THE DROUGHT continues, and the fishing prospects here in the north are gloomy if we get another failed wet season. On the bright side, there are still plenty of quality fish out there.
Inshore baitfishing is focussed mainly on fingermark and mangrove jacks, and this will be the case until the barra season reopens in February. Summer is definitely the best time to chase jacks and fingermark, and I usually prefer night fishing. Last month I outlined some jack tips, and this month I’ll go over some fingermark tactics.
Large fingermark (chopper bream) are occasionally taken in shallow water, but the majority are captured in the deeper sections of our estuaries and rivers. Use your sounder to find the areas with a rough bottom or soft coral patches showing up. Fingermark hold in these areas, and if you present a bait at the right time of the tide you may reap a reward.
In the Cairns Inlet there are many good locations, including out from the sugar terminal, out from tropical reef slipway, opposite the navy base on the eastern side of the inlet, deep holes of Smiths Creek, the entrance to Redbank Creek and the deep water up towards the bark hut.
The harbour entrance leads are another top spot, and most of the local headlands are worth a try, with Kings Point being the pick. Some of you may remember Alby Zeibel's fine capture on fly when he pinned a large chopper bream lurking under a tuna school at Kings Point.
Fingermark are Lutjanids (the same genus as large-mouth nannies, red emperor and mangrove jack) and so will take quality dead baits. My choice, however, is always for a bait that wriggles and swims!
Aim to fill your live bait tank with mud herring, mullet, prawns, sardines, or feather bream. If you gather a good supply of this type of bait your efforts should be rewarded. At some locations it’s possible to catch live squid at night or jig up some nice sardines. Both of these will work a treat.
The rig can be either a running ball sinker onto a swivel above a mono leader (e.g. 50cm of 45lb Schneider) with a 5 or 6/0 hook, or a dropper rig. Use just enough lead to hold bottom, and naturally vary your hook size according to the size of the bait (remember - the bigger the bait the bigger the fish!). Take the trouble to use quality sharp hooks as well.
I recommend that you fish your reel in strike drag and don’t strike until the rod has buckled over. I prefer the running sinker method and use a medium to heavy two-metre fast taper rod. I like a rod that has a soft tip section but plenty of grunt arriving after the first third is loaded. Team this up with a quality reel spooled with at least 10kg line.
Reel choice (spin or baitcaster) is not that important provided the reel has a smooth drag and reasonable line capacity. Many folks opt for braided lines these days, but I’ve caught many good choppers on mono line as light as 4kg. Some anglers in competitions have even caught them on 1kg.
Remember that these fish are strong powerful fighters. If there’s any nearby structure, fish over 7-8kg are unstoppable unless you’re using the equivalent of a heavy reef handline of about 70lb. In more open country these fish will strip line off your reel with ease, and this is where a smooth drag is vital and a good line capacity is helpful.
Good fish are also taken by trolling deep diving lures in areas where there is rough bottom and snags up to 5-6 metres of water. If anyone takes the trouble to use downriggers, trolling some of the deeper places like Kings Point could be interesting.
Fingermark are most often captured on the top of the tide, but they also like the low tide changeover. You can catch them both night and day. For night fishing I prefer nights with not much moon about, and the smaller neap tides definitely produce better, so try working the quarter moons for these fish.
I hope these tips put you onto some good choppers during this month or next.
When the wind has dropped, offshore fishing has also been an option for the small boat owner over the last month. At this time of year, calm weather will continue to give us opportunities like the near reefs, wrecks and Kings Point.
Keep your boat fuelled and ready because night fishing for reds has been good lately, and coral trout are there for the taking during the day. The occasional mackerel is still about, as are tuna schools, and the wrecks are producing GTs and quality cobias. Plenty to keep your interest up!
Until next month, see you on the water.
1) There are plenty of fingermark around at the moment. These fish are powerful fighters.
2) Brian Stopford trolled up this trevor on a recent trip out to Arlington Reef off Cairns. After a photo, this solid trevally was jettisoned back to join the rest of the pack.Reads: 899