Mack Mania
  |  First Published: June 2007

The weather is starting to cool slightly, with daytime temperatures in the high 20s and the nights coming down to about 17 degrees. It’s really tough living in the tropics at this time of the year, what with the balmy days, slightly cool mornings and often little wind!

But this cooler weather does signal a change in the fish species that are active and targeted by anglers. This effect is more pronounced in the freshwater than in the salty stuff although some species are more prevalent than others.

Up in the freshwater, the barra are nodding off to hibernation for our admittedly pretty mild winters, especially in the dams. They are still around and able to be caught, but their metabolism slows right down and they are not very active, and therefore don’t burn up much energy, so they do not feed like they do in the warmer months. In short, for most anglers the colder months are not ideal for chasing barra.

Sooties are a different ball game altogether, as they will stay on the chew right through winter and are a regular target for the locals and visiting anglers. They are a great sportfish, readily available in dams and rivers, active throughout the year, a hard hitter that can be caught on lures or baits, and very hardy so their survival rate from handling is very high. Some people don’t rate them highly as a food fish, but in clean running water the old sooty is quite an acceptable table fish.

By early June, the Tackleworld Sooty Championship will have been held at Eungella Dam and a full report on the event will be in next month’s QFM.

For saltwater anglers, there is plenty of action in the creeks and offshore. One of the most sought-after species in this area during the cooler months is that favourite food fish, the humble whiting. We are fortunate to get genuine elbow slappers here and one of the best spots is the Pioneer River that runs right through the heart of Mackay. It is very easy to know when the whiting are biting, as the anglers line the rails on the Forgan Bridge in the city both during the day, but more popularly at night to fish the run up tide. Boat fishing for the whiting is also very popular, and anglers launch at the River Street ramp and go over to the northern bank at low tide to pump yabbies. A couple of elbow slappers will be enough to feed a couple of people. Of course, practise moderation and keep just a few for your immediate needs so there will be plenty for the future.

The whiting are not only in the river, but can be found along all our local beaches and up in the estuary systems like Sarina Inlet, Alligator and Sandy creeks to the south. To the north look for them at Reliance and Constant creeks and all around Seaforth/St Helens areas.

Fish low tide up along the beaches and work the run-in tide in the creeks; be prepared however, to keep moving upstream with the tide. If you stay anchored or fish in the one spot the schools of fish will go past as they follow the tide. Mackay’s whiting are like those elsewhere in that they love yabbies and worms. Yabbies can be pumped all around the creeks and worms are available from most of our local tackle shops.

Flathead and grunter are often found mixed in with the whiting and will take the same baits. Both are fine table fish and good fun to catch. Small trevally and sometimes queenfish are also moving about the whiting schools and provide a bit of variety and great sport on light gear.

For lure anglers, the estuary cod is a good winter standby in the creeks and will always be found close to cover. Look for outcrops of oyster rocks that are covered by the making tide and the cod are usually not far away. One successful tactic I use is to get right up into the tops of the creeks at high tide and start working back downstream as the tide falls. The cod and other species sometimes get right up in among the mangrove roots and then move back out as the tide drops. Cod are the original ambush merchant and are likely to hit any bait or lure.

At this time of the year, many of Mackay’s anglers are looking offshore for their fishing fix. Tinnies of around 4m with 20-40hp motors are the most popular boat around here and at that size are capable of venturing to the nearby islands during good weather. If a blow threatens, it is only a short run back to the mainland and shelter.

On a good day there will be hundreds of trailers of all sizes parked at boat ramps all over the district, and it pays to get out of bed and on the water early.

Close offshore, the mackerel are just starting to run and reports are already in of a few greys and broad-barred mackerel being caught at the harbour. Greys are a bit of an enigma: here one day, gone the next. However, they are fun to catch and very nice on the plate when properly looked after. Like all macks, immediately remove any slime, bleed them and ice them down.

Greys are often an incidental catch taken when chasing other mackerel, but there are a few guys around the place who really target them with good results. One method is to troll lures quite quickly, making sure the lures get down fairly deep. Rapala CD 18s and CD 12s in blue/black with the stainless bib are a good starter lure. Reidy’s big bibbed cod lures will also go off but must be trolled slower than the Rapalas. I reckon some of the bigger plastic offerings will also work, but it will be one fish per lure with their teeth.

Look for greys around the harbour and up around St Helens and Seaforth islands. Be careful and make sure you have a map of the zones as there are a few up that way, and the Patrol lads frequent the area.

Spanish mackerel are also on the move and are being caught at the usual places. The southeastern corner of Round Top Island is one well-known haunt for these fish and floating garfish, pilchards or ribbonfish down current is a proven method. Many of the Spanish mackerel are less than 10kg in weight but be prepared for the odd monster in excess of 25kg here. There are also some very large sharks in this area.

Closer to home, look for Spaniards around prominent headlands such as Cape Hillsborough and Lamberts Beach lookout. The run through at Slade Island is also a spot worth visiting, but Spaniards can be found anywhere around Slade Island.

While most Spaniards are under 10kg, George Lenton has been consistently scoring on some beaut fish not far from the harbour. Over a couple of outings, George has been very consistent with fish of 15, 16, 23 and 38kg. George likes big baits and one of the best is a large ribbonfish. Many anglers like to use a pilchard or garfish with a pink squid running down onto the head.

GTs are featuring in the offshore catches too and they can be caught by bait fishing, but lure fishing is much more exciting. They will respond to poppers, particularly early in the morning or near dusk, and trolled or cast large minnows. Perhaps one of the most exciting methods to use is jigging – the adrenaline really gets pumping as the lure is feathered to the bottom.

It is not unusual to score massive hits as the lure falls and then the fun really begins. Wade Inskip and a mate had a red-letter day on big GTs recently bringing nine to the boat and missing many more that busted them off. Considering they were using 35kg braid the size of the fish can only be imagined!

Of the nine fish they boated, six were over a metre and eventually their arms got sick of the abuse the GTs were dishing out and they left them for an early return home.

As the winter progresses, tuna will start to show up more and there will be plenty of reef fish around too. Steve Palmer has been getting some top jew not far offshore at night.

Jewfish are also on the target list over the next couple of months, along with snapper. Both are caught just offshore around the close islands. Mackay Harbour near the end of the southern breakwall and Cape Hillsborough are excellent places for a big jew on the full moon and squid are the number one bait.

Mackay’s fabulous fishing is not confined to the warmer months. For all you southern anglers, why not come up and try a piece of paradise, with nights getting down to a chilly 10 degrees and days basking in high teen temperatures, fish aplenty and heaps of spots to try out.

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