Offshore at Mackay
  |  First Published: July 2006

In June I wrote about what Mackay’s creeks and estuaries can produce in the cooler months, so just to whet your appetite more, this month I will fill you in on what to expect on the close offshore scene.

Naturally the bigger the boat, the further offshore it is possible to go and the wider water can produce spectacular catches of deep reef species. But there is some really great fishing around here for anyone with a boat 4-5m long and these sizes are pretty easy to tow on a northern trek.

There is some overlapping of species from last month’s article and in particular queenfish, trevally and barracuda can be found anywhere from the top of the tidal creeks to well offshore. Last issue I described these species as ‘cruisers’ and the description still fits when we talk about close offshore areas.

To be successful on these species, the angler has to keep on the move and cover as much water as possible, trolling either baits or lures. Alternatively the angler has to get the fish to ‘cruise’ over and using berley will achieve this and get the fish to the angler. Naturally it is of little use trolling baits or lures or setting up a berley trail in spots, which aren’t likely hold fish.

It pays to look for prominent features on the bottom and or search for baitfish when selecting a spot to fish. Obviously a good quality sounder will prove to be an invaluable tool for the angler.

Likely Locations

Just off the coast from Seaforth are some small islands that are popular with local anglers and well worth a look. The Newry Group feature deep water, shallow sand spits, headlands and varying bottom formations and typically produce queenies, trevally and barracuda.

A real hot spot is around the remains of the old fish trap in the Newry Channel where a good livebait or well presented lure is likely to hook a monster. Some of the old poles are visible at the bottom of the tide and July isn’t a bad time to be checking the spot out. There are rocks, hard and soft corals and plenty of structure to attract bait and predators.

Remember there are closed areas around the islands so make sure you check your maps and follow the rules or you will wear a hefty fine. The Boating and Fisheries Patrol frequent the Seaforth area and pleading ignorance won’t save you. So, stick with the places you are allowed to fish – there are plenty of good spots available.

The Newry Group is not the only island group available. There are small islands like Croker, and the Brothers Group just to the north and these are all good spots to try. Another terrific spot that regularly produces the goods is Lonely or Low Rock, which is shown on the marine charts of the area.

Lonely is a top spot to work over, as it is a classic example of isolated rock/reef in a large expanse of flat sandy bottom, and is a natural aggregation point for bait and predators. I have seen barracuda around here that were over 1.5m and had teeth like robbers’ dogs! I would hate for one of them have a chop at a hand or foot so if you hook one of these monsters either cut the line to release it or give it a good dong before putting it in the boat. I recommend releasing them as they are fairly tough and not real good chewing.

Best methods

There is no best way to fish these areas. I am mostly a lure angler, so I would work my lures around the deeper headlands or isolated rock/reef trying a variety of depths from 1.5-5m. Remember apart from golden trevally, these species aren’t usually caught right on the bottom. I would try different lure sizes like Goulburn Jacks, C-Lures, Mann’s Stretch 10s and 20s, Halcos and others in ‘saltwater’ colours. Some plastic shads, poppers and slugs rounds out the selection.

The ‘saltwater’ colours are mainly the Qantas colours, dark blues, greens over silver, all silver, greys, black over silver, golds, and some chrome plated finish lures. The same colours are useful for poppers.

Plastic shad style lures come in a huge range of colours but I suggest sticking with similar colours to those above. The plastics often have metal flakes in the bodies to give off flash. Anglers should try to imitate baitfish like herring, gar and slimies.

For baitfishing, live herring or garfish are hard to beat, as everything that swims will eat them. Rig them carefully so that they aren’t damaged when put out and remember the further along the back of the gar you place your hook, the deeper the gar will swim. Keep your rigs simple and with herring, you may want to use a very small sinker and a long leader. I think the best hooks are the wide gape circle hook variety, and most makers now have these in their range. Don’t forget the humble pilchard, which can be put out as a floater or lightly weighted with a tiny sinker or jighead to get it a bit further down in the water column.

If you want to troll baits then use garfish or pilchards. Both baits are readily available at tackle shops but try to get the freshest possible. For the gar, buy a couple of prepared rigs from the tackle shop, and these come complete with a chin weight that will help the bait troll properly. Another trick with the gar is to ‘pop’ the backbone of the fish, which will let it swim more naturally.

Likewise for pilchard, it is possible to buy gang hooked rigs already made up. Alternatively buy a couple of Scrounger jigheads and gang extra hooks onto the single hook. Another tip with pilchards is to cut the tail off and this creates a mini-berley trail.

Near Mackay

The baits and lures I have suggested will work anywhere in our area. There are good fishing spots available from Sarina or further south, Mackay and also further north up into the Whitsundays. A really easy spot to get to is the twin islands of Flat Top and Round Top off the mouth of Mackay’s Pioneer River. They can be reached via the river or by launching at the marina at Mackay Harbour.

I recommend anglers call at any of our three excellent tackle stores, Barra Pro, Fishing World and Northside Fishing and ask the staff for the latest information. All three shops have keen anglers working there and Bruce Nash from Northside Fishing does the fishing presentation on the local news each Friday evening, so tune in for his tips.

Fishing around these two islands is similar to the Newry Group except that there is more deep water around Flat and Round Top islands. This deeper water is probably why plenty of Spanish mackerel are caught there each winter/spring. The hotspot for the big Spaniards is on the southeastern tip of Round Top Island, where there is good current flow, varied bottom and plenty of bait. Many 25kg+ Spaniards have been caught here and large baits floated down current with light weights are the main rigs used.

I suggest using ribbonfish if you can get them, garfish or mullet as second choices and pilchards as last resort. If you can score a live gar from the inside (Western) side of Flat Top, then use that rigged either under a float or lightly weighted to get it down in the current. No Spanish mackerel will pass up a live gar swimming around in front of it. There are good schools of gar right on this corner too, and I have seen Spaniards coming up from the depths to get these gar and they will sometimes keep going several metres above the water surface. It’s a great spectacle!

Cobia are often caught in the same spot or working under schools of doggies or tuna. A good spot to try for the smaller mackerels and the tuna is out from the spit on the southern side of Flat Top Island. If these fish are about you can be sure that working birds will show you where they are. These fish are likely to be found anywhere around the two islands and even come right into the mouth of the Pioneer River. If there are no birds working then I suggest setting up a trolling pattern using a mixture of minnows and slugs run at varying depths to try to locate the fish.

This is one of the few times I enjoy trolling as the action can be fairly fast and furious when the fish are on. For visitors, I suggest watching what the locals do and where they troll, but don’t get too close or intrude on another angler’s beat. Remember all these species are to some extent cruisers so they move around a lot following the bait so there is always plenty of room for everyone.


Don’t forget we have some great bottom fishing available too. Snapper are a prime target at this time of the year and I have previously written about chasing snapper around Flat and Round Top islands so check up on your old QFM mags for a refresher or try on the web.

Apart from the snapper, good numbers of sweetlip, small mouth nannygai or pink jew are around along with fingermark and the odd coral trout. All of these fish can be caught around Flat and Round Top islands during winter/spring and respond to the usual reef baits of pilchards, cut baits, squid, or live herring or prawns. I suggest you keep an eye on the sounder and if you see a likely spot with bait on or near the bottom and some structure, fish it or mark it on your GPS and come back later to try your luck.

So there you have a quick run down on what’s happening here at this time of year on the close offshore scene. If you can’t find a good variety of winter sun fishing opportunities around Mackay then you are very hard to please. Why not leave the cold south and head up here to paradise and enjoy some warmer weather and great fishing.

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