The ‘on’ switch!
  |  First Published: September 2004

SOMEWHERE in the month of September, the piscatorial activity switch turns from the ‘off’ position of the cooler months to the ‘on’ that signals the start of the ‘build up’ seasonal period. This happens suddenly and is usually triggered by a subtle increase in water temperature of around 1-2C.

Barramundi are usually the most noticeable indicator that the switch has turned to ‘on’. Gone are the lethargic days of winter when strikes can be half-hearted and lures fished too quickly are ignored.

Suddenly, there are more fish behind the lures and there is an urgency to get to that lure before another fish does. It is a time when casting doesn’t have to be quite as accurate, when retrieves don’t necessarily have to include the subtleties that can sometimes convince a half-interested fish to strike.

Other species follow suit – the mangrove jacks get more aggressive, the big threadfin start to haunt the shallows and river edges, and the queenfish are forever hammering the schools of bait around the mangrove edges. Wherever you take a close look in the estuaries of the north, there are signs that the piscatorial population is about to engage in its annual summer Olympics, of which procreation is a major event.

Let me warn you, the far northern weather at this time of year varies from hot to hotter, with the humidity, when the first storms start to build (usually in November), going from uncomfortable to oppressive. However, the golden rule of tropical fishing is ‘The hotter the weather, the hotter the fishing!’ so a bit of discomfort soon becomes secondary when the fish start to go ballistic.

Fishing the hotter weather is all about preparation, particularly with regard to personal comfort. Wear the right clothing, slap on the correct amount of sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and the heat is much easier to live with. Sunburn and dehydration have ruined many a fishing trip!

For those contemplating a trip to the western side of Cape York Peninsula, remember that the closed season for barramundi commences at midday on Thursday 7 October 2004 in the Gulf. Barramundi should not be targeted during this period and any fish accidentally caught after this date MUST be released unharmed.


The two major threadfin salmon species, blueys and kingies, are heavily involved in the ‘build up’ activity. Both are exceptional sportfish, with the king salmon having the added attribute of being top of the tree in the edible stakes.

One of the most satisfying methods of catching threadies is using a fly outfit. While blue salmon are absolute suckers for a well-presented fly, their long-whiskered cousins can be as finicky about flies as they are about lures, and therefore represent a significant challenge to more experienced feather tossers.

When looking for blue salmon, the beaches of the west coast are the best places to start. These fish are the perfect sight-fishing quarry – their dark backs make them easy to spot, they swim in small to medium sized schools and generally travel close to the beach edge.

Their two disadvantages are that they move quite quickly and spook easily, so it is important to place a fly well ahead of any school and retrieve it in front of the leading fish. Usually, this means running down the beach to get in position, then chasing them again when a hook-up is not forthcoming.

All the effort is worthwhile when a big blue is hooked! Take a look at the huge tail of a typical threadfin and you’ll appreciate why these things can explode like a V8 supercar off the start line and regularly have backing disappearing in their wake in a matter of seconds.

King salmon, on the other hand, are usually very casual in their feeding habits. They line up a pod of bait, grab a baitfish or two while leaving a big swirl then mooch along looking for the next lot.

Finding a kingie to cast at is the difficult part of the exercise. Presenting the fly is relatively easy. Then, all that matters is whether that whiskery bundle of muscle decides it’s the day to eat a fly!

Blue salmon tend to run hard and fast in a straight line. King salmon run even harder and faster but in shorter bursts punctuated by sudden changes of direction. Outboard legs and anchor ropes, along with mangrove roots and snags, are fair game to a rampaging kingie. They don’t head that way deliberately but their frantic headlong rushes often take them in those directions.

Tippets of 6-10kg are recommended when chasing salmon, finished with a heavy shock leader of at least 20kg mono or 15kg fluorocarbon. Be sure to check the leader above the fly for abrasion after every fish.

Top flies for salmon include Clouser minnows, Deceivers and flashy profiles tied on hooks from sizes1/0 to 4/0. A white underbody and plenty of built-in flash are good starting points for the average salmon fly.

I’ve seen plenty of knuckles rapped and tippets busted when either of these salmon species are hooked. Threadfin would have to be amongst the most desirable of the tropical north’s flyfishing targets.


Chasing mulloway on lures is one of the most popular southern fishing techniques at the moment, judging by the amount of press the subject is currently receiving. However, feedback on its northern counterpart – the black jew – is very difficult to find.

My first black jew on a lure came along quite a few years ago while developing fishing techniques based on lead-head jigs. As our expertise with the jigs increased, so did the number of jew coming to the boat, including one beauty from Nominade Creek that went over 17kg.

Then, all the new soft plastics burst on the scene! To date, the softies have accounted for plenty of small ‘soapy’ jew to about 60cm. On a couple of occasions plastics have out-fished livebait when the school fish have come on the bite.

So far, the larger ‘bragging’ size fish have eluded the soft plastics, mostly because it’s often difficult to get the right sized lures down to the depths required to interest a big jewie – combined with the fact that there are always a dozen other species ready to grab said plastic before the jew even gets the opportunity. Indications are that the Carolina rig may prove to be the answer, but only further experience will tell.

Meanwhile, lead-heads have been consolidating their effectiveness in the black jewfish arena. This year, a number of my clients have landed trophy-sized jewies while working large hand-made lead-heads in a couple of productive areas, the best fish pushing the 18kg mark.

A number of other likely prospects have been ‘removed’ before positive identification has been made due to the intrusion of well dentured, immaculately dressed bullies intent on having the likely suspect as a dinner guest. Nevertheless, the lead-head jig has certainly proved that it does the job!

Trolling deep diving lures over river holes has also been shown to catch northern jewfish. The lead-heads and plastics have the advantage of being able to work such an area more thoroughly.

There’s still much more development to be done with the mulloway’s northern counterpart. Such a magnificent fish is certainly worth the extra attention required to find suitable sportfishing methods.


1) This solid black jew was taken on a lead-head jig from a reef south of Weipa.

2) Brett Martin looks pretty pleased with this beautiful king salmon taken on a Clouser fly.

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