Prime time for macks and queenies!
  |  First Published: July 2004

WATER temperatures have certainly dropped here in the tropics and most locals are digging out any winter clothing they can find.

The cooler weather marks the start of the prime mackerel season around Cairns. Quality Spanish mackerel have been caught in numbers for some time now, along with plenty of doggies and spotties. The clean inshore water at this time of year attracts many good fish in close to the coast, chasing the bait schools.

Most anglers use the common mackerel rig of floated pilchards on the usual three-hook gang with a wire trace. Standard three-hook gangs are fine, although if larger baits are being used I prefer to make my own up. Livebaits usually produce larger fish, as will trolled wolf herring and trolled doggie mackerel rigs. These larger baits are known to attract the bigger predators and are well worth the extra effort.

When drift fishing, set out a berley trail with cubed pillies and tuna oil and make sure you have baits set at different depths, i.e. bottom, mid and surface. Once you locate bait on your sounder it’s important to match up your bait presentation with the depth the bait is showing on the sounder.

Over the last couple of weeks, casting small metal slices and Bumpa Bars has been nailing plenty of doggies and spotties when the seas have been reasonably flat. The Cairns harbour leads area is one of the best places to try, as well as popular hotspots like False Cape, Kings Point and Palm Cove jetty for land-based fishers.


Bottom fishing has been patchy in the local estuaries and river systems, with only isolated good catches of fingermark, grunter and barra. Local barra action has slowed a little due to the cooler weather, but winter often turns up some huge barra for anglers livebaiting some of the really deep holes of the Cairns Inlet and local rivers. If you do capture any of these large breeders in winter, treat them carefully, grab a quick photo and release them to breed in the next wet season. Most of the barra taken in shallower sections of our waterways are smaller active fish in the 50-75cm range. Perseverance is the key to catching these fish.

Baitfishing in the river and estuary at this time of year usually requires a different approach. Scaling down in line, hook and sinker size will get you amongst the action. Smaller winter species such as pikey black bream, dart, and feather bream are usually there for the taking and can turn around a dull trip when everything appears to have shut down. Chase these fish with small baits, such as peeled prawns or live yabbies and prawns, on a rising tide as it floods over the sand bars in the rivers and estuaries. Look for whiting on the beaches in the early mornings. Of course, a steady supply of good flathead is usually around at this time of year in both locations.

Mangrove jacks have been a bit more promising recently with late afternoon sessions providing good results for those targeting these tasty fish. Fresh strip baits of mullet or gar and even pillies fished into the mangrove snags on a rising tide has been working well. Just make sure you use a heavy drag setting on your outfit as the jacks are masters at bricking anglers who aren’t alert. I recommend fishing line of around 10kg on a quality reel and a medium to heavy, fast-taper 6-foot rod. Use a light sinker or none, above 50cm of 45lb leader and a sharp 3 to 4/0 hook.

For those anglers wanting serious fun in the estuary or river, persevere in chasing the large queenies and giant trevally. Right now there are quality queenies up to 10kg in most of the river mouths and this should continue for the next few months. When the freshwater run-off subsides the clean water attracts these pelagics close in as they seek out bait schools. Livebaits of mud herring and sardines are quickly attacked by these fish if they are in the area. I prefer to chase them with surface poppers and they will readily take a variety of shallow and topwater lures, including metal. A fast retrieve is essential to entice a strike, and you need a reasonable quality outfit capable of handling the blistering runs of a large queenie or GT. Fishing mono of 6-8kg will ensure you have a lot of fun on these fish and, because they don’t rate highly on my eating scale, I suggest they are a catch and release job. Be prepared for the odd big GT to take your offering. These fish often lurk amongst the queenies and they can test your expertise to the max.

I have always found the slower neap tides on the quarter moons seem to bring in bigger numbers of the queenies but I have also caught them on all moon phases. It’s definitely worth trying a couple of days either side of July 9th and July 25th with your surface lures, particularly the afternoons. Drifting through the shallow sand bars of the Daintree and Russell/Mulgrave rivers around any tide change period or slow making tides are ideal times to cast and retrieve lures for these spectacular fish.

Until next month, good fishing!

1) This is an ideal time to get out and chase pelagics as we enter prime mackerel season . This northern visitor was happy with her first Spaniard of 6kg.

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