Mackay Mackerel Mystery
  |  First Published: November 2008

Where are all our small mackerel species? We have had about a week of light north to northeast winds yet I have no reports of anyone scoring small macks around Mackay.

There are quite a few northern blue tuna being caught close inshore around the harbour area, and some large schools of small baitfish are in evidence, yet the macks have not yet shown up. Since ring netting of mackerel was banned, their numbers had increased markedly, but this year seems a bit of a mystery. Perhaps the late change into spring has been the reason, as apparently good schools of doggie and spotted mackerel have been in evidence further north.

Maybe the recent spate of hot humid days with calm mornings will continue and be the catalyst for the annual small mackerel run. I certainly hope this proves to be the case, as I am looking forward to a nice feed of fresh mackerel fillets.

Meanwhile what are anglers chasing in our area? Well the place is jumping from the reef to the freshwater dams!

Out around the islands and reefs the fish have been on the chew, with small and largemouth nannygai, reddies, lippers, cod and trout. Those with the larger trailer boats are getting out at every opportunity and scoring well on the bottom fish. There have been plenty of Spanish and shark mackerel taken offshore as well. The sharkies are more likely to be caught well offshore at the reefs proper than around the islands and fringing reef complexes.

In the creeks the barra have been going off but will now be off limits for the next three months. Still there are plenty of substitutes like jacks, grunter, flathead, pikey bream and whiting to keep the local ‘creekies’ occupied, together with the occasional queenfish and trevally. The best source of info for what’s biting in the creeks is to go to one of our local tackle shops as they all have keen anglers on staff.

Tackleworld Mackay has just introduced a new service to customers; a fortnightly fishing report covering both fresh- and saltwater. The report is emailed to the customer, local or interstate, every fortnight with updates and will be based on their staff outings and info gathered from reliable local sources. The best part of the whole deal is that the service is absolutely free and there are no obligations or purchase qualifications. To register for this great local initiative, simply call Tackleworld Mackay on 07/ 49572145 or email to --e-mail address hidden-- and their friendly staff will get you on the mailing list.

With the barra season closed until 1 Feb 2009, anglers will have to get their fix at our local dams, all of which are firing big time for both barra and sooties. All three local dams are full and, as mentioned in last issue, new spots will have to be located because the water levels have been down for years. For information on Teemburra dam spots check out the October 2008 issue of QFM.


Eungella dam is full with big mean sooties and my old mate, John Trigg, had a couple of nights there recently with his brother and scored 60 fish between them in two days. John reports that they only caught two over 50cm, but to an avid sooty chaser who has never beaten 49cm sounds like a great fishing trip to me.

John tells me they saw quite a few barra up in the shallows but did not bother chasing them as they were having too much fun on the sooties, and also only had light gear with them. The sooties were caught on both lures and flies, and most were in relatively deepwater, which seems to be the pattern in Eungella when the water level is high. Look for sooties around heavy timber out to about 15m depth, and the best timber has ‘shade bars’ just under the surface.

The barra in Eungella dam are found in shallow water, and like all dams in the region, are around prominent points, weed beds, lillies and similar. The water is quite clean and clear, and there are basic camping facilities available. Be warned though, it is a windy place so make sure your camping gear is well tied down. Permits to camp can be obtained from the Ranger at the dam.


Kinchant is firing up with several 1m+ fish taken in October. Most of these larger barra are caught trolling at night and the best times are when there are still hot humid days and calm nights. The full moon is seen as the optimum time, but plenty are caught at other times.

As Kinchant is like a large bowl, wind can be a problem, but fortunately at this time of the year it tends to die away after dark.

Because the dam is full, there is not a great deal of prominent features like points and bays, and it is almost a matter of watching the sounder, plot a course to follow the bank and stay in water up to about 5m deep. The big barra are all over the dam, but it can be at times a case of covering plenty of water to locate fish.

Try trolling with any of the accepted barra trollers like Reidy’s, Flat Ratz, Downunder Vipers, Lively Lures, Tropic Anglers and Barra Classics. Use a variety to get the lures running at different depths and as a ‘wild card’, try trolling a Tango Dancer and use a bit of rod work to get it dancing.

