Transition fishing
  |  First Published: May 2007

We are finally bidding farewell to a long wet season that even included a tsunami practice run. May’s usually a transition period in the tropics as the freshwater run-off eases and bait schools venture further upstream. We will start to see larger pelagic fish like great trevally, GTs, golden trevally and queenfish. It is no coincidence that these prime inshore sportfish follow the schools of greenback herring further into the rivers.

The transitional period from wet to dry season offers up some fantastic light tackle fishing for small boat anglers in our rivers and estuaries. It’s quite common for anglers to encounter the odd massive fish in the rivers north and south of Cairns. Years ago we would catch and release lots of GTs over 20kg and queenies over 10kg.

When I first started chasing queenfish in the rivers around here in the 80s, most anglers used live sardines caught nearby in their cast net. Over the years my fishing style has changed and I rarely if ever baitfish in the rivers anymore. The boom in lure products available at local tackle stores and the explosion of video and DVD fishing technique available has meant it’s far easier for novice anglers to learn effective casting techniques for their target species. However there is no substitute for spending time on the water and experimenting with your technique. It’s the quickest way to learn and you will be much better off in the long run.

When I was charter fishing we used to capture large queenies on 4kg and 6kg mono. I wonder how many people still use line of this size since braid is the popular first choice for most anglers. The light line provided a challenge and there was a real sense of achievement when you boated the fish. This month will be the perfect time to test your light tackle fishing skills against some of our best tropical sportfish.

Any northern river mouth is a good place to start chasing queenies in the gutters and channels adjacent to any sand bars in the salt arm sections of the river. Don’t panic if you can’t see any active surface feeding, the fish could be holding in the current and just waiting for their feeding time. The easiest approach is to start casting surface poppers at the shallows river sections as you drift or anchor up. There are many suitable top water lure varieties around and you may prefer to use metal slices or flies. I have had some of my best sessions on queenfish on the smaller neap tides after the full and new moons, and often in the middle of the day.


There have been some excellent inshore catches of fingermark, jacks, barramundi salmon, and grunter. I have also heard some good reports of plenty of small barramundi taken over the last month, particularly around the small feeder creeks and drains of the local rivers. Most of these fish have been around 65cm and were taken by casting small shallow water hard-bodied lures. There have been some larger ones taken on the troll over the deeper snags with live bait. This month is also a good time to chase barra before the water temperature cools down too much. If you concentrate your effort around the tide changes you will maximise your chances.


Those fishing the offshore and close waters adjacent to Cairns have reported some patchy fishing which should improve this month. There have been excellent catches of large mouth reds and spangled emperors in between the reefs and some quality coral trout are starting to show up in the shallower reefs. Unfortunately the bottom fishing bites have not been consistent, with follow up action often missing due to the changing currents. On the top water we should start to see an increase in Spanish mackerel action as we head to the main spawning season for these fish. There should also be more of a presence noticed with the appearance of the smaller mackerel species such as doggies and spotties.

Provided we don’t get blown off the water by the strong southeasters there should be some excellent winter fishing just ahead for us. Take a tip and have your boat ready to go as often the window of opportunity is small and if you are not ready to go you will miss out. Till next month, good fishing.

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