Mackerel, Marlin and Mangrove Jack
  |  First Published: November 2009

For me, December is probably one of the most exciting months of the year. I don’t get excited by Santa’s visit these days, however there are a lot of piscatorial happenings during December that catch my interest.

Pelagic activity is on the boil. From inshore waters to the deep blue yonder there are some exciting species on offer. Hot days and warm nights are just perfect for being out on the water and the prevalent different species of fish makes it even more appealing. Lets look at what is on offer this month.


Hopefully the mackerel have shown up by now, although they generally don’t enter the bay en masse until mid December or later. Both school and spotted mackerel follow the huge bait conglomerations, which enter Moreton Bay during summer.

The bay can be barren one day, yet teaming with churning schools of baitfish being marauded by mackerel, longtail tuna, mack tuna, frigates and bonito the next. Sometimes it is a lucky dip, you never know what will hit your offering next.

The surface feeding schools can be located anywhere throughout the bay but the channels are generally a good place to start your search. The main shipping channel meanders through the bay from Caloundra to the mouth of the Brisbane River and can regularly hold good schools of juvenile whitebait and frogmouths, which in turn attract all sorts of aquatic and airborne predators.

The birds on the horizon generally provide the first indication there is some action ahead. However, don’t turn all your attention skywards as there is often surface action without the presence of terns (spotted and common), mutton birds or others.

Even when travelling throughout the bay en route to other locales, it pays to always have a spin rod rigged and ready, just in case some action pops up in your path.

Generally, anglers cast and retrieve metal, baitfish-profiled lures, otherwise known as slugs. Good ones include Gary Howard’s Riley’s Rockets and Prickly Pete’s or TT Hardcore and Assassins but there are plenty around that will catch mackerel for you, including many homemade prototypes.

The general ploy is to get close to the school and then cast, retrieving the offerings as fast as you can. You will not be able to wind too fast for pelagics. If you are getting follows but no takes then you are simply not winding fast enough.

There are many quality high-speed reels on the market from small models such as the Shimano Stradic 5000 to the much larger Daiwa Emblem Pro 5500. Good spin sticks are numerous and varied, but check out Gary Howard’s Moreton Bay Spin and Offshore Snapper, Egrell S10, Nitro Viper and Magnum Butt, Berkley Sea Spin and Diablo, Samurai Reaction 502 and T-Curve Snapper Heavy.

There are numerous rod and reel combinations available to suit all budgets but remember, pelagic fishing is tough on tackle and you get what you pay for. Many anglers may still possess a TSS-4, which was a popular reel for Moreton Bay mackerel for several decades. While it’s now somewhat archaic in its design, it will still work well for high-speed spinning applications.

Casting to the edges of the school will limit your chances of being bitten off by one of the many slashing sets of razor-sharp dentures. By winding just before the slug hits the water, it will be mobile upon landing, which decreases the chance of a mackerel totally engulfing the lure and subsequently biting you off. Many anglers try wire in an attempt to avoid bite-offs but be warned this will probably decrease your strike rate by at least 90%.

Other good areas to look for mackerel action include the Naval Reserve Banks, Rainbow Channel (especially the Amity end), Middle Bank, Measured Mile, Pearl Channel and wide of Scarborough Reef. Mackerel can pop up anywhere throughout the bay so keep your eyes peeled. A good set of Polaroid sunglasses can greatly assist your vision on the water.

Whenever fishing at anchor around the bay islands, artificial reefs, wrecks or other locales, float out a pilchard behind the boat. This ploy will often see you dining on tasty mackerel fillets that night instead of grinner gumbo.


Jigging beacons is another technique that has merit, especially when surface-feeding schools cannot be located and can be used at any of the beacons along the shipping channel.

Position the boat on the down-current side of the beacon and lob out a chrome slug, allowing it to sink as close as possible to the beacon. I like the TT Assassins for this application, as they are rear-weighted and sink quickly in the current. Once the lure descends to the bottom, crank it back to the surface with a series or fast lifts and winds or a flat-stick retrieve. Work over each beacon with a few casts before moving on to the next.

Towards the change of the tide, you can drop pilchards, rigged on a gang-hook, adjacent the beacons. Use just enough lead to get the pilchard to the bottom close to the beacon, before drifting away. Anchoring up-current and then floating pilchards back to the beacon, while deploying a little berley in the form of cut pilchard pieces, can also pay dividends on mackerel as well as cod, snapper, sweetlip and occasionally cobia and others.


This waterway never ceases to amaze. The Brisbane River fishes exceptionally for the degree of angling pressure it receives and the amount of boat traffic traversing its length.

The Brissie River is also probably the best fishery for large threadfin salmon in the state, ironic in an area that is so highly populated. Hopefully anglers will see the benefits in releasing the majority of the threadies they catch.

While species such as snapper will be somewhat limited in December there will still be a few caught. Fishing at night and drifting live mullet or live prawns will often produce the best results at this time, with the threadfin being the target of many anglers.

There is however, plenty of undesirable by-catch when using live offerings, especially catfish, pike eels, shovelnose, sharks, and rays. Drift these offerings along the edges of drop-offs into the main shipping channels or cast them near the pylons of the jetties (minimum 30m out).

The holes around the bases of the Gateway Bridge Pylons are also worth probing but don’t be surprised if you get dusted by one of the large cod that live here. Naturally, lures will also work well, with prime offerings being Atomic Prongs, Jackal Mask and Trans Am, small plastic shads, lipless crankbaits and many others.

The upper reaches of the Brisbane River, especially around Indooroopilly, often fish well at night for anglers casting their offerings around the lighted areas. Closer to the mouth you will get threadfin as well as bream, snapper, flathead, cod and many other species.

