IN DECEMBER the water warms up and there’s generally a bit of flush from recent afternoon storms. The water temperature increases to around 24 degrees. All the summer species become quite active and it’s a great month to target mangrove jacks, whiting, estuary cod and also to fish the Seaway area.
In recent seasons mangrove jacks have been showing up in some quite unusual places, such as the many rockwalls in the main Broadwater and also around the Seaway walls. It seems anything with a bit of rock in it will attract them in time.
To catch a jack the best time to fish is dusk and into the night. Their activity is very much linked to how active baitfish are in the vicinity, and if mullet are active on the surface jacks will stray a long way from cover to attack them. Plenty of the chops that I used to think were trevally are actually jacks. In these situations the fish respond well to poppers and fizzers and shallow running Gold Bombers.
Live herrings at night are a good way to get bitten by a jack, and a single hook in the herring's nose is all that’s required. Don't let the fish run far with the bait, as they go back into cover pretty fast and are adept at busting almost any line.
Other good methods for jacks include trolling deep divers, using fresh mullet fillets and some soft plastics. Jacks aren't that easy to catch and are a great challenge; one in a session is a good result. A run-out tide at dawn or dusk is a great time to start trying, and they are one of the few local species that bites in northerly winds.
Whiting should be biting well in the Nerang and Pimpama in December. Last year we did really well on small shrimp, but fresh wriggler worms and small soldier crabs also work well. The Nerang tends to fish best on the run-in tide, and 35-38cm fish are quite common. Try the sandbanks around the Council Chambers and further upstream towards Sorrento.
Both sand crabs and mud crabs will increase in numbers in December. At the time of writing the crabbing has been quite poor, but hopefully some early summer rain will get things on the move so that those people keen for a few Christmas crabs will have a few legal ones in their pots.
The Seaway is a good area to look for mixed bags in December. A few school jew, tailor, trevally and the odd flathead will be caught around the North Wall. It is a good place to drift a live yellowtail or slimy on a run-in tide. The odd spotted mackerel, mack tuna and bonito also turn up at times in the Seaway this month. Fishing this estuary is often at its best early in the morning and remember, with no daylight saving, it is light at 4am. The hours between 4 and 7am often produce more fish than the entire rest of the day, and are free of the whine of jet skis.
December is the first month of the new marlin season where catches become regular rather than sporadic, and other species such as dolphinfish, mackerel and wahoo also turn up. The first of the magic purple current generally appears early in the month. Early signs have shown a lot of sailfish off Mooloolaba, and a few little black marlin have been caught off Jumpinpin already.
December is a good month to troll skirted lures in a searching type role. At this time of year the fish are often scattered. Good areas to look are The Cotton Reef off Jumpinpin, the Tweed Nine Mile and the area directly east of the Seaway. There are often schools of pilchards and slimies and these hold billfish like nothing else. If you find a big bait school it generally pays to slow troll a few livies in the vicinity, as this is much more effective than a lure ever will be. This year we’ll be experimenting with big soft plastics in a similar way.
The inshore reefs at Palm Beach and Mermaid see the influx of the spotted mackerel run just prior to Christmas. Now that ring netting is banned it’s hoped that a lot more mackerel will get through, and this spotty season may be one of the best in years. Last season many spotted and Spanish mackerel were caught on high speed skirted lures over sand just off the back of the surf along South Stradbroke. This pattern will hopefully repeat this year. The area just north of the Seaway is very productive mackerel country.
A few cobia often turn up in December. Areas to try include 18 fathoms off Southport, the Tweed Nine Mile and Palm Beach Reef. Slowly trolling tailor and bonito is a good way to catch cobia, as is livebaiting. A few also get caught on the wreck just to the north of the Seaway.
Bottom fishing in December is generally quiet. If you doubt this, tune into VHF 77 and listen to the local charter fleet talk of the grinners they are catching and the lack of fish in general. The current makes it hard to fish the wider reefs and the winter species of snapper and pearl perch are very scarce. Deepwater jigging for samson, amberjacks and kings can still be productive at times. Rosy jobfish, pigfish and the odd teraglin make up most of the catches out wide on the bottom at this time of year.
Overall, December is a good month to get serious about gamefishing and target dolphinfish and marlin, and in the estuaries whiting and mangrove jacks are the best target species. Above all, stay safe on the water and be careful. We see enough boating accidents in the hospital I work in over Christmas, and most of them combine recklessness, alcohol and a lack of care.
1) Kevin Ballantine with an 18kg wahoo taken on a trolled gar at Fido’s Reef.
2) Ben Job with a 16kg mulloway caught off Southport.
3) Stephanie Ballantine caught this 38cm bream on a wriggler worm in a Mermaid Waters canal.Reads: 760