May possibilities
  |  First Published: May 2003

MAY normally sees the transition of fish species that goes with the change of season, but the last couple of years have not gone to pattern. We can only hope things get back to normal this year.


An obvious sign that winter is coming has always been the arrival of large schools of yorkie herring along the Capricorn Coast. The yorkies form large schools around headlands, beaches and inshore islands, and the predators are right behind.

A favourite stop-over has traditionally been the Rosslyn Bay Harbour. The herring schools congregate outside the harbour in Statue Bay and move in and out of the harbour as they choose. They seem to spend the daylight hours inside the harbour, then move out just before dark. While the little fish are inside the harbour, those of us with cast nets like to target them for bait.

The yorkies did turn up last year, but a commercial fisher saw an opportunity to make a few extra bucks by ringing the schools in Statue Bay and selling them to tackle shops and bait outlets. I don’t deny anyone a living but, because of the predictable schooling behaviour of the yorkies, the catch rate was extremely high. Within a fortnight there wasn’t a yorkie to be found in the harbour. Normally they hang around from mid-May through to early July at least.

I can only hope that this year we see an element of common sense applied to this overkill situation, but I’m not holding my breath.


One species that follows the yorkies along the coast is the blue salmon, and Rosslyn Bay Harbour can be one of the best daytime salmon spots around. When the harbour is full of yorkies, the salmon stalk them relentlessly and provide worthy adversaries for recreational fishers casting from the rock wall.

The most exciting tactic is to target the salmon using silver metal lures. Match the size of your lure to the size of the yorkies (50-70mm), cast your lure out as far as you can and then let it sink to the muddy bottom. When it settles, begin a jerky retrieve, periodically stopping and allowing the lure to sink back to the bottom before winding again. Sometimes the salmon will nail the lure on the drop, so keep your wits about you.

Often the salmon inside the harbour are only ‘schoolie’ size, but there are fish up to about 3kg amongst them to test your skills. Obviously a live yorkie will attract attention as well; I just believe it’s more fun using lures.


It’s a real lottery as to whether the grey mackerel will show up in the bay. I haven’t been able to find them for the past three autumns, but before that they turned up two years in a row.

Greys are largely an inshore species and, in my experience, seldom venture much east of the Keppel Islands. I’ve seen quality fish taken in years gone by right off the rocks at Double Heads, and from tinnies around Iron Pot Island off Kemp Beach. The greys’ appearance is closely linked to the abundance of bait schools.

Grey mackerel are aggressive sight feeders and hunt bait schools at the surface. When they’re around you’ll see panicked bait flicking across the surface, often pursued by a mackerel breaking the surface right underneath them. When greys get into a crazy feeding frenzy, they will free jump out of the water in spectacular leaps up to five metres high. The first time you see a 10kg mackerel sailing through the air well above the horizon, you’ll think you’re seeing things!

Like blue salmon, the most reliable way to target greys is with silver metal lures matched to the size of the baitfish they’re hunting. But unlike the jerky broken retrieve employed for salmon, you need to wind like a madman for greys. I use a 6:1 ratio reel to get enough speed. Don’t worry about skipping the lure across the surface – that will just attract the greys to your offering.

Often the strike is a spectacular surface attack, with your lure disappearing in a flurry of spray. But usually that’s about the end of the fun! Most greys I’ve caught put up a relatively feeble fight pound for pound, and come to the gaff without much fanfare at all. Finding greys and then getting them to bite is the real challenge.


Lastly, May can see the appearance of male flathead in the estuaries. Even though the acknowledged flathead breeding season doesn’t start until about September, the smaller males seem to enter the gutters early.

Walking the gutters and holes in places like Fishing Creek and Corio Bay, flicking small lures or using baits like herring, whitebait or frogmouth pilchards will invariably turn up a feed of flathead of around 40-50cm.

The bag limit for dusky flathead is now five, and the minimum size has increased to 40cm. There’s also now also a maximum legal size of 70cm. These limits apply only to dusky flathead however. We do get Bar-tailed flathead around here too, so you will need to get your ID between the two types sorted out. Bar-tailed flatties have very distinct black and white horizontal stripes on their tail, while a common dusky’s tail is basic brown like the rest of its body.

Whether these species show up this month is anyone’s guess, but if they do, make sure you’re ready!

1) Grey mackerel don’t show up in the bay every autumn, but here’s hoping!

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