With cold currents about to converge on North Queensland waters I think it’s time to come clean with my secrets for targeting reds on the shoals and wrecks off Townsville.
April signals the start of the inshore red emperor and small and large mouth nannygai season. Most of Townsville’s well-known shoals can be reached easily in a 5m tinny – just be aware of the weather.
The best rigs have been droppers, paternoster rigs or plain old running rigs. When you’re using a dropper rig you can set the distance that your baits sit up of the bottom. Small fish will rarely travel up too far to eat for fear of being eaten and keeping the sinker on the bottom means big fish won’t feel the weight until they have the bait in their mouth, hopefully during a strike.
Running rigs work better than droppers when fishing dead or livebaits as they tend to spin when they’re dropped. Dropper rigs often get tangled but running rigs can spin without tangling around the bait and will keep the hook exposed.
Most anglers use 15-20kg tackle (or 30-50lb), as it’s usually enough to stop most reds unless sharks move in. I think if the sharks move in then it’s time to move on anyway because you will only end up feeding them and killing a lot of good reds that could be caught on another trip.
Hook choice is a matter of personal preference and as long as it’s strong, sharp and sized to the fish that are being targeted should work. I use 7/0-9/0 often and have found these sizes cover the entire target and by-catch species available on the shoals. By-catches on the shoals can be as exciting and edible as the reds we’re chasing. Cobia, coral trout, gold spot and purple cod, many species of mackerel and trevally are all on offer.
Almost every angler knows roughly where the shoals are off Townsville and if you are from out of town the staff at any of the local tackle stores will be happy to point them out on the map. Once you get on the water it’s crucial for all anglers to take the time to find some structure. I suggest trying to find something around the 80ft (27m) of water mark.
A good quality sounder will really come into its own on the shoals. To get the maximum benefit from your sounder you need to be able to tell the species and size of the fish under your boat apart. Individual species will return distinct echoes on your sounder that will allow you to ascertain the differences and identify most species. Spending time on the water catching the fish that are pictured on the screen will give you the confidence to accurately predict what species is indicated on your sounder.
Baits for big reds can be varied but mack tuna, bludger trevally or shark flesh cut into chunks the size of your fist all work well. I find that skinning the fillets so that stray fish skins don’t conceal the point or barb of the hook tends to increase hook-up rates.
If your baits are fresh, then the flesh will hold together nicely. Large livebaits of yellowtail, yakka, scads and even the humble mullet should attract interest from the reds. Try hooking your livebaits through the mouth or bridle rigging them just near the eyes or nostril holes. This lets your bait swim with a natural motion and allows you to drift your spot with a running rig.
Reds aren’t usually dirty fighters so locked drags are overkill and will only result in pulled hooks. Use firm and smooth drag settings and pump your fish up carefully.
Finally to fish some of the local wrecks you may need a slightly larger vessel to reach the more productive offshore sites with comfort and safety.
Local beaches have been starting to feel the presence of large whiting, flathead and grunter so land based anglers should get out there and get amongst them.
Fresh pink nippers pumped from the beaches will be the number one bait but frozen prawns, worms or pipis from your local tackle store will still do the trick. Cape Pallarenda, the mouth of Ross River and any of the northern beaches should all hold good fish.
The incoming tide to the turn at dawn will produce the hottest sessions while dusk can be productive at times it’s best to have light winds and clean water and most of the time we have a northerly sea breeze in the afternoons. Don’t be scared to try night fishing the local beaches, still fishing the incoming tide. Just be aware of any potential predators, late season stingers or crocodiles.
Robert Crack, from Flight Centre, fished the shoal off Townsville with One More Cast Fishing Adventures and caught a 21kg cobia.
Large mouth nannygai will be caught drift fishing when the water cools.Reads: 7420