Mackerel season is well underway and the Mackay Harbour break wall is once again filled with crowds of excited locals and tourists.
Not only is the wall fishable in most conditions, as there’s always somewhere behind the wall to escape the wind, it is also a prime piece of fish attracting structure which draws a multitude of species.
Most anglers, however, rarely exploit this area’s true potential. The following is by no means a complete guide, but it will hopefully reveal some of the Marina’s hidden hotspots.
On both the north wall and the Harbour Beach wall, there is a prime ambush point for predators during the first of the run-in tide. As the current flows along the corner of the wall and then diverts up onto the beach, it creates a prime eddy for bait to hold and predators to feed.
Try fishing over the first three hours of the run-in tide for dart, big flathead, whiting, golden trevally, queenfish and small mackerel. Use yabbies, worms or small live bait like herring or mullet. Small slugs, featherhead jigs and medium weighted soft plastics are also top choices.
This bait-rich beach is a smorgasbord of activity at times. It can fill with schools of hardiheads (small silver whitebait) which literally black out the sand, and if you’re lucky enough for this to correspond with a night time tide, then it’s a sure bet the little trevally and queenfish will be around in plague proportions.
Try using small poppers and stickbaits and make an effort not to attract too much attention as the feisty little pelagics swat your lure around like a shuttlecock. The little Reidy’s Bloopa and any of the small Skitterpops from Rapala have proven highly effective.
During the cooler weather from about half tide in, the whiting can also be found cruising along the shallows. A quick look from the wall with polarized sunglasses will tell you if it’s worth deploying the light spin gear (look for silver flashes as the whiting roll on their sides).
There is also a distinct drop-off ledge along the base of the beach that holds swarms of small flathead and the odd golden trevally. These goldens are partial to fresh strip baits or small live baits and take some serious stopping amongst the moored ships.
If you’re keen to practice flyfishing, this isn’t a bad destination either, due to its protection from the wind and healthy population of small flathead (small pink things work well).
This is a popular location for local spearfishers to safely blood themselves on the sport. Visibility is usually much clearer than the open water, there is some surprisingly rich coral growth and the currents and wave action are usually minimal.
From personal experience, I have witnessed coral trout, cod and big free-swimming flathead. I also once had the pleasure of swimming with a turtle that stayed within arms reach for almost a minute. Be wary of stingers however, as the limited current flow can hold dozens of these stinging creatures during the warmer months.
On the fishing side of things, this is a great place to take the kids, as there are usually schools of Moses perch, pike, the odd sizeable bream, cod and even coral trout. Small, lightly weighted soft plastics and small, shallow diving minnows are ideal, but bring the squid jig as this section of the wall attracts some really vicious packs of squid, especially at night. If you want to liven things up, berley is an ideal option, as the lack of current will have the local population feeding right at your feet.
At the end of the Marina Wall, just before the ‘L’ shaped section is a small kick where the old wall once stood. Fishing from the inside of the wall here is a top option when there is a strong sea breeze blowing, especially at night.
This area is the ‘head’ of the marina itself and a section of wall was removed from here. Sounding through with a boat will reveal some left over structure, making this the ideal location for jewfish, cod and other small reef species.
At night there have been many reports of sizable jew caught and lost along this stretch of the wall, but one thing has become evident – if you want to have a chance you need to come prepared. Use big live baits and even whole sea mullet and make sure you have some serious stopping power!
This most seaward point of the marina wall has long been the place for land-based pelagic fishing due to the access it offers to passing bait schools. A long rod is a must-have accessory and a big reel with plenty of line will help your chances (remember you can’t exactly chase the fish).
The most regular catch has always been small mackerel and passing tuna, but there are numerous reports of big cobia and Spaniards landed from here.
Try fishing the first of the run-out tide with unweighted, whole garfish or fresh pike baits (which can be caught at the inside southern corner). Use a heavy monofilament leader (75-100kg) rather than wire as competition for the fish is high and wire spooks the fish! Attach your leader to a set of sharp gang hooks and present your bait as naturally as possible.
It’s worth spending the extra money for quality gangs because pelagics hit the bait on the run and sharp gangs maximize your hook-up rate (especially with foul hooking). If birds are working and the bait is clearly on the surface, a float will keep you in the strike zone but otherwise, just allow the bait to drift naturally.
The pontoon offers exceptional bait gathering at certain times of the year, as the herring school up along the pontoon in droves. With so much bait around, the predators will often follow and anglers have caught everything from big bream, trevally and cod, to legal coral trout and fingermark.
Lures flicked around the nearby pylons seem to be highly effective with small deep divers like the Killalure Flatz Ratz and the Reidy’s Taipan standouts. If fishing in this area, use your common sense and stay out of the way of boat owners and shipyard workers. Remember, this is predominately a boat ramp and on busy days you’re better off fishing elsewhere.
It’s worth the walk along Harbour Beach on a calm afternoon because once away from the crowds, there are some predominant gullies and gutters which hold quality flathead, whiting, dart and trevally.
If you can coincide your walk with the last of the run-in tide, then you’ll be able to take advantage of the steep drop-offs and deeper gutters created by erosion and sand carting. Take notice of any submerged logs as these will often hold big flathead waiting in ambush.
Use either a surf rod and bait like yabbies, soldier crabs and strip bait or a graphite flick stick and cast the gutters with soft plastics (I’ve found bright pink curl tails the most effective)
I won’t be the one to tell you Mackay’s break wall is the greatest fishing spot in the area, but with a little bit of extra thought, preparation and equipment you can be one of those 10% of anglers who catch 90% of the fish.
Have a clear plan of attack and pick your time, bait/lures and tide very carefully because it really is the difference between catching fish and mere angling.
As a point of interest, the hot spots outlined in this location are key areas which will work all over Australia, so be on the lookout for similar features.
Most importantly, be safe around rocks, in the water and around boat ramps as there is a multitude of things that can go wrong if you’re not paying attention.
Always try to rock fish with a friend. Be aware the wall is also heavily patrolled by the police, so drinking while rock hopping is not only a bad idea, but likely to see you with a fine.
All in all though, have fun and explore. These are only just a few of the fishing haunts in the area. There’s plenty more! Till next month, fish hard, stay safe and I might just catch you around the marina.Reads: 12376