Tropical Triple Treat
  |  First Published: September 2006

The warm waters of TNQ offer anglers many different fishing opportunities. In one day, you can try your luck at several different angling methods. When one technique fails, another comes to the rescue. And when all your plans fall into place, an awesome day is had. There are plenty of places that fit this description in Queensland’s northern waters.

Let’s take a look at three different types of location, the species available, the gear needed and how to fish each area.

Poppers in the Mangroves

Casting poppers to the mangroves can provide some fast and exciting action. I recall our best session produced around 40 GTs and a mixed bag of other species – all in a few hours. Watching a school of 20 fish climbing all over your lure is exciting stuff. This type of action can sometimes happen right near your launching spot – it’s not too hard to find mangroves. On the day I recall, the action happened along the mainland in the bay at Shute Harbour near Airlie Beach only minutes from the ramp in a spot easily accessible to a small boat.

Here’s a description of an ideal mangrove area. On the run-in tide, water starts to lap at mangrove trees littering a stretch of shoreline. By the top of the tide, expanses of sandflats will be flooded and water will stretch far into the mangrove trees. It’s an easy spot to see from a distance. The light blue of the clear shallow water stands out and you can see the mangrove trees flooded by water.

Just before high tide, when there is at least 1m of water at the base of the outside mangrove trees, the action starts to build. Baitfish cruise the edges of the trees looking for protection and shade while the bigger predators venture in from the deeper water for an easy meal.

Popper Action

Casting poppers close to the pockets between the trees and around the shaded areas is the best way to attack the area. You can drift with the current and move along the shoreline but the best approach is to use an electric motor. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to explore an area. Don’t spend too long in an unproductive area as there’s only a window of a few hours when the water is at its highest around the mangroves.

When moving to a new area, move a fair distance and remember that bait must be in the area for the big fish to follow. Polarised sunglasses make seeing the bait and any bigger fish easier by cutting the surface glare on the water.

Popper Sizes, Styles and Retrieves

A lot of the fish encountered in this mangrove environment are small. Therefore 5-10cm poppers are ideal and bigger fish don’t mind these smaller offerings as well.

Cupped face poppers are one of the easiest and best lures to use. The scooped out front section of these lures makes plenty of fish attracting splash as they’re pulled through the water. Give the lure a few rips after it lands that become more and more aggressive as you work the lure away from the mangrove edge. Once you’re a third of the way back to the boat crank the lure back fast with a few rips while you’re doing this. The slower rips seem to attract fish and when you add speed into the presentation they will get more excited.

Other styles of poppers will work as well. When the fish are in the area, they won’t be too fussy. The speed of the presentation seems to be the key. Some poppers are sold with light hooks so an upgrade to heavier trebles can be necessary.

Species Encountered

One of the most common species that provides lots of fun is GT. GT are a schooling fish that hunt in packs. When you come across a school of these speedsters be prepared for fast paced, visual excitement.

A multitude of other species can turn up including queenfish and barracuda, which are quite common. Jack, barra, cod and salmon are just some of the other species occasionally around.

Plastics on the Shallow Reef

The rock and coral reefs that hem the coastline and fringe the many islands are ideal fish habitats. They provide cover and eddies in the current – an ideal ambush point for predators. Soft plastics are a great lure for working these areas because of their versatile nature and they’re cheaper to lose than hard-bodied lures.

Reefs of all depths can be fished with plastics. Sometimes it’s easiest to fish the ones you can see. Again, polarised sunnies help by cutting the surface glare. This makes seeing the crevasses and overhangs in rock and reef much easier. When fishing these areas, it’s simply a matter of casting your lure into these holes and keeping it in the zone. Concentrate your efforts on placing your casts beside the biggest rocks, especially on their shaded side.

Casting plastics to the reef can be successful at any stage of the tide throughout the day. It’s a good option if other plans based on tides times have failed.

Plastic Types and Weights

Plastics from 8-15cm are the most effective. If you go any smaller, you’ll attract too many small fish. Any bigger, and they’ll tempt the really big fish but deter the average sized ones.

There’s a whole range of plastics suited to this type of fishing. Shads are one of my favourite. A 4” (100mm) shad rigged on a heavy wire 1/2oz jighead gives you a pretty good chance. Many pre-rigged models that are similar to this weight and size are now available. The heavy line and leader needed to extract fish counteracts the heavy weight of the lure, making it sink slower than you might expect.

When you find a good fish holding location, you can reduce the weight of the lure to 1/4oz. Fish can then be lured out with a slower presentation using a 10-15cm jerkbait plastic.

When retrieving, twitch the lure and allow it to sink into the deeper holes. Try to keep it just off the bottom. In the shallower spots you can actually see your plastic, making it easier to control the depth. A fancy retrieve isn’t required; it’s just a matter of winding it back in, giving some pauses to let it sink and adding the odd twitch. Fish strikes can occur at any time. The hit often happens as the plastic is sinking to the bottom so always stay alert.

Quite often, pelagics will move through an area. Placing a cast in front of them or into disturbed baitfish can either produce one of these fish or a bottom dweller that is cleaning up the scraps left behind by the feeding fish.

Reef Species Encountered

When targeting reef species, always remember to check the Coral Reef Fin Fish Closure times as these prohibit taking certain species at some times of the year. Also consider the Great Barrier Reef Exclusion Zones that can’t be fished or allow only restricted fishing methods.

Coral trout are a great tablefish and are one of the most common fish encountered. It’s important to keep to the size limits as there are plenty of smaller ones that don’t quite make the grade. Cod and big mangrove jacks are another common capture. The list of other species you might encounter is almost endless. In my limited time spent on the shallow reefs, I’ve caught and seen XOS parrot, sweetlip, mackerel, trevally, queenfish, barra, tuna and more.

