Snapper and queenfish are big news in Mackay at the moment, with big being the operative word.
Queenfish up to about 8kg have been on the prowl around the mouths of our local estuaries and also around the close inshore islands. These queenies are really solid fish and although they will not win any awards in the culinary stakes, looked after properly on capture and cooked with a little imagination will give you a fine feed indeed.
Queenies are great. They are a magnificent sportfish that will respond to almost any method of angling, from dead baiting through to fly rod captures. These sleek speedsters are really prevalent around Mackay during the winter months and a 6-8kg queenfish has dented more than one reputation. They fight really well and often include some aerial acrobatics for every one’s entertainment.
Another aspect in their favour is that they can be found way up near the top of the tidal reaches, down in the mangroves, around the estuaries and close inshore islands. In short they are available to everyone and could aptly be described as a poor mans gamefish.
To hook a large queenie is a reality check of what fishing is all about: FUN! They will wolf down a Spanish bait like a large ribbonfish, attack a pillie on a gang rig, chase down a trolled or cast lure, swallow a fly and sometimes steal a small hooked fish. Best of all they fight like demons and are usually spent by the time they are boatside.
We release most of the big queenies we catch but at odd times if they are bleeding from the gills or otherwise seriously injured, we will keep them, cut the throat quickly and ice them down. Treated this way the fish can be turned into top tucker later on.
One of my favourite ways to catch queenfish is with poppers, and to say I am a bit of a surface lure freak is not far from the mark. That spectacular surface strike with water going everywhere never fails to hype me up.
On a recent trip out with Dave Frazer though, we found queenies near the bottom in 10m of water. We were chasing a Spanish or two, but the large ribbonfish baits and lures failed to attract the big macks. As we were heading for the harbour, we ran the sounder as we motored slowly along packing up the gear. A glance at the sounder showed a big patch of bait, so we decided to investigate.
Never, never pass up big bait shows on the sounder without giving it a go as there will almost always be some predators worth catching around the bait.
Dave chose an old Grim Reaper jig and I persisted with a shiny, but Dave’s reel started screaming first. After a tough 7 or 8 minute fight, we could see the big silver flash down in the water column. Sure enough, a big queenie was bought to the gaff and because it was bleeding through the gills we decided to keep it rather than releasing the fish.
“Let’s give it another go” was the consensus decision, and due to the wonders of modern electronics, we could follow exactly our previous path and again find the bait. This time it was my turn to hear that lovely screaming drag and braid before another 6kg or so fish was boatside. A straightened treble and the queenie was on its way again.
I managed another fish about the same size before it was time to head for home as the sun was setting. Those three queenfish turned a dog day fishing into great memories, and both of us soon forgot the rough ride punching into 15 to 20 knot winds and then the later uncomfortable ride home.
Properly dressed out without the bloodline etc, and after cutting the flesh into small bite size pieces there was plenty for a fish and vegetable stir fry and some lovely winter curries. Who said queenies weren’t edible fish?
The snapper have also been on the chew and we saw a couple caught while we were chasing the queenies. They were early run fish and only 4-5kg, but by the time this issue hits the stands I expect the annual run will be in full force with fish up to 10kg being the likely expectation.
Snapper are caught at various spots around Flat and Round Top islands, rubble areas near the coal terminals at Hay Point, and various close in reefs like Danger and Reiklemans. Like chasing mackerel, early in the morning is the best time to target snapper, with daybreak the heightened bite time.
While some snapper anglers here are using more and more plastics, by far the most popular method is to use pillies, squid, or other flesh baits like mullet. These baits account for most of the Mackay snapper each year, but more anglers are giving the plastics a go so it will be interesting to see if they take off here like down south.
Most of the Mackay snapper are caught in relatively shallow water of around 5-10m and always seem to be on structure and bait. Find these combinations and persist and you will be rewarded with a tasty feed or two. Remember though to limit your snapper catch as these fish are in our area to spawn and provide stocks for future anglers.
The snapper and queenfish are joined by the king of the river, the mighty barramundi, as target species this month. Barra are in plague numbers of 50-60mm fish in all the creeks according to my network of spies, and almost every snag has a fish or two at home. Those fish around 50mm long will also provide really good legal size stock numbers later this year. I can’t wait, but really it is only a couple of months before it should warm up enough to go chasing the barra.
Pikey bream have made a serious appearance in the creeks and good solid fish are right through the estuaries and creeks. Many of the local lads regularly chase pikies with small lures or flies, but most of mine have been on small minnows that I usually find in the bargain bins at tackle shops.
They will take many baits like yabbies, prawns, fish stripe and even a fillet off a pilchard. But fresh is best so collect your own bait and look after it.
Pikies are more solid and thicker set than the yellowfin bream but they taste every bit as good, and given their habit of being hard up against the mangroves, they are not a pushover to catch. Damn good fun though!
So that’s a quick round up of what’s on where at the moment. As always, plenty of angling opportunities to be had in paradise, so see you at the ramp.Reads: 1934