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Days at the Daintree
  |  First Published: April 2003




DURING the Easter holidays the Douglas Shire region gets flooded with visiting anglers, many with the boat and camping gear in tow. Most of the visitors from Cairns and Townsville bypass Port Douglas and make a beeline for the Daintree region. The area offers several magnificent camping grounds, including Wonga Beach, Cape Kimberley and the Daintree Village, all of which have easy access to the Daintree River, Snapper Island, coastal reefs and several other little tributary systems as well.

For people who aren’t interested in fishing, there are sightseeing opportunities at Mossman Gorge, Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation. The area also hosts a variety of organised activities such as reef trips, river cruises, parasailing, micro-flight tours, Aboriginal culture and car buggy racing, just to name a few. With so much on offer along such a stunning stretch of coastline, it is little wander that the area is so popular with campers.

The month of April in recent years has been a happy fishing period as we gradually slide out of the wet season. After a good dousing of rain from previous months, April can produce some glorious days on the water and you’ll often find the fish in a frisky mood. It’s a period when wet season and dry season species cross paths and the variety and size of fish on the chew is impressive – hefty barramundi, mangrove jack, queenfish, mackerel and more. The Daintree River has been producing metre-plus barramundi lately, and has been the most consistent system in the region to achieve this. It could turn out to be one hell of holiday if you latch onto one of these beauties!

DAINTREE RIVER

If you’re unsure how to tackle the region, the following is a suggested plan to get you started. Naturally, you’ll establish your own strategies as you experience the bite.

When you look at the tides during the holiday break, anglers start on the full moon period and those first few days offer promising incoming tides early morning and late afternoon. Spending the time to source a good supply of sardines will reap the rewards. Work the banks of the channel mouth for your supply of live bait.

The channel mouth of Daintree should have metre-long queenfish working this area, and lightly weighted live sardines drifting in the current should be highly successful. Bonus catches here can include golden trevally or even school mackerel if the conditions are ultra ripe.

As the tides peak, follow the water across the many flats of the river. An array of grunter, trevally and queenfish quickly seek out the bait schools lingering in the shallows here, and any nervous surface activity is a sure sign that the predators are working. To entice them you can set out live baits, fresh strip or prawn baits, flick shallow diving lures or slices or even cast a fly. Flats fishing opens up all sort of fun!

As the tide drops, relocate the boat and try fishing the edge of the deep gutters with your live baits as the water begins to drain from the flats. Fish won't hang for too long on the flats and will devour anything in their path as they head back into the deeper water.

Once this method of fishing dries up, you can either revert to lure fishing the edges of the mangroves for a feisty jack or hang in a deep hole with some structure below to live bait for a waiting fingermark or barramundi.

As the tides quickly diminish after a few days you could chance your arm lure fishing the weed beds north of the ferry for some barra action. Alternatively, if the weather is calm you can take a break from the sandflies and take a short trip north from the river mouth to Snapper Island for some pelagic action.

SNAPPER ISLAND

For this area to fish well you need calm conditions and good clear water, and it’s imperative that you fish hard on the turns of the tides. You can anchor up on the headlands of the mainland or the island and float pilchards in a berley trail for a cranking Spanish mackerel. Bottom bouncing at the same time can produce fingermark, trevally and a host of smaller reef species including the odd coral trout.

As an alternative, I recommend that you try your hand at trolling with skirts, spoons or mackerel lures for a shot at big queenfish, giant trevally, golden trevally and tuna. The faster you troll, the better – between 7-10 knots is good, particularly if the water is crystal clear. Use your sounder to detect holding bait schools, troll the cleaner water currents and always look across the horizon for any surface disturbance. Lures that have rewarded me well in this area include white 4” skirts, Lively Mack Baits and the Laser Pro 190D series.

Lastly, always have a light spinning outfit rigged up with a metal slice. You just never know when a tuna school may erupt, giving you the opportunity launch a missile into the boiling froth! Longtail and mackerel tuna often maraud the bait schools of this region and can be a rewarding pursuit if they’re really on the boil.

BEACH FISHING

In recent times, thanks to the solid rain, the beaches just north and south of the Daintree have been inundated with good supplies of bait. Soft plastic lures and bucktail jigs bounced across the sandy floor have seen some great flathead taken as they wait in ambush.

Pulling up in the boat on the beach gives the legs a stretch, and this form of fishing can offer the kids some good entertainment. The dropping tide is generally the best time to have a go, and don't be surprised if you pick up the odd trevally during this process. Please be aware that the box jellyfish is prevalent at this time of year, and all movements should be kept to the dry land.

Well there's a starter for you. If all this fails and weather is nasty or the fish aren’t biting, you can always put in the crab pots with the kids or take some time to enjoy the area. In this location there’s always a backup plan or alternative to explore. Have a happy holiday!

1) The author with a queenfish from the Daintree region, taken on a popper.

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