Spaniards on the rise
  |  First Published: May 2009

Winter is here, with many of the summer species slowing considerably. Grunter, king salmon, blue salmon, bream, whiting and flathead make up the majority of estuary fish caught in the mid year period. While Spanish mackerel are up in numbers offshore and are fishing better than they have in years.

The last few years there has been the odd mud crab taken in June but not in the numbers of earlier months. Any crabs that are still feeding are in the warmer areas of the creeks and can take a bit of locating.

The estuaries are usually fairly quiet but a little bit of work can change the outlook dramatically. Flathead are just starting to move around, prior to the run building in numbers towards the estuary mouths by September. Coorooman Creek and Corio Bay are the best places to try, with the Causeway next in line.

A few good-sized bream have been taken in all of the coastal systems with the biggest fish coming from Port Alma in the river. Along with silver bream we get some huge pikies or black bream. They can be very aggressive snatching small baits and doing a fine impression of a mangrove jack. I expect them both to be growing in quantity as the weather cools further. Large schools of blue threadfin usually move into Coorooman Creek and along the beaches with the cold weather, best around the full moon. At times they can be thick around the timbers and sandbanks near the mouth. Flashas and live herrings account for the lion share.

There are a few whiting and dart along the northern beaches with some quality fish among them. Steelback salmon also come on in Coorooman in almost plague proportions when the schools of whitebait slip into the bay under the cover of the offshore winds.

The rocks in the town reaches of the Fitzroy River are productive in winter. The rocks hold heat, which draws in bait and big predators. Quite often when the fishing has shutdown elsewhere in the river, barramundi and king salmon can still be caught feeding on the bait schools here.

The typical southeasterly winds that are prevalent at this time of year, restrict most of the smaller craft to the estuaries or sheltered areas of the islands. That gives the estuaries quite a work over and any species of fish likely to be on the chew will be targeted.

The average estuary fisher won’t spend too much time searching for structures or eddies, and will most likely drive past several top spots before settling on the snag where they caught a fish back in 1990. Do yourself a favour and go slow with one eye on the sounder. Sometimes it is better to wait for the rush to go and then quietly check the area around the boat ramps and nearby headlands or rock bars. One set of rocks next to the Nerimbera ramp holds barra, king salmon and cod; plus it always has a good show of bait. Once the crowd goes moves away, we have a few casts and more often than not have a quality fish to show for very little effort.

Doggie or Queensland school mackerel are the mainstay for the average Keppel Bay fisher through the cooler months, but they haven’t reached the expected quantities in recent years. Water quality has a lot to do with the movements of the travelling species and when the bay is silty from wind or flood, the pelagics often detour via cleaner routes out wide. The reasonable conditions of late have meant that the bait schools and the tuna have had a fair run and with any luck mackerel should also be fishing well.

If you live in the area you need no introduction to the close inshore mackerel spots. For visitors to the area who don’t know where to go, just drive along the coastline until you see the swarms of tinnies wherever there is a chance of a fish. Most of the best mackerel spots are within a few hundred metres of the shore.

Grey mackerel are about with the better fish caught at Findlay’s or Forty Acre, with Farnborough and Corio Heads are also producing. The schools mainly consist of fish just above and below legal size, but when the bigger greys get here they can be enormous. Over the previous few years there has been reports of greys around 9kg with one I scored on a bait jig weighing 10.4 kg.

Spanish mackerel is one fish species that has had a rise in numbers this year already. Spaniards numbers tapered off in the last few years, and catches were well below par. The start of this season has produced some bumper Spaniards and the average size seems to be much bigger than previous years. Liza Jane for example has continually had fish in the 10-20kg range whereas the average fish size from 2006 to 2008 was only 6-12kg. I was talking to Bill Sawynok from CapReef the other day and according to recent data, Spaniard numbers are on the way up. This is a big plus for Capricornia residents who hold Spanish mackerel in very high regard.

Bigger fish also generally means bigger baits, but there can be exceptions. The size of fish in the bait schools has a big effect on what they prefer at feed time. When the doggies are in full swing, Spanish macks go for big baits such as bonito, ribbonfish (wolf herring) and of course small school mackerel. June is when we get a run or two of small rainbow runners on the rubble reefy patches between the islands. These are probably one of the best live baits you can find and they rank in the same class as scad, yakkas and slimy mackerel.

When the herring and whitebait schools are in the area Spaniards go for smaller baits such as herring, pilchards and gar. The idea of matching the hatch works well most of the time, although it’s good to have a few different baits to cover all bases.

Spanish mackerel like fast moving water and are often found where a current runs around a structure or a pass between islands or rocks. Many anglers who chase Spanish macks inside the bay and around the Keppels only hunt when the tides are fairly big. A local saying is 10 x 4, which means to fish on a 4m tide at 10am, but this theory applies more to spots like Liza Jane and The Pinnacles. An old pro angler once told me that around this time of year the schools of travelling Spanish macks follow the contour lines from area to area and plenty of the reef patches will give good returns of Spaniards on floaters while bottom bashing.

As usual coral trout have continued in numbers around The Keppels, while sweeties, parrot and cod can make a decent feed. Offshore grunter have started taking residence around places such as The Pinnacles, The Rama and Manifold. Just about any of the jew holes will produce good grunter at times. The red fishes are hard to beat at present and it is very hard to come home without at least one legal red emperor in the catch.

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