Bumper time for Bait
  |  First Published: September 2008

Bring on summer as soon as possible! Over the last couple of weeks the fishing has looked up considerably, thanks to calm weather making more opportunities.

The Spanish mackerel have arrived in good numbers, although most of them have been caught well offshore and mainly from the larger trailer boats. This early show of Spaniards is a positive omen for spring and summer, and as the weather and water warms up, these great fish will move closer inshore. This will provide anglers in small tinnies or fishers that are land-based with a chance to tangle with the gamefish.

Most reports indicate that the Spaniards have been ranging up to 15kg, with the odd one going near 20kg. For so early in the season, these are impressive Spaniards. They have been falling mainly to trolled lures or baits.

Trolling with baits for Spanish mackerel remains one of the tried and trusted methods, which always gives solid results. If you want to catch a decent Spaniard the best bet is to slow troll baits at some of the known local spots. Just remember, big baits for big fish.

A favourite bait for many big mackerel chasers is a large wolf herring or ribbonie. All the local tackle outlets have them for sale, but you have to get in quickly as it doesn’t take long for the word to get around and the shops run out.

Many anglers of course catch their own ribbonfish and one of the popular spots to target them is around the islands off Seaforth to the north of Mackay. Look for them around sand spits, rocky headlands or isolated rocks such as Lonely Reef of Rabbit island, but be careful as there are green zones around the Brothers group of islands.

Ribbons are easily recognised when hooked as they start jumping all over the surface, but even the large ones (cricket bat size) take only a couple of minutes to get to the boat. Their habit of jumping around, together with their bony mouth and fang-like teeth, mean that staying hooked up is a problem, along with de-hooking. The fish should be iced down whole and kept as straight as possible while in the esky.

Ribbons can be caught on strips of fish or squid, flies and many types of lures. The favourite style of lure is a slow worked shiny, like a Pegron, Toby or similar.

When using ribbonfish for bait, rig them with large ganged hooks, usually 7/0 size. And the best way to gang the hooks is to use a quality swivel between each hook, as this will let the bait ‘swim’ much better. Quality pre-made rigs can be bought complete with a chin weight, these are usually good quality and save time making up your own rigs.

Many of our top local mackerel fishers have a stock of ribbons already rigged up with chin weights and hooks before they are frozen, so when on the water it is a simple matter to set up your bait to swim. Many Spaniards have fallen for a large ribbonfish by slow trolling quite deep. It is often a good idea to slip the motor into neutral every now and then and let the bait waft down even deeper.

Garfish would be the next favoured bait in this area and they also troll very well, and if the backbone is ‘popped’ they can be used at a much faster speed than ribbonfish bait. Again they are available from the local tackle shops together with made up rigs especially for gar. These ready-made rigs usually feature a weighted head, often with a pink squid pulled over the weight and nose of the fish, and sometimes with some fly-like material on a bullet head.

Most anglers also use ganged hooks using gar and examples can be bought from the tackle shops. And most tackle shops will have the lowdown on where the Spaniards are at the time and what baits/lures are working best.

While ribbons and gar are very popular, sennit or pike also work really well, particularly as a live bait set out under a float. Other successful baits include the ever-reliable pilchard on a 4 gang hook rig, live fusiliers, and the humble live herring. All of these baits, except the pilchard, are best used live and a visit to your local tackle shop will get you some current info.

Just to keep the mackerel chasing juices flowing, the Mackay Game Fishing Club recently held their mackerel shootout and had a good roll up with plenty of fish to 20kg weighed in. Charlie Agius and his crew have also been scoring well with a dozen Spanish over three trips, all caught on trolled gars.

For the lure angler, there are plenty of opportunities to catch a Spaniard by either trolling/casting to feeding fish or by jigging with heavy metal or plastics. Trolling with lures such as the Rapala CD18 series and similar, large bibless minnows, big jigs and some of the new huge plastics, is probably the most productive way to go. The advantage with trolling is that lures cover far more territory and so are more likely to be drawn past a Spaniard.

Spanish mackerel are being caught at all the regular hot spots; Wigton, Calder and Scawfell islands, north and south of Overfall Rocks, St Bees and Keswick islands, and right through the Goldsmiths up to the Whitsunday islands. Anglers need larger trailer boats to safely access most of these places but by early September areas much closer in should be providing plenty of Spanish action.

Depending on the weather, indications have shown over the last few weeks that we are in for a bumper late spring into summer period. We are hoping for typical weather patterns that will bring plenty of north to northeasterly winds, calm mornings and heaps of bait schools close inshore. If these conditions continue, Spanish mackerel will be around as close inshore as the Mackay Harbour breakwalls, Slade island, Danger reef and Flat and Round Top islands, all of which are within easy reach of a 4m tinnie on a good day. Further north the islands off Seaforth will have plenty of action, and to the south Sarina inlet and Glendower Point will fire up.

This Spanish action is a preliminary event to the run of small mackerel and tuna species that will come right inshore chasing the bait schools. Anglers can look forward to tangling with plenty of doggie and spottie mackerel as well as mac and bluefin tuna. There will also be incidental catches like queenfish, cobia and trevally. Next issue I will give an update on the ‘hows and wheres’ of chasing these species, so stay tuned.

Fishing around Mackay should hot up with the warmer weather having a definite impact in both salt and freshwater. On the freshwater scene, I expect my early 2008 predictions of a bumper barra season in our dams to come to fruition, given the huge number of small barra that were around in the early part of the year – I can’t wait.

No matter what your angling preferences, Mackay over the next few months will have plenty of fishing activity for a diverse range of species, so why not come up to paradise and check out the good times! See you at the ramp.

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