Pointing the Fingermark
  |  First Published: May 2010

Our 14th annual Hinchinbrook Rent a Yacht houseboat trip started with more of a whimper than a bang. The fishing was slow in the first few days with the grunter and GT scarce compared to previous years, but then the fingermark came…


The fingermark, which have been our main catch for some years, were non-existent until the final afternoon when fellow angler, Garry ‘Flange’ Glaskin, boated a nice one from the houseboat. Our boatload of anglers had just returned with a live bait tank full of sardines, when the news broke.

We quickly anchored right on the edge of the drop-off into the hole where the houseboat was stationed, out the front of one of the creeks running into Missionary Bay. What followed was a fantastic few hours of fingermark fishing. While they were not monster specimens, the tally got into double figures very rapidly, with at least half a dozen fish over 50cm.

Fingermark Tactics

After countless years of targeting this hard-to-master quarry, I have settled on a live bait rig that has proven very consistent. I use 30lb or 50lb braid, depending on the roughness of the terrain, with 40lb SureCatch fluorocarbon leader attached to the 30lb braid, and 50lb leader to the 50lb braid.

I have experimented with a huge range of leader material and settled on SureCatch fluorocarbon because it is hardier than most and knots easily.

I tie my leader directly onto the single strand braid (no double) using a double uni knot – Geoff Wilson’s knot books have excellent diagrams and instructions on how to tie them. I only do two loops through for the leader and eight for the braid. The braid needs the eight so it won’t slip, but only using two turns for the leader means the cut-off end lies parallel to the main line when snigged down. This means the tag of the leader doesn’t catch on the runners when casting.

I also use pliers that crush as they cut (the cutting blades meet), rather than scissor-style cutters that pass one another to cut. This creates a small, flattened end on the leader, helping stop it from slipping through the knot under load. Once tied, wind on the leader until the knot is just outside the level wind or bailer of the reel and cut it off about 50cm from the tip of the rod.

By the time the swivel is attached, it is an ideal casting length, keeping the knot outside the level wind to prevent nasty over-runs from the knot catching when casting.

The Action End

The terminal tackle is made from the same breaking strain as the leader, starting with a high quality 70-90lb swivel and 50cm of line, with a sinker between a small and standard marble in size tied to the end, depending on the current.

On the eye of the swivel furthest from the rod, I tied another 40cm length of leader with a 7/0 Owner SSW All Purpose Bait Hook on the end. I have experimented with numerous types of live bait hooks over the years and have found these to be the best. Despite nearly choking every time I buy a packet, due to their hefty price, I have failed to find a hook as sharp or effective for live baiting.


My number one bait for fingermark is sardines, with mud herring, squid and prawns not far behind. After that anything live will do at a pinch.

I have caught fingermark on nearly anything I have tried, at some time or another. They can be incredibly finicky feeders but when they decide to feed they are ferocious, taking anything put in front of them.

I always fish with the reel engaged and most times the rod sitting in the holder – more for relaxation than necessity. Many people however can’t resist the temptation to strike too early if holding the rod.

Positioning the hook is vital: always enter the hook from the starboard side of the bait. If the hook is entered from the port side it lays with the tip pressed into the side of the fish, thus reducing the hook-up rate. From the starboard side, the tip sits slightly proud of the bait’s side.

This tiny attention to detail can make an enormous difference to your hook-up rate.

I alternate between putting the hook through just in front of the eye and just behind the head, above the spine. The sardines swim better with the hook in the clear part just in front of the eye, but I feel I miss more strikes this way.

The perception that you have to fish in deep water for fingermark is a fallacy. I catch a huge amount of fingermark in less than 15ft of water. While on average I would say they are smaller than in deep water, I have caught plenty over 80cm in shallow water.

The late bite on this trip was in water less than 15ft deep.

Bite Time

I have found over the years that fingermark have three definite bite times: dawn, dusk and one hour before the major and minor bite times in the Angler’s Almanac. I swear by the Angler’s Almanac, and will not put a line in the water without first consulting this fisher’s bible.

I always adjust my fishing trip to have a line in the water for a major or minor bite time. I have found it works particularly well for reef fishing, barra fishing and fingermark. The reefies and barra bite on time according to the Almanac, while fingermark are consistently an hour ahead of schedule.

Other targets

The crays have been a non-event for the past two consecutive years, but this trip the crabs didn’t disappoint.

We worked hard, checking the eight pots at least twice a day and replacing baits daily. Next year we might change the baits twice a day as the fish frames got a bit ripe after 24 hours in the warm water.

The crabs only moved on the smaller night high tide, with not a single capture on the much larger morning high.

Small sharks were a bit of a problem with the collapsible traps, as a number of pots had to be repaired on the run, and one being so badly damaged it was consigned to the dump on return home.

Grunter Tackle

The introduction in 2009 of the new minimum size for grunter (barred javelin) of 40cm certainly reduced our catch tally. We recorded a daily tally of legal sized fish. Even though we only keep a fraction of our catch, we keep a tally of all legal sized fish we come across.

Our overall tally was down from our all time high of 105 keepers in 2008 to only 56 in 2009. The difference would have been negligible if we had included the number of grunter in the 30-40cm range this year.

There were still plenty of quality grunter however, as we have perfected our tackle over the past two years. We use 20lb or 30lb braid for the main line and for the trace, which has dramatically improved our catch and consistently out-fished mono line and mono or fluorocarbon leader.

The best terminal set up has proven to be a running pea sinker about the size of a small marble, a 50lb swivel, 40-50cm of braid trace and a red, 3/0, long shank, chemically sharpened hook.

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