Threading Through the Cold Creeks
  |  First Published: June 2010

Brrrr. There’s nothing like a couple of chilly mornings to make you realise that winter’s here again and that another year is half gone. Mind you, our winters are pretty mild really, but a couple of overnight lows of around 10 degrees is enough to send most of us locals looking for something warm.

Couple the chilly weather with a westerly/south westerly wind of about 5 knots and many local anglers start to think about night fishing despite the cold weather. Why bother going creek fishing of a night when you could be holed up in a nice warm house? The answer is that enigma of the creeks and flats, the threadfin salmon.

Salmon are around all year but winter seems to see more of them in the creeks and available to anglers. Mostly they are caught on live baits or cut baits of fish flesh but plenty of salmon fall victim to the humble yabby and the occasional fish still falls to a lure.

Most of the winter salmon are caught at night and all the local spots will fire up. If you get to the ramp just before dark and find plenty of trailers, there is a good chance that the salmon are running. Boat ramp car parks are always a good barometer of how the fishing is going.

Look for salmon in areas from Murray Creek to the north down to Rocky Dam Creek south of Sarina. They can be caught at all points in the creeks from the very top of saltwater out to and beyond the mouths of the creeks. I have caught salmon over sand, mud and rubble bottoms as well as around rock bars. They truly are an enigma and they are wherever you find them. The best thing about salmon is they tend to be a schooling fish and it is rare to only encounter one fish. At times they can offer fast and furious action with hard hits and scorching runs. Remember if you are lucky enough to get onto a school to limit your catch rather than catch your limit.

Conversely, they can also be one of the most finicky fish in the sea. They will sometimes pick up a bait, move it a bit, drop it and then pick it up again. Sometimes this feels like a mud crab playing with the bait. Here is the test of patience. Leave the bait alone and let the fish fiddle around, and hopefully you will feel it start to move off and that is the time to set the hook. This can be very frustrating but patience and feel is the key. A great reel for this fishing is an threadline with a baitrunner facility.

Both blue and king salmon are around at the moment and should continue to feature in catches while there is cooler weather about. The salmon guns are secretive about their spots and tides but a little time at the local tackle shops will get you the good drum.

Blue and king salmon are top table fish and should be bled as soon as they are landed and then put on ice. Chilling them down will also makes them easier to fillet as well as keeping the meat in tip top condition. Make sure when you are filleting the fish to use a very sharp flexible filleting knife as the back bone nodes can be a pain to work the knife over and around, particularly on the larger fish.

Apart from the good run of salmon there have been a surprisingly large number of barra caught in the saltwater creeks and estuaries. Obviously the tidal water is yet to drop appreciably in temperature but over the next few weeks I expect that to happen.

Many anglers from south head up this way during winter to escape the colder weather and I can’t blame anyone for wanting to come, but it’s is not the optimum time to catch a barra. Sure they are around and good local knowledge will always get a few fish, but for the visitor it is hard going. Using a little bit of common sense will increase your chances though.

If the water temps are down, look for a patch of warmer water. One place this can usually be found is in shallow water over sand and barra will move right into shin deep water at these times. Look for these conditions on the run in tides and don’t be surprised to latch onto a barra working up in the shallows. Remember though barra are cruisers and will keep on the move rather than sit for a full tide on a snag.

The best thing about this type of fishing is the mystery about what you are likely to hook onto. Salmon, queenies, trevally, flathead, bream and grunter are all a possibility. For the lure or fly angler I suggest you use a smaller offering around 75mm, which will have appeal for all these species. Don’t go roaring up to a sand bank in the boat either, and if you have an electric use it. Otherwise anchor off the sandbank or beach the boat and walk.

Make sure to keep an eye on your boat and as a precaution leave the anchor out with a fair bit of rope. It is not a nice feeling to have your attention on a fish only to see your boat floating away on the tide! These same sand flats are usually good spots to pump a few yabbies for bait at the lower stages of the tide.

Crabbing has been really good although this is likely to taper off fairly quickly. The creeks are alive with muddies and a couple of pots set while fishing is a good way to get a bonus catch. Lately there has been a pretty good run of sand crabs in the more open bays and although they are not huge, they are legal sized and very sweet.

The same theory of being prepared applies to offshore fishing as Mick Stone and I discovered the other day. Mick had never fished around Flat and Round Top islands so with little wind and a bit of time on our hands it was ideal for an exploratory trip. Both islands are off the mouth of the Pioneer River and in easy reach of a 4m tinnie.

Given the time of year our expectations were not high as we ventured out around 10am but as this was a “look see” trip we were not overly concerned. Sure a fish or 2 would be good but it was just a beautiful winter Mackay day. Plenty of sunshine low 20s temps and little wind, so I decided to use the 10 weight fly rod and some new flies I had made.

We worked Flat Top first looking for a queenfish or golden trevally but for no result. Over to Round Top for further exploration and Mick worked a popper along the rock edges while I used a small garfish fly I had tied. “ Had a hit” calls Mick and I swung around expecting to see a great splash or other activity, but there was nothing. “ I’ve got one “ says Mick and there it was a bloody great squid hooked onto his popper.

Expertly Mick led it into the landing net to let it squirt ink into the water. Meanwhile I had cast the fly out and was rewarded with a hook up too and I could see the hook through a tentacle so that one was also netted and de inked before going into a bucket of water.

We drifted back over the same area and missed a couple more before Mick remembered he had a squid jig on the boat. The upshot was 3 big squid and 2 smaller ones on the ice, and they saved the day for us. I had one small queenie flash at my fly but otherwise it was dead quiet. The squid were delicious that night as an entree done in garlic and butter, and then for mains with a tomato garlic and olive sauce over pasta..

Mick has now set me a challenge to design a squid fly and I have a couple of ideas using a very small treble down in the tail of the fly. I was surprised at how aggressively the squid chased the fly and hammered it when it was just left to dead drift.

One of the joys of fishing is that you never know just what you are likely to come across so you have to be prepared. That is your excuse to get off down to the tackle shop and buy some more gear!

The freshwater scene has gone quiet with the cool snap but the sooties are still hammering lures particularly in the Pioneer River. The dam sooties will also still smack a lure but look for a bit warmer water or get right up into the shallows and use small lures.

Barra are playing hard to get in the dams and at the moment Kinchant is the pick as it is shallow and warm. Teemburra is up in the hills and Eungella is just bloody cold at this time of the year. So if you are chasing a dam barra I recommend concentrating on Kinchant and look for those calm days with clear skies and little wind.

All in all winter is a cool time and Mackay offers plenty of fishing options and challenges. See you at the ramp.

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