FOR INSHORE anglers in the tropics there are few better angling options at this time of year than hunting queenfish in the rivers and estuaries. These powerful silver fish have just about everything to put a smile on an angler’s face – they can be caught to over 12kg (well over 110cm) and their strong, determined, leaping fights provide a real visual thrill.
These silver bullets are great sport on a good casting rod (such as a medium taper 1.8–2m spin outfit) matched up with a good quality reel with a quality drag, and 6-8kg mono line. You can use a baitcaster if you want, but I prefer a spin rod as there’s no comparison when the breeze gets up and the fish are a full cast away straight into the wind.
Winter in the tropics is a time when any freshwater run-off in our rivers starts to subside, and schools of queenies enter our inshore systems seeking the relative comfort and protection of these wetland systems. With very little force to act against the tide, invading saltwater surges push high up into the freshwater reaches and bait schools – which have matured by the end of the wet season – are found much further upstream than usual. The bait schools strung out through the system attract quality pelagics like queenfish and giant trevally, which cruise this habitat in search of an easy meal. Sure – queenies can be captured all year round, but in the dryer months they’re more prolific and consistent.
Remember that this year has not been a typical wet season, and the patchy heavy downpours can rapidly change river conditions overnight for days until the run-off settles.
Queenfish can be caught on any tides, however, there do seem to be peak periods for these fish. Obviously the tide changes are important times, and a slow making tide in an afternoon, allowing you to target them through to dusk, is ideal. I have noticed large aggregations of these spectacular fish on the quarter moons when tidal runs were minimal. On one occasion a few years ago there were so many queenies about you could virtually walk across them! They were all metre-plus fish that day, cruising on the surface, and we were able to pick the fish we wanted and sight cast to them.
Small tides have consistently produced these fish in numbers around this area. The time of day doesn’t seem to be critical – I have caught them at all hours of the day – but afternoons seem to be more consistent.
When the school moves in, if you’re in position you’re in for some fun. Sometimes there will be very little evidence that the fish are there until you start working your popper, and then your lure will get followed, swirled and then crashed. I have been in situations when the queenies are actively working a bait school, carving up everything that moves. This is when you’re really going to get a workout, so keep an eye out for working birds and any surface cutting.
Unless the school is really hot, try to minimise noise. Approach from downcurrent/downwind as the queenies often stay out of cast range of a noisy motor. Trolling is an effective technique, but work your lure a long way back. Once we drifted quietly right into the bait school and I had huge fish axing my fly as I jiggled it over the side of the boat... exciting stuff!
The mouths of the local rivers are hot spots, particularly the Russell, Barron and the Daintree Rivers. If you’re a newcomer to these rivers, have a good look around at low tide. Take note of where the gutters and bars are. The queenies usually patrol the edges of any of the sand bar systems close to the mouth.
In the Russell, productive sections include from the mouth up Mutchero Inlet, around the junction, under the power line, Cassowary rocks and the shallow flats right up to Harvey Creek. A simple method is to quietly drift with the tide or wind and perimeter cast around you, dragging your popper over and through the gutters of the sand bars. If you see some swirls it might be worth quietly anchoring up and concentrating your efforts. Be sure to work any current lines, and in the clear water keep an eye out for the telltale dark shapes. Don't forget to use your polaroids.
Queenfish are seldom alone, so persist if you see any signs of fish swirling or cutting. A rapid retrieve of a topwater popper, fizzer, walker or even a Gold Bomber will usually do the trick. There are too many productive lures to mention, so call in and see any of the local tackle shops for some advice on stocking up on some lure essentials.
Till next month, good queenfishing!
1) Queenfish of this quality and better are there right now in the local rivers for keen anglers.
2) Trevally of this size are great sport right now for light tackle anglers in our local rivers and estuaries.Reads: 504