Surprising Sweetwater Success
  |  First Published: August 2009

It was bound to happen…after praising our weather in last month’s issue, the weather Gods decided to bring on the strong southeasterly winds to shut out most of the offshore fishing, either close handy or at the reef.

Unfortunately these winds have coincided with the annual snapper run in our area, so most of the local snapper devotees have had to make do with fishing the creeks and estuaries over the last couple of weeks.

Still it could be worse, and Mackay is fortunate to have heaps of creeks and estuaries available to the small boat angler, or even those on foot, so all is not lost.

The winds have made the more open estuaries an experience to fish, while the sheltered mangrove creeks are still a delight, with daytime temperatures in the high teens and low 20s. Life really is good here in paradise.

Given the amount of fishing effort in the creeks, it’s natural there have been plenty of fish being caught, and surprisingly barra have featured pretty well on the catch list despite the cool temperatures. Those in the know have been quietly chasing the barra in the sandy shallows where the water temperature is marginally warmer. Live baits of herring, mullet and prawns have been the most consistent, but the lure fishers have been catching a few too.

Probably the best place to score a salty at this time of the year is down towards the creek mouths. Look for small gutters running off either sand or mud flats; these spots are productive.

Shallow creek junctions can also produce, but it’s important to be very stealthy when approaching these locations, as the fish are spooky in the shallow water. An electric outboard is invaluable for getting quietly into position, and I now wonder how I ever managed before I bought my first electric about 20 years ago.

For the bait anglers, a cast net will secure plenty of live or fresh baits.

From experience in the freshwater dams, when the barra are right in the shallows it pays to position the boat some distance away and make long casts to the area to be fished. Alternatively, baits can be drifted down into the spots with the tide to give a really natural presentation.

At this time of the year the live bait angler can expect almost any predator to latch onto a bait. This could be a shovelnosed ray, a stingray or more desirable species like flathead, grunter, fingermark, salmon or queenfish; it’s a real smorgasbord at the moment.

A Memorable session

While my son, Lachlan, was home in Mackay recently we decided to hit the saltwater and nail some decent flatties, but alas the wind put paid to those ambitions.

Lacho managed one small flathead over two sessions in two different locations but that was it apart from several other follows which saw the lizards peel off near the boat. Pretty frustrating to see the fish and still not induce a strike. We used a variety of plastics and hardbodied lures that had been successful for us in the past, but the fish just did not co-operate.

In desperation, we agreed to give Teemburra Dam a go, as I had heard of some really solid sooties being caught along with the odd barra. The winds were still a factor at the dam, and we decided to fish the exposed sides of the dam assuming the persistent winds would have pushed baitfish into these areas. The first hour looked as though we would draw a blank as we did not even have a looker, despite using flies, hard and soft lures.

Getting on towards dark we revisited one of our original sooty haunts on the dam, across from the ramp. The fishing in the wind was tough and in the deeper water around the heavy timbers we drew a blank. Our last option was to get right up in the shallows where we hoped a sooty or two might be out on the hunt along the weeds and lily pads.

Lachlan persisted with a Fat Rap look alike while I chose a small, modified popper as described a few issues ago. Things were pretty quiet when I noticed a swirl and pluck at the popper. I stopped the lure dead and counted to 10 then gave the lure a slight nudge.

All hell broke loose with water spraying around and the fish boring out towards the big timber against a fairly forceful drag setting. The barra stick soon turned old sooty’s head and after a couple of short lunges he was near the boat. Only then did I realise how solid the fish was and I even started thinking of a 50cm sooty!

Lachlan made no mistake with the net and gave a bit of a grunt as he hefted the fish on board. I reckoned I had cracked my 50cm sooty and after fumbling around and un-hooking the fish we put it on the lie detector. Bloody hell, another 49cm specimen; after a few pics the sooty was released to frighten the daylights out of some more anglers.

We had a short break, while I tied on a fresh leader and Lachlan changed to a popper, then we moved about 20m further along.

Spotting a nice little patch of lilies, Lachlan neatly placed his popper beside the pads and after a short pause, nudged the popper forward with a discreet bloop. On the second small bloop, a barra charged out of the lilies and climbed all over the popper. We were in about 1m of water with plenty of fallen logs and standing timber, so I reckoned Lacho’s chances weren’t real good.

