Mercury Soars in Mackay
  |  First Published: January 2010

Temperatures in the Mackay area have risen markedly and so has the humidity. By early January some areas already had between 200-300ml of rain – a good start for the coming wet season. While the heat brings some discomfort, the big upside for anglers is the surge in fish activity triggered by these early storm rains.

While some heavy falls have been recorded, there has been only minor inflows of freshwater into our estuary systems and they are still running clean and clear.

The small inflows into the estuary systems have triggered spasmodic prawn activity in some creeks, and those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, have scored some good creek prawns. No one is getting bucketfuls, rather just enough for a feed or two or some really fresh baits.

I expect pawning will pick up as we get more rain and storms, and of course with the upsurge in prawns there will be increased fish activity in the mangrove creeks.

To score some prawns, I recommend using a cast net rather than a drag net, as these can be thrown from the boat successfully and do away with wading in mangrove creeks, which is not a recommended course of activity, due to crocodiles.

The best spots to start looking for prawns are at small side gullies, just off the main creek flow. Keep your eyes peeled as it is often possible to see the prawns flicking on the surface in these spots.

Prawns can also be found under overhanging mangroves, small bays or gutters and in open waters. I have found my electric outboard is a great asset when prawning as the whirring of the motor does not seem to disturb the prawns, making an approach and throw of the net easier and generally more productive.

Don’t be surprised to see many small prawns jumping through the mesh and escaping, but keep note of the area, tide and time of day and come back a week or so later and score a good feed. As always take enough for your immediate needs only.

By a happy coincidence, the emergence of prawn activity in the creeks happens as the barra season opens on 1 February and there is no doubt the barra will be hunting down the prawns.

So it is that large live prawns are one of the best baits for barra and a number of other species. A good place to start looking for the barra is around the prawn activity in the creeks. Barra will happily be in water that barely covers their backs and will move right up into small gullies and gutters at times to harass the prawns.

It is difficult to target the barra in these small gullies, and a much better idea is to anchor nearby and drift live prawns down to the mouth of the gully either on the run-in or preferably on the run-out tide.

On the run-out the barra cruise the main creek area around the mouth of the gully or side creek and look for prawns and other food washing down with the run-out tide. If you find a rock bar or some snags nearby then you should be a great chance of running across a barra.

Remember, just like in the dams, the barra will often sit on an inconsequential single sticky snag while ignoring other more substantial snags nearby. I have on a number of occasions pulled two or three barra from a stick that can easily be overlooked.

The barra also cruise about so if they don’t show at one spot keep moving until you find them. The barra in the creeks respond to hardbody and plastic lures, and flies the same as they do in dams. Use the match the hatch method and choose lures that imitate a prawn and have the appropriate action.

The Prawnstar in any colour is among the best and the weight can be varied to suit the conditions. The life like click as the lure is worked is an added attraction.

Have a selection of lures to use including some Reidy’s, Bombers and Tropic Anglers and don’t ignore the old rattling spot style lure which gives out plenty of fish attracting noise as it’s worked through the water.

On the plastics front, there are literally thousands of suitable lures. I generally use Tsunamis, Squidgies, Storm, Berkeley and Tropic Angler lures in various sizes, forms and colours, all of which have been successful at one time or another.

Obviously if your sounder shows fish and you are not catching any, a change of lure or tactic is needed. Don’t be afraid to try something completely different as it may just trigger a strike or spur the fish into action. It just goes to show an angler can never, ever have enough lures!

There are a range of other species chasing prawns at this time of year including trevally, queenfish, mangrove jacks, grunter, fingermark, salmon and bream all in the same general area. All of these species are top quality sportfish with great eating qualities. They will all scoff a well-presented prawn or lure and are a welcome catch when the main target barra don’t cooperate.

All of these species can be successfully landed on quality nylon or flourocarbon leaders. I find 20kg test to be a good compromise between strength, suppleness, and ease of knot tying. Very rarely have I been bitten off, but I check the leader after landing each fish, and if there is any roughness, then I replace it.

By not using a wire trace (which was a favourite of the past,) the angler greatly increases the chances of success, and while an outing without fish can be very enjoyable, a few fish just add to the occasion.

In the Dams

Barra in the dams have been absolutely firing with the early storms. Kinchant Dam is fishing the most consistently with fish regularly being caught in the 120cm plus range, seemingly at will.

Many of these fish have been caught trolling in open water devoid of weeds (which are the only real cover in the dam) and it is the place to land a huge barra, because of the lack of obstacles such as sunken timber.

On several recent outings, the young Agius lads landed barra well over 1m and lost many they just couldn’t hold on to. Given these monsters were nearly as heavy as the lads, this is not surprising.

Teemburra and Eungella have both been a bit hot and cold, with fish being a sure bet one day and then seemingly disappearing the next.

I would love to have some of these barra tagged and tracked by radar to see whether a pattern could be established for barra travel around the dams. Given the value of freshwater fishing in general, and stocked fishing in particular, I think it’s not unreasonable to expect the fisheries managers should obtain such information and distribute it widely.

SIP Management Changes

On the subject of freshwater fisheries, the SIP management committee has become a victim of Labor’s cost cutting, along with individual MACS.

As most of the people on these committees gave their time at no cost apart from some sandwiches and a few airfares, anglers are justified in asking why these important fisheries advisory committees have had the chop.

On a more serious note anglers who have willingly paid their SIP fee have asked me if the standing arrangement of 75% return of the money to stocking groups will continue. Unfortunately although I have been on the SIP committee since its inception, I have no idea what will happen in future.

I do know anglers will be furious if their SIP fees simply disappear into general revenue and are not specifically allocated to stocking groups to continue their tremendous work in providing wonderful freshwater fisheries.

I have been honoured to have been a member of the SIP committee and thank all my fellow committee members for their help, advice and adherence to our goal of being fair to everyone throughout the state and setting aside our individual loyalties. It was a pleasure to have been a part of the committee.

Hopefully soon we will have some answers.

We may also have flooding rains and cyclones, but remember most times in Mackay there are usually a few angling options no matter what the weather. See you at the boat ramp.

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