THE FISHING in Bundaberg is firing on all cylinders after the recent rains. The river systems are full of prawns and the fish are biting their heads off. This has had a dramatic effect offshore, with large numbers of school and reef fish along our shores. They say it’s the best the area has seen in 20 years.
A cloud is looming overhead as the new Barrier Reef zoning comes into play in the following months, but for the moment things are great thanks to the new laws regarding how pro fishermen catch spotted and school mackerel. Large schools of mackerel are haunting the reefs, making it easy for anglers to catch a feed, and this should last until the end of June when the colder water comes in.
The best all-round line size for mackerel is 15kg mono or braid – it doesn’t matter which. I personally prefer mono, either on a overhead reel or a good old eggbeater. Just make sure your drag is in top condition.
Rods are best between 6kg to 15kg. The important thing is to check your rod holders, as the cheaper varieties can’t handle the sudden impact of a vicious mackerel attack. With a lot of broken rod holders in my shed I find it’s best to take them to your local handyman and have them welded up to strengthen them, as they usually come with only a couple of spot welds underneath.
The great wire debate – to use it or not to use it. I recommend using mono until you get busted off, and if you need to use wire, keep it to a minimum. Mackerel are a funny fish – that some days they’ll take anything, like a prawn hooked on a couple of rusty old hooks and barbed wire as a trace. On other days you can only catch them on carefully drifted unweighted fresh- or livebait. I find the best way to start if your boat is stopped and you’re not trolling is to keep it simple: start with a gang of three 6/0 hooks with no steel trace and no weight. I like to use a fluorocarbon leader. The best hooks for this are straight chemically-sharpened hooks, and if you use a pair of side-cutters you can open the eyes yourself and then close them with a good set of pliers.
The most important thing to remember when presenting bait is to make it look as natural as possible. When using a pilchard I always look for the most shiny, clean-looking pilchard with no blemishes or amputations. Drift the bait out on the current, and if there is no current you can throw the bait and slowly retrieve it. You can try different speeds – just try whatever works.
While you’re waiting for this to work, try floating a livebait out the back under a float, or just run in the current. Livebaits are more likely to get busted off because the mackerel hit them very hard and fast. There are two ways to combat this. The first option is to use ganged hooks, using only one of the hooks through the fish and leaving the other two floating and no wire. The second option is to use a small hook with a minimum of wire – try 20cm to start. Most of the larger mackerel overrun the bait or get hooked in the side, so use minimal drag (just enough so it won’t bird nest your line), and set the hooks slowly for an extended fight.
When using more than one hook – say, one through the head and one through the tail – I recommend that you try matching the hook colour with the fish. Use a dark hook above the lateral line to match the darker shade of the fish, and use a lighter silver colour on the rear if the stinger hook goes below the lateral line. This matches the natural colours of the fish and camouflages the hooks.
One other thought is to try different line colours, as I have found the macks to be very responsive to different coloured line under different conditions.
If you’ve tried all these approaches and you still don’t have a mackerel on board, try trolling. Mackerel are great hunters and love moving bait, competing for it with other members of the school. This makes them very aggressive when taking lures and trolled baits.
Deep-diving lures are very restrictive – you can usually troll only two at a time without tangling – but they work well on the shallow reefs and headlands. My favourite, however, is to troll skirts, even though they don’t have a good survival rate (I regularly change skirts bitten through by sharp teeth). Combined with a teaser and outriggers, you can have four or five lines out, cover more ground and present a larger field of baits for the fish to see.
Trolling livies and dead baits is even better – it takes a lot of preparation but gets the results. Around the wrecks I love to drop a livie or a dead bait down on the downrigger. This always has great results, although last time I tried it a mackerel hit my downrigger line, losing my lead ball and half my line.
When you’re within sight of schools working baits on the surface, there’s nothing better than to throw a chrome slug at them using a high ratio spin reel. The best way to do this is to throw the lure in front of the moving fish and count to 10, letting the lure sink before retrieving it as fast as you can – and hang on. When the fish are deep you can cast your lure and let it sink all the way to the bottom before using a fast retrieve to the surface.
Bluefin tuna have moved into our local waters, with big schools of these predators scattering bait schools on the reefs. The best way to catch these fish is from a small boat. A centre console is perfect to give you access all around the boat, which is what you need when fighting these speedsters.
Bluefin are voracious feeders and are absolute dynamos of power when hooked. I have encountered some great tussles with these fish, averaging around the 7kg mark. I started on 4kg and lost a lot of fish, boating only one of 7.6kg.
I’ve had no hassles this year with lure types or size – the tuna are hitting everything. The only problem is that I keep having to buy new ones. The boys at Salty’s tackle store keep showing me the latest and the greatest and I just can’t resist. I recommend that you haunt your local tackle store to find out what’s happening, especially with macks and tuna as their tastes change daily. Some of the more daring anglers have been catching them on saltwater fly, which is not for the faint-hearted.
Out on the reefs the coral trout have been biting and everybody is catching them. Many people tell me the best way to catch trout is in on livebait such as whiptails. I have no doubt that they work, but I’ve found that livebaits on the bottom tangle all the lines up. My best results have been with whole fresh bait, the best being a whole pilchard or slimy. Use the same protocol as on the mackerel – pick the best looking bait with no blemishes and rig it with the head down and a half hitch around the tail. Try it and see how many more coral trout you catch, remembering to use only the best baits. I have also found that coral trout have a fondness for fresh tuna pieces. Don’t be frightened to use big bait.
Red emperor have been around in large numbers but they seem to have the latest mail on the new minimum size limit of 55cm, as they all seem to have grown to 54cm. Big schools of juveniles are on the reefs in plague proportions.
At this time of year you start to hear reports of scarlet perch or small-mouthed nannygai being caught, and this year isn’t any different. They’re already being caught as I write this article, and by the time you read this they’ll be prominent in the eskies of Bundy fishermen.
The water still hasn’t cooled down here – I was having a dive the other day and the water temperature was 25 C – and I haven’t heard of too many reports of snapper yet. I’ve only caught some small squire and heard that at the 4-Mile reef they were catching the odd small one, but as this goes to print I expect to see some jumbo snapper hit the deck. These fish will be common catches during winter.
All the other reef species are being caught, with some good sweeties still coming over the side. We’ve also caught plenty of parrot, hussar, moses perch, red-throat, trout and cod on recent trips.
I have also had a ball this month in the estuaries, catching bream on soft plastics. With the fishing at its best we have averaged over 20 a day in our estuary charters. Estuary cod have also been prolific and have a soft spot for livebaits and Prawnstar lures.
Recent catches in the rivers have included some real XOS whiting, with some over 50cm. A friend of mine, Robert Wiltshire, was fishing for whiting with the Bundaberg Sports Fishing Club and nailed a 3.9kg salmon while fishing the Burnett River in the last club outing.
So if you’re heading to Bundaberg and want some info on what’s biting and where, or would like to go on one of our charters or hire one of our boats, call me at Bundaberg Fishing and Hire Boats on 0427 590 995 or (07) 4159 0995.
1) Kevi and Margaret Chateris with the results of a double hook-up – two 7kg Spanish mackerel.
2) David, Ian, Dennis and Kelly after a great session on northern bluefin tuna.
3) Robin Flaiszewski with a coral trout caught on Kato.
4) A red emperor caught on Kato.Reads: 565