Prawn of Plenty
  |  First Published: February 2009

In the coming months the quality of the local fishing will be dependent on the weather and the amount of rain we receive. Rain it did in buckets, between Christmas and New Year local registrations recorded up to 400m, which gave most of the creek systems a good flush out. Anglers could not have ordered better rain, with the smaller storms coming first followed by large dumps of rain.

Prawns, prawns, prawns

The initial small storms resulted in a great run of prawns in just about all of the creeks and estuary systems. At first the prawns were fairly small, but over a few days this situation changed dramatically, and plenty of anglers were reporting scoring a bucket full of prawns in just a few throws with the cast net. As is usually the case, there were stories doing the rounds about greedy anglers returning several days running and taking more than the limit. This is very hard to police for the Patrol guys unless the culprits are caught with excess of the bag limit in the boat.

The prawns and the rain have almost guaranteed we will have a bumper barra season after 1 February. I have even had reports of cases where cast nets have been smashed when a barra was accidentally caught among the prawns. You can believe me that a decent legal size barra can make a mess of a cast net. The prawns will continue to feature for the next few months but will depend on the amount of rain we get.

For those chasing a feed of prawns, good spots include St Helens Beach, Murray, Victor and Constant creeks, which are north of Mackay and all within about 45minutes drive. Prawns can also be cast netted in the Pioneer River but not in large numbers. Spots worth trying are near the Hospital Bridge and the gullies downstream of the boat ramp.

To the south Bakers, Sandy and Alligator creeks carry good numbers of prawns but it can take a bit of time to get onto them. Check out every little gully, sand or mud bank, as the prawns are likely to be at any of these types of spots.

The Sarina area is well known for producing very good runs of prawns. Armstrongs Beach is perhaps one of the best-known areas for prawns at Sarina. Just drive to the beach and check out the locals dragging bait nets or using cast nets. All of the creeks and gullies in Sarina inlet are also worth trying for prawns but you might have to keep moving around to luck onto good numbers.

In the creeks another favourite spot for prawns is in under overhanging mangroves. Small prawns can often be seen flicking in these shaded areas. Occasionally you will see prawns erupt out of the water under these overhangs, which is a sure sign that fish are getting among them. A scenario like that is worth a cast or two, although you could end up with a smashed cast net.

Personally I prefer to use a cast net rather than dragging a bait net, which poses many problems. Picking box jellyfish, bull routs and stonefish out of drag nets is not my idea of fun. Additionally having stood on many rays when I was (much) younger while dragging a net I can vouch for the pain this produces. When I throw the cast net, I prefer to throw it from in front of me like a tennis forehand shot rather than off my shoulder, which also reduces the risk of being stung by a box jellyfish sting.

I always carry a bottle of vinegar when pawning, in case of a jellyfish sting. This simple antidote could mean the difference in a life or death situation.

Perfect Bait

Anyway the prawns have certainly stirred up the fishing and with the big influx of fresh water, most of the creek mouths and just offshore areas are fishing really well.

Most of the creeks clear pretty quickly of fresh water. Species that don’t mind the fresh include barra (open season starts 01/02/09), jacks, grunter, trevally and of course the whiskery barra (catfish). Over the last couple of weeks catfish have been the most widely caught, with jacks and grunter a close second. I think it’s strange that most anglers here despise catfish, yet in places like the USA they are considered a popular sport and food fish and have a dedicated following among fishers. It’s all about perspectives.

Naturally live prawns are the best bait to use at the moment. The livie can be floated unweighted down into a snag for jacks, suspended under a float for jacks and barra or fished near the bottom for grunter. Don’t forget that there is also likely to be a salmon or two mooching around with all these schools of prawns in and around the creeks.

Live prawns send out the dinner bell for almost any fish species, and I generally fish them on wide gape Mustad All Rounder hooks. These hooks rarely miss a hook up, and I like to load several live prawns on at once, figuring that if one live prawn makes a racket with its kicking then two or three will increase the noise and attraction for fish.

I never use wire traces in the creeks, and generally use around 20kg clear leader material which gives me a pretty good chance if I come across a good jack, barra or salmon. There are literally dozens of good brands on the market now, but I generally stick to Nitline XTS plus and Nitlon DFC in 50lb and 30lb breaking strains. These leaders are both good to tie knots in, are supple and have fine diameter for breaking strain. John Trigg put me onto the Nitlon as he has used it exclusively for over a year and has landed barra to 1m in the dams while fishing in heavy timber for sooties, which speaks volumes for the quality of the product.

If bottom fishing with live prawns, I use as small a sinker as possible and have it at least 500mm above the hook. The idea is to get the bait to “waft” around in the current rather than have it sitting on the bottom. A good trick is to just feed the line down current rather than casting and possibly tangling the bait and leader around or above the main line and sinker. This is a variation on the old style channel sinker or pickers doom rig that was once popular with light gear bream fishermen.

What’s To Come

Hopefully the rain will continue and we will keep catching plenty of prawns and fish. The barra are by now back on the menu and will be super active with all the prawns about. Grunter will also be one of the main targets in February. While the barra are generally targeted only in the creeks, grunter can be found right up the creeks and anywhere offshore in water about 30m deep. Wherever they are caught though, they are always welcome as they are a wonderful fish to eat and respond to all cooking methods. My preference is to gently shallow fry grunter fillets in butter and garlic and drizzle some of the pan juices over the fish when serving.

As the creeks clear and the salt content returns to normal, flathead will be moving about along with some good whiting. Pikey bream are still around but are more an incidental catch at this time of the year. Jacks and fingermark will be on the chew in the creeks and salmon will show up from time to time.

Lure preferred anglers have plenty of options with the above species. One of the best lures at present is the Prawnstar and similar prawn imitations. Alternatively most soft plastics can be used, but I suggest keeping the weight down to bare minimum. The epoxy head jigs can be used effectively in the shallow water where the prawns are schooling as they make little noise when cast, but have enough weight to sink with the current.

Hardbody lures will be popular in the saltwater creeks and estuaries and all the usual barra types will bring fish. Stick with the well known brands like Reidy’s, Tropic Angler, Bombers, Rapalas, and the myriad of Aussie made minnows, and use both shallow and deep runners as required. Don’t forget that many of the fish will be hunting in shallow water, so don’t ignore small poppers, which can be worked in under overhanging mangroves and similar structures.

So there is plenty to look forward to for creeky anglers and for those that like to get out among the mackerel, those opportunities will really depend on the weather and winds.


Up in the dams and the freshwater, there is continuing activity with good barra up to 120mm being caught in Kinchant dam, mainly trolling at night around the full moon. Teemburra dam is still fishing really well but most fish are under 70mm, with lots between 50-60cm. These fish will grow to legal length within a matter of weeks as there is plenty of food available in the dam, and the fish are active and feeding.

Seaforth Fishing Classic

All this activity early in the year augers very well for the third annual Seaforth Fishing Classic which is due to be held during the Easter school holidays from 16-19 April 2009. Prizes worth more than $20,000 are up for grabs and a 4m tinny/outboard/trailer combo is the registration draw prize. This event will provide plenty of opportunities both up the creeks and inshore so get in early with your registration. Further details are available from local tackle stores from early February.

As you can see while the rain may have hampered some of our fishing efforts, the overall effect has been very positive and hopefully there will be more follow up rain over the next couple of months. All in all there is plenty of opportunities for anglers in our area in both fresh and particularly in the saltwater creeks and estuaries.

See you at the boat ramp.

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