Snapper and Spaniards
  |  First Published: September 2009

What passes for winter here in Mackay has come and gone and daytime temperatures are already up in the high 20s and humidity is on the rise. With night temps hovering around the 20ºC mark, anglers are starting to get out their mackerel and barra gear in anticipation of a bumper season.

Spring here sees a change over of the dominant species, and the last chance for anglers to pick up a snapper or two before they finish their spawning and head back south to wherever they come from.

The weather gods have been kind for the snapper chasers lately, with 5-10 knot east to northerly winds giving even the tinnie anglers an opportunity to chase the knobbies.

Reports indicate snapper have been caught as far up as the Goldsmith group of islands just north of Mackay. The majority of the catches have been around the Sarina offshore islands as well as offshore from Mackay’s Pioneer River.

These snapper are not the small squire size which are often seen further south, but rather big bumpy-headed fish that can pull the scales down to around 10kg.

Snapper caught around Mackay’s waters average 5-6kg which is still a very healthy snapper. With parties of 2-3 anglers coming back with 5-6 fish between them, local freezers no doubt contain plenty of top quality fillets.

Given that virtually every snapper caught here exhibits signs they are ready to spawn, it is apparent they come to our waters to breed. For this reason snapper would be an ideal subject for a dedicated tagging program, to discover and monitor the extent of the migration.

The importance of snapper to both commercial and recreational sectors would easily justify the expense of the tagging exercise. The biggest snag to this exercise would be the windy weather and the difficulty of releasing healthy snapper, which have been pulled from the deep water.

The mackerel are definitely on the move now, with good reports of Spanish mackerel just to the north of Mackay. The Agius family has been scoring some very nice Spaniards around the Goldsmiths trolling big gar behind a bullet head. Most of their fish have been between 7-10kg.

All signs indicate by October there should be Spanish mackerel on offer for bait and lure anglers alike, all over the region.

Familiar hotspots for Spaniards include the southern break wall at the harbour for shore-based anglers. Live baiting with gar, herring or pike is the preferred method off the wall.

Many anglers chasing smaller macks with pilchards off the wall have been very pleasantly surprised to land a 10kg+ Spaniard.

If hooked on fairly light gear from the wall it is best to let the fish run well out and tire it before leading it into the rocks, as many green fish have been lost by over eagerness to get the fish to the gaff. I know of fish in excess of 25kg that have been caught from the break wall and this happens almost every year.

For the boat angler, the choice of spots are almost overwhelming. Small tinnies usually chase the big macks around Slade Island fishing the run through on the eastern side, or down around Danger Reef, and Flat Top and Round Top islands.

Probably the favourite hot spot for the small boaties is the southeastern corner of Round Top where there is deep water, strong currents and usually plenty of bait.

A large ribbonfish, gar or legal-size small mackerel drifted down current is very likely to get hammered here. Live gar and pike work well too, more so than small live baits like herring or mullet.

For information on big baits and rigs, I suggest calling into our local tackle shops to get some advice on what’s working where, and how best to rig the baits. The dedicated staff at the tackle shops are all keen anglers and you will get the good oil especially if the enquiry accompanies a purchase or two!

Anglers with larger trailer boats will find Spanish macks throughout the Goldsmith Islands and around St Bees and Keswick. One really reliable spot is Wigton Island. Calder, Bailey and the overfall rocks near Prudhoe are also regulars on the list for those chasing the Spaniards.

Trolling with big baits is probably the most productive way to catch Spaniards, but many also fall to trolled lures like the ever reliable Rapala CD18 series and similar.

Red and white combos and lures with colouring similar to a blue pilchard – with silver belly and darker backs – are best colours.

While these lures are pretty expensive and well over $20 each, one good Spaniard will more than cover the costs.

Unlike baits, lures also usually last a number of fish as long as there is no bust-offs, but check the action of the lure after each fish as they often need tuning after a Spanish encounter.

Apart from the large mackerel, anglers can look forward to the smaller school mackerel turning up along with plenty of longtail and mac tuna to provide top sport for us.

Mixed in will also be queenfish, trevally, and some huge cobia. These species all come close inshore and can be scored from the harbour walls or out of a small tinnie.

Again to get the up-to-date info a trip to the local tackle shops is a must, or visit Tackleworld Mackay’s website which contains a regularly updated fishing reports.

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