Jelly Prawn Hatch
  |  First Published: March 2003

AS I write we have just experienced our first real dumping of rain for a long time. In the Far North, when we talk about ‘good rain’ we refer to it in inches – just like the 6-12 inches we’ve just received throughout the region in a 12-hour period.

It signalled the start to the big wet, which we can expect to last into April, and it came just in time to greatly assist the breeding cycle of the barramundi before the season opened at the start of February. Rivers experienced flash flooding, turning them into a big brown slush, and this should happen a few more times by the time you read this.

At the start, such conditions shut down coastal fishing opportunities, but once it clears a whole new ball game is exposed. In a way, heavy rain has the same affect as one of those glass snow shakers, when shaken all the flakes are stirred around and likely to fall in a new place. These flakes are the same as our bait supplies, which are forced by the shear amount of water to go with the flow and end up in a new place.

Naturally, all our rivers and creeks enter the sea and out comes a whole new food source along our beaches. One important food source which is distributed in egg formation and then is hatched along our beaches during the wet season is the jelly or juvenile prawn. They appear in their millions as tiny rice grain creatures and hug closely to the shoreline. When disturbed they spring in all directions and they are so thick they create a white sheet appearance lifting from the water.

Following the hatch comes all sorts of fish species for an easy feed and also the deadly chironex box jellyfish which just delights in this food source. Protective clothing is mandatory if one decides to wade into the water. Up until this point, the fishing along our beaches has been a little lethargic with spasmodic bursts of big queenfish, trevally and blue salmon and this has been mainly due to a lack of rain and therefore a lack of consistent bait. However, with the arrival of this new release of life it should see the action let rip, particularly when the winds are calm enough to wet a line.

The fish come in their droves for a piece of the action and can really gain some serious weight in a short amount of time as they gorge themselves with mouthfuls of juvenile prawn with every single swipe. The February/ March and even April period will see trevally, queenfish, giant herring, tarpon, blue salmon, dusky flathead and even barramundi parading along the beaches for this tropical delicacy.

The challenge as an angler is to cash in upon these feeding frenzies, which normally occur at first daylight or late afternoon on calm days. The shallow waters can literally erupt as schools of fish run ragged through the swarms of ocean rice.

Unfortunately, bait anglers are not in the picture as the fish are focused on live, small food. Even lure anglers using normal sized lures can be found wanting, as the fish are simply not interested, you must ‘match the hatch’ as they say.

The only way to be successful is to down grade the size of your presentations. For lure anglers it means bringing out the ultra light spinning gear in the 2-3kg range which allows you to cast the tiniest of metal slices or the tiny rubber prawn lures now available. Spinning in this fashion is reasonably successful but ultimately fly fishers produce the best results because they can present even smaller presentations.

There are all sorts of small jelly prawn flies on the market, however, honestly, as long as you have a little flash and white material attached to your hook, then it will get eaten as it is stripped through the schools of prawns and fish. My favourite old fly actually resembles not much at all and I keep adding a few strands of white calf tail and flash as it becomes bare. When the jelly prawn run is on there is no rocket science to catch a few fish as long as you present something that barely resembles a slightly over sized grain of rice. Fly outfits in the 7-9 weight range fit the bill, using either a floating line or a sink tip line with a 6kg tippet. Lowering the tippet size only results in more lost fish as many have rough mouths and quickly wear through the line.

No matter which rod you pick up, make sure you have plenty of line or backing in reserve as some of the bigger species reach incredible speeds in the skinny water. If you've ever caught a giant herring or big tarpon you'll know what I mean.

Locations in the region to take up this challenge include the southern half of Four Mile Beach, Newell Beach between the Mossman River and Saltwater Creek and also Wonga Beach towards the mouth of the Daintree River. All these beaches have one thing in common and that is they all have a river mouth directing a food source towards it when it rains.

1) The author with an average-sized golden trevally taken on light spinning gear on Four Mile Beach.

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