Thankfully the barra decided to put on an aerial display and treated us to plenty of leaps and splashes before Lachlan maneuvered the fish to the net. The little barra had really wanted the popper with one treble in the corner of his mouth and the other hooked just beside the mouth. Again after a few pictures the fish was released even though it was just legal.

As it was almost dark we called stumps and headed for the ramp. I relayed this tale to Brett Gesch that week, as he is also trying to score a 50cm sooty. He was not terribly sympathetic, but worse yet, the following weekend he fished the same general area on Teemburra and landed a 50cm sooty. Another mate who can claim a 50cm sooty, damn!

It just goes to show though that when things are going a bit against you, the only two options are to either go home or keep plugging away and trying different spots or techniques. Those two fish in the space of about 10 minutes made up for all the frustrations of two sessions in the salt and a couple of fishless hours on the dam.

The Month Ahead

September should see calm seas, east to northeasterly wind patterns and plenty of fish. These conditions will bring in the small mackerels again and the action should be thick and fast. For the small boat angler, there will be plenty of action just out from the harbour, the river mouth and the close inshore islands to the north and south of the city. Just check your maps as there are a couple of green zones to watch out for.

Shore-based anglers can also tangle with the small macks and the tuna and cobia that keep them company, by luring or bait fishing from the harbour walls. There will be heaps of anglers along the walls and there is no one spot that’s best, as the baitfish move all along the walls. The southern breakwater is accessible for its full length but care is needed when negotiating the rocks and also when landing a fish.

A quick drive along the wall will soon show if the macks have turned up. If there are only a couple of anglers chances are not much happening. But the grapevine works really well and if you see 15-20 anglers along the wall, then the word has got around that the macks are on the chew. Keep in touch with the local tackle shops as they always have the good oil on what’s biting and the rigs or lures to use.

In the estuaries, barra will be on the move together with grunter, salmon, jacks, queenies and trevally. Info on the barra situation is pretty hard to come by for a visitor, but a few dollars spent in the tackle shops helps with good tips. Look for all these species in the Pioneer River, Reliance, Constant and Murray creeks to the north, while to the south, Sandy, Alligator, and Rocky Dam creeks and Sarina Inlet are all worth checking out.

The bread and butter species like whiting, bream and flathead are to be found in all these creek systems, with the whiting often taken along our beautiful beaches. Trevally and dart are also a regular catch along our beaches, with the most popular ones being Far, Harbour, Eimeo and Bucasia beaches, as well as the sandy areas along the front of Shoal Point. Yabbies are readily available and worms can usually be bought at the tackle shops.

Up in the dams the barra will come out of their temporary hibernation ready to hit lures with gusto. Look for the barra along the edges of weed beds particularly if there are a couple of snags nearby and this all happens on a point. With these conditions, a barra is almost guaranteed particularly when fishing either at first light or late in the afternoon. Plastics have taken over the barra scene, and you should have some Tsunamis, Squidgies and HollowBellys in your tackle box. Carry some very light or resin jig heads and keep a couple of bodies ready to rig up weightless to fish right up on the weed beds.

Other must-haves in the tackle box include a couple of Reidy’s B52s, Gold Bombers, Tropic Anglers (I like the boney color) Rapalas and any of the other well-made Aussie lures. Have a variety of shallow and deep runners to cater for all situations and some small sizes also as often a barra will often shy away from a large lure but take a smaller one. Queer fish those barra!

Don’t forget the surface action either as both barra and sooties are very amenable to a surface lure particularly in low light situations. The Tango Dancer is an absolute must along with some conventional cup-faced poppers and fizzers.

Cast these around lily pads or along the face of weed banks and either work them in a walk-the-dog style or with some savage rips interspersed with plenty of pauses. One trick is to let your popper sit still for 15-20 seconds after it has landed, to give any nearby fish time to mooch over and check it out. Start the retrieve with a couple of subtle movements and a strike is often the result.

That’s the round up of what’s been happening and what the next month or so should bring if the weather and fishing gods smile on us. Sounds like plenty of reasons to get out on the water, so see you at the boat ramp.

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