Mercury Rising
  |  First Published: December 2008

Port Douglas is going through a quick shift upwards in temperature and humidity, but the fishing reports have moved accordingly with the mercury. It has been a bit of give and take when you consider the reef and barramundi closures, but it is all good to some degree.

Reef fishing reports lately have been disjointed because of the imposed reef closures during the new moon phases. One can say that the October coral trout in particular were only partially full of roe and it is anticipated that they will come to fruition during the latter parts of November.

The December reef closures are seriously thought to be a waste of everyone's time, which includes financial burden on charter operations. This coincides during a hot spot in the tourist season over Christmas that is a critical trading period. Next years new proposal dates for reef closures will be closely watched as those with a genuine interest for the sustainability of the industry believe the past years imposed regulations are far from right.

In saying this, the coral trout have been best caught just following a reef closure after a new moon. Those that have spawned are the hungriest, having only spasmodically been on the bite leading into this moon phase. Some days have differed but it has shown a pattern.

Coral trout congregate to certain points of the reef to spawn and can be plucked off at will to those in the know. Previous years closures allowed a few days after spawning for these fish to disperse, which was considered fair game by all in the industry. Yet this year the authorities have only allowed a day or two at best for the fish to disperse. The fish are still congregating with only a short time to move on before becoming open game. Many are questioning why, and it seems to go against why the closures were first introduced.

Nevertheless, reef reports have recorded consistent coral trout and nannygai at night in good numbers with mediocre catches during the day. Sharks are still hammering prime locations as fish are being brought to the surface.

There are trevally species, such as bludger and tealeaf, in herds at the nannygai marks with the odd surprise of a reef mangrove jack or cobia appearing mid water.

The red emperor and spangled emperor have gradually increased and one can expect the spangled emperor to appear regularly, especially during the early parts of December. They too seem to gather in serious numbers to spawn around the new moon. They have been referred to as 'sea rabbits' at this time of year, and in my opinion are still a quality catch despite their tough exterior causing extra effort on the filleting table.

Reef fishing will slow to some extent this coming month with low light periods, deeper depths and changes of the tide paramount. The middle of the day will be hard work.

A snorkel over the side may confront you with an ever-presence of jellyfish already swimming our waters. If you want to mix your reef day with a snorkel, keep out of the strong currents, which they rely on to migrate.

The gamefishing has been solid in our region, despite the Lizard Island tournament in early October recording under-achieving results compared to its rich 22 year history. Out of 32 boats entered, the winning boat, Kanahoe, only recorded six tagged marlin.

Back on local grounds the marlin are chewing madly on the Opal Ridge and Linden Bank. Still ranging from 200lb to 800lb they are definitely there. The bite has been spasmodic during early afternoon, however there has been serious bites occurring between the 4-6pm time slot.

Overnight charters have been at a huge advantage, only having to travel 15 minutes back to sheltered anchorages overnight. Whereas day trips, which have had to leave the grounds by 5pm to travel back in safety to the mainland in daylight, have at times missed the explosive bite.

The action during this low light period has been nothing short of action stacked upon action. Bites have been literally mounting on top of each other. The round up of November with the big granders is greatly anticipated and will be expected until mid December. Reports indicate huge numbers of super sized fish are still someway offshore and will hit our local shelf late to early December. Book a trip if the Ministry of Finance allows.

Inshore, our rivers and creeks have certainly improved as the weather warms up. There have been heaps and heaps of small hatchlings that have kick started the food chain. Mangrove jack and fingermark are hot favourites and love any juicy live bait thrown in their domain.

Grunter or javelin fish are still firing on river or creek mudflats and are consistently nudging the 50-60cm range. Cocktail baits of prawns, squid and sliced sardine are very effective. Expect shovel nosed ray to tap into this presentation but will still provide a top performance on the reel. They have become very active in the warmer months.

The flathead are also in full gear but release the bigger females as they are still possibly in their vital breeding process.

Barra and tarpon are active after dark and if you can find a man made light source reflecting on the water, this will attract the bait and consequently the predators. Live baits and lures are both effective methods in this scenario. Boat ramps, jetties and harbour sections offer this attractant.

Don't be afraid to use bigger than usual live baits at this time of year as there are some bigger fish kicking around including golden trevally, the odd big blue salmon, handsome fingermark and of course the barra, which must be released with due care.

The key is to use the cooler low light periods of the early morning and afternoons, and night fishing comes into its own as well. Fishing during the hot spells of the midday sun will see you most likely fishless and burnt to a crisp.

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