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Early season macks!
  |  First Published: April 2004



THE RAIN has finally been tumbling down here in the tropics. Right now it’s still a little early to believe we have actually had a late wet season, however there are positive signs. At the time of writing Tinaroo Dam is nudging the 50% capacity mark and Copperlode Dam is full. Most of the local rivers including the Daintree, Barron, Russell and Mulgrave have had a reasonable flushing so we may have to be satisfied with what we’ve had. After all, things could have been much worse.

WHAT’S BEEN BITING

There have been some good inshore fishing reports with healthy catches of barra upstream in most rivers, particularly in the prime periods just after heavy rain when water levels drop and the clarity returns a bit. Barra are not the only species on the chew at this time – most inhabitants, including tarpon, jacks and JPs, are only too willing to take well placed offerings.

Out on the rocky headlands the rains have flushed out some healthy jacks and barra, and this pattern will continue if we get more rain this month. This is an ideal time to chase large barra after the rains on the many headlands along the tropical coast.

On the bluewater scene, bottom fishing has improved as the water temperatures have come down. Coral trout, large-mouth nannygai, spangled emperor and red throat emperor have been the main catches. Night fishing obviously has been the best for reds, however there have been some pretty scary storms running around and night fishos should take care. There have also been quite a few sails about for the game fishos. Congratulations to young Mark Berthistle who recently captured his first sailfish out at Pixie Reef. This was a fine capture on 10kg mono and was well handled by deckie Darcy Woodburn.

Mackerel are consistently showing up at many spots with most anglers returning home with these speedsters among their catch.

The wrecks have been producing plenty of GTs and small doggie macks which are often a nuisance as you try to get your bait through them to the bigger fish below. Kerry Bailey reported he could not get his Bumpa Bars through the doggies to the larger targets below. The smaller doggies were axing the shiny pieces of metal the moment the boys dropped them over while fishing a wreck near Fitzroy Island recently.

Kerry also has been consistently connecting to Spaniards in the 8-10kg range, with the odd larger specimen often taking smaller macks being brought in. The bigger Spaniards have been mostly taking trolled lures and rigged garfish on Wog Heads.

On a recent trip with fishing partner Brian Stopford I hooked one of the biggest mackerel I have ever captured. We set off very early one morning through a 15-knot south-east breeze and short uncomfortable 1m swell to fish High Island, having heard through the grapevine that there were a few mackos on the chew. The previous night I had thawed out and rigged up a few large wolf herring on ‘chin guard’ rigs set up with gangs of 8/0 hooks. Some of my baits were easily 80cm long. There is an old saying ‘the bigger the wolf herring the bigger the mack’, and it was certainly true that day. I recommend rigging up your baits the night before, as not only does this save valuable time when the bite is on but doing the rigging in a boat, pitching around in a bitch sea, is not much fun – as well as making it harder to get the desired result.

The chin guards are superb for trolling wolf herring, which is my favourite bait for large mackerel. It’s important to separate the hooks in the gang with a suitable black swivel to stop the hooks kinking up when the fish is hooked, causing them to pull out. I haven't seen these rigs in the tackle stores for some time but they sure are devastating on mackerel as they make the task of swimming a large wolf herring very simple indeed. It’s easy to vary the bait presentation depth of these when trolling by simply clipping on one or two large barrel sinkers in front of the bait with an extra piece of stainless wire and swivels.

We had been trolling our way out to the south-eastern corner and had our baits swimming for about 10 minutes when the big fish struck. Big mackerel take a blistering first run and this one was no different. The TLD 20 screamed as about 200m of mono peeled off at warp speed 7. Now this reel no longer has a full spool of 15kg mono on it and there were a few anxious moments as the line disappeared rapidly, but once the fish paused I was able to recover most of the line before the mack completed a second and then much smaller third run. After about 10 minutes the fish was boatside and a nice head shot with the gaff saw us wrestling the beast over the gunwale and into Brian's boat. We estimated its weight at around 30-35kg.

It was a strange day – the big fish was a loner and we did get a few follow-up bites but only from small doggies who shredded our baits. It was one of those days where we should have gone home at 8.30am if we had the benefit of one of man’s best friends: hindsight!

April promises to be a great month, with inshore action on lures with barra and jacks. For the livebaiters, fishing the deep gutters of the local estuaries on the slow tides is bound to turn up some nice fingermark. Offshore, the recent good showing of mackerel should continue throughout the month and as the storm season settles down calm nights will see many of us out chasing reds.

Till next month, see you on the water!

1) The author holds up a preview of the coming mackerel season. This horse was taken recently at High Island on a trolled wolf herring.

2) Mark Berthistle is proud as punch with his first sail, taken at Pixie and assisted by deckie Darcy Woodburn.

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