Threadfin fun
  |  First Published: May 2008

What a month to be in the far north of Queensland. May is when the searing, humid days of the wet season have finally drawn to an end, and the creeks are clear, the rivers fresh and invigorated. Besides the fantastic barra fishing, threadfin salmon and mangrove jack are hot-to-trot in the waterways surrounding Aurukun. As alternatives to barra, these two critters taste absolutely fantastic.

Threadfin salmon

My personal favourite is the threadfin salmon. Any fish that is very finicky for most of the time, then all out aggressive at other times, makes for great sport fishing. On fly, lure or bait, these are welcome fish in anyone’s catch. Threadies often come to the boat or shore quickly once hooked and surprise anglers with a sudden turn of speed and blistering jumps once they wake up.

They are suckers for most live and dead baits around the north Australian coast and you wouldn’t want to be a lone prawn left behind on a shallow high-tide mudflat. With whiskers poised to sense the tiniest movement or vibration in the water in front of them, a threadie will pounce quickly on prey that fits their profile.

Anyone who has filleted threadfin salmon will understand the difficulty in getting clean fillets. Knuckles stick out from the fish’s skeleton making a clean knife stroke impossible. There are just rewards for the careful however, as the fillets are clean, white and delicious when fresh. A good sample is to prepare the threadfin as sashimi served chilled with Japanese soy and wasabi. Or as we ate here tonight, slices pan-fried then poached lightly in cream and fresh dill, accompanied by lemon and white pepper. Add to either of them a nice glass of chilled white wine, happy days!

Casting shallow diving lures and poppers around snag piles in some of these crystal clear creeks is very visual fishing. You have to watch your lure constantly for the best results as it is a lottery what you might hit next. It could be a mangrove jack, barra, archerfish, barracuda, queenfish, saratoga, trevally, fingermark, grunter, blue salmon or even a bull shark!

Mangrove Jack

Mangrove jack caught during May in the Ward, Watson and Small Archer rivers are always strong, healthy fish. Often the red devils can be seen as they dart out from dense cover to ambush your lure. It never fails to impress, that initial hook-up on a jack.

They can be sneaky, suspicious, tenacious and downright vicious on any given day. Watch out when taking the hooks out of a mangrove jack, as those eyes will follow your hand around. They know just when to snap those jaws to catch an unsuspecting finger and puncture straight through with some nasty canine-like front teeth.

One great way to target jacks is by casting prawn imitations down amongst timber and jigging them back out again. The take is always severe when the fish is allowed to hit it from a static position. A jack will investigate, pounce and be headed back to its lair in a split second.

The fillets of a freshly caught mangrove jack are usually clean and slightly pinkish when bled and kept on ice. And there are not many sweeter tasting fish.

Crumbed, battered, seasoned, plain, you name it, mangrove jack tastes great no matter how it is done. So long as you don’t overcook the fillets, taking them off the heat as soon as the flesh can be broken apart. Baking 1-2kg jacks is a fantastic way of getting the most out of them. They are succulent baked as they retain moisture and mix very well with flavours like lemon, pepper, salt, balsamic vinegar, shallots and the list goes on.

May is one month there is never any shortage of fishers keen to get out and amongst some of the best fishing Australia has to offer. The weather is mild and the fishing is usually hot.

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