The water was pouring past the rock bar as our boat sat anchored in around 30ft of crystal clear blue. It had been a hard day’s fishing with the islands yielding next to nothing. The motion to head for home was approved unanimously, but then I suddenly spotted a large glistening, silver herring in the bait bin.
The herring was somewhat soft and battered but it threaded smoothly on a 7/0 Mustad Big Gun hook. Once rigged with a half hitch around the tail to hold it in a streamlined fashion, it looked incredibly appetising. The bait hit the water and I started to help with the boat cleaning when suddenly all hell broke loose!
The Ultragraph 4000 rod bent to the reel seat and the Shimano reel screamed. I lunged for the outfit and was able to turn the large bottom dweller away from solid rock. As I lent on the outfit I was rewarded with a flash of orange and the shout of “trout!” rang out. It was a quality 63cm fish and the saving point of the day.
While the day was largely a failure the last fish made the rusty cogs in my brain tick and I decided to wander down to my local ramp with a cast net. I found the deep water off the pontoon alive with the same shimmering herring that tempted the trout. I decided to put the 12ft monofilament cast net to use and gathered several dozen.
Now these weren’t your average estuary herring, these were a palm sized blue water variety. While at the ramp I received an extremely useful tip from a gentleman – his advice was to place the fresh herring in airtight plastic bags with a healthy covering of rock salt. I bowed to his knowledge and froze the fish in bags of 12 with plenty of salt.
Our next voyage saw us targeting trout along a patch of rock just off Scawfell Island. The rock breeched the surface yet dropped away to over 30m deep relatively quickly. We fished the first of the run-in tide and started with squid bait. A few undersized parrotfish and sweetlip were our only reward. That all changed however when the salted herring came out of the esky.
The salt had kept the fish firm and fresh, in fact they looked as good as the day I caught them. Almost as soon as the first bait hit the water, shouting and grunting began. The first prize was a large coral trout, the perfect baking size. From then on in it seemed as though every time the bites went quiet all it took was a herring to bring on a gut busting trout or more often then not, an unstoppable bust off.
This wonder bait was dubbed ‘trout lollies’ and is now a cherished item in our fishing arsenal. These days you can also find me down at the pontoon several times a week hoping for a school to come through. The secret is in the size and colouration of the herring. Big bait catches big fish and when that bait is fluttering down through the water column with flashes of shimmering silver, what self-respecting predatory fish could resist?
November and the colder months seem to bring more of these little silver fish and when they are in, they come in plague proportions. It’s not uncommon for the Mackay Harbour to be wall to wall with massive schools. Catching enough herring for bait is easiest with a good quality cast net but a bait jig with size 10 hooks or smaller will also work.
I prefer to use a monofilament net with pockets. However, a good quality drawstring net will work a treat off the pontoons or jetties because it allows you to close the net without having to let it sink to the bottom. With some luck and a little skill you’ll have enough to supplement a day’s fishing. Just remember to practise restraint and take no more then you need.
The next time your favourite spot goes quiet drop over a trout lolly. You might be pleasantly surprised.Reads: 1914