Pelagic action arrives
  |  First Published: March 2004

MARCH should see the pelagic fish kick into top gear with the arrival of large schools of spotted and Spanish mackerel. So far mackerel catches have been encouraging with the coffee rock reefs along Moreton Island producing some great catches.

Late January and early February saw plenty of wind from the north, but when the winds abated large shoals of baitfish were found from the South passage bar to Cape Moreton. With the plentiful baitfish, it’s taken very little effort to fill the livebait tank with quality bait. Along with the usual slimies and yakkas there have been large shoals of blue pilchards and some small bonito. Although the pillies die quickly, they make excellent troll or float baits. The bonito also die quickly unless you have tuna tubes on board, but when they are rigged and swimming behind the boat, big Spaniards just can’t help themselves.

The large expanse of coffee rock that starts just north of the South Passage bar and runs right up to Cape Moreton is not hard to find in the shallow water. Look in water from 12-15m deep and look out for other boats close to the beach working the same area, especially at this time of year.

There’s no set rule for mackerel fishing because anchoring, drifting and trolling all work on different days. When anchoring or drift fishing I run a spread of three or four rods, depending on the wind conditions. On these I fish whole pillies, half pillies and livebaits. With the pillies I use only single 2/0 or 3/0 hooks buried in the flesh with only the hook point exposed as I believe ganged hooks can spook wary fish. I tie the hook to a short length of 20lb multi-strand wire and to a very small black swivel. The use of the black swivel minimises bite-offs from the hooked fish’s mates.

For live baits I use a 40lb to 60lb single-strand wire rig with a stinger. I use a couple of 3/0 or 4/0 hooks or sometimes a single hook with a treble stinger.

Line size is also a personal preference, but 10-15kg line is more than enough for these clean fighting pelagics. The trick is to have just a bit of patience when bringing the fish to the boat.

I always have a spin rod handy with a chrome slug attached just in case schools of fish start working bait to the surface. For this type of fishing I also have a float bait rigged up on a bait runner style reel. This allows me to easily get the bait out quickly and away from the boat.

When trolling I tow a spread of three baits with a pillie in the centre and two live or dead baits on the outsides. Live baits can be slimies, yakkas or bonito and the dead baits used can be bonito, tailor, gar or pillies. I rig the live baits the same as for drifting, but the dead baits need to be rigged on weighted ganged hooks. Make sure you rig them properly because if the bait won’t swim it won’t get eaten. For those new to trolling, there are now pre-rigged trolling rigs available for pillies and larger baits. Have a chat to your local tackle retailer and they’ll direct you to the right area.

High speed trolling up to 12 knots is also an option, and towing small skirted lures, jetheads and bibless lures such as the Mac Bait can be a stack of fun.


Bottom fishing has been a hit and miss of late. The strong currents roaring to the south early in February have made bottom fishing difficult and hard work. But this same current did bring the dolphinfish onto the chew around the wave rider beacon and some nice fish were taken. Some reasonable yellowfin tuna also turned up around the group at Point Lookout, but remember the 1.2km closure at Flat Rock.

If you get the chance, head out and have some fun chasing surface fish this month. If you’d like some personal instruction, join me for a charter on Outlaw for a day (max four people) by calling on 0418 738 750 or (07) 3822 9527.

1) The occasional yellowfin tuna has been making an appearance offshore, providing plenty of entertainment and sushi.

2) This is the size of the dolphinfish that were found around the wave rider beacon in February.

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