Officially we've seen the last of summer, but in Central and North Queensland the monsoon season can extend well into autumn. In past years we've had cyclones pass by the Capricorn Coast during Easter and, seeing as the bunny is coming early this year, this could happen again.
For some reason, 2005 has started off as the ‘year of the reefies’ in this part of the world. Just about everyone who knows something about bottom fishing has been coming home with smiles on their faces this year.
When the weather allows, the wide grounds off Central Queensland can usually be relied upon to give up at least a feed of decent reef fish, including red emperor and large-mouth nannygai in particular, but this year so far, some equally impressive catches have been coming from much closer inshore.
Generally reef fishing around the islands of Keppel Bay produces smaller fish than out wide, with the most predominant species being grass sweetlip and tuskfish. If you're lucky you'll also knock over a pan-sized coral trout as a bonus.
The species distribution hasn't changed too much lately, but the quality of the catches has been excellent. Some of the grassy sweetlip are 40-45cm or better, and the trout are either busting you off or in the 2-3kg size bracket. Mixed in with these are top-shelf stripeys (railway perch), gold-spot cod and a surprising number of keeper large-mouth nannygai. I've also caught quite a few very nice doggie mackerel on the bottom on my reef rigs. The only problem is that they often bite you off because bottom rigs have your line straight onto the hook.
My personal preference for chasing reefies is on the dropping tide, but I have also taken good fish on the run-up tide on occasions. I like to fish from daylight until about 9am if I can. The bite usually slows down after that, and anyway, it gets too hot in a centre console boat without a cover (I must be getting soft).
The most popular baits are the standard blue pilchard and good old squid, and they are both catching fish regularly. I'm not a fan of squid, especially frozen imported stuff, so I like to source my own bait if I can. I catch good fish on yorkie herring that I try to get a supply of each May-June and put down in the freezer, or greenback herring as a second choice.
I also like prawns, especially for tuskfish, but I refuse to pay the premium price for the good quality bait prawns that are occasionally available through local tackle stores. I try to get a 12-month supply each summer with my cast net if I can. The trouble is, when the prawns in the estuaries are of good size, it's hard to bag them up as bait in preference to cooking them up and devouring them then and there. When I’m tempted to eat the prawns, I just tell myself that the objective is to turn them into succulent tuskfish during the rest of the year, and that works for me (most of the time).
The run of banana prawns in our estuaries is very late this year. Last year they were pretty well finished by the end of February, but this year the first batch are only just getting big enough to be worth taking towards the end of February. I reckon we should see the prawns hang around for most of this month, and it could be one of those Easters when fresh prawns are on many anglers’ dinner tables.
Depending on how much rain we get, the best places to look for prawns will be Corio Bay, the Causeway Lake, Coorooman Creek and right throughout the Fitzroy delta system, even over on Curtis Island as far around as Yellowpatch Creek.
Banana prawns do move out to sea en masse when they get to a certain size, so you can find them in the creek one day, and gone the next. The full moon seems to be around the time they usually make the move, so it’s possible there may be an exodus right on the Easter break. Normally, however, there are a couple of generations growing in the systems at the same time, so when the first group moves out, there is often a second smaller generation to take their place for the next month.
Early numbers of small prawns in the systems indicate only an average season at best, but you never know. They might be hiding up the runners and will suddenly appear as if from nowhere. Let's hope so.
If the grey mackerel are going to show up in Keppel Bay, they should arrive towards the second half of this month and hang around through until early May. Where they come from and where they go is a mystery to me, but they are my favourite mackerel to chase.
The greys’ habit of feeding on schools of bait near the surface makes them candidates for high-speed spinning with metal spoon patterns. The strike is often quite spectacular as they crash the lure right on the surface. Considering the large tail greys have, the fight doesn't live up to expectations. You can't have everything though, and they taste pretty good on the BBQ.
Greys usually work the bait schools first thing in the morning, and the giveaway is sprays of baitfish panicking. Unlike mack tuna, greys seldom break the surface enough for a positive ID, so look carefully to make sure you haven't found a school of feeding tuna and not greys.
You’ll often see greys working obvious current lines, and shallow or milky water isn't a deterrent for them. In fact, the commercial fishing sector set nets for greys in dirty inshore water that you and I wouldn't expect to hold big mackerel.
Keppel Bay grey mackerel are usually quite large fish, with some specimens close to 10kg. Popular spots to look for greys include Conical Rocks, Findlay's Reef, Corio Headland, Forty Acre Paddock, Square Rocks and the inshore islands in the southern bay from Pelican Island south.
The Fitzroy River Fish Stocking Group last month released 1200 barra, ranging from 180mm to 220mm long, in an experiment to see whether survival rates would be higher than for the normal 30-40mm fingerlings. All the fish were tagged by local tagging club Captag before they were released, so that in time we’ll get an accurate picture of their survival rate and movement throughout the system.
The little barra were supplied by the Gladstone hatchery and were delivered in absolutely prime condition. Confidence is high that the survival rate will be very good, so keep an eye out from about this time next year for any of these fish, as they grow to a size where they will start being recaptured.
1) Sue Martin caught this snodger red-throat emperor in just 5m of water near Great Keppel.Reads: 2962