Mackerel Mayhem
  |  First Published: October 2006

Recent weeks have produced absolute mackerel frenzy as local anglers took advantage of excellent weather and boating conditions to chase these prime sportfish.

All of the local hotspots between Daintree and Hinchinbrook have produced for anglers chasing the mighty Spanish mackerel. The good news is there should still be a good run or two of fish as we head into October. Anglers have been enjoying the big Spaniards and there are also good reports spotties and school mackerel.

Recently there was a stack of boats out at High Island and fish were caught by anglers using a variety of techniques from trolling wolf herring, gar and lures, to drifted and anchor-set live baited rigs and pillie baits, as well as metal slices and jigs cast on the drift. The mackerel were certainly hungry and it wasn’t hard to score a catch. Whatever you are doing it often pays to experiment. We started with by trolling a large 30cm+ wolf herring that would normally get smashed but these baits remained untouched. However, as soon as we changed over to smaller mid-sized baits there was an instant bite. It seems on this day the smaller 20cm baits were the ideal presentation.

One of the things that did strike me on that busy day out at High Island was the almost complete lack of trolling and general fishing etiquette a lot of people showed. Maybe you can put some of this behaviour down to inexperience, but I think most of it was just plain greed as people became hell bent on getting their ‘fair share’ at any cost. I didn’t see any water or rod rage but tempers at times must have been running hot as anglers jostled for the favourable trolling run and hook-up spots.

I even saw one boat driving around for ages with mackerel hanging over the side for all to see. I am not quite sure why some anglers feel the need to show off their fishing prowess while ‘attempting’ to bleed their catch. This was especially silly, as mackerel need to be bled quickly and then immediately placed on ice.

I’ve come up with a few trolling guidelines:

Trolling Etiquette

• Sit back and observe what is happening when you arrive at a fishing spot, where other boats are working.

• If you notice a particular trolling run that boats are engaged in, then don’t be afraid to join in, but remember there will be a queue and a holding pattern to join in the run. Join in an orderly way when it is your turn.

• Don’t troll too closely to the boat in front or your motor and engine noise will be sitting above their baits or trolled lures.

• Don’t cut in front of the path of other boats that are already in the middle of a trolling run.

• Don’t cross over behind a boat and run your motor over their trolled baits or lures.

• It’s okay whenever it is wide enough, to troll alongside another boat.

• It’s good form to fit in with an existing pattern that the boats which have been there before you are following. Remember they may be working in a particular direction for a reason.

• It’s extremely bad form, particularly in a river, if you arrive at a fishing spot other boats are trolling and then proceed to anchor up in their trolling run so you can baitfish.

• When trolling in a river that has quite a bit of current flowing Col Upham recommends that the boat closest to the bank should troll into the current. If other boats wish to troll in opposite directions then the boat trolling with the current should be the widest. This makes a lot of sense for maximising boat control.


The action out on the local Cairns reefs for bottom fishers is hotting up and there have been excellent catches of large mouth nannygai and red emperor for the night fishers. Plenty of quality coral trout have been around for the day anglers.

There have been many other bottom dwellers on the bite also including both red throat and spangled emperors. Those anglers working the wrecks have also had success with plenty of trevally and cobia around.

Reef Closures

Don’t forget this month of October is the first of the annual reef closures, with no fishing allowed for coral reef species from 16-24 October.


October is one of my favourite months for inshore tropical fishing as activity levels escalate for the big three prime targets of barramundi, fingermark and mangrove jack.

The barra are about to make their first spawning run and are ready to feed up after a slower stage of their life cycle through the winter months and October is also the last month on the east coast before the annual closed season applies.

The next few months are top months for fingermark and jack activity although a lot of the bigger jacks will start moving from the estuaries to the reefy areas. Fingermark are my favourite inshore species and this month on the quarter moon or neap tides, using live baits in the deep water holes of the Cairns Inlet, Kings Point or Harbour Leads will be a must do activity. The hard fighting pink fish with the black fingerprint spot on its side tends to favour the slower tides and although is readily captured in the NT (where it is known as golden snapper) on dead baits, around here most captures are on well-presented live baits like mud herring, sardines, mullet, prawns and live squid caught at the site. Trolling deep running lures around structure also accounts for quite a few fingermark in the rivers.

Quality queenies have been showing up in all of the local river mouths with fish to 8kg taken using live sardines drifted around the sand bars. Casting top water popper lures has been working well on the afternoon making tides at the mouth of the Russell/Mulgrave rivers.

The action up at the freshwater barra impoundments will really heat up this month and the full moon at locations like Tinaroo Dam. As water temperatures rise the trophy-sized freshwater barra will be most active throughout the evening and early morning. Casting shallow surface lures in the moonlight around the lily pads near the lake edges will be worth a try as will slowly trolling medium to deep diving lures in the 4-5m depth range is a good starting point.

There are once again plenty of fishing options this month. Till next month, good fishing!

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