BRING IT ON! What a great start to the snapper season for bay anglers this year.
Great catches have been taken from the shallow grounds around the inner Bay islands and headlands with fish to 70cm not uncommon. Pre-dawn starts are the ticket to catching the better-sized fish in close, as it seems many fishermen who have been out there early are returning home with a good haul. A cavalcade of boats waiting to launch at the ramp at 1 or 2am in the morning is the norm as the climate cools down.
Drifting using a small sea anchor has been the best way to find schools of fish. And when you do, snapper are virtually jumping out of the water to be the first to hit your offering. Setting up your drift pattern adjacent to the shallow reef drop offs will get you connected to some healthy, hard fighting fish.
More action in the shallows will be encountered by using plastics rather than baits due to the water clarity at this time of the year. The fish seem to be rather shy of dead baits and react better to more natural moving “grubbing” plastics.
For this type of fishing, I prefer to use super light tackle and small “grub” style soft plastics with just enough weight to slowly sink your softie to the bottom. Vary your retrieve from an erratic long hop across the bottom to slow twitching with plenty of pauses. This will keep the fish biting longer as they don’t seem to get as accustomed to one particular type of retrieve, and as a result the snapper are inclined to not be as wary of the plastic.
The same goes for changing styles and colours of plastic baits. These fish see a lot of pressure from bait fishermen around the Bay and survive by being switched on to what is and isn’t natural. As daylight approaches and the flotilla of boats arrive, bigger specimens will move into deeper water and stop feeding.
Other species worth targeting in the northern bay are the ever-abundant tuna. These fish are also beginning to school up better than they have in previous months as the water temperature drops. Tuna have the ability to raise their core body temperature that require a lot more food intake to produce the energy needed to do so. This then sparks the fish into feeding more aggressively than summer months. The boiling fish seem to be easier to approach under motor and are more inclined to chase down lures cast out and retrieved through the schools. Plenty of locals are having a great time chasing these fish with fly and are receiving better hook-up rates than spinners. Stripping the fly at a slow steady pace doesn’t get your fly back to the boat with out a fish attached most times. Many fishermen disregard these fish for table fare and prefer to use them merely for bait. I can tell you that one of the most flavoursome fish on the BBQ is a succulent tuna steak.
By identifying the fish that are boiling on the surface, you have a better chance of actually being successful in capturing your quarry. Tuna can be easily identified by the fact that the fish will often jump clear of the water in hope to ambush their prey, unlike mackerel which usually slash along the surface in blinding bursts of speed. Using this information, anglers can choose the appropriate equipment for fishing with. Tuna, due to their enlarged eyes, will often reject lures that are too big, unnatural or too unlike the bait they are feeding on. Their eyesight is probably the best of all the game fishing species and will spot a target 30 to 40 meters away. Therefore the best tackle would be to use fluorocarbon leaders and tiny lures to about a maximum of 5cm in length retrieved at high speeds. Mackerel like a slower retrieve and a more “fluttering” type lure worked through the schools.
Out on the wide grounds the reef fishing has continued to improve with some nice pearlies, squire, parrot and cod being taken from Wide Caloundra and the Tempests. Late afternoon sessions have been the most rewarding with fish beginning to bite after about 3pm and continue through the night. There is also remarkably less boat traffic around the reefs in the afternoon.
Nice jew averaging 10kg are being caught on the shale areas that surround the reef drop offs and bommies. Live yakkas and small whiptails weighted close to the bottom will draw enquiries from jewies around dusk. It is important not to anchor your live bait to the bottom with lots of lead. Instead, use just enough weight to get the bait down and allow the livie to swim around at a slow pace. Keep your live baits looking as natural as possible – use a long 1+ meter of clear mono if a sinker is used.
The bait stealers are still ever-present and are making bait fishing an effort. Pilchards and squid won’t last long on the bottom at this time of the year so try mullet in pieces, or fillets, in order to give the bigger fish a chance to find your baits. Other good reef baits are tuna pieces, yakka pieces or slimy mackerel. Now that the current has slowed a lot, it is possible to use less weight and fish the deeper reefs than summer months allow. Pearlies are beginning to show up in better numbers around the shallower water although they are only just legal or just over legal size. This should improve as the month progresses and as the water temperature drops a little more.
Parrot has been the saviour for most trips out to the wide grounds lately and have well and truly made up more than half of the catch. These fish are a bonus for bait fishermen as their white flesh make them a welcome by-catch every time.
The trolling has slowed right down with only the occasional wahoo being taken on the top of the tide at Hutchies. Tuna are still worth trolling for when the tide is turning. East of Hutchies, along the 40m line, has turned up some nice yellowfin tuna amongst the schools of baitfish. Black and gold pusher and bibles style lures are still the favoured colours at the moment. Downriggers have been taking some healthier fish down deep around the change in water temperature with trolled sea garfish being the best baits.
Enjoy the beginning of the snapper season!Reads: 459