As the old saying goes, 'you should have been there'! This has certainly applied to the Port Douglas region of late, as the piscatorial action has been firing on all fronts.
Leading up to the barramundi closure this month, the local beaches at certain locations have had heaps of barra lined up for their turn to have a bite at the cherry. The middle of the day has been the best time for livebaiting these fish, rather than low-light periods, and there have been reports of 1m plus barra dancing all over the place in 3ft of water.
The by-catch has included dusky flathead to 72cm and blue salmon, mostly around the 65cm mark. This is awesome fishing in skinny water and a land-lovers delight. The ban on commercial netting along the beaches is really starting to bear fruit.
In the rivers and creeks the grunter have turned it on in recent times, snaffling stripbaits and livies. The quality of these fish has been very good lately, with some specimens as long as 60cm being caught skirting the edges of the channels.
The mangrove jack gang have been extra busy smashing lures amongst the timber on deeper banks, with most fish measuring between 45 and50cm. Jacks have been dominating catches around the snags, and the dropping tides have been dynamite for this species of late. Top quality gear is required to put the brakes on these guys.
The other species unlucky to be mixed in amongst these bullies has been estuary cod, mainly to around the 50cm mark.
Most of the barra caught have been taken around the new and full moons and more so after dark or just on dusk. They've been looking for a decent feed, and bigger sardines and mullet baits have been their downfall. The better catches are happening closer to the mouths of systems, indicating that the barra are heading for their spawning locations around rocky outcrops and headlands. The season is now closed, and if you should accidentally catch a barra you have to release it. Just remember to take extra, extra care as these females will be ready to spawn. If they are handled roughly or incorrectly, the stress caused could prevent them from spawning.
The giant trevally schools with the odd big golden trevally are now on our doorstep. They have been cruising at a rate of knots up and down the channels, often settling into a feeding pattern on the deeper holes which normally occur around major bends. Anglers have had best success sitting in the main channels of our systems on a rising tide with a livebait below. The action may be short lived but it is explosive as the schools push through. When they reach 3kg or more their pulling power on light gear tests the best of anglers.
With the good weather upon us, the small boat brigade has had plenty of opportunities to hit the coastal reefs and they’ve had amazing success. Trolling high-speed lures and casting diving lures and poppers on the edges of reefs have been producing a mixed bag of goodies. Spotted and Spanish mackerel, bluefin tuna, queenfish, giant trevally and bar-cheeked and coral trout have all been turning up. Some of the better catches which have filtered through have included Spanish to 20kg, bluefin tuna to 15kg and giant trevally to 20kg. On some days anglers were very unlucky not to hook up on a cast as sessions were chock-full of surface action.
All up, the fishing close to shore has been some of the best we’ve had in recent years. The waters have been full of garfish and sardine schools, and November should offer some sizzling action for the pelagic species not so far from home.
Further offshore on the reef fishing scene, anglers have had good success despite the reef closures during the new moon periods. There is still a bit of grumbling around the traps about this but the fish will hopefully have spawned during the closures and stocks will be replenished. And despite the 'sit out' time, local anglers have found the coral trout in solid numbers up to 5kg and small-mouth and large-mouth nannygai in the deeper locations on the neap tides. There have also been a few Spanish mackerel around 10-12kg, which is enough for a really good feed for weeks to come.
The surprise packet has been reef mangrove jack, which have dominated catches at certain locations. Normally these monster fish fire a bit earlier in the year, and this season has been a big bonus as they are considered by many as the best eating fish in the tropics. When a 6-7kg jacks slams your mackerel bait in mid-water it causes a lot of grief at the start, but after your gear stops smoking and you land the fish, your grimace of pain will change to a smile that lasts for ages.
Lastly, the gamefishing scene is into its prime time. As I write this report, all the local fleet are ready to hit Lizard Island for the annual tournament, and I will have more on this event next month.
Marlin catches have been consistent of late, with most being caught several miles off the shelf at locations such as Opal Ridge and Linden Bank. Most have been around the 300lb mark with a lot of wahoo stealing rigged baits before the beakies could get to them. Not a bad substitute though!
Lizard Island will see the arrival of the big 'julie' marlin first, and they will become more common a bit further south in our waters this coming month. November is the time to go on a charter, but you’ll need to hurry as the word is out! By now the boats and crews will have all the wrinkles ironed out, ready to claim the 'holy grail' of game fishing – 1000lb of pure ocean beef!
I've only touched on the abundance of activity which anglers have enjoyed in recent times. The build-up to the wet, beginning in October, is just magic if you love your fishing.
1) Shane Down with a reef jack which would bring a smile to any angler who likes a punishing fight.Reads: 530