The March Lottery
  |  First Published: March 2003

MARCH is a real lottery in the Cairns area and the big ticket is the ‘whether’… whether it’s raining, whether it’s flooding, whether we have a cyclone or whether the weather is just great.

One fish that will almost certainly be on the bite is the barra, and with a great start to the season the only trick will be locating their current whereabouts. The big mummas will be over their spawning desire and the males will have given up chasing their tail and they will be scattered throughout the systems from the upper freshwater to the headlands, depending on the state of the freshwater run-off.

At this time last year the big girls were still out the front of estuaries and along the headlands. Well… those that had survived the string of nets that were all over the place, anyway.

If the skies have opened up and all the rivers are running red, the Cairns Inlet is a pretty good proposition. It has little run, due to having only a small feeder system compared with the likes of the Barron, Russell/Mulgrave and Daintree.


The flats out the front of the Cairns Esplanade are a fairly consistent producer in March, with grunter, salmon, queenfish, trevally, the odd barra and plenty of catfish, sharks and rays keeping up the vermin end of the deal. The big tides around the full moon on the 18th and the lead-up to the new moon at the end of the month are the best times to fish the flats.

The big tides, over three metres, often shut down the estuaries because of the huge run, but this is the time to target the flats. The first of the rise, right up in the shallows where the outboard skeg is hitting the mud, is a great place to be. As the tide rises, look for the weed and rubble patches, through to the first of the run-out. Fresh or live prawns are great bait at this time of year, as they are usually plentiful. Strip baits of mullet, gar, sardines or mud herring are also top baits for fishing the flats.


If you are prepared to put in the effort, live yabbies can't be beaten, but it means pumping the yabbies at the mouth of the Barron or Half Moon Bay Rivers and transporting them to the flats. This can sometimes mean a double launch and retrieve of the boat, depending on the tides and the wind. The mouth of the Barron is a real lottery on the bottom of the tide and any wind makes it a no-go, except for the very experienced who know exactly where the channels are. Even then it can be a push and drag, depending on your draft.

You can walk to the yabby beds on the southern side of Half Moon Bay River, via the golf course, but sometimes it can be very lean pickings. The same can apply at the mouth of the Barron. The floods can effect the yabby beds out on the flats on the northern side of the mouth but they are pretty consistent on the sand bar on the southern side, opposite where the track comes down to the sand spit on the northern side. You need a boat to get to them though.


Smaller streams in the area, such as Half Moon Bay River and the little creeks along the Northern Beaches, will clear faster than the main rivers and are well worth a shot. Many of the smaller streams along the coast are closed off from the sea during much of the year but when they open, because of rain and the big Spring tides, they are well worth fishing. It is amazing how many small barra and jacks they can hold, but you need to be extra quiet.

Tearing into these streams with the outboard thumping away is a sure-fire way of shutting down the system. Go in under electric, or heaven forbid, dig out the oars and paddle. Use the wind and tide to advantage to quietly work the system, especially if luring, which is the best way to fish these mini systems.


Fingermark and jacks are on the bite in March but they prefer more settled conditions. Chase them if there hasn't been much rain or after the fresh settles down. Lures and live baits of prawns, mullet, whiting, sardines and mud herring are popular ways of targeting these species. The rougher the country, the better, but make sure you have plenty of terminal tackle as they will win plenty of the races to cover.


Sharpen up your cast-netting skills as this is a prime time for prawns in the Cairns area. Even the drag nets are pulled out and the beaches up around Mossman and the Daintree can produce some good hauls of prawns. Occasional runs occur along Machan’s and Holloway’s Beaches but you will need to keep your ear to the ground.

The mud flats on the esplanade, along the southern side of Cairns Inlet and around the Marlin Marina are more consistent spots to target prawns but they obviously get a lot more pressure. Just the same there is often a feed of prawns to be had by those prepared to put in the time and effort.


A good fresh can stir up the mud crabs, and targeting the flats or areas near the mouth, that dry at low tide, is the way to go, especially on the bigger tides leading up to the Full Moon, and to a lesser extent the New Moon.

If it has been a dry month then up the tops of the creeks can be worth a look. It pays to spread your effort around until you locate them.

Having a heavy handline out, with a big slab of mullet or fish frame on it, and a long-handled scoop onboard, can add another dimension when bait fishing. It is surprising how many big bucks can be caught this way. Have a big hook in the bait just in case a nice fish decides to take it instead. Unfortunately, at this time of year, a tear away run will most often turn out to be vermin.


As the water cools the reef fishing will become more consistent, with big mouth nannygai, small mouth nannygai, spangled emperor and red emperor making up the bulk of catches, along with a sprinkling of trout, rosy jobfish, mangrove jack and mackerel.

After the floods a major hazard for reef fishos is floating debris. Overnighters are great, but take care, as submerged and semi-submerged logs are a real danger. Even in broad daylight it can be hard to spot logs, especially when travelling into the sun.

All up, March fishing varies dramatically every year and it is just a matter of making the most of the prevailing weather conditions at the time.

May the ‘whether’ be with you.

1) Sue White, from Kilmore in Victoria, with a nice big mouth caught off Cairns.

2) Andrew Tivey, from Cairns, will be hoping there are more big mouth like this one on offer in March.

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