Winter in the tropics is a great time of year, with daytime temps in the low 20s and cool nights, but best of all for anglers are the seemingly endless days of windless, clear, blue skies.
Such has been the case over the last week or so and this should continue for another six or more weeks. There will be times when the SE blows for a few days or a week, but the in between times are just magic.
Naturally, with calm winds and flat seas most anglers are keen to get on the water. In particular those with larger trailer boats that have the capability to reach the islands or the reef, which can involve round trips of 100km or more. During these magic days, there is also a fair amount of absenteeism in the local work force, including bosses!
Those anglers with offshore boats or access to mates with such a rig have been out in force lately enjoying the conditions and finding a real bonanza of reef fish and pelagics. Many anglers have been returning with full bag limits, particularly of coral trout, which are one of the most sought after species.
The trout have seemingly been everywhere from the very close inshore areas like Danger Reef near the harbour, around the islands and right out to the offshore reefs; and the average sizes have been outstanding. Trout are a top table fish, returning proportionally large pure white fillets, and they command top prices in the fish shops, for those who are unable to catch their own. They vary in colour from dull dark green to beautiful vibrant reds with blue spots and are always a welcome catch.
Many anglers fish only in deep waters for trout, but heaps of fish are caught in the shallows around the islands fringing reefs or right up on the main reef structures. At times they will seem to congregate in a hole right up on the reef and if you can get to them good catches are almost assured. But, and there is always a but, getting right up on top of the reef can be a tricky navigation exercise and many a local boat has dusted the prop or sustained hull damage from hitting the reef. These places are only for very cautious anglers and boat operators, as damaging and possibly sinking a boat is on the cards if extreme care isn’t exercised. The prospects of survival in these waters after a sinking are not good, so I recommend staying along the edges of the reef rather than going up onto them.
The traditional way to catch trout is with heavy handlines, and while this will still get results, the lighter line approach has much merit. Where possible keep the handlines down to around 20kg and keep the weight as light as possible. My best ever trout went around 16kg, and was caught in about 13m of water on a 20kg handline.
In deep water with heavy current flow, it is often necessary to use a heavy sinker to get the bait down to the fish, but in shallower water, or fishing back onto a drop-off, I have often come right down to a pea sinker with just enough weight to take the bait down.
Trout are reef dwellers and will not be caught in open waters. They live right in the reef or other structures and are smash and grab merchants. A hook-up often results in the fish back in the reef, free and the hook firmly lodged in the reef. Under these conditions the lighter line can be fairly easily broken off. Many anglers are now switching to using braided lines over solid rods to chase reef fish, and these rigs offer some advantages over the handline approach.
Braided line is very fine and has less water resistance, so sinker weight can be kept to a minimum, and this in turn lets the angler register almost every slight bite or touch on the bait. While trout are usually a hit-and-run fish, they will sometimes mouth a bait and move quietly back into their lair, which is where the fine braid helps the angler be alert to what is going on.
Once the hook is set, the trick with trout is to keep them coming away from the structure. On a solid fish this is easier said than done, particularly in shallow water. The fish will be heading for the bottom, and bent rods are the norm as trout fight really well, but that first glimpse of long red colour in the water is a great sight!
Lures catch plenty of trout. The old style bullet head with feathers, is slowly giving way to modern strong action deep diving minnows and to plastic fantastics of all shapes and sizes. Red and white combos are good for trout and remember they are cannibals and will happily eat small trout, so lures that have that type of colouring will be successful.
I have often fished with a plastic/bait combo on a two-hook rig and many times the plastic has out fished the bait, even when using large plastic worms. The obvious advantage of the plastic is the action generated by the slightest movement or even just the tidal run. I fish plastics using a type of sink and draw presentation, where the plastic is dropped to the bottom, lifted just clear and then is lifted a metre or so then left to flutter back down.
Bait fishing is still the most popular way to go and thankfully, most times trout aren’t all that fussy. Preferred baits include whole pilchards or herring, small live fish (watch legal lengths), squid and cut fish baits. The belly flaps of small mackerel are very effective when cut into strips, with the shiny skin and oily flesh proving very attractive to the trout. Hook size and style is a personal matter and while many anglers like suicide style hooks, my preference is for the semi circle hooks like the Mustad all rounders in sizes around 7/0 to 9/0.
Rigs are simple and most times a small sinker running right down onto the bait will be all that is needed. Some anglers prefer to have the sinker 40-50cm below the hook and if drift fishing, this will save a lot of gear that would otherwise be snagged and lost. Remember the simpler the rig, the easier it is to retie after getting snagged and busted off.
Most inshore trout seem to be in the up to 5kg range but occasionally a lucky angler will get one much larger. On a very recent trip, Charlie Agius scored a beauty in shallow water in the Goldsmith islands group out from Seaforth. The fish was well over legal size and was released after a quick picture. This trout was caught first drop on fish bait in shallow water.
Trout aren’t the only reef fish on the chew at the moment, with anglers reporting good catches of pinkies (nannygai), sweetlip and red emperor along with smaller species like stripies and hussars. In fact on the recent calm days, most boats have been returning with good catches. Unfortunately they cannot be filleted offshore which means more ice and storage is needed on board.
Apparently this regulation is to assist the Boating Fisheries Patrol (BFP) officers to identify the fish species, but one would expect that a complete fillet with skin on would be sufficient for a trained BFP officer to identify a species and conclude whether the fish was legal size or not. If not then the problem is not an angling one but lack of sufficient training or experience for the BFP officers. If anglers could fillet at sea, the heads and frames could be returned over the side to be recycled. Perhaps it is yet again a case of regulations and rules being made by bureaucrats and politicians with little or no practical experience.
On the creek and freshwater scene, things have been a little quiet, but for the angler prepared to put in the effort, there are still good catches to be made.
Whiting, flathead and bream have been dominating the estuary catches of late and this should continue for the next month or so. Some good grunter, (those that manage to avoid the nets) are being caught in Murray, Constant and Rocky Dam creeks along with estuary cod and salmon.
Newly arrived from Victoria, Dion Vale, decided that despite some local advice he would head down to the saltwater estuaries and try to catch a barra or two. After catching over 30 in a week on his southern bream spinning gear, he is convinced he has found his fishing paradise! It just goes to show that sometimes when the locals don’t want to waste time fishing a spot, along comes an angler without preconceived ideas and with a bit of dedication catches good fish.
So the moral of the story is to get out there and enjoy yourself in the beautiful north Queensland winter cool, see you at the ramp.Reads: 2909