A lot of anglers in the Townsville area have been asking about where all the emperors have gone. I hate to be the one to break the news, but the answer is… nowhere! Large schools of red emperor are still prolific on the inshore shoals, they’re just not as interested in bait in summer as they are in winter.
Winter is fast approaching however, and with the onset of the cold currents converging on North Queensland waters, I’ve decided now is a good time to spill the beans on targeting the elusive red emperor.
The major problem anglers have with one of the most popular techniques for targeting emperor, i.e. bluewater bottom bouncing, is that it doesn’t discriminate against any species.
Anglers usually use squid and pilchards on running or dropper rigs, but this haphazard method can be likened to the use of live prawn, in summer, on deep rock bars to target barra. Although you may come up trumps with a barra, you are just as likely to be reeling in bream, jacks and grunter – everything eats prawns in the creek! In the same way, everything, big or small, eats squid and pilchards on the inshore shoals.
So let us look at ways we can really home in on the red emperor.
The easiest part is finding a good spot to fish. Almost every angler knows roughly where the shoals are off Townsville. But remember that you shouldn’t be satisfied with roughly! Once you are in the area, take the time to find some structure. I suggest aiming to find something around the 80ft (27m) watermark.
Of course, this is where a good quality sounder comes into its own. To make the most of your sounder, you need to be able to distinguish the size and species of fish under your boat and fortunately, this is much easier than it sounds. Certain fish will return distinct echoes on your sounder, while time on the water fishing and catching fish that show on the screen will give you the confidence and knowledge to predict what species is underneath you.
Once you have found a spot with reds showing on the bottom, there are two old sayings that come into play and hold true. The first one is ‘No run, no fun’. Anglers can be confident in increasing their catch rates by ensuring they are fishing the turn of the tide as it first starts to run.
The second handy saying is ‘Big fish, big bait’. Baits for big reds can be varied but some of the better ones are mack tuna, bludger trevally or shark flesh cut into chunks the size of your fist. Skinning your fillets so that stray fish skins don’t cover the point or barb of the hook can further increase hook-up rates. If your baits are fresh, the flesh will hold together nicely.
Sizable livebaits of yellowtail, yakkas, scads and even the humble mullet will also do well. Try hooking your live baits either through the mouth or bridle, rigging them just near the eyes or nostril holes. This makes your bait swim more freely and naturally and also enables you to drift your spot, as long as you’re using a running rig. Paternoster rigs are great for anchored bottom bouncing, but live baits tend to tangle them up when using the drifting technique.
Hook choice is a personal preference; just make sure it’s sharp and strong. 7/0 to 9/0 hooks are the most popular.
Red emperor are not noted dirty fighters so locked drags are overkill and will only result in pulled hooks. Make sure your drag is smooth and set it firmly so you can fight the fish more efficiently.
Other fish that will start to fire this month include Spanish, spotted and school mackerel. With lots of reports coming in on the size and number of mackerel schools offshore at the moment, it looks like we are set for a top season.
When hunting this pelagic species, keep an eye on your sounder for bait balls and watch the skies for birds swooping into the water. High-speed metal slices have become very popular over the past couple of years, as they are very easy to use when targeting mackerel.
Large whiting, flathead and grunter will start turning up at local beachfronts. Fresh pink nippers pumped from the beaches are the number one choice for bait. However, frozen prawns, worms or pipis from your local tackle store will still provide hours of fun for land-based anglers.
It’s good to remember that tropical species such as barramundi don’t hibernate during the winter but remain in the same areas, and with an adjustment of tactics, you should still be able to snag a fish or two.
1. This visiting Western Australian angler was pleased to take home a quality red emperor.
2. The vibrant colour and delightful eating qualities of this fish make it a prized catch.
3. Dean Maloney ventured out for a day trip with One More Cast Fishing Adventures to capture this lovely red.Reads: 6443