In June, our local river systems traditionally get an influx of one of the most sought after sportfish in Queensland: the queenfish.
According to Ern Grant in his Guide to Fishes book, Scomberoides commersonianus Lacepede extends south into Moreton Bay, although it’s not as prolific there as it is in the tropics. He also suggests queenies grow to around 11kg but that’s not the case in the tropics; up here it’s not uncommon to see specimens pushing 14kg. There are smaller varieties of queenies in the area, growing to around 70cm, but the main creature I’m talking about grows beyond 120cm.
Catching queenies is a year-round proposition around Cairns. They are commonly found around inshore reefs and islands, but when the wet season run-off starts to subside in our rivers, saltwater tides surge well inside usual freshwater limits, attracting the queenies.
Through all my years as a fishing guide I was amazed at how surprised southern anglers were to discover how big some of our estuarine sportfish were. Queenfish are just about top of the excitement tree when it comes to light tackle inshore fishing action. First-time queenie anglers are blown away by the aerial acrobatics, speed and power of a 10kg queenie.
Queenfish are one of the easiest fish in the estuary to hook up to due to their aggressive nature and pelagic traits, so they’re an ideal target for anglers new to the area. They respond to a variety of techniques, from livebaiting (probably the easiest method) to lures and fly.
A large queenie will test you and your outfit to the max. When baitfishing for these speedsters, I recommend a medium taper rod of about 1.7-2.2m matched up with a good quality spinning reel capable of holding, say, 200m of 6kg mono. It’s vital that your drag is in smooth running order, capable of controlling the long speedy runs that a big queenie can make on 4-6kg line.
The size of bait determines the size of hook, but a livebait pattern around 3-4/0 will do the job in most cases. On many occasions I have landed big fish on 1/0 size hooks without any problems, although my preferred line weight of 4kg is better for the smaller hooks.
Around 40cm of 40lb trace between hook and swivel does the job nicely, with a lead ball to suit the location and current run. Generally speaking, you won't be too far wrong with a number 3 ball sinker above the swivel, as long as it will slide over your double knot.
Queenies can be caught in a range of locations from rocky headlands to mangrove snags, gutters and sandbars. Sandbar systems in the river mouths are my favoured place to seek out these fish, as they rarely pass up a free meal while they’re in transit through the shallow bars.
Large greenback herring (sards) top the list of livebaits, along with mud herring. I have also caught excellent fish on live feather bream (silver biddies), mullet and whiting. These baits can be cast netted in any of the local mangrove systems.
Your livebaits may die in flow-through bait tanks, given the changing salinity of the tidal river mouths. This can be frustrating, especially if the bait was difficult to find. The only way to counteract this is to have a couple of buckets of water from where the bait was caught, and use an aerator in the isolated tank system. It’s a worthwhile exercise, as queenies rarely take dead baits.
Queenies usually respond well to a range of lures, including shallow diving minnow type lures and surface poppers, as well as small, high-speed chrome lures. Ask your favourite tackle store for some suggestions.
My favourite method is to cast poppers for these great fish. To do this properly, I recommend a medium action 2-2.2m rod matched to a quality spinning reel capable of holding 200m+ of mono. A mono trace of 40lb gives good protection against the queenies’ small, sharp teeth. Tie the trace onto the mainline double and a strong snap, so you can change lures quickly if required.
Queenies are often found feeding on schools of small whitebait or sardines in the river mouths. If you come across this scenario, with birds actively feeding on the crumbs, you’ll be in for a treat. Work out whether to use the tide or wind to drift up on the feeding zone, where the bait school is, and work your poppers as you drift through the zone. Sometimes, when the fish are in a frenzy, it doesn’t matter about boat noise, but you should avoid motoring through the zone and breaking up the bait school. A scattered bait school will disperse the predators and make your task more difficult.
The best times are when you get a rising tide in the late afternoon, but when the fish are there in big numbers they can be caught throughout the day. You may have to work and chase them throughout the salt arm because they will move around, especially if there is a lot of boat traffic. Smaller neap tides are better and some of my best sessions on these fish have been in the smaller tides after the full and new moons, and often in the middle of the day.
Any river mouth is a good place to start when looking for queenies, but you should work the gutters and channels adjacent to any sand bars throughout the salt arm sections.
Be prepared to do some fast footwork when bringing in a queenfish. Inexperienced anglers lose many good queenies at the side of the boat as the fish wraps line around the motor leg and anchor rope.
These fish have some nasty dorsal spines, so use a large landing net. This will make the fish easier to boat, photograph and release quickly.
Queenies aren’t renowned as tablefish, although served up as nummus (fish that’s ‘cooked’ with citric acid instead of heat) they are great.
In any case, as a sportfish they are top-shelf fun!
Until next month, happy queenie chasing.
1 Jerry Croome, a visitor from the US, shows off a typical river queenie. Note the light 4kg spin rod.Reads: 1146