THE HIGHLIGHT of this year’s fishing calendar so far has been the number of quality barra caught in Trinity Inlet. Local tackle stores – especially Erskine's – saw a parade of big barra come through the door, in the flesh and on celluloid, in the first month of the open season. The netting ban in the inlet (upstream of a line between the Marlin Marina and Hills Creek) combined with the great work being done by the Cairns District Fish Stocking Society is starting to pay dividends for anglers.
The release of around 3000 barra fingerlings, in the 300mm range, in December last year can only enhance the barra fishing in the inlet. Many of these tagged barra have already been recaptured in the upper reaches of the inlet, so the staff at the Northern Fisheries Centre (who are monitoring the tag returns) are already getting a good indication of how successful this latest stocking has been.
Barra are still a prime target as the change of season approaches, not that newcomers or visitors will notice the weather change. It's still just ‘hot’ to them, but the locals are always aware of the cooler nights and early mornings slowly dropping the water temperature a few degrees. While the water temp stays above the mid 20s the barra will still be active and can be found throughout the systems, from the rock headlands to the north and south of Cairns right up into the freshwater reaches. As the water cools, concentrate your fishing efforts in the deeper water. Trolling deep-diving lures over snags and rocky bottoms is well worth a go.
Targeting deep water structure with live baits, especially live prawns on a dropper rig, is another sure-fire technique. My favourite approach in the deep water is to jig large Prawnstar lures over structure, focusing on getting the lure right down in the cover. Put a Prawnstar on the nose of a barra and he can't resist scoffing it.
April is a top month for jacks and they can be around the snags in good numbers. What they may lack in size can be made up for in quantity, and the best technique is to concentrate on using smaller lures of around 3”. Use the same techniques as mentioned for barra, but downsize you lure and focus on the roughest country you can find with the sounder. You should have your rod nearly reefed out of your hand on more than one occasion!
A consolation prize can be a few nice estuary cod, which can be around in big numbers in April, or a fingermark or two. A couple of cod of around 50cm, or any size fingermark, make a great feed. I’d prefer to eat them ahead of a barra any day.
Many anglers, myself included, tend to overlook the humble lizard, and that's understandable when there are the likes of barra, jacks and fingermark in the same system.
Flathead are generally a winter species in the north, and more anglers are starting to target them around the sandbars as the years pass. The local guides have been leading the way, as many southern and overseas anglers are more than happy to bag a few lizards if the more renowned northern species aren’t cooperating.
The big tides leading up to the full moon on the 17th are an ideal time to target muddies, especially on the flats out the front of the estuaries, north of the Hospital Flats and along the eastern side of Cairns Inlet. Set your pots right up against the mangrove line as the tide rises, but be sure to get them out before the tide drops too far. That is, unless you’re going to leave them overnight – which can prove expensive at times.
Cast netting prawns can be a productive pursuit in April, and a good area to start with is the mud banks behind the moored yachts on the eastern side of Trinity Inlet, on the second half of the falling tide. In and around the Marlin Marina is also worth a shot, especially towards the bottom of the tide, and along the Hospital Flats can produce a good feed on the top of the big tides.
Banana prawns sometimes come in at night with the rising tide and can be found around the Marlin Marina and over behind the yachts. These prawns are travelling so it’s a bit of a hit-and-miss proposition, but if you do hit a patch it’ll put a big smile on your dial.
Depending on the salinity, big queenfish may start to appear in the river mouths around the Cairns area this month. In years when salinity is high (an early or no wet) XOS queenfish show up a bit earlier and lucky anglers can have some line-burning experiences targeting these speedsters using live sardines floated out in the current, either under a float or just without a sinker. The top of the tide, especially the first of the run-out, on the sandbar drop-offs near the mouth are the places to chase these prized sportfish.
The Hospital Flats are a popular spot for grunter over the Easter period, and the lead-up to the full moon in the week prior to Easter will be a top time to chase some big grunter out on the weed beds. The best baits are strip baits of fresh mullet and gar, squid and large peeled prawns. It's worth spending a few bucks and buying half a kilo of 10-12cm eating prawns and using them for bait. Salmon, which can also be around, love large fresh prawns as well.
In April last year the mackerel made an appearance at Kings Point and the Franklins, and they’ll likely turn up this year as well. Focus your efforts towards the bottom as they tend to hang a bit deeper until the water cools a bit more. It is not uncommon for bottom bashers to get bitten off or, if they’re lucky, nail a nice mackerel on their reef rig.
Fishing the bottom third of the water column with live baits or pilchards will see you in the running for a pay day. Live sardines are perfect for schoolies, whereas hussar, fusiliers, small trevally and doggie mackerel are top livies for Spaniards. Deep trolling wolf herring, pike or doggies is a sure way to nail a monster Spaniard if your sights are set a bit higher.
Reef fishing is a real lottery in April – not so much with what's on the bite but more with the weather. An extended wet season can see atrocious conditions outside, but there can be periods of perfect weather in the lulls between the high pressure systems. The highs usually start their march one behind the other across the Great Australian Bight around now.
When conditions are good enough to get outside you can expect monster big-mouth nannygai, small-mouth nannygai, and red emperor to be on the chew in the deep water, with early season Spanish mackerel also starting to show up. The Spaniards can be in the XOS range, with 20kg specimens coming from the northern reefs in early April last year.
The red fishing can be red hot in April if the weather behaves, and concentrating on the rubble country out away from the reefs in 35-55m of water will give you the best chance of bagging a few big-mouth, small-mouth or red emperor. A good way to target these top tablefish is to use baits of squid, pilchards and fillets of any pick fish off the bottom.
Dave Powell has covered Tinaroo in detail, but sooties are also worth a shot in April in the sweetwater, especially on the lead-up to the full moon. Soft plastics, Junior Prawnstars and the new Prawnstar Shrimp are great lures for sooties, and there’s even the chance of a prized jungle perch or barra as a bonus.
All up, the April moon should be shining on anglers – provided it's not blacked out by rain clouds!
1) Jason Swan from Erskine's with a 72cm barra and a bonus 51cm jack caught in mid-February. He caught both fish in Trinity Inlet using a Lead's Hi Jaker.
2) Jeremy Wills with his first ever barra – a metre-long fish caught in Trinity Inlet soon after the barra season opened.Reads: 2032