Down in the salty stuff around Mackay, the full range of species is available.
For visitors I recommend sticking to the main waterways like the Pioneer River, Sandy and Constant creeks and the areas around Seaforth. These spots all have concrete ramps that handle boats to around 4.5m easily, but call into the local tackle shops and get up-to-date info on the states of the ramps, the tides and what’s being caught.
If you go to Northside Tackle or Reef Marine you can buy an excellent book on fishing Mackay saltwater and freshwater. This guide shows maps, recommends spots, rigs and baits and is very comprehensive. Buy a lure or three and you’ll get plenty of good oil on the local scene from either place.
Rather than try to describe all the spots and species in this article I’ll give you a quick rundown on the expected catches in the creeks and close offshore.
The cooler weather puts barra in ‘go slow’ mode but there are plenty of other species to tangle with.
One of the best fighting and eating fish around at this time of year is the salmon, either king threadfin or blue salmon.
Kings are caught here to around 10kg, while the smaller blues ranging up to 4kg or so. Both species prefer very fresh bait, with the pick being live prawns, yabbies and small batfish. At times the kings will ignore all livies and take a fillet of mullet, so be prepared and have a variety of baits.
A cast net is the best way to secure your baits. We have plenty of large mud geckos in our creeks so I prefer to cast net from the boat. If you find there are heaps of small prawns going through the cast net it’s a pretty sure bet that salmon will be around. They love those little prawns around 25-50mm long.
Both species will take lures and plastics, and you’ll find this opens up a whole new ballgame for these fish. Many anglers are also finding these fish receptive to small slowly worked Clousers and small prawn/yabby style flies.
Kings and blues are usually schooling fish and it’s unusual to get only one. They will bite at all stages of the tide but the run-up is usually best. They can be caught on mud banks adjacent to rock bars, deep muddy-bottomed holes and in very shallow water at the mouths of gutters.
Another old standby in the cooler months is the whiting. Many are tiddlers, just under legal size, but you also get some genuine 500g fish. They are in all our creek systems and are best fished for on the run-up tide.
Yabbies and worms are the go for whiting, and it’s best to keep moving up with the tide from the mouth as the fish move upstream. Just use the standard type rig with light gear and fresh baits, and you’re almost guaranteed a feed.
Many anglers are pleasantly surprised by the number of whiting being caught on very tiny plastics, but I recommend sticking with the tried-and-tested baits.
Local tackle outlets will give you info on where the whiting are biting, but to get you started I highly recommend the run-up tide in the Pioneer River. Start downstream from the ramp over on the northern side and fish in water no more than a metre deep. Keep moving up towards the bridge in the heart of the city and onto the flats beyond (take care as many anglers fish from the bridge). Night is the best time to be here.
Bream and, to a lesser extent, flathead are widely caught at this time of year. Flathead are often caught in the same spots as whiting and the bream are more snag dwellers, particularly the pikey bream. The silver bream are often caught in the open waters.
Use small minnow lures or plastics for flatties and bream. For flathead, work the open flats wherever there are yabby beds. A hot spot is along the deeper side of any small drop-off or ledge.
Flatties are also found on sandy bottoms near rocks or even right up against the rocks. Baits for flathead are yabbies, prawns, strip baits and small livies.
Pikey bream are a great little sportfish and are also great tucker. They are mainly found here around rocks and along the mangrove banks. These pikeys are easily caught on lures, but it’s essential to get tight into the cover. Another hotspot is where there has been a recent collapse of a mud bank or a mangrove dropped into the water. These attract bait and pikeys.
While chasing pikeys, be prepared to hit estuary cod. These can get up to serious sizes in our creeks – over 600mm – and they go really hard. Like all cod, they’ll eat anything they can get in their gob and all the above baits and lures will catch them. They are cover/snag dwellers and will bite right through all stages of the tide.
Three of the bigger winter surprises that anglers run into in the creeks are queenies, trevally (usually goldens) and snub-nose dart (permit). All three are found in open water and, apart from the dart, wander way up the creeks on making tides. They take small livebaits and live or fresh prawns and yabbies.
The best places to look for all three are where there is a clean sandy bottom and yabby beds covered by rising water. The most productive spots are more towards the mouths of the creeks, and just around the ‘V’ in the Pioneer River is a great location for all three species. They can be caught day and night, although queenies are rare once the sun goes down.
Getting past the creek mouths at this time of year depends on whether a southeasterly is blowing. On glass-out days with light northerlies, the close inshore scene can be alive with schools of baitfish, large queenies, cobia and the early runs of school mackerel. Throw into this mix the odd Spaniard, mack tuna and northern blue, and the opportunities are endless for fun and great tablefish. These pelagics are caught mainly on calm days. They are around when it’s rough but the opportunities just aren’t there to get at them.
On a recent morning with Bob Sutherland, conditions were so bad (despite a 5-knot forecast) we had trouble standing up in the boat, yet had mack tuna busting baitfish all around us. We spent a couple of hours chasing them and had the usual frustrations of hook-ups, bust-offs, dropped lures and one fish landed. It was good fun just the same.
All of these species can be caught on small metal slugs, deep heavy jigs, plastics and trolled minnows. For my money though, the best is casting slugs or plastics into, around and under baitfish that are being harassed. This is visual, close range, exciting stuff and really cranks up the adrenaline flow!
The cooler months on the inshore scene can be dominated by the pelagics, but don’t discount the bottom fishing. Snapper move north and are widely chased, but there are the mainstays of sweetlip, cod, blueys, and the odd trout available at all the usual close in spots like off the Pioneer River and around Seaforth. These are basically chased with baits of prawns, fish strips, squid or small livies.
One other great sportfish available now is the black jew. These are occasionally caught in the creeks but are more often taken around the harbour walls, Cape Hillsborough and the islands off Seaforth. They are fished for around the full moon and best baits are squid , large fish fillets and big prawns. The successful jewie anglers are a secretive bunch but if you want to tangle with them seek out some advice from the local tackle shops. If you are fishing the harbour, be careful as there are now restrictions on access with terrorism and the modern world we live in. Check first as there have already been people charged with offences for unwittingly wandering into restricted areas. So much for the pollies assurances that threats of terrorism won’t affect our lifestyle!
As you can see Mackay has much to offer the angler during the cooler months so if you are thinking of a trip north now is a good time to come, with pleasant weather, great fishing and as I said at the start heaps of options available. Come and give it a go.
1) A quality snub-nosed dart caught by Tom Smitt in the Pioneer River just on dark.
2) Don’t be surprised if a big cod like this one comes along when you’re fishing for pikey bream in the snags.Reads: 1094