled up from deep water and release is often no better than a 50/50 chance of survival.

Another very important angling species is the winter whiting, and we are having a beaut run of these tasty little fish at the moment. The Pioneer River is crawling with whiting and most are good-sized and a couple of anglers drifting up with the tide can score plenty of tasty fillets using either yabbies or worms. Night run-in tides are always popular here when chasing whiting in the river with plenty of fish being caught in the city reaches over the extensive sand flats between the boat ramp and the hospital.

Further up past the hospital, anglers tend to wade the flats after whiting, as it is easy to get stranded here in a boat unless very careful attention is paid to what the tide is doing. In other words, as soon as the flood tide slows head back downriver pronto to avoid the embarrassment and inconvenience of being stranded.

Whiting are also plentiful and on the chew during July around McEwans Beach, Sandy and Alligator creeks and Sarina Inlet. McEwans fishes well from the shore while the others are predominately fished from small boats. One reason for this is the crocodile factor as salties or ‘mud geckos’ are fairly common here, so heed the warning signs if you are a visitor, even if you think it unlikely a croc would be in the area.

Many whiting anglers also run into snubbies or ‘oyster crackers’ as they are known locally. These snub-nose dart are one heck of a fish on any gear, but on light whiting rods they are a real trophy to land. Their more or less diamond shape is used to good advantage against the current, where they will sit side on and are difficult to move on whiting rods, which are traditionally pretty soft-actioned. Snubbies will readily take yabbies and worms fished on the bottom for whiting, as they like to grub around for small crabs, prawns and yabbies. Good luck if you hook one on your whiting rod, as you will need plenty of it to land a snubby.

Another top eating sport fish that welcomes the winter is the golden snapper, which is now becoming a more popular target species. They can be caught in juvenile sizes in the creeks and rivers, but the bigger fish come from offshore and around the rocky headlands. Mackay Harbour walls are also quite a good spot to target them, but it’s best to do this of a night time, as the boat traffic during the day tends to make them pretty wary.

Live bait, particularly small squid or herring, is the best bet for these hard fighters and both can usually be caught either on jigs or by cast net in the harbour. Lures and flies will also work well on them, with plastics and soft vibes being very popular, but the tackle shop employees can give advice on the best bets for golden snapper luring. Fly fishers should use either a sinking or intermediate line and Clouser Minnows are a good choice of fly. A dash of red in the fly will not hurt either.

Blueys are on the bite at the moment, with good fish being reported from the close in islands, including the flats around Seaforth. Big fresh prawns are the bait for blueys, and as they are right up close to shore the fish are super spooky, so a quiet approach is needed. Anglers with electric outboards are sure at an advantage when chasing them. They are a good target for the lure or fly angler, and the ability to make long accurate casts will help no end. The hook up is only the start of the fun, as they run hard and fast and have a habit of finding rocks or coral rubble to get free.

The usual estuary and creek species are all on the chew with bream, flathead and a few grunter poking around in all the creeks. Steelbacks will often be found in schools smashing small prawns in the creeks, and they just love small plastics. A light jighead for your plastic fished on a light rod and reel combo and steelies can be heaps of fun. They are also suckers for a small fly and on a 5-6wt outfit will put up a good performance.

In the freshwater, the barra are in quiet times during the winter, but the sooties are plentiful in the Pioneer River, Cattle Creek and the dams. MAFSA members recently finished off the stocking season with releases in Kinchant and Teemburra dams. There were 7000 barra around 200mm long, which were purchased with SIPS funds from GFB Fisheries of Bowen. They very kindly donated a further 10,000 barra, that were surplus to their stocks. GFB were aware that some of the barra we purchased earlier in the year had not travelled well and we had some losses, so they offered to donate some fish, which was extremely generous of them. Check out the photos on MAFSA’s Facebook page.

A great big thank you to GFB from all Mackay anglers.

As always, Mackay has so much to offer anglers, no matter what the season, but with our lovely mild winters why not come up and join us in paradise. See you at the ramp!

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