If fish are located either by sounder or picking one up trolling, a good tactic is to work that area then by casting lures. Barra are very inquisitive fish and will often travel a fair distance to come over and check out a commotion in the water, like a hooked fish makes.

Sooties up to about 50cm are being caught along the walls and in the old quarry area. Casting lures is the best way to fish for them and any small minnow up to about 70mm will work. Fat Raps and Reidy’s Little Lucifers work really well, and spinnerbaits continue to be popular on sooties. Try some dark coloured skirts like black, purple, deep red mixed with some lighter skirt colours for best results.


Last but not least, Teemburra dam is absolutely firing. Over the last fortnight the water temps have risen from 23/24ºC to 29/30ºC and the barra have responded accordingly. My son, Lachlan, and I have had several quick trips after work and have either landed or hooked barra on each trip. We have found barra on both sides of the main body of water in the dam, as well as up Middle and Teemburra creeks.

The barra we have been chasing are in less than 3m of water and most hook ups are in about 1.5m depths. This is exciting fishing, and most of the hits see the barra screaming from the side or underneath and hammering the lure or fly. We have been revisiting old spots like the Cow Paddock, Barra Bay, and Fly Flats, and our new spot The Patch.

We have concentrated on areas with some regrowth suckers, old lantana, where good grass cover that is now drowned, and some nearby lightly timber areas. If these conditions can be incorporated around a point then pay dirt is not far away. Surprisingly we have also found barra right up in the ends of bays but always in the shallows.

A check with the spotlight after sun down shows why the barra are there. Small fish are everywhere in the shallows and shrimp can be seen flicking around in the spotlight beam. We also found half a small red claw floating on the surface, so it is likely the red claw have taken advantage of the early flooding and pasture grassed areas and are breeding up. Another good food source for both fish and anglers.

We have been using both fly and lures although the treble hooked lures can be a bit of a pain to work among the weeds. Lightly weighted Gulp 3’’ minnows and unweighted plastic stick or jerk baits have been successful, well more so than the usual shad styles which, due to their weight, are snagging and collecting weed very easily.

Of the treble armed lures, Reidy’s B52 in both gold and silver has been a clear winner for us. These lures can be cranked down then worked with the rod tip to get them to stay in the strike zone longer. Even the little tackers of 50cm will whack the B52s and there are no problems with build quality or hooks needing to be replaced. A great Aussie product worthy of support.

For flyfishing, we have used a mix of homemade styles and those adapted from established patterns. One of our most successful has been a variation on the Whistler or Pink Thing. We leave out the bead chains, bulk out the fly with bucktail and incorporate plenty of flashy material in small bunches tied progressively up the shank and some at the front of the palmer style feather. Our most successful colours have been orange, black and purple, with my biggest barra on fly at 78cm landed on the purple one.

That fish hit the fly in about 1m of water and immediately got airborne, providing Lachlan and I with a great show. It jumped about six times and was never in more than 3m of water, before coming to the net. The 10wt handled the fish well, although the angler got the fumbles a couple of times, and the 50lb leader was well scuffed up. I kept that fish for the table and checked the gut contents and found a mixture of small bonys and other fish, all under 50mm long.

Many people ask if the barra from the dams are edible and I have no hesitation in keeping one or two. The fish benefit from immediate thorough bleeding and icing down to prevent discolouring of the meat. After a tip from Wayne Kampe, I now gill and gut the fish, if smaller, and then refrigerate for 24 hours before filleting. If the fish is larger than this I fillet the fish and then refrigerate the fillets for 24 hours before skinning and cutting up. This firms the flesh up nicely, and when freezing them I sprinkle a very small amount of coarse salt or freshly ground sea salt on the fillets. Grilled or on the BBQ – they are delicious.

It is good to leave the scraps after filleting in the dam, but NOT at the ramp. Those scraps will provide feed for small fish, shrimps and crayfish, and help maintain it as one of the best barra fisheries in the country. Used this way the scraps don’t foul up the rubbish bin, attract flies or upset the neighbours.

So that’s the round up for Mackay for the moment, and what’s likely to continue through the summer months. Now if only those small macks would show up! See you at the ramp.

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