BY THE time you read this I hope I’m eating my words. There has been a great wet season in the Gulf this year but if you’ve been watching closely it has always been in a big ring around the Karumba area. Weipa has been blessed and so has Burketown. There has, however, not been much to cheer about over around Croydon and Georgetown where we need the rain to cut the road between Karumba and Normanton.
There has been a bit of a fresh in the river and this has meant that the fishing is starting to improve in the channel for grunter and king salmon. There have also been a few barra around the place but on the smaller tides. The bigger tides make it more difficult, and what it says in the tide book at Karumba is not necessarily so. A good northerly can see the end of a smallish tide and turn it into a bigger one.
There have been reports of a few black jew around the channel as well. Remember that the size limits in the Gulf of Carpentaria are different from those on the east coast, and the fact that you have a sticker in your boat from Townsville isn’t a legal defence if you take an undersized fish.
April is one of my favourite times of the year. If the barra aren’t playing there’s no shortage of replacements for a bit of fun, and one of the best drink carriers in the 12th man role is the fingermark. April in the Gulf is when the big fingermark arrive to haunt the broken rubble bottom and frequent the channel at Karumba.
Lutjanus johnii, spotted-scale sea perch, fingermark, chopper bream, red bream, Cape reddies or golden snapper – whatever you call it, the fingermark is one of the finest sporting and table fish in the North. Many fishermen prefer a feed of fingermark to a bit of barra.
The fingermark, while mostly taken in the 2-3kg range, grows out to bragging size. An 8 or 9kg fingermark is a good-looking fish – solid across the shoulders with a big paddle tail and thick tail wrist built for short, powerful bursts. Any structure that a larger fingermark can find will see the fight terminate in the fish’s favour.
Big fingermark like offshore waters where there is deepish water with reef or rock. Headlands are a good place to start looking on the East Coast.
At the bottom of the Gulf here in Karumba there is no such beast. Here the fingermark congregate over anything that’s not mud (sometimes I wonder if they’d even all congregate around a single piece of shell, looking at each other). Find any bit of gravel bottom offshore and it’s a good start, not to mention the fact that there’ll also be a chance of a few grunter. At the same locations the little fellas also seem to hang around. Tiny little blokes, some only 15-20cm long, sometimes make a nuisance of themselves by voraciously attacking baits meant for their bigger brothers.
At the right time of the year, fingermark can turn up way upstream on brackish water rock bars. They don’t seem to mind. Later in the year they are a real lure possibility in the upstream reaches of tidal creeks.
To target fingermark seriously, take the time to catch some good live mullet and locate some good bottom. Once the fish are found it doesn’t take long for the mayhem to begin. Dropping livies back to structure like channel markers is another good way to target them but be prepared to administer plenty of drag, and make sure your gear is of good quality and that you have good drag washers and plenty of spares.
Sinkers should be kept to a minimum, with none at all preferred. Use gear that’s capable of landing a good fish. If you lose a few fingermark in a row they can go off as quickly as they came on.
While baitfishing is a simple and effective way to chase fingermark, lurefishing is by far the most fun. Fingermark slam lures in a mangrove jack type of way. When they’re pumped up, and the risk of losing a feed to a brother brings out their competitiveness, hooked fish will be accompanied by several others, often resulting in repeated hookups with several anglers.
Trolling lures like Mann’s Stretch 20s and Big Scorpions on the edge of a channel at Karumba is a way to lure these fish. Work in close to the channel markers and hang on.
When you locate a school of fish don’t be afraid to pull up and drop some jigs. I often deploy a big Prawnstar and jig it close to the bottom. Big fingermark love Prawnstars.
Fingermark are on the highest rung of the fish ladder as far as eating in concerned. Whether they’re filleted and bread crumbed, grilled, steamed or baked whole, they are a nice fish. Medium-sized fish in the 2-3kg (40cm) range are by far the best eating – the larger specimens can either be OK or tough as old boots. When they’re around 8-10kg they seem to have reached their growth potential and could be anything from five years old to 30 years old. It’s best not to take the chance and release all the big ones. I once heard the argument that because they were so old and had reached their breeding used-by date it was OK to slay them all. How about catching and releasing them for someone else to enjoy? Try tagging them so we can all gain information through recapture details on the species’ growth and movement.
I’ll tell you what – I wasn’t going to bother beating my head against a brick wall anymore with this segment. I originally thought I could make a difference. What a fool I was… but I couldn’t let this one slip!
The Idiot Of The Month award goes to the germ who kept a big barra and then filleted one side only halfway down and didn’t bother about the rest, dumping it at the Karumba dump.
Until next month.
1) Big fingermark love Prawnstars. This fish was caught on a Pink Fluoro Prawnstar.Reads: 5563