Fishing the rivers in winter
  |  First Published: July 2003

JULY sees the start of what are two of the toughest months in Far North Queensland to catch a fish. It really is a time when most of our estuary species really get a bad case of lockjaw, due to those cool dry season nights, a decline in water temperature and crystal clear water. This is also the time when most of the grey nomads arrive at our caravan parks, travelling north to escape an even colder southern winter with the unfortunate expectations of ‘laid-on’ fishing. Without the right local knowledge - to know their way around as well as what to do in our local rivers - many of these visitors are disappointed with our fishing, and so North Queensland gets a bad reputation just because most travellers came at the wrong time of year.


July in the tops of our rivers will see the water go crystal clear with low water levels. Most sooties will still fall to lures, especially in extra small sizes. The more transparent, clearer shrimp patterns will be more successful. These fish belt lures ferociously in the dirty water through the wet season, but in winter they tend to follow your lures and are easily spooked.

Barramundi will almost certainly be on the edges of the duckweed that accumulates in the bends of the rivers, especially in deeper holes where the water gets a blackish tinge. The mouths of small creeks will have dried up and most of the fish will be in the deeper, darker water during winter and can still be caught in the late afternoon more so than in the cooler mornings.

For the bait fishermen, this is the time where you need to run to the saltwater mouth of your rivers and cast net (3/4in drawstring is the best) the small banana prawns. Keep them in an esky with an aerator and go snag hopping up the freshwater for the afternoon. This is a lot of trouble but it also gives the best results. Float your prawns downstream unweighted back into the snag using a quiet approach. If you don't get a fish within a minute, move on!

The mouths of our rivers will see large numbers of black pikey bream as a standby for the bait fisher, and a block of pillies will comfortably get you out of trouble. Be careful to only take a couple of pikeys home for tea as these fish are spawning and are very vulnerable at this time of year.

Jacks are very much a night time proposition and some huge jacks are caught at night on unweighted baits on the first mile inside our local rivers, especially on the evening rising tides close to deepwater points that are facing downstream where sardines congregate.

Some outsize fingermark are also caught while fishing for jacks, particularly where the mouth of the river meets the first of the mangroves. These fish come from the open headlands down to the mouths of the rivers to feed at both the bottom and top of the tide, just before the new moon.

[For Dave’s report on Tinaroo Dam, see the Freshwater section of this issue.]


The Marine Park Authority has issued us with a draft plan that I can't see being changed too much from the final product. The small boatie has copped it heavily in the Cairns region, with heavy closures of our front line reefs, disadvantaging the middle income earner who owns a 4.5m boat. Yet, the Authority has still left the recreational angler out to dry by not protecting any of our fragile coastal rivers from the onslaught of net fishermen that target queenfish through the winter, and barramundi on both sides of the seasonal closure.

If tourism is so important, there wouldn't be a tackle store, fishing guide business, boat store or caravan park that wouldn't want to see at least some sort of management system in place – one that targets the real issues such as commercial netting – for our coastal beaches. They’re a vital part of the Great Barrier Reef.

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