2002 in Review
  |  First Published: December 2002

NO TWO seasons are ever the same and, given the very poor wet season the North experienced in 2001/2002, we knew this season was going to be anything but normal. As it happened, the fishing here in Weipa was the toughest I’ve seen in my six-and-a-half years as a resident of the Gulf outpost.

However, ‘tough’ for Weipa doesn’t necessarily mean bad! We’re a bit spoiled up this way as far as fishing goes, and I’ve seen many smiling faces on anglers boarding the return flight at the end of a ‘hard’ working week fishing with me. It certainly confirms that what they’ve experienced during their trip has kept them very happy indeed.

As far as I could tell, the poor wet didn’t effect the fishing uniformly right throughout the year. Rather, the slower times alternated with some of Weipa’s usual fishing brilliance. Late March and April – the ‘run-off’ time – showed the greatest drop in activity, probably due to the lack of freshwater inflow.

This time of year is normally characterized by massive numbers of jelly prawns, both in the rivers and along the beaches, attracting everything from barra and salmon to giant manta rays and their entourage of golden trevally and cobia. 2002 saw very small numbers of jelly prawns in the Weipa area, which was a direct consequence of the lack of rain.

While the estuarine fishing continued to be a little slow in the usually magic month of May, the offshore scene went absolutely ballistic, as is usually the case. Huge bait schools off the Red Cliffs started the ball rolling, becoming a magnet for a range of inshore and offshore species. These included blue salmon, queenfish, tarpon, fingermark, longtail tuna, grey mackerel, cobia and Spanish mackerel.

Then more bait schools offshore brought an invasion of longtail tuna that lasted for over a month. Catching tuna to exhaustion happened quite regularly. Quite a number of marlin were hooked in the vicinity of these schools, along with GTs, queenfish, cobia and Spaniards.

July usually sees the fishing slow dramatically, but I experienced some of the best mid-Winter barra fishing I’ve seen here in late July. Some of the largest barra for 2002 were landed in the course of this fortnight. Of course, low water temperatures had to win eventually and the river fishing slowed considerably during August and early September.

The rivers fired up again in mid-September, with cricket score catches of barramundi being the norm right through the next six weeks. Although the offshore fishing during the same period was quiet, the rivers fished as well as I’ve ever experienced at that time of year. The best snag produced over 25 barra – and that included retrieving a couple of snagged lures in the middle of the bite!

In November, the unseasonable arrival of a long period of south-east trade winds had the effect of slowing the river fishing but stimulating the offshore fishing – the exact opposite of what had happened the month before. However, by the end of the month and into December, the rivers and the offshore were both firing.

By mid to late November, Weipa usually experiences its first wet season storms. This has not happened this season and is another sign that 2002 has been a very strange year on the weather and fishing front. Let’s hope the weather forecasters have got it wrong and that the north (and indeed all over Australia) gets a good wet season.

Each season in Weipa seems to favour one particular fish species and 2002 has been the year of the juvenile Queensland groper. My clients have caught more groper this year than in all my other seasons combined!

Our best day saw nine groper captured with seven coming off one particular snag. Could this proliferation of groper be a consequence of the poor wet and a sign that something has changed in the predation hierarchy in the local estuaries? Only time will tell.

One thing’s for sure: living and fishing in Weipa is always interesting! In spite of having to work a tad harder to find a fish or ten, this year has brought with it plenty of special memories, both for my clients and myself.

Here’s hoping 2003 is another big one for everybody, and brings plenty of rain to our parched landscape. Some things never change, and the old adage “Drought on the land, drought in the sea!” is still relevant even in our ‘enlightened’ times.

1) This snub-nosed dart (Indo-Pacific permit) was taken on a Pink Thing left to rest on the bottom.

2) 2002 was the year of the Queensland groper. Stuart Vella landed this 5kg beauty in the Embley River.

3) Thousands of queenfish were caught and released during the 2002 season.

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