Winning weather
  |  First Published: July 2009

The big wet at the start of the year has been paying dividends, with excellent early winter fishing. The weather seems to have been a little kinder this year also, with longer calm periods between the high-pressure systems, which normally dominate winter weather patterns in the Cairns area.

There is usually a small window of a few days at best between one high fading away and the next establishing itself in the Great Australian Bight but this year the calms have lasted a week and even up to ten days at times. This changed weather pattern is partly a result of East Coast Lows regularly forming off the New South Wales coast and blocking the highs from ridging up the Queensland coast for days, and sometimes weeks, on end. If this weather pattern holds through August then anglers in the north are in for some sensational fishing, as the fish have really been on the bite in the good weather, especially at the reef.

Coral trout, large- and small-mouth nannygai and red emperor have made up the bulk of reef catches with a large variety of other species mixed in. I have caught up to eleven species at the one anchorage this year. The fish are not only in good numbers but also excellent size.

Mackerel have also been very plentiful at all the regular spots. In early July large bait schools started to arrive in the area, indicating the mackerel season should continue for some time yet. For mackerel, as for all blue water fishing, find the bait schools and you will find the larger predators. This applies as much to mackerel as it does to trout and reds.

Sharks continue to be a big problem this year. I think most reef anglers in the Cairns area will seriously question all the Greenies proclamations about decimated shark populations, as they have been in plague proportions at times on the reefs off Cairns. Deep water fishing in particular has been an exercise in frustration on many occasions as the sharks continually win the race to the boat. When they are particularly bad it’s worth fishing in shallower water as you have a better chance of getting fish to the boat before they get taken off behind the ears.


The estuaries have been fishing really well all year with the normal summer species of barra, jacks and fingermark continuing to bite well into winter. Any warm spell in August would be a good time to focus your efforts on these species, especially if there is a warm, calm patch around the full moon on 6th.

Live baits, especially live prawns on a dropper rig, tend to be most effective at this time of year. Spending the time searching the snags with a sounder looking for fish is the key to this method. Don’t be afraid to spend an hour or two looking for fish on the sounder. It’s a pointless exercise just picking good structure and sitting on it waiting for fish to come along, as they don’t tend to move much in winter.

For the lure nuts, trolling deep diving lures, super slow, across good bottom structure is another winter winner. It’s basically the same principal as live baiting – spend your time taking the lure to the fish rather than waiting for the fish to come to the lure.

Jacks tend to bite better than barra in the cooler months, so using smaller baits and lures tight to structure will often come up trumps. I have found 30lb braid by far the best line to use for these red devils. It has zero stretch so it makes it harder for them to make it back to cover, and the thin diameter is better as they are sight feeders. Add 1.5m of 30lb hard fluoro carbon leader to also improve your chances of getting the jacks back out if they manage to brick you, which they can do with monotonous regularity.


There has been a good run of both blue and king salmon along Cairns’ northern beaches this winter, with blue salmon particularly plentiful. Best baits have been live or dead sardines, mullet or prawns. The secret is to use FRESH bait. If the bait is dead then it should have been caught just prior to going fishing, for best results. Strips of mullet and butterflied sardines are also good baits for salmon

August is always a great month for fishing in the Cairns area, if the weather is kind. Be ready to take advantage of any calm, warm spells and you should come up trumps this month.

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