|  First Published: November 2006

Mackay’s fishing has been a real mixture lately, both inshore and out on the briny. This will probably continue until we have some decent summer storms and run-off.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been out fishing much recently as I have been recovering from surgery, but now that I’m well and truly on the mend I’m looking forward to catching up on lost opportunities to get out on the water.

A recent trip to Thompsons Creek north of Mackay with Dave Frazer shows what can be expected in our mangrove creek systems in the next few months. Dave did all the hard work: putting the boat in, retrieving it, driving it and more – all I had to do was get down the bank and hop in. I reckon I could get used to this type of service!

This was a completely new creek to me and Dave had been there once before, so we didn’t really know what to expect. As jacks are on the chew in October, we decided to lure right up in the mangroves and target any rock bars we found. The mangrove-lined banks looked tailer made for red fish and a local near the ramp had rolled a small barra and jack, so we were confident of scoring.

Luring for jacks is all about placement and targeting the right habitat. Jacks are ambush, smash and grab types, so it’s logical to look for them where there is heavy cover and bait. The creek was teeming with small herring, gar and mullet and we saw the odd small prawn flicking in close to the overhanging mangroves. Things were looking good, the tide was running out of the mangroves and we had a couple of boxes of lures to use. You can never have too many lures can you?

We looked for steeper sided banks with plenty of mangrove roots in the water and at least 300mm of water around the root systems. Experience told us these were top spots for jacks in our creek systems.

As a general rule, jacks like smaller lures than barra so while there was a chance of a barra or two we kept the lure sizes down around 75mm – small enough for jacks and big enough for a barra if we came across one. Dave selected a Flatz Rat and I went with one of my favourites: a black and gold 70mm Fat Rap with beefed up hooks. I use Fat Raps in various sizes for sooties, bream, dam barra and as a general lure in the mangroves. Their buoyancy, castability and herring or bony bream shape means that they are a very successful lure.

After about 10 minutes a small jack flashed at a lure but the action was pretty quiet. We decided to check out a side creek before the tide dropped right out, but still had to walk the boat across some shallow sand bars. Dave had to do the dragging while I watched for crocs in the narrow creek.

It was obvious this system would dry back into holes as the tide fell and any fish would be trapped in these holes until the tide turned and had run-in for an hour or so. This gave us a chance to explore quietly on the electric outboard and cast lures at all likely places.

Over the next couple of hours we had a ball. Our first action came from sight casting to some good-sized pikey bream holding in the overhanging mangroves’ shade. Some spots had a dozen pikey bream and archerfish milling around the branches in the water and we managed 3-4 fish each after changing to smaller 50mm lures.

The trick was to land the lure upstream from the fish and slowly work it down towards them. The fish would scatter then regroup, and as the lure got closer it would go over and investigate. The first one there usually swiped at the lure. While this was good fun, it wasn’t what we had come for so we left them to it and went on looking for jacks.

Working a nice bank, Dave scored a healthy black spot cod, and I managed a keeper grunter or javelinfish on an old Active lure that I often use for its ‘back up’ ability (it’s easy to work around the snags). The grunter hit a couple of metres out from the bank and was a welcome extra for the ice box.

A couple of missed hits and then Dave scored a little barracuda that had been terrorising small baitfish. These are often in the creeks and I have seen them around 150cm long right up near the top of the tide influence. In the smaller sizes they are quite good BBQ fare too.

Whilst having a break, I noticed a swirl or two near a sand bank opposite the steep mangrove bank. We decided to troll back down towards the lower reaches of the hole on the electric and hadn’t moved far when I got two bumps but no hook up. Dave took a great hit and about 75cm of barra took to the air. He worked the fish well and had it under the boat and almost ready for the landing net, when the hooks pulled. Bugger!

We tried casting to the same area and trolling but the barra wouldn’t play ball, so we went back down to the pikey bream for a bit of fun while we waited for the tide to rise enough for us to head home. The pikey bream were still there and in the mood, so the small lures went on again.

While casting into the mangroves, there was a couple of boofs behind us and near the sandy bank. Barra! Both small lures were cast but we couldn’t get the distance into the wind. Fortunately I had a Tsunami Curly Tail rigged on another rod, so I fired this out and after a crank or two and a pause I got slammed by a nice barra.

