Sooties in Cyclone Season
  |  First Published: February 2010

The year’s first cyclones have come and gone without, thankfully, wreaking too much havoc so far at least.

These storms have impacted the local fishing scene. Particularly because January brought so much rain to the region, with more than one third of the total annual rainfall happening in the first month of the year.

Some areas in the Pioneer Valley had falls of more than 300mm overnight in early February, and the river was in full flood. Coupled with the king tides at the end of January, this caused some problems in low-lying areas.

But this same heavy rain and localised flooding are ideal conditions for barra to breed in the saltwater, so down the track a bit there will be a very positive outcome from this dump of rain.

Given that February and March are usually our wettest months, it looks like the saltwater estuary scene is going to be very limited for a while yet. Most of our estuary systems have fairly short catchments and it only takes a few days for them to start to clear once the rain stops. But the forecasters are predicting a prolonged wet.

While barra can and are often caught in the muddier water, fork tail catfish are much more common and a whole lot less welcome. If chasing a barra in discoloured water, then look for a gutter where the dirty water is pouring out into slightly clearer water and use lures or live prawns to tempt a barra.

Prawns will shortly be everywhere through our creek systems and good catches can be expected from the St Helens area in the north right down to Carmila about 100km south of Mackay.

Cast nets are probably the most popular method for prawns, although on the beaches and at the mouths of the estuaries, the drag net is still king. The biggest problem with a drag net is that someone has to take the deep end and wade out up to around chest level in the water.

Drag nets also catch many other species apart from prawns, and sometimes these include stingers, stonefish and rays. These are damn nasty fish to get out of a net, and the reason I stick to a cast net, which limits unwanted by-catch.

The estuaries will really start to fire up when there is clean water moving in and out on the tides. Once we have clean water at this time of the year expect to catch plenty of the bread and butter species like flathead, whiting and bream. There will also be good numbers of small trevally up the creeks along with some grunter and possibly queenfish.

The barra of course will be the king, but don’t forget jacks, cod and fingermark will also be on the prowl for a well presented lure or bait. The later will be found deep in the cover whereas generally the barra are more open water fish or hang on small almost insignificant snags.

March is a great month of the year to chase big oyster crackers or snub nosed dart. Yes the very same fish that fly anglers go all gaga over is quite common around Mackay.

Look for them along the beaches especially either side of the creek mouths or on the flats just inside the creeks. Favoured spots are the mouth of the Pioneer River and adjacent beaches, Eimeo beach, Blacks beach and the mouth of Reliance Creek. They seem to prefer the cleaner sandy areas and aren’t often picked up over mud.

While they chase yabbies, snubbies also like small whiting and similar live fish, prawns and occasionally small squid strips. They also dig for small pipis in the sand sometimes just in the wave breaks.

One favoured spot for snubbies and goldens is the beaches next to the north wall of the harbour, and it doesn’t seem to matter if the weather is filthy rough as the fish still seem to move along the wall with the incoming tides. On the wall a bunch of yabbies or prawns seems to be the preferred bait.

Given that we are now entering our wettest month of the year, it follows the saltwater scene, not only in the estuaries, will be pretty limited. Towards the end of the month, the large queenies start to turn up around the close inshore islands along with various trevally varieties. But if the water is dirty they won’t often come out to play.

The saving grace on the angling front will be the dams, which continue to fish well despite the rain, and the run-off. Sooties in particular don’t mind an inrush of fresh water, as this is one of their spawning triggers, and they become very single minded about breeding. On a couple of occasions, I have seen sooties so intent on this that it has been possible to walk right among them in shin deep water, where they move out of the way then come back to station behind you. This is unreal, and it is mind blowing to see 50cm+ sooties like this, so close you can almost tickle them, but refusing all flies and lures. Naturally my fixation with and inability to catch a 50cm plus sooty adds to the occasion.

Sooties have been firing all summer so far with the best catches and biggest fish still coming from Eungella Dam. I’d love to find the biggest sooty in this dam, I reckon it would be well over 60cm and huge. I know of sooties in the 56-57cm range that have been caught here and they are awesomely massive fish.

The barra have been a bit hit and miss lately in the dams, with fish everywhere one day and nowhere to be found the next. What a great research project it would be to fit a couple of barra with a tracking device and see just where they go around any of our dams. I reckon that would turn up some real surprises as I have a little “pet” theory that they move almost constantly around the dams depending on seasons, weather and boat traffic. I think our dam barra have now seen so many boats that they have become a factor in catch results.

The early days in Teemburra Dam were really easy for barra catches. I can recall a number of times, motoring around slowly on the electric, with barra swimming in the shade under the boat!

Now though they seem to associate boats with bad news, and anchoring and longer casts seem to now get the best results. Trolling is still a good way to catch big barra, and the largest soft plastics slow trolled under electric power are dynamite on the big fish.

The fishing in March will be very dependant on our weather patterns, and if there is a series of lows in the monsoon trough, and torrential rain, most of the fishing will shut down until the waterways clear up. Mind you between these monsoonal rains, with clear water, the fish tend to go berserk. The trick is to be here at that time.

Fortunately for me the nearest mangrove creek is 10 minutes away from home, so as soon as things clear a little, I’m off to chase a salty barra or two. See you at the ramp.

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