Two out of three
  |  First Published: October 2003

A COUPLE of issues ago I wrote about Mackay’s annual snapper run and made the comment that the snapper are often found with cobia and golden trevally. This year, for some unknown reason, the snapper run turned out to be almost a total non-event with relatively small numbers being caught.

Early in the season all the signs were there to indicate that we’d get the usual run of big fish and in good numbers, but that didn’t happen. The first few weeks had snapper of 2-4kg being reported but after that the larger fish just didn’t show. What was interesting, however, was the large number of anglers who told me of their catches of smaller snapper up to about 30cm long. These catches of small fish continued right through until almost the end of August.

Kev O’Driscoll from the local spearfishing club agreed that the larger fish just didn’t seem to be around. Kev often dives around the local close-in spots, such as Flat and Round Top islands, and tells me there were heaps of small snapper but few large fish. These areas are generally reliable producers of quality snapper up to about 7kg.

The snapper are thought to be spawning when they migrate to Mackay waters around late May/early June, and because the male fish are inevitably running milt it seems logical that spawning is the trigger for their migration. If that is so, it’s a mystery as to where these small snapper have come from. They are too large to have just been spawned in Mackay waters this year, so did they migrate here in large schools, tagging along with the few larger fish? It’s also possible that there’s a resident snapper population somewhere in the Mackay area or another spawning migration to our waters.

Mackay’s snapper have always been a mystery as there is little known about where they come from and return to. In previous years this migration has been predominately larger fish with a smattering of squire, but this year the catch has been reversed. Could this be a result of overfishing somewhere else or is it just one of those quirks of nature? If a dedicated tagging program was implemented to track these fish we may discover that this area is an important spawning ground for more southern stocks or that there is a separate population which lives somewhere around Mackay or migrates here from elsewhere. I’m sure local anglers would like to get some answers.


In that same article I also mentioned that cobia and goldens are often a by-catch when snappering, and this year was no exception. Good numbers of these two species have been caught around the local spots like Flat and Round Top islands, Danger Reef and so on, and have provided anglers with the chance to put a feed into the esky.

Bill McGarry and I decided to give the snapper a go recently, and after a chilly trip out to near Round Top we found Dave Fraser and Peter Birt already on one of ‘the spots’. Just as we arrived we could see Peter working away on a hand line and after a short but dogged fight he eventually landed a very nice cobia of about 10kg. The fish was caught on a pilchard drifted down on a light handline and was a good effort on the light line.

Dave and Peter had been on the water since about 2am, but apart from the cobia they had little to report. Dave had been slaying the resident batfish population and had also caught a couple of bludger trevally around the 3kg mark.

After finally getting our anchor to hold and keep us in the right spot, over a small bommie we dropped a variety of baits over and also spent some time jigging with plastics. The most productive bait on that occasion was large fresh prawns, and although we didn’t catch any snapper we ended up with about eight trevally, with bludgers being more predominate than the goldens. On the baitcaster gear we were using those fish gave a good account and we enjoyed the fun. The fillets on the BBQ later were also enjoyable with a bit of sweet chilli sauce.

We tried several different drops without catching a snapper, but every spot seemed to produce plenty of batfish which, if nothing else, gave us a bit of fun. Our soft plastics didn’t produce any fish apart from a couple of hits which were likely to have been trevally. Our results on that occasion seem to mirror most local anglers’ efforts of late.

Still, I guess two out of three of my predictions came good – so that ain’t bad!


There has been a fair bit of movement of summer species already. Barra have been on the go both in the dams and down in the salt, although it will be a week or two yet before the hot northerlies get the water temps right up. Once this happens the barra will get properly on the job and catches will increase.

Reports of barra catches have come from the mouth of the Pioneer River, and both Constant and Murray creeks have seen a few fish being caught. Further north, the Proserpine River has also been turning up a few fish on live baits.

With the low water levels in Teemburra Dam we should be in for a barra bonanza there this summer; the fish have about 50% of their normal habitat available and so should be easier to target. The low water levels and comparatively high water temps through winter have seen the odd fish being taken all through winter, which is a good sign for the months ahead.

The warmer water will also see hopefully an increase in mackerel catches from close inshore. These catches are closely tied in to the northerly winds and settled weather, but this winter has seen the south-easterlies blowing week in week out – so there have been limited opportunities on the small macks. There have been a few days where good catches have been made from the harbour walls but there were many weeks between the good days. Hopefully this will soon improve, and with the restrictions on the commercial slaughter of small mackerel we’ll hopefully see our mackerel runs get back to something like the good old days.

There is much to look forward to over the warmer months for the Mackay angler, so see you at the boat ramp.

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