Stocking up in spring
  |  First Published: October 2003

WE’RE currently into the changeover period from winter species to summer species. This is when we get fish such as barramundi and mangrove jack if the days are warm and we can fall back on some of the straggling winteries if the temp drops.

In the days leading up to writing this column the temperatures were in the high 20s and a section of the River in the middle of Rockhampton was firing for medium-size barramundi. It can be amusing to see people at their office windows watching a barramundi landed right outside. The River has some major rock structures that catch the sun and the resulting water temps encourage the barra to eat earlier in the season than they do at many other spots in our region. Live bait was responsible for a fish or two and lures fished well also.

The mangrove jack spot with the biggest reputation around here is The Causeway, which constantly lets anglers walk away with a smile. The Causeway Lake is a body of water that surprises everyone with the variety and consistency of the fish caught there. Although it is very small, shallow and only has tidal run over a 3.6m tide and higher (the run-through) jack love it. They inhabit a big area in the lake and its feeder creeks, and can be caught on lures and baits whenever it is warm. The guys that fish there regularly say the run-through is the best time, especially at night or very early in the morning. You can drive over the bridge and see a jack, barra, queenie, or the biggest pike you’ll ever see, landed daily.

Large bait schools have been moving along the town beaches and through the bay. Often in October we catch enough bonito, hardiheads and ribbonfish to last the coming season. The other benefit of the bait runs is the wide variety of predators that turn up for the smorgasbord – XOS cobia, northern blues and spotted mackerel to name a few. With a little bit of calm they can make it a pleasant time of year.

If the sea is too rough to go out wide, one option is to head across to the Keppel’s and make use of the great conditions in the leeward side of the islands. Queenfish and trevally hit the beaches around the islands for the better portion of the year. Some of these big fellas get to 6 or 7kg and bigger, so they can really turn it on in water only a metre or so deep. The best bait is hardiheads put on live a couple at a time on 3/0 suicides. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when!

One of the best locations I know is the spot where the tourist boats land on the main beach in front of the resort on Great Keppel. The backs of the big cats hang wide and the running props make a top hole for big fish to ambush the bait schools. Cast netting for hardiheads is good in the same area because the hardies travel around the beaches at different stages of the tide. My favourite time is just before dark or on daylight, preferably with a rising tide. In previous months we have released or eaten three types of trevally, snodger bream, 300mm whiting, sweetlip, amberjack, cobia and things that 600yds of 30lb braid couldn’t stop. You can’t beat sitting on the beach with a rod in one hand and a cold jimmy in the other, watching the sunset.

Ribbonfish are around in numbers at the moment so now is the right time to load your freezer for the coming mackerel runs. Ribbonies are definitely the favourite bait of many of the fanatical local mackerel men (although they won't knock back bonito and gar). Ribbonies can be found at heaps of locations in the bay and estuaries. Look for any dirty current line around any of the close-in islands and creeks from the Fitzroy River mouth north. They seem to favour movement in the water and will show at many of the inside school mackerel haunts. Sometimes doggy, grey or spotty mackerel are the welcome bycatch of a morning’s ribbonfish hunting.

The same general location is often a very good black jew feeding station at night. Funnily enough, as a jew bait, ribbonfish fillets rank highly on the scale.

On their day all the local hotspots can supply a year’s bait – places such as Quartz Rock, Rita Mada, Ironpot, Double Heads, inside the harbour entrance, along the outside rock walls, bluff rocks, the local headlands, Corio Bay and Corio Heads. If you don't know where the ribbons are when you get to the area you’ve picked, try trolling any small chrome lure at a reasonable speed about 6-8 knots until they strike. They hit in a frenzy, smashing anything that moves if they’re in the mood. Small Flashas do the trick, and little Raiders aren’t too bad as a backup. We put the next size treble or a swinging large gape long shank hook on the lure to improve the hookup rate. Once you’ve found the fish, drift and cast using a reasonably fast retrieve.

Good fresh troll baits can make the difference between feast and famine, so take the time to stock up now. When bait is scarce and the mackerel are here you can pull out a few ribbonfish and know that you have given yourself every chance to knock off the big boys.

1) Noel Perry with a queenfish from the beach.

2) Tyler Richardson with a promise of things to come – a nice barra caught on his dad’s Richo lure.

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