Rippin’ reds and tasty trout
  |  First Published: October 2004

RED EMPEROR and red jew are featuring heavily in reef captures at the moment, and with the run of weather we usually get in October there should be chances to get amongst them.

The grounds out behind the main island group (20-30m) to the Redfern country (55-60m deep and 60km wide) hold enough decent fish to make a trip worthwhile. Rosy jobfish and snapper are a welcome addition to the esky, and you’ll find them hanging around the schools of reds in the deeper country. Squid, pillies and flesh strips are popular baits, and Japanese deepwater jigs have also taken their share of fish. People don’t give the tides much thought but, apart from the fishability of a spot, the tides can turn the bite on and off. Up to high and the start down is our favourite for the closer areas. Further out, any tide change will work.


It’s time to chase coral trout in shallow water. Last October loads of 1.5-3kg trout were landed in 4-5m of water, at just about every headland and rocky outcrop around The Keppels. When we were pegging poppers at white water over a reefy rock patch recently, coral trout took the lures meant for queenies and golden trevally only 1m deep (in the middle of the day). Most of the nearby islands have rubble areas in the same depth range, so over the next couple of trips we experimented, trying anywhere and everywhere that had cover in similar water levels. The results were very pleasing.

Before we only had some options when the weather was bad, in 5-10m around several island spots, but now the door has opened a bit more. The only problem now is that it’s hard to drive past a likely-looking place without giving it a shot. Our top method is drifting and working a ledge with shallow divers, just like fishing for barra. Concentrate on hitting a feature with five or more casts each on the way past. Poppers do the job and give you a better chance of stopping the trout from locking itself into the reef. On clear days, stay out further so you don’t spook the fish. Sometimes it takes a long cast to draw the strike.

The preferred colours in poppers and minnows are bright pink and orange in choppy, windy conditions. In calm times chrome and gold lures have worked best, with gold Bombers accounting for the most fish.

After testing stacks of different types of lures on various days, a pattern appeared. The less activity about and the quieter the boat was, the better our chances were of scoring a trout.

We did find, however, that the fish we weighed in were generally small. The bigger trout congregate in deeper water, usually too deep for standard lures. Downriggers are the answer, providing you have an accurate depth sounder and a big enough weight. You need to know the working depth of your lure, as they attract more hits when they’re presented about 1m off the bottom. The downrigger cable should be marked at regular intervals so you know how far down they are.

We found that homemade bombs didn’t work near as well as the store-bought jobs. When you have a lure down at 20m+ it takes a big, twisted, tangled mess before you notice, and by then it’s too late. The water pressure and troll speeds can spin any weight that’s not perfectly symmetrical.

The other problem we encountered was the release mechanism on the downrigger clips – too tight or too loose. The most reliable was a rubber band that broke at a tug but not with the water speed.


Some would say this is the best time of year in Central Queensland, with the temperatures quite warm during the day and very pleasant at night. This means more of the critters we love to chase. Barramundi, mangrove jack and fingermark (spotted-scale sea perch) can be found in nearly all of the estuaries in increasing quantities. These guys are ambush specialists and can turn on quite a display when hooked.

The fingermark are a bit more widespread than the mangrove jack, which don’t appear in the same amounts in our neck of the woods. The headlands and rock bars from the river mouth right up into army country are capable of yielding fingermark as summer nears. These fish take livebaits and lures with equal vigour.

Trolling deep divers along the rock walls and drop-offs accounts for the lion’s share of the fish nailed around here. The most popular lures are Richo’s and Manns+20 in white with a red head, and also the blue chrome type. Depending on the outcome of the zoning by the state is whether or not the best fingermark spot in Central Queensland is still available to the locals. Shoalwater Bay has the claim, and while it’s hard to compete with the Gulf as the best it’s certainly on equal footing with the rest. Nowadays charters cover the remotest parts of Central Queensland waters, and if fingermark and barra are your fancy it may be worth going on a charter trip.

The middle to lower reaches of The Fitzroy have a few jack, though they are not a regular capture. Waterpark Creek also holds a jack or two but, again, they’re hard to locate at any given time. Plenty of anglers have spent time searching and they’ve usually ended up with barramundi or salmon.

One place that does hold a significant jack population is The Causeway Lake; there must be an attraction there that many of the other estuaries don’t have. When fishing in the Causeway Lake, be aware of the shallowness of the water. The Causeway jacks feed heavily when the tides reach 3.8 or more, creating a run-through. The run-through is when water levels outside the lake run over the manmade containment, making the fish inside start chewing like crazy. On the run-through it’s common to see anglers standing shoulder to shoulder on the bridge, and it’s chaos if there are a couple of hookups at the same moment. The Causeway has other spots that contain jacks, but they take a while to locate.

All this is a sign of good things to come, as the temperatures continue to rise and the fishing heats up.


1) Shaun James with a red jew caught out wide.

2) Coral trout do take lures!

3) A quality Redfern snapper. These fish are often found around the schools of reds in the deeper country.

4) Geoff Heaney landed this coral trout and grassy sweetlip behind the Keppels.

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