Fishing for mackerel a breeze
  |  First Published: September 2005

Townsville had it all last month with wind speeds ranging from 5 to 40 knots and fishing that can only be described as red-hot!

Bowling Green Bay, or more specifically, the inshore small marlin grounds, have been firing this month with reports of 60 billfish being raised in a single day. Many of Townsville’s game fishermen have been catching double figures of marlin consistently, reporting that eight out of ten fish are willing to bite.

Anglers who are willing to try their luck this month should look for the massive bait schools, most of which are past Cape Bowling Green, closer to Alva Beach. These schools are quite easy to find because there will often be birds, crashing fish and a ‘boil’ of water on the surface around them.

The most popular method of targeting small billfish in the north is to jig up livebaits from the school you’re working and then either slow troll or anchor upcurrent and feed your livebaits around the edges of the bait. This is where most hook-ups occur.

For those after less exotic bluewater dwellers, Cape Cleveland, Salamander Reef and Four Foot Rock have all been fishing really well for Spanish mackerel, spotted mackerel, school mackerel and tuna. Again the lazy angler’s tactics are the most popular for a very good reason – they work!

Floating pilchards either unweighted or under a float of some description around structure or current lines will always produce fish. If you add a consistent berley trail of tuna oil, finely cut pilchard pieces, chook pellets and bread, your catch rates will improve dramatically. By doing this you will not only attract the fish to your baits, but you will hold them in your area when they arrive.

A professional mackerel fisher once told me that you should never bleed school or doggie mackerel directly into the water you’re fishing as this can shut the bite down. Spanish mackerel, on the other hand, are not bothered by this.

Dedicated Spaniard fishers have been having success in the same areas by trolling large baits. Wolf herring, gar, milkfish, queenfish and legal-sized doggies will all entice Spaniards to feed if swum at around six knots. The trick is to get them swimming again after rigor mortis has set in. Garfish are quite easy as their backbones can be popped with nothing more than a gently squeeze along the lateral lines. However, wolf herring, milkfish, queenfish and doggies all require a little more pressure to make them free up and almost snake in your hands if you shake them. This is when you know they are ready for the trolling jig of your choice. Local tackle stores will be able to help you decide on which rig is best for trolling a particular bait at a particular size.

During September we experience the last of the winter weather and winter species. Big mackerel will start moving offshore to the reef in readiness to spawn, while bait schools will migrate south on warm currents, taking with them a wide range of predators. Demersal fish like red emperor and large mouth nannygai will also start looking for deeper water, so this means anglers need to get out this month or risk having to wait until next year. As always in late winter, large reds take up residence in, around or on soft coral shoals or wrecks anywhere from 25m to 50m of water.

On the plus side, summer creek fish will really start to make their presence felt towards the end of September. Mangrove jack, fingermark, trevally, cod and even barramundi will have the tinnie brigade warming up their outboard motors, ready for another bumper season.

Beach fishing will start to steady towards the end of this month with whiting schools migrating south. However, the flathead and grunter populations will remain for little longer yet and the grunter in particular will be a great fish to target from the Northern Beaches and even the Strand on night-time rising tides.

The big tip this month for estuary fishing is to work the upper reaches during the morning and fish the mouths in the afternoons. Until next month, good luck.

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