The Billfish Lottery
  |  First Published: December 2002

AT THE time of writing the water is rapidly warming up, the bluebottles are starting to show on the current lines and the Summer gamefish season is just starting!


It’s always a bit of a lottery trying to predict what the billfish action will be like off the Gold Coast. Last year was fair to good, but the season before that was a complete dud. From reports I’ve received from more northern grounds, it seems that this season may be like last year – no real boom run but enough marlin about to get results from hard work.

To target marlin in January, you first need to find the bait. Some of the best aggregations of bait have been just outside the Seaway entrance. The big sand drop-off where it falls from 7 metres to 18 metres is definitely worth a look, yet most boats drive right past it. If the blue water is in close, don’t ignore this area. It produced many small black marlin last year and, with all the bait stacked in this area at present, there’s no reason it won’t attract the marlin this month.

A good plan is to troll lures until you find a big bait school, and then go on to live bait. Live slimies are the most consistent and reliable bait for pinning a marlin, particularly if you troll them in a bait school. On 8-10kg tackle, the average little black marlin is as good a gamefish as you’ll find. As well as the Seaway drop-off, good spots include the 50-metre line north of the Seaway, the area east of Jumpinpin, the Tweed Nine Mile and the bait grounds 16 miles east of the Seaway.

Spotties and Spaniards should also start to show in January around Palm Beach Reef, and a few cobia are usually present as well. The early-season Spaniards are generally small fish of around 6-8kg. Floating pilchards and live slimies work well, and high speed trolling small Hex Heads is a great method early in the morning, just on first light.

Dolphin fish are a welcome bycatch when chasing billies, and already some big ones of 12-17kg have been caught. If you’re after these fish, troll any current line with a significant colour change. In the last two seasons the dolphin fish have shown a preference for purple lures, and they also love a trolled livebait. January is usually one of the best months for dolphin fish off the Gold Coast.

Bottom fishing in January is difficult on the wide grounds because of the current. A few rosy jobfish, pigfish and pearl perch are still on the chew, but it can be tough going. Jigging using gelspun line is one way to beat the current, and yellowtail kings, amberjacks and samson are still catchable in the deep during Summer with this method. On the inshore grounds, most of the catch is made up of a few big mack tuna, teraglin and tailor. In general, pelagics are a better bet than bottom fish at this time of year.


January on the Broadwater is a nice place between 4am and 7am, and a haven for screaming jet skis at other times. The best catches are made up of whiting, school jew and a few cod and jacks in the rivers. There are a few tailor and GTs in the Seaway area, but the best option is to avoid the crowds, get up early and get some decent live bait.

Whiting are already on the chew in the Nerang River. Small soldier crabs, wriggler and squirt worms are the best baits. A lot of anglers have most success at night when it’s a bit quiet (although soldier crabs don’t seem to work very well at night). A lot of the early fish are quite big, over 500g, and the area between TSS and the council chambers has been the most productive.

The hole at the north wall of the Gold Coast Seaway is worth a spin or jig with soft plastics early in the morning for chopper tailor and GTs. Quite a few school jew have been falling to soft plastic shad tails in this area as well. In January, when the blue water pushes close inshore, there are often tuna in this area as well. Mack tuna, bonito and the occasional longtail can all be caught here on metal lures.

Up the river, mangrove jacks will be about on the usual rock bars. Trolling deep lures like Mann’s 20s works well, but quite a few jacks are being caught on soft plastics as well. Live mullet and fresh strip baits also catch their fair share. Estuary cod and a few juvenile Queensland groper are also about at this time.

Small lure trolling the sand flats will still produce a few flatties and bream, and soft plastics such as Renoskys, Squidgies and the smallest Storm Shads are very productive. The purple Micro Mullet is also a great producer of table-sized flatties in Summer. The key is to fish early before the sun warms up the flats too much, and before the jet skis have started. Most of the big lizards of Spring have gone by January, leaving behind fish that average around 40cm.

The upper canals and lakes such as Lake Intrepid are worth a look in January for trevally, giant herrings and jacks. There is also a good population of bass in the Robina area for locals in the know, and white spinnerbaits are the most popular lure. A lot of these bass are around 45cm now. This area in general can provide very good fly fishing.

The Pimpama River is worth a visit at this time of year because it generally has less boat traffic. It’s a good river for whiting and flatties, with the chance of jacks and cod. Jumpinpin is also worth a visit early in the morning and Kalinga Bank can produce some big mulloway, flathead and tailor. This spot is fantastic for jigging soft plastics.

1) On 8-10kg tackle, the average Southport black marlin is as good a gamefish as you’ll find.

2) Greenie must have used a crowbar to extract this 7kg cod from its estuarine home!

3) Dolphin fish are a welcome bycatch when chasing billfish.

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