Surface Feeding Pelagics

These fish are one of the easiest to find - when they’re around. The visible signs of spraying water, flashing fins and diving birds during the feeding frenzy clearly gives away their location.

The bigger fish move into an area, round the baitfish up into a ball before smashing through it on the surface where it can’t escape. This type of action can happen anywhere bait is present, often in open water currents. Depending on the size of the bait ball, predators can stay on the surface for quite some time.

The other place that this type of action seems to unfold is right on the edge of the reef. Where the water drops away, bait schools up in eddies and the big predators move in and do their thing. A pack of predators will often cruise the reef edge and you can usually work out where they will surface next after watching their feeding pattern. With some calculated guesswork, you can move in to intercept.

In other parts of the reef when bait is being disturbed, the water will ripple like there is rain falling into it. This is a sure sign that big fish are harassing the school of bait. In these areas, it’s worthwhile spending some time casting until the big fish turn up.

Lure Selection

Chrome slugs and slices are ideal for working feeding pelagics. Cast the slug into the feeding fish or disturbed bait and let it sink for a couple of seconds, then wind like crazy. When there are no visible predators but bait is present, let the lure sink close to the bottom before commencing the retrieve. Speed is the key to getting the fish interested.

Slices and slugs are sold in different weights. It’s good to have a selection to match the size of the fish that the pelagics are feeding on. A range from 10-70g will cover most situations. Have some spare lures of each size as bite-offs happen fairly regularly, especially with the smaller lures. It’s best not to use a heavy leader. I believe that some of these fish with teeth like razors will cut 80lb mono leader just as easily as 15lb. Lighter leader material and using no wire trace certainly increases the chances of hooking fish.

Surface Speedsters

Once you’ve fished surface feeders a few times, you’ll be able to figure out what is harassing the bait by the way they’re feeding. Tuna species tend to break out of the water as they plough through the bait. Sometimes a fish will have its whole body out of the water making them easy to identify from a distance. Mackerel tend to slash the water, throwing plenty of spray into the air but not leaping clear of the water at all. Mackerel will also feed just under the surface. At these times, the rippling bait on the surface gives away their presence.

Trevally will also rip into a school of bait. These fish feed more like mackerel but once you approach a school, you can generally call the species.

On some occasions, you’ll get a mixed bag of fish all hanging together. An example may be tuna feeding on the surface, mackerel feeding in the middle of the water column and reef species picking up the scraps below. There’s nothing like the sound of feeding fish to stimulate other fish in the area. Start your retrieve when your lure is at the depth for the species you wish to target. After the action dies down, work a plastic off the bottom to see if any trout or cod are still looking for an easy feed.

There you have the tropical triple treat. It’s not a name for an ice block but three handy techniques to use all on the one day. With them, you should be able to catch something worth telling your mates about each time you hit the water.


Must Have Lures

Mangrove Edges

Eddy’s Surface Buster (upgraded hooks)

10cm Kingfisher Super Bloopa

Shallow Reef

4” (100mm) Saltwater Assassin (electric chicken colour)

80mm Squidgy Fish (silver fox, Gary glitter)

100mm AusSpin Shad (silver/black back)

4” (100mm) Powerbait Power Minnow

5” (125mm) Powerbait Jerkshad

1/4 and 1/2 ounce 4/0 AusSpin Shad Jigheads

Surface Pelagics

15g Surecatch Bishop x2

15g Sniper x2

20g Raider x2

Raider 40

60g Sniper

Raider 85


Jason’s Gear Selection

It’s important to have a number of outfits rigged and ready to go to save time once you’re on the water. It gives you the ability to drop one rod and pick up another if the situation arises. This instant change can make all the difference when time is of the essence.

AMART ALL SPORTS have recently expanded their range of Strudwick rods. They have added Australian built Sofbodz and HARbaitz models to their existing range of Sic Stiks and Sic Stik Pros. For some years now, Strudwick has been a sponsor of ABT and the tournament anglers fishing the circuit. Their commitment to producing some of Australia’s finest rods shows in the quality of these rods. Often features will go unnoticed or just be accepted without further thought the first time an angler picks up a rod. With time, you begin to appreciate the ability to cast further and more accurately with less effort, the rod’s action that allows you to control your lure in the water and the capability to turn the head of a powerful fish.

Quality rods can make a huge difference to the number of fish you catch. Be sure to check out Strudwick’s range the next time you are in an
store. These rods deliver what’s expected and are sold at a great price for their quality.

Here’s a list of the rods and set-ups I’d use for fishing the tropical triple treat. As I mentioned, it's good to have a range of rods. You can reduce your number of rods by choosing wisely when buying them so they suit more than one style of fishing.

Mangrove Edges

7’ 2-4kg Sofbodz (spin rod) with a Shimano 2500 Sustain (10-20lb Spiderwire Stealth with 20lb Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon leader).

6’6” 4-6kg Sic Stik Pro (baitcast rod) with a Shimano Chronarch 100 (20-30lb Spiderwire Stealth with a 20lb Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon leader).

Shallow Reef

7’ 6kg HARbaitz (baitcast rod) with a Shimano Calcutta TE 200DC (30lb Spiderwire Stealth with 60lb Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon leader).

7’ 4kg Sofbodz (spin rod) with a Shimano Stradic 4000 (7kg Fireline XDS with a 60lb Vanish leader).

Surface Pelagics

7‚ 4-8kg Bluewater (spin rod) with a Shimano Spheros 6000 (14lb Fireline with 15lb Vanish leader).

7’6” 6-8kg Bluewater (spin rod) with the same reel/line combo as above.

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