The Clara’s Rocks area is another popular spot, often producing cod, school mulloway, bream and other species on baits and lures. It is one spot that is fairly close to the ramp, making it easy to access for those in small boats and kayaks.


Sharks just love this time of the year and thrive in the warm, baitfish filled waters of Moreton Bay. In close around the bay islands there are many different species of whalers and a few hammerheads to tangle with.

If you are after a little fun and an adrenalin rush on heavier tackle, catch a mackerel or small tuna from out of a surface feeding school and then feed it back out with some J-shaped jewellery attached to a wire leader. Soon you will probably be hooked up to one of the larger whaler sharks or tiger sharks which are generally between 50kg and 250kg but even larger specimens can turn up at times. Remember you are not allowed to keep a shark (or ray) larger than 1.5m since the new rulings came into effect.

Around the outer edges of the bay island, in the spoil grounds and anywhere else in the bay where you have deep water (15m plus), try berleying with a little tuna oil and then floating out a garfish on a wire-snelled circle-hook rig.

Most of these little whalers are between 6kg and 20kg, providing some good fun on 3-8kg line. Drifting will increase the length of your berley trail and the chance of a shark finding your bait. These smaller whalers are considered palatable by many anglers and you will get quite a bit of meat off just one.

The Brisbane River also has a healthy shark population and they can be caught from numerous land-based spots along the river, right up to the Mount Crosby stretch. Try Kookaburra Park, Mowbray Park, the mouth of Norman Creek, Colmslie Jetty and pontoon, Newstead Jetty and around any of the bridges.

Fishing live mullet at night will produce the best opportunities, especially around lighted areas where baitfish congregate. Be careful handling these little whalers as they cause you quite a bit of damage if you are careless.


Anglers fishing the estuaries will probably already have encountered a few of these crimson crusaders over the last few months if they have been live-baiting or casting lures around prominent structure in the estuaries and canals.

If specifically catching a mangrove jack is high on your wish list then choose a hot, still afternoon when the barometer is rising and you will greatly heighten your chances. Jacks seem to get especially aggressive when there is a bit of lightning and thunder about and I have caught a couple in quick succession during these periods.

Jacks will hang around any structure, but I have mainly chased them along the rock walls in canals and rivers on trolled deep diving minnows and various cast and retrieved offerings. Try areas such as the Raby Bay Canals, Aquatic Paradise, Newport Waterways, Scarborough Boat Harbour, Manly Boat Harbour and any rock walls, jetties and other man-made structure in various creeks and rivers.

Casting and retrieving lures from a small tinnie or kayak in these areas can be very rewarding for jacks as well as estuary cod, flathead, trevally, tarpon, bream and other species. Try small minnow lures, lipless crankbaits, blades and various soft plastics. Atomic Prongs can work exceptionally well when hopped along the rock walls and are easy to fish, even for land-based anglers.


Many anglers dream of catching their first marlin. While images of the grander (1000lb plus) marlin the waters off Cairns can produce are usually the first thing that enters your head, there are also billfish of many sizes to be caught in our offshore waters.

The run of small black marlin and sailfish that predate along our coastline at this time of the year can be anything from a few kilos to a few hundred kilos. Even though there has never been a grander recorded from southern Queensland waters there is plenty of fun to be had on these smaller specimens on lighter tackle.

Line classes between 6kg and 15kg will suffice for the average fish to around 50kg. Fishing heavier line classes can actually have drawbacks, as the marlin will be at the boat quite quickly yet will not be tired out, which can be very dangerous. More than one person has been shish-kebabbed by a small lively marlin.

Trolled resin-head skirted lures will put you in with a good chance of encountering a marlin in areas such as The Trench, Hutchinson Shoals, The Group (off Point Lookout), the Waverider Buoy and anywhere in between. For newcomers, venturing to one of these areas on the weekend will quickly allow you to see the larger boats working the area and to give you a better idea of what is required.

Skirted lures such as Bahamas, Black Snacks, Zacatak, Hollowpoint, Meridian and Pakula will all do the job. There are a huge number of colours available but if you stick to some proven performers such as lumo, evil, stripey and Hawaiian slash then you are on the right path. Almost any lure can work on any particular day so it pays to have a bit of variety in your spread and change the lure colours around a bit throughout the day.

Rigged baits, including swimming gar, skipping gar and swimming mullet can also be used successfully, although the lower troll speeds see less water covered. These offerings are going to increase your chances tenfold of catching sailfish in our waters, with only the occasional one taken on lures. Any larger bait schools found offshore are worth a few trolls around.

If this fails to produce results then try catching a few baits out of the school on bait jigs and then put them back out with a circle hook through their nose. Feed these out slowly with your reel in free-spool and your thumb on the spool to prevent an overrun if there is a strike. When you feel a take or the reel starts to speed up then push the lever forward and allow the tension to take up to set the circle hook.

Other species encountered on both lures and live baits during December will include wahoo, striped tuna, yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi and occasionally Spanish mackerel. A few XOS trevally are also encountered around The Group and occasionally close to the Cape Moreton around Brennan’s and Robert’s Shoals.

Holiday etiquette

For those of you on holidays, take care on the water and be courteous to others. Avoid problems at the launching facility by getting everything ready before you back the boat down the ramp. Then it is just a matter of sliding the boat into the water, parking your vehicle, firing up the motor and heading off, so you are not holding any one else up.

This all makes for a more enjoyable outing for all and fewer frayed tempers during the heat of the December sun.

Don’t forget to put those wish lists out so hopefully Santa will bring you some great new tackle on the 25th. Only time will tell as to how good the fishing will be during December. Hopefully we will have light winds, humid days, warm currents and plenty hot fishing action to enjoy.

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