It’s May-hem!
  |  First Published: May 2006

What happens in May up this way is determined by a number of factors, some tangible and some more obscure. Mother nature always has a few tricks up her sleeve for those who think they have it wired – but, in reality, who would have it any other way?

One of the ‘tangibles’ is the timing of the end of the wet season, and this year most of the action is happening toward the season’s end, which makes it hard to make predications. Still, being somebody who’s accustomed to sticking his head on the chopping block, and having experienced nearly two decades on the Cape, I’ll endeavour to pass on the good oil.

The one thing predictable about May is the vagaries of its weather. Because it is the changeover month from wet to dry, anything can happen and usually does.

Strong southeasterlies with heavy showers, calm mornings with afternoon storms and beautiful, balmy days with almost no wind, usually all happen in May, sometimes in the one week. There is no way of predicting when each will happen, you just have to take whatever comes and be prepared to make the most of it.

There is one underlying fact in all of these conditions – the fishing is usually very good. Of course, the calmer weather makes more of the area accessible and the high atmospheric pressure brings the fish on the bite even more, but, even in the big winds, some good fish can usually be found.

The other major drawcard about May is that sometime during that month nature flicks a switch that sees the offshore fishing go from great to ballistic, a phenomenon the Fishing Monthly crew experienced first hand when they visited the area at this time last year. Having your week’s supply of jigheads decimated in a single day of frantic action while marking off almost every capture on a lengthy wish list can happen, as editor Stephen Booth can certainly attest!

Those seeking estuary action should target the larger tides, particularly those with afternoon low tides. Barra, king salmon, mangrove jacks, queenfish, grunter and cod are just some of the species that can be found working the snags, creek mouths and bank edges.

The offshore fishing, particularly when the wind comes down, can be mind blowing, not to mention expensive and exhausting! Full tackleboxes go home nearly empty (and that’s after being topped up a couple of times at the local tackle shops), rods get smashed and reels start falling apart.

Sound like an angler’s dream? Well, I’ve seen it happen plenty of times.

The secret to finding action like this is finding where the baitfish are holding because this is where most of the predators will be. Looking for birds is the way to go, with the dark coloured and higher flying frigate birds being the best indicator.

Spot a dark smudge on the horizon and it will invariably be frigates circling a patch of bait. When they get low to the water it usually means the predators have the bait balled up and the subsequent action is frantic.

There is nothing better to get the adrenalin bubbling than to come across an active bait ball. The water boils with tuna, mackerel, trevally, cobia, queenfish and sharks of all sizes.

One of the funniest experiences of my fishing career (and it’s happened more than a couple of times) is to have three or four boats around a bait ball with every angler hooked up at once. The resulting tangles, cut-offs, shark attacks, swearing, abuse and laughter (usually from those lucky enough to be still attached) is something that really makes my day!

Some of our client lure losses at this time of year have become almost legendary. One particular day saw over 90 lures (in three boats carrying nine anglers) not come back, mostly due to crossed lines, mackerel bite-offs and big sharks attacking hooked fish.

This type of offshore action will usually continue well into June, and even July, when conditions are good. It’s all a matter of hoping that you coincide with a break in the southeast trade winds which are regularly 20-30 knots for much of the dry season.

Because the trade winds blow offshore along the western coast of the Cape, even with 20 knots of wind, offshore fishing is still possible. Often the bait schools can be found within a couple of kilometres of the coastline, particularly down past Boyd Bay where the water becomes deeper close in.

With more and more anglers visiting the Weipa area at this time each year, it is very important that courtesy be shown when approaching vessels that are obviously fishing a hot bite. There are usually plenty of fish to go round but there seem to always be a few inconsiderate fools who seem to think that they can drive right into the middle where people are already playing fish, sometimes cutting lines in the process.

Is it any wonder that sometimes more than swear words are directed at their boats! The message is show a little fishing courtesy and enjoy the action.


I’m continually amazed at how unprepared anglers are for tropical speedsters, particularly when it comes to the strength of leaders used. Even expert fishos are arriving with 10kg and 15kg breaking strain leader material, and let me assure you, decent barra and threadfin will shred that in an instant, even when it’s fluorocarbon!

20kg leader is the MINIMUM required in the estuaries and 30kg is better, particularly in the thinner sizes. Tying doubles in your main line then attaching the leader with a ‘ducknose’ or braid to leader knot is the way to go. If tied correctly and trimmed back, even 30kg leader will go through even the finer rod tips (although one of my pet ‘hates’ is micro sized tip guides on some purported barra type rods!)

For offshore work, a 30-40kg leader is mandatory. If the macks are about, a short length of 40kg single-strand stainless wire helps minimize lure bite-offs – and land some of these top eating speedsters.

Use a haywire twist to attach the lure to the wire and a strong black swivel to the other end. Attach your leader to the swivel with a uni or locked blood knot.

Even with the wire trace, you can still expect to be snipped off at the various joins along the line when the fish are thick!


1) Offshore fishing off Weipa in May can be spectacular. This typical longtail was taken casting unweighted plastics into the feeding frenzy around a bait ball.

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