Inshore trifecta
  |  First Published: October 2004

THIS MONTH has always been a favourite of mine, and over the years I’ve seen some fantastic catches of fingermark, barramundi and mangrove jacks at this time. When I was a full-time fishing guide, taking out the 'inshore trifecta' meant nailing those three species in the one outing, and I did that more regularly in October than any other month of the year. It is pretty special for an angler to achieve that, and it was always more easy to do on bait than lure.

October in Cairns is a transition month from our short, tropical spring into the really hot period of the year. Rising water temperatures in October will see heightened activity amongst these prime 'big three' estuarine and river species. The increase in water temperatures triggers feeding and breeding instincts as these northern finned friends prepare for propagation in the season of the birds ‘n’ bees.

There will be some big barramundi out and about this month as the early spawnings for this season take place. Nothing quite brings a smile to an angler’s face like a big barramundi does when it’s finally brought to the boat. These magnificent big females will be hanging around river mouths and headlands this month, preparing to meet up with numbers of smaller males before releasing their eggs to allow the males to fertilise them when conditions are just right. Have a good think before killing any large barra over 90cm and try to handle these fish with the care they deserve.

If you are hell bent on catching a barra before this year's closed season starts, time is running out – the barramundi closed season on the east coast starts on November 1 and continues until February 1, 2005. Now is the time to get active with your barra lures. There are several ways to target this glamour fish, including casting lures from the many local headlands, trolling deep-running lures around and through holding snags in our river mouths, casting lures along the mangrove edges and banks or focusing on gutters and drains. You may prefer to float live prawns into creek mouths or structure, but whatever your favoured method the time is right this month.

Fingermark are probably my favourite inshore species. This month, if you want to add this excellent fish to your capture resume, use livebaits in the deep water holes of the Cairns Inlet, Kings Point or Harbour Leads on the quarter moon or neap tides. The hard-fighting pink coloured fish with the black spot on its side tends to favour the slower tides, and although it’s readily captured in the Northern Territory (where it’s called golden snapper) on dead baits, around here most captures are on succulent well-presented livebaits such as mud herring, sardines, mullet, prawns and of course live squid caught at the site.

Trolling deep running lures also accounts for quite a few fingermark and old readers may still remember that outstanding capture a couple of years back by the late Alby Zeibel. I featured a pic of the big fingermark Alby caught on fly while casting to a school of feeding tuna at Kings Point and it was an outstanding fish, close to a metre long.

Mangrove jacks will be there for the taking this month, and one method I recommend is to chase them on lures a few days after the full and new moons. Smart anglers will be up at the crack of dawn and casting small deep-diving lures, or their own favourites, tight against the mangrove edges on the early morning rising tides that follow those moon phases. Another tried and proven method for jacks is to baitfish the afternoon rising tides. Anchoring up and drifting flesh baits into structure as the tide rises is sure to bag a few jacks.

To add a bonus to these 'big three' offerings, the rivers are usually running very clear and slow at this time of year and bait schools will venture much further upstream as the tidal saltwater pushes in. This intrusion of saltwater in the rivers attracts some of our large queenfish and trevally to explore beyond the tidal reaches, and can make for some exciting topwater fishing. The Russell and Mulgrave rivers as well as the Daintree are ideal places to cast surface lures in search of these hungry predators.

What’s been biting

Inshore baitfishing has produced grunter, pikey bream and mangrove jacks, while livebaiters using prawns have been nailing some nice barra. Quality queenies have been taken using live sardines and topwater poppers at the mouth of the Russell/Mulgrave rivers.

Those anglers chasing the small mackerel are still picking up good catches of spotties and schoolies at the Leads and Palm Cove Jetty. Early mornings are the best time for these smaller mackerel.

Offshore bottom fishing has produced good catches of nannygai and red emperor, with patchy reports of quality coral trout. There are still large Spaniards being taken at most of the reefs. Gamefishing is in full swing at the moment, with good reports of black marlin and sailfish.

Till next month, good fishing to you. I hope you get the inshore trifecta on your next outing.


1) Part time fishing guide Darryl Schwilk enjoys the moment as he holds up a magnificent barra, captured trolling a 4m RMG Scorpion.

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