January is a great month to be on the water. The degree of pelagic activity experienced during December will increase in intensity, with good schools of surface feeding mackerel, longtails, mac tuna and others being located.
Estuaries are usually fairly consistent also, however early mornings and evening sessions will often produce the best results.
Weather patterns can often be a little sporadic at times, with late afternoon storms providing rising barometric pressure, a catalyst for increased piscatorial activity.
Billfish numbers are usually best during January, however it has been a very sporadic 12 months and anything could happen this year. Hopefully if all goes to plan, we should see numbers of small black marlin on the inshore grounds.
Areas such as The Trench, Hutchinson Shoals, The Group and anywhere out to the 100m line should be worth prospecting by trolling skirted lures. There is a huge array of good lures available, with anglers trolling offerings up to 25cm, and sometimes larger, with success.
This season has seen the popularity of micro-skirted lures for these little billfish, especially in calm conditions. It often pays to mix up the sizes in your spread, however, the new Bahama 20 size has proven very popular, comes in five head styles and is a little heavier than other lures of this length (15cm) so can therefore be trolled a little faster and will hold in water better in rougher conditions. Hook up rates also seem a little better as the juvenile blacks can easily scoff down these smaller offerings.
Other small lures that are also popular and productive include the Hollowpoint Demon 5 and Saltshaker 5, Zacatak Micro Roach and Mosquito, Pakula Uzi and Sprockie and Black Snacks Short Snack and Fat Snack. The most prominent actions with these lures will be achieved by using leaders no heavier than 60kg and rigging with single hooks.
Most blacks and sails will be less than 30kg in weight, specimens to over 80kg can show up on the inshore grounds if there is sufficient bait. Whilst using trolling tackle of 15kg or heavier may seem like a sensible option, just in case one of these larger billfish engulf your lure, it can also create a dangerous situation when one of the smaller billies bite. On line classes heavier than 10kg, these juvenile billfish are often at the boat in a few minutes yet will still be quite green. I have seen several small billfish propel themselves into the boat after an angler thought it was beaten. They can do a lot of damage to the boat and to anglers with their shish-kebab type protrusion.
Other pelagics will also be caught on these grounds, predominately wahoo, mahi mahi, mac tuna and striped tuna. Specific targeting of wahoo can greatly increase your catch rate and once you locate one, you will get several. Most will be in the 6-8kg bracket but plenty of huge wahoo to over 20kg can be hooked.
Trolling high-speed skirted lures such as Hex-Heads, Hexciter, Fireheads, Jet-Hex, Wahoo Gliders, Screamers and Willcatch Bubblemax are likely to produce the goods and allow you to cover plenty of ground in your search. These skirted lures have weighted heads and can be trolled at speeds of up to 15 knots, which is often a catalyst for a wahoo strike.
Bibless minnows are highly under-rated as producers of most pelagic species. These fish profiled lures can be trolled at high speed but will also produce the goods at slower speeds down to 6 knots, in most cases. We often deploy one as a sacrificial offering, even when trolling slowly for billfish, as a wahoo will often hit these before demolishing your expensive resin-head skirted lures.
When flat-lined, bibless minnows can be run fairly close to the boat, a dark colour will silhouette well against the backdrop of white water created by the prop wash. Reflectas, Terminator Vibs, Killer Vibs, Mack Baits, Blade Runners and Tremblers are just a few of those available.
A short length (less than 30cm) of piano wire will resist bite-offs and also allow the lures to track better at higher speeds. When using wind-on leaders, this will also keep the connecting snap-swivel closer to the lure preventing bite-offs from other pelagics hitting the bubble trail after the initial hook up. A teaser, such as one of the many-mirrored varieties, will heighten your chances of raising a few fish.
Whilst on the offshore grounds having a troll, it often pays to mix it up with a bit of jigging or plastics fishing over prominent sections of ground. Often, keeping and eye on the sounder whilst trolling will help you to find some new grounds for fishing at a later date.
During summer the deeper waters often fish better than closer in for snapper, pearl perch, yellowtail kingfish and others. This seems even more likely when there is a fair degree of current. Many anglers have taken to fishing these areas with plastics rigged on a jighead, or even on a paternoster or elevator rig.
The latter two are especially good in these strong current situations however at times even these are not sufficient to keep you close to the bottom with a good ground swell running.
Knife jigs are the next logical step and will take most species from pelagics feeding in the upper layers to demersals down deep. These are available in several different sizes but 200-300g models will usually do the job and allow you to probe the depths successfully. I like a good degree of luminescence or glow in my heavier models, which are generally used in deeper water to 160m where less light penetrates.
There are a lot of different styles of jigs with varied weighting properties. This style of fishing can be very active, yet extremely productive. I have had some great sessions on snapper, pearl perch, amberjack and yellowtail kingfish and you never know what you may hook next.
The deeper water can often produce a mixed bag during January and a few jigs on your winter snapper marks can be highly rewarding, breaking the monotony of trolling on a quite day.
During January, the Brisbane River is a popular spot because it fishes fairly well and is close enough for a quick session after work when the daylight hours extend well after knock off time. Late afternoon sessions working vibration lures and plastics along the edge of the drop-offs into the main riverbed, and along underwater ledges, can be quite rewarding.
Threadfin are the target of many, however estuary cod, flathead, bream and several other species are also caught. It is a system where some pretty strange species turn up at times, with triple-tail, coral trout, barramundi and grunter (javelin) being a few of the more bizarre captures in recent years.