It did all the right things, staying in the open and jumping around all over the place. It was soon in the landing net and at 63cm it wasn’t a huge barra. It was immediately bled and iced down. Despite several more boofs, we couldn’t entice another barra hit.

As the tide started to rise and the run increased we concentrated on the lower end of the pool where the shallow sand flats dropped into 150cm of water, figuring barra would be in this area. No barra, but Dave hooked up to a beautiful 80cm flathead. This fish was released as it was clearly in roe and ready to spawn lots of little flatties.

That was it for us and we headed back up to the ramp well satisfied. We didn’t get any jacks, but we caught a good variety of fish and some nice cod, grunter and barra fillets in the ice box.

The barra were a real surprise as the water temp was down and we weren’t confident they would be on the chew. For that reason, we had decided to target the jacks, but were prepared for any possibility and fished the conditions and came up trumps. This is one of the keys to successful fishing – being able to vary the approach and not be too blinkered in outlook. If your usual method/lure/bait is not working try something different.

From 1 November the barra are off the hit list in the saltwater, but our outing will be fairly typical of a mangrove jaunt from October to Christmas.

Apart from the species we caught, anglers can expect to also run into whiting, jacks, salmon, fingermark, trevally, steelbacks and small queenfish up the creeks. I suggest taking a crab pot or two along as a nice muddy can really top off an outing.

If we get some storm run-off, there will also be plenty of prawns in the creeks, so a cast net should always be in the boat. Remember, there is nothing worse than seeing prawns flicking everywhere and not having a net handy. Fresh prawns also make top baits.

Even though from our summer weather gets pretty hot and humid from now on the fish will really be on the go and it’s a great time to be an angler in a Mackay mangrove creek. Come to paradise and give it a try, you won’t be disappointed!


The close inshore scene has been just as much a mixed bag for anglers. I haven’t been able to get out in the tinnie chasing a feed yet but I have spent a bit of time talking to anglers on the harbour walls. Whatever is being caught from the rock walls, can be found around any of our near inshore spots.

From October to Christmas, there are acres and acres of baitfish close inshore and the school mackerel, tuna and trevally follow them right into the harbour and the mouth of the Pioneer River at times. Spotty and doggie mackerel can be caught from the harbour with pilchards. Pillies can be bought from any of the tackle shops. I suggest using herring, as that is what the macks are chasing. Frozen herring are available at the shops, but there is nothing like a freshly caught herring, preferably live to attract a small mack.

Herring can be caught in a cast net, but it would be asking for big trouble to throw a net off the harbour walls. I reckon a net would last one throw before tangling in the rocks and being torn to pieces. The answer is to use those little tiny bait jigs that can be bought in any of our local tackle shops.

These are rigged with a sinker at the bottom, cast out and jigged back to the rocks. Many herring are jag hooked in the side but they are still good baits. The trick is to have some way of keeping them alive, and the best way seems to be a 20L bucket and an aerator. Change the water regularly as the baits tend to foul the water and can die quickly.

Bait can be fished unweighted or with a sinker and paternoster style rig with the bait up off the bottom. It’s a popular misconception that macks feed right near the surface, and they can be found right through the water column. I see anglers casting herring way out from the rocks and this isn’t really necessary, as the macks move right in on the rock wall chasing herring. If you’re using a sinker, it is best to clear the base of the wall and get out onto the sand so you’re not snagging up all the time.

Lures are popular for small macks and vary from minnow types like barra lures to spoon types like the old Toby pattern and lead slugs. We used to make our own slugs, but there are plenty on the market now that are very good and are tricked up with pretty colours and/or prism tape. A bit of flash certainly doesn’t hurt. We used to scratch the sides of the old lead slugs with a knife to get a bit of flash happening.

The ones available from the tackle shops come in a bewildering array, but remember to keep the lure small. Cast it out, let it sink to the sandy bottom and then retrieve up through the water column covering various depths with different speed retrieves.

Apart from the macks, I have seen northern blues, mack tuna, trevally species, cobia and a solitary queenfish taken from the harbour wall. With normal summer conditions and hot northerly winds, these species will all be available right up until Christmas.

I guess the availability of these species is yet another reason to take a trip up here to paradise and find out why summer is a hot time both weather and fish wise.

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