Red winter run
  |  First Published: June 2010

Anglers working the upper reaches of the Endeavour River have been landing some quality barra around 80cm.

The river is currently holding millions of tiny jelly prawns in the system and as such, the last few weeks have seen plagues of trevally, queenfish and wolf herring being caught.

The clean water has now finally pushed up the river allowing the annual mackerel run to start.

Although the fish were slow to come into the Annan and Endeavour systems due to the influx of fresh water that we encountered, plenty of school sized spotty mackerel have been keeping the tourists busy.

The recent run of 15kg+ Spanish around the wharf have left many anglers with line burnt thumbs and bruised egos. Fish of this size can be tricky to catch land-based at the best of times let alone with a large commercial fleet, plenty of yachties and half a dozen 200kg grouper all taking their fair share of fish.

Live prawns have been hard to find as usual, but anglers who have persisted throwing their nets have reaped the rewards when standing on the rock wall with large grunter, trevally and mangrove jacks making up the majority of their catches.

Anglers targeting barra on hardbodied lures have found the fishing a bit slow which is typical at this time of the year.

For the die-hard lure tossers who refuse to use live bait, Richo’s Little Terror in fluro pink and the Tropic Angler Poddy Shallow in gold are deadly options for cool water barra. Both of these lures can be twitched slowly and are a great option for fishing snags in direct sunlight and to target fish holding over the shallow water flats at high tide.

The Annan River has been fishing satisfactorily with reports of jacks and small trevally keeping many tourists entertained.

The barra fishing has been slow however if the local netters gave the small system a break, the fishing action would increase tenfold.

Cooktown has recently had a small win against the commercial netters as the road that leads to Walker Bay at the mouth of the Annan, has been closed to commercial netters. The road access the netters have been using is actually on private property owned by the Cooktown Golf Course.

A few large queenfish have been caught at the mouth of the Annan with Trollcraft’s pink and silver poppers proving irresistible to a few 6kg models that were caught and released by a Victorian tourist earlier this week.


The offshore reefs have been firing with the recent drop in water temperature to a cool 24ºC. There have been a few surprise breaks in the weather that have allowed both larger boats and the tinnie brigade to hit the water.

The action has been red hot to say the least with large-mouth nannygai in plague proportions and lots of quality fish around 8-10kg.

With the influx of cooler water surrounding the Coral Sea red emperor, large-mouth nannygai and mangrove jack are starting to move into the shallower water rubble patches. During the winter months it’s not unusual to land trophy-sized reds in less then 20m of water during daylight hours.

On a recent trip to a productive fishing area out from Cooktown, we located a school of large-mouth nannygai around 9kg holding over a wonky hole adjacent to a small patch of fern coral. Expectations were high as finally the moon, tide and weather were all ideal.

So we sent three large 7” Gulp Jerk Shads down to the bottom. On reaching the seabed, all three reels started howling and a few minutes later three 80cm+ large-mouth nannygai made their way onto the deck of The Lure Shop’s 702 Signature.

Watching nannygai around 8kg free swimming around the boat after following up three of their school mates is a soft plastic angler’s dream. On the second drop of the night the 7” Pink Shine Jerk Shads had not even sunk 10m before the lever drag began to sing.

A few battles were won, but when fishing in such rough country surrounded by pinnacles that protrude 4m from the sea floor, loosing fish has to be expected.

This is typically what can happen when fishing certain areas of wider ground that is rarely fished by recreational anglers. Many of these open grounds are not fished by the commercial live coral trout fleet as the water depth can often lead to higher mortality rates and the weather is often not comfortably fished by 16ft dories.

This particular area holds fish that look like they are still around from the prehistoric ages. Chinaman and red bass approaching the 20kg mark are common and will test even the most experienced angler’s strength and fishing ability.

For the die hard jig fishers, sending a 200g knife jig to the bottom is a sure fire way to get connected to one of these water based freight trains if that is the sort of thrill you seek.

Another method of fishing these waters is by using large live bait such as hussar and fusiliers. When fishing with live bait, I use a running 6 Bean sinker, 10/0 Gamakatsu SL12S hook and 10-12ft of 80-110lb pink Schneider as leader material.

When targeting reef jack, red emperor and large-mouth nannygai over wonky holes or in mud gutters, leader material can be downsized to 55-70lb which will often yield better results if fishing shallower water during daylight hours.

The benefit of fishing these isolated patches of cover in open country is that your by-catch can often include other tasty table fish such as green jobfish, blue spot trout, long nosed emperor and Maori sea perch.

If you plan on heading up to Cooktown for a reef fishing trip, plan the trip around the moons and tides. Good tidal flow can often yield better results and the week leading up to the full moon is a great start, but as long as the moon is in the sky (regardless of the time of day or night), the red fish will not be too far away.

When fishing productive grounds off Cooktown, you will often catch your quota of reds within a few hours so don’t be afraid to try a few different fishing methods such as metal jigs and soft plastics as the fish will keep coming aboard. On a good night fishing off Cooktown the quality and size of the fish that you will encounter will match any reef fishing in Australia.

For all the info on what is biting, call into The Lure Shop at 142 Charlotte Street Cooktown or give us a call on (07) 4069 5396.

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