Summer fishing at its best!
  |  First Published: November 2007

November promises to deliver a top fishing month for local anglers whatever your fishing choice is.

The local rivers and estuaries will fire this month with just about everything with fins ready willing and able to jump on the end of your lure. The mangrove jacks will be particularly hungry along with finger mark and although barramundi are off the list because of the closed season there will be many catch and release pictures taken of the barras as they will be active throughout the summer period. Just remember to treat the barras kindly if you do make incidental captures during the closed season.

Other fish to target inshore this month in the rivers will include queenfish and trevally. For the bait fishers out along the beaches and estuaries there should be salmon, both Cooktown and kings, and grunter on the flats out from the Cairns esplanade. The month is also a good one to target fingermark in the deeper holes of the local estuaries and headlands on the neap tides with live baits of squid, sardines and mud herring being very productive.

Those anglers choosing to chase our local freshwater sportfish also have a prime month in front of them as action in the small streams for sooties and jungle perch will be excellent and impoundment fishing for our massive freshwater barramundi will be at a high. Best times for the impoundment barra will be at night around the build up to the full moons and even more if there is the welcome influence of warmer northerly winds.

Offshore this month bottom fishers once again will have to follow the coral reef fin fish closure on and including 3 to 11 November. Outside of this period you are free to target the coral trout, sweetlip and reds, which will be in full swing this month. Top water fishing will also be excellent as anglers pick off the last of the main mackerel run. This is also one of the main periods for black marlin here, in and around Cairns during November. This month presents a realistic opportunity for anyone wanting to have a crack at a billfish from a small boat to get out wide near Linden Bank or Jenny Louise and try your hand.

Jack Tips

This month is obviously a perfect time to target mangrove jacks in all the local inshore systems.

People ask me what is the best way to catch a mangrove jack and if you are a newcomer to tropical fishing and hell bent on catching one of these hard fighting fish then probably a well presented bait is the easiest method. Following are some tips on baits, rigging and the best times to chase jacks.


Bait choice for jacks is a subject of much discussion, however I believe fresh garfish slabs are pretty hard to beat. I would use a quality gar, take off the fillets and use each one as a slab bait. To do this, pass the hook through the blunt end of the slab, pull the hook and line right through and then position the hook down and through near the other end of the slab. Finally, make a half hitch with the leader as it comes out of the bait to complete the presentation. The half-hitch prevents the bait from bunching.

A good stand-by effective bait on mangrove jacks is the humble pilchard. Make sure your pilly is firm and also of good quality. I prefer to trim the tail off (this sets up a nice juice trail), thread a 3/0 hook through about 2-3cm from the stump, go through again a bit further down and then take the hook in through the gill cover and out through the eye socket. Gently pull the line tight around the pilly so the hook is lying in place along the side of the fish and finish off with a half hitch over the tail to secure the bait.

Other baits that work well include a fresh mud herring with split fillet waving (butterfly rig). I’ve had live prawns and sardines turned down by jacks in favour of gar slabs and butterfly mud herring rigs, but a smallish live mullet or sardine will also attract a big jack.

Terminal Tackle

I use a chemically sharpened 2/0 or 3/0 short shank hook, 40cm of 45lb mono trace, a swivel and a light ball sinker that is just enough lead for the tide. Use a 1.8m medium to heavy rod matched to a quality reel with a good drag. Big line capacity is not important, but stopping power is. Use 8-10kg mono or 15-20kg braid, and fish the reel in strike drag. An ideal place to fish would be the mouth of a small drain with any adjacent snags.

When fishing for jacks I prefer to use two anchors (for and aft) and position the boat side on to the location. Anchor within an easy cast of the snag. Cast and position your bait near the mangrove snag you’ve chosen, set up the rods in holders, and sit back, watch and wait. Jacks will hook themselves if you have your reel correctly set in strike drag, but you still need to react quickly. If you don’t respond fast you’ll be buried in the timber.

Prime Time

I prefer to fish a slow run-in tide for jacks and pick a day that coincides the run in with the afternoon or evening and you are in business. When you are choosing where to present your baits, just remember one word ... structure. Jacks are never going to be too far away from a good snag or rocky area. Anchor up to allow yourself the opportunity to present your baits as close as is practical to their cover. Ideal tides are those in the days building up to a full or new moon. Finally, be prepared to move around and onto the next spot with the tide if you get no action in about 40 minutes. If you fish regularly you’ll soon start learning which snags produce the goods, and in no time you’ll have half a dozen hot spots up your sleeve.

If you are determined to catch a jack with a lure then they will take all number of lures, flies and plastics. The key here is once again in presentation. It is essential to be stealth in your approach and your cast offering needs to be placed right in tight under the mangrove branches. The best times for lure casting are the last half of the run out tide and the first half of the run in tide.

Essentially you are targeting these fish as they emerge from their low water holding spots and are out actively feeding as they follow the water in amongst the mangroves. Once there is too much water the jacks will probably be a long way in amongst the mangroves and difficult to chase effectively.

Jacks will respond to many lures types and patterns however I have found more success around the local area on small hard bodies of similar shape say to a Rapala shad rap SR7 and the old Tilsan Bass. Plastics like the 6” Squidgie range of slick rigs and shads also work well. When using the plastics try to make them sink slower by making them lighter using smaller lead heads or use the lighter resin heads. Also make them more snag free by setting the hook point parallel with the top of the lure instead of prominent. These changes will ensure you have more control and fewer snag ups and ultimately more hook ups with the fish.

Till next month… good fishing.

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