Anglers casting small minnow lures, blades and plastics in the various filtering creeks (Boggy, Aquarium Passage, Norman) are often rewarded with estuary cod, bream, flathead and occasionally mangrove jacks. Catfish can be a bit of a nuisance at times during January as they become active in the warmer water, hitting almost anything that moves or smells remotely fishy. Anglers soaking hard-earned live baits for threadfin and cod are often plagued with these whiskered assailants.
Live-baiting is often a great way to pass a few hours, especially during the darkened hours when it is great just being out in the warm night air, not to mention the possibility of catching one of many fish species that are prominent on live baits.
Apart from threadfin, cod, flathead and other desirable species, there are also plenty of others including pike eels, shovelnose rays, catfish, sting rays and several species of sharks to keep you occupied. Sharks in the river can be a lot of fun and there are specimens to several hundreds of kilos to be caught for those with specific targeting. Heavy lines and large baits such as eels and whole mullet are required for this fun pursuit. Don’t think that you need to access deep water for these, as they will feed up in the shallows at night.
Smaller sharks are easier and more common targets for the average angler. Again, these are easy to hook from many land-based locations. They can be caught on dead baits but are much more likely on live offerings such as mullet and small catfish. If you do decide to keep a shark or ray, it must be under 1.5m to be legal.
In Moreton Bay, pelagics are where you find them. Surface feeding schools can pop up anywhere and unless you are on the water almost every day (we wish) then it is hard to know where to look first.
Surface feeding pelagics were somewhat limited last year, especially in the case of mackerel, but hopefully this January will see the return of immense schools of baitball-busting pelagics. Casting chromed metal lures (slugs) and baitfish-profiled flies into the melee will provide some screaming drags and burnt fingers.
The usual suspects are mac tuna and spotted mackerel during January, however school mackerel, longtails, bonito and frigates are all welcome captures.
If the prominent schools of spotted mackerel do turn up this season, remember that, per person, these have a bag limit of 5 and a minimum size of 60cm, unlike school mackerel, which have a bag limit of 10 and a minimum size of 50cm. Learn to tell the two apart as many anglers get confused when out on the water. There are some great waterproof identification guides out now that you to carry on board, if you are in doubt.
Whilst the cooler months are more popular for anglers fishing around the bay islands (Mud, Green and Peel) there is still plenty of action to be experienced during January. I have had some of my better sessions on snapper during the warmer months.
Often the shallows fish fairly well, especially if there is a bit of discoloration in the water. Sharks can be a bit of a problem at times and I have had some quite large snapper eaten before they can be landed. Once, a shark even grabbed a snapper just as I netted it, resulting in a lost fish and a now useless net.
There is often plenty of estuary cod and the occasional jack to be taken from the man-made walls on the eastern and northern sides of Mud Island. Small soft plastics and 1/8oz to 1/4oz jigheads will work well. I favour curl-tail plastics but many different types will work.
The shallows often produce some excellent fishing for anglers casting small surface lures and shallow minnow lures. The northern and western sides of Mud, southern side of Goat and Bird, southern and eastern sides of Peel and all around Green are worth a look. You will need finesse gear to cast these small lures and thin fluorocarbon leaders if you are going to entice maximum strikes from species such as bream, trevally, grass sweetlip and the occasional squid.
Small school mackerel and juvenile tailor can often increase your lure losses. Keep an eye out around the bay islands for pelagic activity. A small bow wave on the surface or the slight flick of nervous baitfish can signal the presence of a hungry predator. Even when fishing the shallows, always have a spin rod ready-rigged with a small chrome slice or stick-bait style plastic.
The canals are always worth a look it you want to cast a few lures about in search of a cod, jack, trevally, tarpon or flathead. Raby Bay, Newport Waterways and Aquatic Paradise are all great locations, as are the various boat harbours throughout the area.
Walking and wading in the shallows has always been a pleasant way to fish for me. Flathead are the main catch but bream, whiting, sole, shovelnose rays and the occasional cod will also be encountered.
Small clear surface poppers have shown their worth on quality whiting over the last few years and there are several spots where you can partake in this fun and rewarding experience.
The shallows around King Island are definitely worth a look on the last of the falling and first few hours of the rising tide. You will even land a few squid here at times on surface poppers and stickbaits as well as shallow diving minnow lures.
Another area worth a look is the shallows around Nudgee Beach and all the way along the foreshore to the Sandgate Jetty. This stretch is also a good option for the lower stages of the tide and there is plenty of water to cover.
The mouth of the Pine River and up to Dohles Rocks also offers plenty of options for those with surface lures diving minnows, blades and soft plastics. Just ensure that you have good footwear, plenty of water, sunscreen and spare lures, leader and a pair of de-hookers. Quality polarised sunglasses will make the fishing a little easier and you will definitely see things underwater that you would not have normally.
As you can see, there are plenty of options for all anglers during January. The saltwater areas are widespread and provide various fishing options for boaties and land-based fishers.
The warm weather makes night fishing so much more enjoyable. For a change of pace you can even venture further inland to try the impoundments or rivers for bass, golden perch and saratoga.
If you are piscatorially challenged during January then you are a very hard angler to satisfy, or just a dead set couch potato. Get out and experience the options that this great part of the world has on offer for you throughout the month. Don’t forget to slap on a hat and some sunscreen and stay hydrated so that you can enjoy the experience to its fullest.Reads: 709