Winter Cold Snap-per
  |  First Published: July 2010

So far our winter has been fairly mild except for a few chilly nights and mornings, but the end of July and early August is usually our coldest time of the year.

But luckily our winters here are pretty much bearable, except when those cold southeasterlies blow in, and sometimes stay for weeks on end, shutting down the offshore scene.

So far this winter the winds have not been constant though, leaving enough good days for anglers to get out on the briny. Those lucky enough to get out mid-week (ever notice how the best weather is mid-week?) have sometimes scored a real bonanza.

On the good days snapper have been seemingly everywhere around the district, with reports from south of Sarina through to the lower Whitsunday islands. All the usual snapper spots have been firing but the larger specimens seem to be coming from around the Hay Point area.

Many of these snapper come off gravel patches and small areas of rocky reef and when they’re on the boats soon congregate on these spots. It is not unusual to see between six and ten boats in a small area, and while southern readers may laugh, we reckon this is crowding. The area between Hay Point and the mouth of the Pioneer River is littered with spots like this and a good sounder will soon pick up the bottom formations and fish.

Bait is predominately used for snapper and pilchards, squid and mullet strips seem to be the most popular. Soft plastics are starting to catch on and jigging with metal lures has produced good results for a few anglers over the years.

But for best results use the freshest bait possible. Flat and Round Top islands have plenty of good size squid at the moment, but I would have a back up bait supply rather than relying on jigging up some fresh ones on the way to the snapper grounds.

Don’t ignore the rocky reefs around these islands either as plenty of snapper are caught here particularly on the reefs that are nearer the northern ends of the islands. Use a small sinker when possible, although there can be some ferocious tidal runs in the area, but the lighter gear you use the better your chances become.

Clinton Hassan from Tackleworld in Mackay is a top angler and has been getting some really decent snapper down towards Sarina. He found some small, scattered parts of an old wreck that seems to have an attraction for big snapper. Clinton has mainly been using squid baits and his results speak for themselves.

There have been some good Spanish mackerel around as well and Clinton has also scored a few really good-sized cobia while snapper fishing. Strangely enough Clinton reports that he hasn’t scored any golden trevally while chasing snapper. These are usually around on all the snapper spots at this time of the year and feature prominently in catches.

While the goldens don’t seem to be in the deeper water I have heard of a few coming from the shallower water on the inshore side of Flat Top island.

Golden trevally are much sought after as they are a delicious eating fish and are top sport too. There have been reports of good numbers of goldens up around the islands near Seaforth (north of Mackay). Make sure you have a chart when fishing up here, as there are a number of green zones, so it pays to make sure you are in the right spots or you will end up paying a fine.

I expect that the snapper, cobia, Spanish mackerel and golden trevally will continue to feature in catches through August.

Once the weather starts to warm and the seas flatten out a bit most local anglers start to target pelagics like small mackerels, which should turn up shortly. There have been sporadic reports of a few small school mackerel over the last month or so but the main schools of these tasty sportfish are yet to arrive in our waters.

The key to the small macks is the inshore movement of large schools of baitfish. This generally occurs with light winds swinging from easterly to northerly winds. Get these conditions and a warm clear day and the bait and mackerel won’t be far off.

August can be a good month for the rock wall fishers though, even without the mackerel. Big black jew are on the go at the harbour and the best spot is at the end of the southern breakwall of the harbour. Unfortunately the wall was damaged by cyclone Ului and as of early July it’s still not fully repaired and open for access.

Small boat anglers can launch in the marina and make their way out to the end of the wall to get among these beauties. The little bay at the end of the southern wall is a favoured spot and also plenty of good fish come from the outside of the wall, but conditions can be uncomfortable there.

Another spot worth a try is over at the very end of the northern break wall and just inside the end of this wall. The harbour jetties used to be very popular with land-based anglers, but security is such now that there is no access and even anglers in tinnies are chased.

Big jew are mostly caught around the harbour but another popular spot that has yielded plenty of good fish over the years is up around Newry Island off Seaforth. Pine Point has always been a bit of a hotspot for jewies.

As most jewies are caught at night, usually around the full moon, not everyone is prepared to put in the time to get one or two, but persistence is worth it when you feel the weight of a big jewie taking your bait. The most popular bait is whole squid and small ones can be jigged around the marina and harbour walls.

Our estuaries are a bit hit and miss at the moment, with surprisingly a few good barra still being caught mainly on live bait but several lure caught ones have been reported too.

The salmon are still around, and there has been quite a good run of grunter, which have been most welcome. Again it is possible sometimes to get among a school of grunter but restricting your catch will help ensure fish for later trips and for our kids and their kids too.

Whiting, flathead and bream are all through our estuaries at the moment and are mainly caught using yabbies pumped from the flats. These flats can also be fished for whiting, flathead and bream. As the time covers the flats these species will move right up on top of the flats.

Trevally, queenfish and steelbacks will also come up onto the flats during the high tide times.

Some local anglers are making a habit of catching bream and whiting on small lures, but this is a game for the dedicated lure angler, rather than the casual lure tosser.

Craig Breadsell at Tackleworld has caught the bug and is chasing whiting on tiny poppers and plastics and having a ball. Kayaks are popular for this type of fishing because of their quiet approach and easily portability, as they only need a couple of inches of water to float. This is very handy in a place with such a large tidal variation as we experience here.

The freshwater scene is decidedly quiet at the moment with the barra in the dams mostly off in hibernation mode. But some smaller fish around the 60-70cm mark have been taken in Teemburra Dam. Towards the end of August the weather should start to warm quickly into spring, which will trigger the barra to get on the chew again properly.

Old Mr Reliable, the sooty grunter, has been providing the fun in the fresh, both in the river and Cattle Creek as well as the dams.

Small lures and poppers fished at the start and finish of the day have been the way to go. Sooties will still smack a lure even in the middle of the day, particularly if the water has warmed up a bit. They will move right up into the shallows after a bit warmer water so they are worth a cast or two at any time.

Although the weather has been cool and will continue like this into August, there is still plenty happening fish wise in the area, so don’t waste the opportunities, get out there and enjoy our fabulous fishing here in paradise. See you at the ramp.

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