Red out on the reef
  |  First Published: November 2017

This month’s coral reef fin fish closure is from the 28 October to 1 November. Last closure we had guys talking over the radio about the trout and reds they had taken, not realising it was a closure. There is no excuse, particularly as everyone has a smartphone these days and the fisheries app is free. It gives you all you need to know from species identification to sizes and closures.

On the note of closures, barramundi are off limits now until midday the 1 February. This gives them a chance to breed in peace and that combined with the local net free zones should give us one of the healthiest barra and king salmon fisheries anywhere.

Do not target barra out of season, as it has been shown that a big female can drop her eggs from stress and that defeats the purpose of the closures. Over the barramundi closed season, we still have a few options for those addicted to them. Within a few hours’ drive is Awoonga and Callide to the south and to the north are Peter Faust, Eungella, Teemburra and Kinchant dams. They all have good stocks of barramundi, and some of the fish in the dams are huge, with fish well over 1200mm. This makes the time and effort that much sweeter. The dam take limit in the tidal closed season is one fish per person.

We have had a pretty good run so far with the lesser mackerels and doggies turning up everywhere from reef patches to about 40km right back into the patches almost onshore. However, the majority of fish have been caught at the many mackerel spots in Keppel Bay. Ironpot, Ritamada, Findlays, Farnborough, Bangalee, Pelican, Claytons, Quartz, Wedge, Man and Wife, Halftide Rocks, Hannas, Forty Acre, Ross Reef, Square Rock, Outer Rock, Greasy Alley, Barren and the Rosslyn Bay Harbour wall are the most popular for the small boat anglers.

Spotted mackerel and greys have been a bit hit and miss up until now. There have been a few around mainly at spots like Quartz, Ironpot and Forty Acre. The majority of mackerel caught these days are on chromies like Taipans and Flashas. High speed spinning gets them worked up to the point where they will grab anything that shines if it is retrieved fast enough. The old floating pilly is still the go for anyone else who doesn’t like to spin. Be aware of size and take limits as there are lots of fish around and the majority are undersized.

Spanish mackerel have mainly been the local fish over the previous month or so and as we move toward Christmas we will see the schools top up the local spots. Any of the usual spots from Conical, Man and Wife, Outer Rock, Barren Liza Jane and the Pinnacles will fire. Flat, Perforated and Manifold are all worth a shot too.

When you see birds working and no fish breaking the surface, chances are it’s mackerel. When the fish are breaking the surface it will be mostly any of the tunas or bonito depending on the size. We make much more of an effort to quietly and quickly get in front of the moving schools when they could be mackerel. Several times in recent years we have bagged out on Spanish before even getting to the islands and have returned home early with a fine catch. While they are schooling like this and you know that it is the whitebaits they are hammering, it pays to go down a size or two in lures for a start. If the results don’t come, then start using bigger lures.

Watson’s leaping bonito, mac and longtail tuna have been coming through the bay in decent sized schools. The ‘match the hatch’ theory holds true at the moment while they are feeding on small whitebait. Lots of anglers are using small plastics or the smallest chrome slugs they can find. When the fishing is hard, I always have a couple of small red and white feather jigs that seem to work when everything else is a struggle.

While bonito are among the best bait for big Spanish mackerel, they also slab up very well for reefies and black jew. I always make sure there is a stack in the freezer rigged and ready for those calm early morning Spaniard runs. Mac tuna are mainly sportfish but they do make great reef strip baits. Longtails make a reasonable BBQ fish when slabbed then marinated in a light fish dressing. In the past few weeks there have been some monster fish taken from the beach at Sandy Point. I will have some pictures next month. These have ranged from a 15kg northern blue tuna (longtail) to a 8kg queenfish and various mackerels.

Cobia are thick at present at virtually any of the reef patches or the structures in the bay right out to the wide grounds. We found some large schools of them on our last offshore trip. They prefer to hang in schools of similar sized fish, which made it easy for us to work out whether to stay or move along. Once you have caught one big cobia, there isn’t much reason to stay and flog the school. I really like to target the smaller fish around 6-7kg because they are much easier to deal with on capture and they are that much quicker to fillet into meal sized portions.

After the last trip, we took a few packs home for the table and it reminded me how good cobia can be if bled and iced down. They are a much better fish than people think, so in future I will definitely be taking home a few small ones. Cobia will usually take most baits or jigs and strip baits appear to work the best for me. The rig is also not that important when bottom fishing for them, but when they come up to the boat they can be very finicky. When this is the case, an unweighted pilchard or flesh strip has an edge over everything else.

Reefies have been in top form in both quality and quantity of late. The closer bait grounds have been producing some big largemouth nannygai early in the morning. We try to stop and put a few live yakkas and scad into the boat on the way through to the deeper red emperor spots. Lately as we have pulled in the first string of baits, one of them has been sent back down live. The results have been exceptional nannies. We only ever get one or two at a time before they shut down. We have tried overnight fishing in the same places with poor results other than some big cod, which I prefer to leave alone, and small sharks.

The estuaries are going great. As the weather warms up, the fish have come on: grunter, queenies, king and blue salmon. Whiting, flathead, bream, golden snapper and mangrove jack will be top of the list.

Mudcrabs have started getting a bit bigger, although all the small just legals have been reasonably full.

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