Tag those reddies!
  |  First Published: December 2004

I was recently invited to help out on a mission to tag reds – an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Old mate Kerry Bailey was keen to get out while the weather was holding and the reds were biting. At 7am we headed out of the Cairns Inlet on our way to Spot X, halfway between Fitzroy Island and Moore Reef (that’s all I’m allowed to tell you about the location). Kerry's comfortable 6m rig, Blackout, had us near our first drop in about an hour. As we approached the spot, rods and rigs were baited up with fresh whole squid so there was no time lost.

Our first drop was a tester, and almost as soon as David's bait hit the bottom he was into a class red. This fish turned out to be an 80cm large-mouth nannygai. I managed a smaller version, and then Kerry nailed another big red.

Not every red we caught was suitable for tagging and release. The water was deep, and the heavy drags we used to outrun the sharks put stress on the fish, so a few exhausted reds did manage to find their way into the ice box. Often they had to be vented to release pressure in their swim bladder before tagging and release. If you’re tagging, it’s best to fish away from structure if possible, so you can lighten the drag a little to keep the fish in better condition.

Kerry was reluctant to anchor on his secret spot as another boat was approaching, so we moved on quickly to a wreck south of Fitzroy Island. Our arrival was greeted by a procession of arm-stretching trevallies which nailed the baits before they could get through to the red population. Eventually we managed another large-mouth and a few more small-mouths. In between this, we hooked a 15kg cobia which created havoc when it picked up one of the other lines. Finally, the cobia was subdued and made it to the boat before being photographed and released.

The morning progressed nicely fishing-wise, but soon an annoying squall picked up which preceded a strong southeast change. Conditions deteriorated rapidly and we made a run for home. We were satisfied with the morning’s fishing, having tagged six reds and brought three home for the table.

Kerry is certainly not the only one tagging these reef species, but estimates he has tagged in excess of 80 reds (mostly large-mouth and some small-mouth nannygai) over the last 12 months for the tagging program being investigated by the CRC. The figures from the DPI&F to date are impressive, with 19 returns on 108 large-mouth nannies and 30 returns on 337 small-mouth nannies. It’s going to be interesting to eventually see what the CRC research team uncovers about the habits of these sought-after tablefish, so be on the look-out for tags in any reds you bag and report on any of these returns. The more information we can find out about these magnificent fish can only help to preserve future stocks of one of the North’s favourite fish.

Gear for catching Reds

Typical equipment for this style of fishing is a 10-15kg short stroker rod matched up with an overhead reel spooled with 15kg mono or braid, depending on your choice and budget. The reels we used were Penn 320 GTIs. The rig consists of a double on the mainline joined with about 2.5m of 50lb mono leader. A standard paternoster drop rig is the preferred set-up on the leader. We were using 12oz snapper leads (obviously weight size depends on tide and current conditions) and 7/0 hooks. There are loads of hook patterns available these days but two I can recommend are the Mustad Allround pattern 37140 and the Eagle Claw L141F Laser Sharp. If you’re using braid I'd probably go for the Mustad as they look to be stronger, reducing the chance of straightening the hook when you lock up on a big reddy.

Borrowed boat produceS PB mackerel!

Faced with the new spawning closures over the last few months, many offshore anglers have had to turn their attention to pelagic species such as mackerel. Fortunately, the macks have been willing to play the game and there have been many around for those anglers wanting to tow a few baits around during the closures.

Brett Scwilk had a day out recently when he borrowed his brother’s boat for a midweek trip chasing Spaniards during the spawning closure. The day turned out to be a pearler as Brett and Aaron headed out to Oyster Reef where they spent the morning trolling gar on wog heads. By mid-morning they had their bag limit, having kept six and released two Spanish macks. The biggest mack was a horse weighing in at 29kg, and it was the first time Brett had ever captured a trophy size mackerel.

Just to add a bit more spice to their morning, Brett and fishing buddy Aaron both hooked up to small black marlin, although each of them lost their fish when it jumped.

Until next month, Happy New Year Fishing and see you on the water.


1) Kerry Bailey releases a tagged nannygai off Fitzroy Island east of Cairns.

2) Brett Scwilk was over the moon when he nailed this 29kg Spaniard. It was taken on a trolled gar during a recent morning trip to Oyster Reef off Cairns.

3) David Mayes was pleased with this thumping large mouth nannygai he captured recently and released off Cairns while fishing with Kerry Bailey.

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