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Gear Up for Winter Mackerel Action
  |  First Published: June 2008



The strong southeasterly trade winds continue to rage along the local coast and over the last month they have restricted the small boat owners to only one or two chances to fish the local reefs. Fortunately there is still plenty of creek action to sustain the fishing hunger that sets in when the winds are up.

The few opportunities that have arisen for those venturing offshore have been fruitful with most boats experiencing some action. Those anglers partaking in some bottom bouncing have found the coral trout on the chew and it seems the cooler water temperatures have also persuaded quite a few other species to come on the bite.

During the day, in addition to trout, there were good reports of sweetlip varieties and in particular red throats. While night fishing produced spangled emperor, red emperor and both forms of nannygai.

There have been some mixed reports of Spanish mackerel being caught. Some anglers have managed to pick up a couple on their float lines when bottom fishing, but only the odd fish taken while trolling.

The mackerel action should really pick up this month with June through to August amongst the best months for these prime targets, provided the weather will cooperate.

Around the wrecks and close reefs the GT brigade have been having a ball with plenty of large trevally playing the game for those anglers casting poppers and jigs.

In and around the creeks, casting lures at the structure on the low tide period has turned up a few jacks and the odd barra up to 70cm. Usually at this time of year the bigger barramundi tend to spend time in the deeper water and are very susceptible to taking live baits on the tide changeovers.

For those inshore bait fishers, there have been patchy reports of a few fingermark, salmon and grunter about and the usual schools of our winter species, like pikey bream and whiting, are really starting to show up.

In the rivers the dry period has also invited plenty of queenfish and trevally inshore to feast on the prolific schools of green back herring that are abundant throughout the systems. There are also good reports of prawns and mudcrabs about although the ones I caught a few weeks back were only half full and not worth the effort.

Looking ahead

My focus at this time of the year is usually on the mackerel offshore, if the weather permits.

If it is too blowy to head offshore a great alternative is chasing queenies inshore in the rivers with your surface poppers. The dry season in all of the local river systems, particularly around the mouths, is an ideal period to hunt the queenfish. Work the making tides leading up to the full and new moons and an afternoon run-in tide is an ideal time to do some casting for these prime sportfish.

I strongly suggest that you have all your mackerel gear prepared and be ready to launch at the first chance as we will be just about in prime season for these sought after fish. Spend a night at home sharpening and preparing some gang hooks and wire traced rigs in readiness for a calm weather window.

It is also a good time to check out the condition of your line, reels and rods as well as any other terminal gear suitable for macs.

Regarding Spanish mackerel, live baits usually produce larger fish, as will trolled wolf herring and trolled doggie mackerel rigs. These larger baits are known to attract the bigger predators and are well worth the extra effort.

When drift fishing set out a berley trail with cubed pillies and tuna oil and make sure you have some baits set at different depths on the bottom, mid and surface. Once you locate any bait on your sounder it is important to match up your bait presentation with the depth the bait is showing.

Over the last couple of weeks when the seas have been calm enough, casting small metal slices and bumper bars has accounted for plenty of doggies and spotty mackerel. The Cairns Harbour entrance leads is one of the best areas to try for these lesser mackerels and is accessible in small boats. This is also true for popular hotspots like False Cape and maybe Kings Point.

If you don’t have a boat and still want to tangle with the smaller mackerel, try something different and take yourself and the kids out for an early morning mackerel fish off the Palm Cove jetty.

Mackerel Tackle Tip

When you notice the mackerel down deep on your sounder and you need to get your trolled offering down amongst the fish there are a few options. One is to employ your downrigger at the right depth, however, if you are like me and don’t own a downrigger then here is a cost effective option:

I usually have an assortment of clip-on lead weights that I use if I choose to troll deep baits such as a wolf herring, gar or even a lure. These weights can be just as effective as a downrigger for getting the baits down where they need to be.

The design is pretty straightforward, simply thread a large barrel sinker onto a length of wire trace and use a snap at the bottom end of the wire and a swivel at the top. Trim the wire length to suit and finish off the ends with a haywire twist. Leave a small horizontal tag end so the sinker is not allowed to slip beyond the twist. Make sure you use black swivels and snaps to avoid the fish striking the lead weight rig. The rig can be made up with one, two or even three leads to suit a variety of depths. I have used these rigs on 30lb braid and mono and have never encountered a problem, even when fighting huge mackerel.

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