Predictions for fishing can sometimes be about as accurate as a politician’s election promises, but the colder weather has seen salmon, grunter, flathead, whiting and bream come on the chew in the saltwater creeks and estuaries.
Salmon and grunter are running well in most of our systems. There have been very good catches of both blue and king salmon reported from places such as Rocky Dam creek south of Sarina to Constant and Murray creeks to the north of Mackay. They should be present in all systems in between, with the possible exception of the Pioneer River, which seems to miss the salmon run.
But the Pioneer has good number of grunter. Boat fishing in the river is restricted to the lower reaches below the Forgan Smith Bridge (at Sydney Street) due to construction of the bridge. There is plenty of fishable water downstream of the bridge and some of the best spots in the river are in this area.
The Pioneer has a predominately sandy bottom with some shale areas and isolated rocks. The man made trainer walls are a sure attraction to many species such as estuary cod, jacks, bream and occasionally barra. The sandy areas adjacent to the walls are definitely hotspots for flathead and where there are yabby beds, good size whiting are on the menu.
The flathead in this area are predominately bar tails, and while they don’t get to the size of the duskies further south, they are still challenging, entertaining and tasty. I have heard of some really good fish around 90cm coming from the river and Mackay harbour.
Flathead are an all tide fish, as they can be successfully caught on incoming and outgoing tides as well as at the top and bottom of the tide. In the river, look for the flathead on the run-in tide in very shallow water, as it covers yabby beds or rocks. The flatties will move in over the beds looking for yabbies, near rays so they can snavel any yabbies they miss. Around rocks they seem to hunt small baitfish, often only 5-6cm long, and small crabs that live on the rocks. The trick is to be at the spot as the tide gets to about 15cm over the beds or rocks and to move very quietly. Boat noise, sudden movements or noisy wading will soon spook the fish.
Bait, lures or flies will all catch flathead. But live or fresh baits like, prawns, small baitfish and slab flesh baits are the pick of the lot. Use minimal lead, a good fine strong leader (not wire) and cast from well back and you should be rewarded.
Almost any lure can be used on lizards, but I generally stick to the smaller sizes up to about 75-80mm with strong actions. Look for any of the quality Australian-made lures in a variety of colours and you won’t go too far wrong. I tend to like subtle silvery/white colours with a darker back to imitate small herring.
For the fly angler, go for clousers, crazy charlies and small deceivers but check your hook point is sharp. A downsized barra bomber fly will also take plenty of lizards although with all the gold flash and sparkle they tend to work better in deeper water.
Trolling lures along the trainer walls as the tide gets higher, is also a successful method of nailing flathead in the river. As the tide starts to fall, shift out to deeper water and work any small drop-off or along the edges of sand bars.
At this time of the year the yabby beds in the river attract their fair share of quality whiting. Look for the yabby beds straight across from the River Street boat ramp and over the mid river trainer wall. Remember take only enough for your immediate needs and watch the size limits.
Getting back to the salmon and grunter, both species will take many of the same baits as the flatties mentioned above. For my top pick though I would go to several live prawns back to back on a wide gape hook. I have used the Mustad Allrounder for years and find it gives good hook-ups and the design means most fish are hooked around the lips or jaw making for easy removal.
Slab or strip baits of mullet, whiting, gar and herring will also tempt grunter and salmon. These baits can all be caught in a cast net. Look for prawns herring and gar under overhanging mangroves, while the mullet will be out on the flats.
Salmon and grunter tend to be caught in open water well away from snags. Sometimes a couple will be caught then the bite shuts down. This is usually because the fish have moved on and the trick to shift ahead of the fish as quietly as possible. Move up with the flood and downstream with the run-out tide. With modern sounders even in shallow water, it is possible to spot individual fish although the narrow beam of the transducers restricts the area coverage in shallow water.
Salmon in particular can be very frustrating fish. One day they will be all over the sand flats in less than a couple of metres of water and the next in a 10m deep hole. A sounder is very helpful to find the fish in deeper water.
Blues and kingies can be found together on occasions although it is more usual to get one species or the other. Both can mouth a bait, pick it up, move off and then drop it making it difficult to time a strike. At other times they will savagely take a bait and immediately dial up the turbo and take off at high speed. That big fork tail can sure generate some get up and go and when they are in this mood salmon fishing can be very exciting, with screaming drags and rooster tails off the line slicing through the water.
Salmon will take a variety of lures from shinies like Flasha spoons and Pegrons to more traditional style minnow lures. They are an obvious target for plastics and flies but I have not caught them on either. Sounds like a good excuse for chasing them more often, doesn’t it?
Many anglers still persist in using wire trace when salmon fishing and although they have sharp sandpaper type teeth, I recommend using a quality nylon or flouro carbon leader. You will get more strikes, but make sure you check the leader after each fish caught. This can be visual or simply run your leader between thumb and forefinger. Any kinks or nicks indicate the leader material is weakened and should be changed.
As a general guide, I suggest targeting salmon over a sand or rubble bottom with shelving banks and plenty of bait around.
Grunter at times can be just about as frustrating as salmon, although generally they don’t muck around taking a bait, and they burn off at high speed on hook-up. Grunter will often be found over rocks near the top of the tide, where they forage for small crabs.
Again grunter seem to be a very obvious target for soft plastics, but all of my lure caught grunter have been on small hardbody minnows, with the Rapala Fat Rap my favourite.
At this time of year there are plenty of bream in the estuaries. Very small minnows cast in under overhanging mangroves from a very light spin or baitcaster rod works well for me. Unfortunately it is necessary to use fine leaders and this is a problem if a sizeable flathead, jack or cod gets in the act.
On the offshore scene, the early run of Spanish mackerel seems to have tapered off a bit with the windy weather, but reports are coming in of good numbers in the Whitsundays, so they won’t be far away. In the meantime for those lucky enough to get out on the calmer days (they always seem to happen mid week don’t they?) there have been plenty of trout, lippers and pinkies to keep anglers happy. Some huge queenfish have also been taken around the outer islands of the Goldsmiths to the north of Mackay.
As our winter continues, with balmy high teens weather (it’s tough living in Mackay) the fishing options are many, so why not come up and enjoy the place with us.
See you at the ramp.Reads: 6372