Prowling pikeys in the estuaries
  |  First Published: June 2003

THE WINTER south-easterly trade winds have arrived, and the rain just keeps on coming! The tropics experienced a very poor, and the continuing lousy weather in Cairns has prolonged the most sustained wet period we’ve had for a year.

It’s not easy to get many of our inshore tropical fish to come on the bite under these conditions. When you add a dropping water temperature into the equation you need a large dose of persistence and enthusiasm to stay in the hunt for a good result.

Those keen anglers who’ve managed to get out on the better days have been rewarded with a mixed bag. Fishing the deeper gutters has produced fingermark to 70cm on live baits, with the occasional one being trolled up from around deepwater snags. Live baiting has been the most consistent way to get hooked up, and there have also been a few good queenies and plenty of school GT's in the local rivers.

Bait fishing the esplanade flats has turned up some good grunter lately, and this should continue throughout this month. The best times for these fish seem to be on the making tides and very often the top and first run-out of the tide.

There have been quite a lot of fresh in the rivers lately. That should clear quickly at this time of year, and when it does there should be some good action for queenfish lovers. To those anglers who love to peg a popper at the big silver shapes that roam our river mouths, you’d better check your tackle – from June on we usually see some good fish up to 10-12kg ready to smoke your drags!

There are still barra around, including a few nice ones. Be aware that they get a little harder to catch around here during winter, so be patient. Local angler Carl Schuster has again been rewarded for his efforts, capturing and releasing a beautiful 91cm barramundi. Carl was using a Prawnstar Junior on a borrowed rod when he connected with a large salty at his favourite night time fishing spot in Cairns. The big barra took him around some pylons a couple of times, but the 20lb braid hung on and eventually Carl managed to lift the fish on board. Well done!


June usually is a good time to get in on the strong run of pikey black bream in Cairns. These fish are often found in good numbers at this time of year, holding in all the local estuaries and rivers. If you want a winter fish to target on light gear, pikeys are good fun and kids love them.

Small live prawns and yabbies work a treat, and fresh strips of gar and quality frozen prawns also work well. A medium estuary rod of about two metres with a soft tip will do just fine, and I recommend you use about 4kg mono line. The rig is simple – about 40cm of a light mono leader (say, 10kg) above a 1/0 suicide pattern sharp hook and as small a ball sinker as the current will allow to get your bait near the bottom.

The tide changes are the best times to chase pikeys, but if the current isn’t moving too quickly you can hold them on the bite for a longer. Any of the fallen mangrove snags in the local estuaries will hold pikeys, and some of the old boom patches out on the Cairns esplanade flats are hot spots for these fish at this time of year. Just look for the rough bottom on your sounder and anchor upstream, allowing for the run as you present your baits. On the esplanade flats you’ll probably be fishing in around four metres of water.

A bonus when chasing these fish is the bycatch of mangrove jack, fingermark and barra. It’s a good idea to have a bigger outfit baited up (preferably live) and set for one of the more desirable targets.

Pikeys are good chewing and are an excellent winter species to chase for fun and keep the kids happy while you wait for the more glamour species to turn up. Just remember not to put too many in your ice box, and save a few for tomorrow.

You’ll also encounter pikeys while you’re lure fishing for jacks and barra, although the bream often get beaten to the lure by the jacks. In some parts of the north pikeys are almost considered vermin and a plague fish! I remember seeing moving dark shadows in the flats up around Weipa that turned out to be large roaming schools of big, hungry pikeys eager to take any lure cast nearby.

Till next month, see you on the water.

1) Carl Schuster with a 91cm saltwater barra that ate a Prawnstar Junior.

2) Pikey bream abound in the local estuaries and rivers at this time of year.

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