Fresh fish of Mackay
  |  First Published: April 2010

Just when we were thinking the weather patterns would settle down along came cyclone Ului to smash our part of Queensland.

Ului had a massive impact on the region, with the Whitsundays, Airlie Beach and Proserpine copping a central hit and Mackay on the southern outer fringes of the cyclone also getting a battering.

Along with the high winds, parts of the Mackay region experienced very heavy rainfall with areas in the Pioneer River Valley recording 300mm overnight. This caused some flooding in the river but not to the extent that there was any threat to property.

All of this cyclone activity will have a marked impact on the fishery over the next month or so. One of the less obvious effects will be the hazards to boating caused by debris including parts of boats smashed by the cyclone, logs, and full trees dislodged along creeks and rivers.

One thing the cyclone has demonstrated is how much of a safe haven mangroves are in a big blow. In just the first week after the cyclone I have been around most of the district and there is massive tree damage, with many stripped of leaves, yet the old mangroves are rock solid and very few have lost leaves.

The protection the mangroves offer the foreshores and riverbanks are incredible, and their ability to absorb cyclonic winds, and hold banks together to lessen erosion highlights their value.

Add to this the fact that they are the virtual nursery for much of our estuary and inshore fisheries and their worth to the community is even greater.

In the short term, the cyclone has prevented many anglers from getting on the water while the clean up is in progress. Work commitments have meant that my boat is yet to see the water but that will sure change once things settle down a little.

May is a great time of year in Mackay, even though the cyclone season extends to end of April. Generally speaking we would be awfully unlucky to get another late season blow, so I expect the winds and rain will settle and we can get some quality time on the water.

Inshore around islands

The close inshore islands should really fire up with plenty of large queenfish and trevally being featured, for the lure fishers.

These fish are great fun to catch although they are not the best eating fish in the ocean. Their fighting ability, and love of lures, particularly surface lures, make them a favourite wherever they are encountered.

Look for them along reef and rock drop-offs, prominent points and around bommies. They will be harassing bait such as gar, herring and other small baitfish. It follows that a similar lure will get you into the action.

With the current surge in popularity of plastics and similar types of lures, the old metal casting lures seem to have been forgotten to some extent.

Small chrome jigs like Raiders work really well on queenies and trevally and have the added advantage of being able to be worked at any depth. Crank them fast for a surface or near surface presentation, let them sink and then retrieve for mid water use, or drop them to the bottom and retrieve.

They are a very versatile lure type for sure and one that deserves to be in any tackle box.

If you stick to the Aussie made lures you will help keep Aussies in a job, and also don’t have to worry about weak rings and hooks as the local products are made to stand up to punishment.

Plastics can be used in the same way, but the one thing they don’t have is that great reflective flash from the chromed metal.

This is one of the attractors for this type of lure. Watch a school of batfish in clear water and as they twist and turn the flash is plain to see. Predators take note and react accordingly.

Apart from the pelagic activity, the calmer weather will see an increase in bottom bouncing for sweetlip, trout and cod around the inshore islands.

Many people believe these areas are fished out, but a couple of divers I know tell a different story.

Perhaps the old way of chucking a great lump of lead over the side on a heavy handline with a great hunk of long dead fish may be the reason people think these spots are flogged out. Try a different approach and you may be surprised.

One technique not used nearly enough around the islands and close in reefs is live baiting either with prawns, crabs or small fish. Use a light line on a quality rod and reel combo, a light sinker and get ready for action. Suddenly those fished out spots become productive again.

The calmer weather and cooler days means more chances to get out around the islands even in small tinnies and the action should be on.


With calmer seas many of the larger boats will head offshore chasing the deep reef species such as red emperor, trout and sweetlip. They should strike a bonanza as the winds have restricted this activity for a couple of months.

All the reefs around the outer islands and the reef itself traditionally fish very well during late autumn into winter.

By May the cyclone impact should be just about gone but it will still pay to keep a sharp eye out for floating debris.

This will also be the time to start targeting Spanish mackerel.

When bottom fishing it pays to have a floating pilchard, gar, pike or ribbon fish well out away from the boat. This way all the bases are covered and macks and cobia are likely to snavel such an offering. Both are excellent table fish and are a welcome addition to the ice box.

As always bleed your catch straight away, clean it down and get it on ice as soon as possible. If you’ve gone to the trouble of catching the fish, treat it right and enjoy the rewards of fresh caught fish.


In the mangrove creeks cyclone Ului has washed out banks, filled holes, gouged out others and generally altered the layout of many creeks. But half the fun of fishing these areas after a cyclone or big flood is to find the channels and new spots in the systems.

Freshly fallen trees are a good starting point as they provide cover for bait and predators. Work these spots carefully with either lures or bait and don’t be surprised to pull pikey bream, jacks, cod or fingermark from these spots. Barra tend more hang on the sticky types of snag so don’t ignore them.

All the open water species like whiting, flathead and grunter are around with the added bonus of blue and king salmon. Look for these fish around the edges of deeper water, and fish the rising tide over the flats.

These fish (except whiting) are partial to moving up onto rock bars at the top of the tide searching for crabs so don’t ignore those possibilities.

dams Full to Brim

Freshwater anglers in Mackay now have three dams that are 100% full and many new spots available.

While the water is warmer, the barra will hunt right up in the shallows in among the tall grasses and here the unweighted plastics like frogs rule, as they can be worked among the grass with little chance of snagging.

Watching proficient anglers working frogs is an education. While I have always used the slow approach with frogs, the faster retrieve with the frog dancing along the surface at speed is also a top technique for attracting barra. The takes are fantastic and the fun factor is tops, but the hook-up rate is a bit hit and miss.

If the barra are frustratingly difficult to hook, the sooties in the dams are always a great second option, especially around the snag and timber.

The fishing in the Pioneer River I expect will take some time to settle. The sooties will be checking out new snags and holes and hopefully recovering well from their summer spawning activity. The conditions have been right for them to make lots of little sooties to enhance the river fishery into the future.

Sooties don’t like dirty water in the river much, so chase them where it is cleaner, and as always get your lure or fly right in tight on the snags and hang on. They are great fun.

Even in the aftermath of cyclone Ului there are plenty of options for top class angling around Mackay. Perhaps you should come up and visit us here in paradise.

See you at the ramp.

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