Confusion rules!
  |  First Published: May 2005

The Sunshine Coast promises excellent offshore fishing during May, and the closer reefs generally produce very well indeed. One species that is both targeted and encountered as an incidental catch is the cobia. More often than not they are caught by those fishing the bottom structure with fresh baits such as fillet, squid or whole pilchard.

Also known as black kingfish, and occasionally crab eaters, cobias have an uncanny resemblance to sharks when still in the water. Their tail has a longer upper lobe, the dorsal is rather shark-like and their flattened body also contributes to this confusion.

My first encounter with these fascinating fish was in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The first couple I spotted were free jumping, which is a sight I’ll never forget. One fish leapt well clear of the water, perhaps to a height of two metres or even higher, and I have wondered ever since what may have been chasing it to cause this behaviour.

The next few cobias I got good look at were accompanying a monstrous manta ray. This is also somewhat of a mystery, to me anyway, but it seems a common trait. Often found closely following big manta rays, sometimes sheltering underneath the gargantuan oceanic cruisers, the cobia can be tempted to take a lure or bait lobbed in the general direction of the ray. Once hooked, cobia can be slow to up the ante, even to the point where they don’t react at all. Once they near the boat though, all hell can break loose and an energetic fight is a certainty.

Cobia flesh is rather like mackerel – not too bad on the barbeque plate and pretty good smoked, crumbed or fried. It’s not highly rated and many anglers release these fish and press on, hoping for a better feed of snapper, sweetlip or trout! I think this is a good policy, particularly with the larger specimens. Cobias must be at least 75cm long before you are permitted to drop them into an ice slurry and the bag limit is ten.

Also regularly encountered off the Sunshine Coast in May is the prize fish of all bait anglers – the coral trout. Sunshine Reef regularly delivers fish in the 4-5kg class. Trout can be very difficult to remove from their lair and as such, there is a steep learning curve for prospective trout anglers to follow.

These fish, which come in many colours and patterns, are never very far from some kind of cover such as a rocky crevice or coral encrusted cave. If a trout heads for this cover and gets there, it won’t be landed! Bust-offs are common when fishing for trout and the temptation to rig wire leaders must be resisted as these fish are finicky and will often refuse the best bait rigged on a wire leader.

Mono leader is the way to go. Anglers lucky enough to connect to a quality trout need to be on the ball. The fish must be turned as soon as the bite is registered or it will be over before it even started! Trout are a registered species and they must pass the 38cm mark or be released. A combined maximum total of seven fish of all trout species also applies.

The exception to this rule is the Chinese footballer trout, also known as the blue spot trout. These fellows have larger spots than their cousins, and their pectoral fins are opaque. All other trout variants have transparent pectorals and this is the most reliable form of identification. Chinese footballer trout must be 50-80cm in length before they can be despatched for the cook.

The various mackerels will also be hot this month off the South-east Queensland coast. Spotted, school and Spanish mackerel are chased by all and sundry during May and the larger fish will almost certainly have arrived en masse by this time. All mackerel are good trolling targets and lures that flash intermittently are very good tools for this method. Chrome minnow lures, both in gold and silver will get the job done. These lures, most often in the 100-150mm size range, flash light in all directions as they shimmy their way through the briny. This attracts fish from all over the place as they hone in on the highly reflective chrome plating on the lure’s body.

The Spaniard Special trolling rig is another successful tool when it comes to trolling for macks, and tuna also. This inventive lure is rather like a massive spinnerbait and is dressed with a small bonito, gar or pilchard rather than the customary silicone skirt. Trolled in the usual manner, the spinning blades provide noise and flash and they too work really well.

Trolling rigged live offerings is another deadly way to connect with big mackerel or tuna, as is drifting baits down a berley trail. Small lumps of pilchard or other oily fish chunks tossed overboard create the trail and then a cube or whole fish complete with hook is fed down the trail. On good days it doesn’t take long for that spool to start spinning! North and Sunshine reefs are good places to have a shot at cubing.

Like most mackerel, Spaniards are worth eating, but they must be at least 75cm before this can even be considered. A possession limit of three fish applies. Schoolies on the other hand need only be 50cm in length with a possession limit of 30! How many do you need?

Spotted mackerel can be kept if they are better than 60cm and you are allowed five in your possession, unless you happen to be in the Gulf of Carpentaria, in which case you may keep ten fish, all of which must be over 50cms. Confused yet?

The Guide to Recreational Boating and Fishing in Queensland booklet is a comprehensive publication to say the least. However, it can be very difficult to understand and with the massive amount of legislation driving the current rules and regulations, it’s no wonder. I believe that the average angler will find the fishing regulations in Queensland too hard to follow. With closed zones galore, rules concerning skinning and filleting, spawning closures, pectoral fin removal (now required on Spaniard carcasses) and differing size and possession limits depending on location, the current rules are just too difficult, particularly for visiting anglers.

Identical rules statewide, or countrywide, would reduce confusion to an absolute minimum and almost certainly provide better compliance. It might be too much to ask, but wouldn’t it be great if the legal size for bream was the same in every state one day? Perhaps then the other species might follow!

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