The three big deciders on how August will fish this year are the wind, the sharks and the wet.
The winter wind pattern started with the usual huge highs marching in formation across the Great Australian Bight and ridging up the north Queensland coast, with endless weeks of strong wind warnings. Unless the weather gods interrupt this stride, it is shaping up as one of our windiest winters in years. It seems to be a decade of records getting blown out the window as our weather patterns continue to become more extreme.
Another big quandary bucking world trends in the Cairns area is the proliferation of sharks at the reef. While the doco-movie Sharkwater is declaring to the world that shark populations are down by 90% due to the ravages of human slaughter, in north Queensland they are in plague proportions. There is hardly a reef boat crew that has returned this year without complaining about being ‘sharked’, with many reporting that it is making the fishing near impossible.
Regular fishing buddy, John Wedrat, reported on one trip that sharks took 14 fish, in spite of numerous moves to try and get away from them. As John frustratingly pointed out, they only seem to take the good fish, like reds and trout, while the likes of trevally and scrap fish always seem to make it to the boat in one piece.
While John has encountered mostly big sharks in the 2-4m range, Cairns reef charter legend Peter Todd has had the most trouble with smaller sharks in the 1-2m range.
There has been much speculation amongst fishos as to why the surge of shark populations in Cairns is bucking world trends, as there is certainly a strong commercial shark fishery operating in the area. Peter Todd suggests it could be down to the massive loss of trawlers from the industry in recent times. The smaller sharks that used to follow the trawler fleets that worked the north coast have breed up large numbers and are now starving, which has forced them onto the reef to find food. Todd has found over the years that there are sections of the reef where the sharks naturally congregate, which he calls Shark Ally, but this year the sharks have been everywhere, even in areas where he has never struck them before.
On a more positive note, the X-factor for fishing is the impact the big wet at the start of the year will have on fish stocks. As a rule, bumper fishing follows a big wet, which seems to be the case in the Cairns area. The estuaries, inshore and the reef have all been fishing well and, as late August begins the transition from winter to summer species, anglers are licking their lips in anticipation.
The jacks and barra bit late into winter this year so it will be interesting to see if they start early or hold off until it really warms up. Jacks in particular have been responding best to soft plastics worked around structure with hardbodied lures being shunned.
When jacks and barra are slow due to the cold water, the closer to the structure you can present the lure or bait and the longer you can keep it in the strike zone, the better your chances of success. Use finesse techniques that create minute movements of the lure without it travelling far through the water. Lightweights are the best for these techniques and if using hardbodied lures then neutral buoyancy (suspender) lures are the best.
In winter look for areas of slightly warmer water, such as shallow protected bays, shallow rock areas or rock walls facing the sun. Sounders with temperature gauges are perfect but keen observation is just as effective. A degree or two increases in water temperature compared to surrounding waterways can make the world of difference. Bait schools are the other dead give away. Where there is bait, most times there will be predators on the perimeter.
August is traditionally a prime time for trout as they feed up in preparation for spawning, with the first sharp jump in water temperature. The better trout have generally been in deeper water but the sharks have been winning many of the races to the boat, so focus your initial efforts in water under 30m. If you can’t locate them after a few moves then go out into the 30-40m range and use handlines to increase the speed of getting a hooked fish to the boat.
The deeper water should be producing quality red emperor and big mouth nannygai, with night fishing the most productive. The lead up to the full moon in mid August should be a bumper time, if the wind gods are kind.
Irrespective of the moon phases, be ready to go whenever the weather allows. Generally there is only a short period of a couple of days between high pressure systems in which to access the reef.
The new moon in late August should see the Spaniards in full flight around the reefs, with the pressure points holding bait the best locations to start looking. Trolling wolf herring, wog head garfish and lures like Laser Pro 190 Ds and other mid water lures should turn on the action. Live fusiliers or any small bottom fish floated out under a balloon will also do the trick. Even the humble floated pillie can often be a winner.
The inshore islands and wrecks will be worth a look for Spaniards, doggies and spotties with early season indications pointing to a bumper mackerel year. Getting out right on daylight and fishing the first few hours of light, before the wind gets up, will increase your fishing days – rather than waiting for perfect weather to do a whole day’s fishing.
Plan your destination so there is a bit of protection from the southerly or so you can come home with the wind behind you. Live sardines, pilchards or small tight action lures are the best starting points for mackerel, with a good berley trail a definite advantage.
In spite of the wind and the sharks, the big wet early in the year is a real positive that should translate into a great finish to winter. Be geared up and ready to take advantage of the weather windows.Reads: 879