I decided to try something different today and put in next to the river street boat ramp at a very late 7am. I paddled out to the mouth ignoring many of my usual fish catching spots to maybe tangle with a pelagic or two. In doing so I arrived way too early for the incoming tide and my trolling did not receive any piscatorial interest. I am so glad that I was premature in my arrival as when I rounded the last point of the rock wall I noticed a ridge line of oyster rocks leading into shallow sand bars. As I investigated further I could see two tail fins sticking out of the water above the rocks, quickly I tied a surface lure on my 6lb set up, these fish did not look too big and I was sure they were small GT’s. With an ultra long cast I landed the lure a few metres behind them and they did not budge, I slowly worked the lure towards them and as the lure entered their strike zone I sped up the retrieve. There is nothing more exciting in angling than watching four bow waves chase your lure in shallow water. These fish wanted it! Wham! A good strike and hookup! This fish went berserk with criss crossing manueveurs over the oyster rocks. The 6lb Nugsy braid did the job nicely and I had on board a 32 cm bream! A memorable surface bream PB for me and I was stoked. I cast again in the same direction and a shorter cast landed right where I sighted the fish originally….. a few twitches and another 27cm model was in the net.
As the tide was on its way in I saw some birds working a small patch of bait and paddled over for a look there was a school of queenfish feeding and I managed a few around the 50 to 55cm mark but no larger ones were caught for the day. Nice morning though!
I absolutely love ‘yak fishing in Mackay, on any given day you can have an endless amount of options and different species to target regardless of weather and conditions. From the coral reefs of the Whitsundays to the freshwater streams of the upper Fitzroy River system, the local Mackay ‘yak fraternity get to target some of the worlds most legendary species. On our local bucket lists are the coral trout and tusk fish of the coral reefs to the mighty saratoga in the fresh and not to mention the Barramundi that we chase when the temperature and humidity is high.
Here is just a few of my latest captures along with a few favourites.
“Wouldn’t Live Anywhere Else!”
I made my way up to Airlie Beach for a friends birthday/camping trip at the Big 4 in Cannonvale, I was especially looking forward to this weekend as the birthday girls father Dave, is a keen yakker and had brought along his Prowler 4.1. So armed with research on google earth and advice from some locals we headed for our destination hoping to target some reef fish and GT’s. A perfect morning greeted us as we pushed off into the glassy, protected Whitsunday waters and within a few minutes we had masses of different coloured coral species sliding along beneath us with a myriad of small aquarium fish visible from the surface. Flicking soft plastics over a pristine coral reef is something I thoroughly recommend all yakkers to witness for themselves.
My bait of choice was a 3″ Atomic Prong and the first fish fell within a few minutes which was a little parrot fish. Small sweetlip, stripies, wire netting cod and coral trout kept us busy with my biggest fish for the day being a 35cm coral trout. Dave managed the biggest fish, a 52cm GT which proved quite a handful on the shallow reef but he played it like a pro and landed it well.
We didn’t clean up on legal fish on this trip but we are more the wiser for this reconnaissance mission and I don’t think it will be long before Dave and I make the hour and a half trip north to hit this spot again. This was one of my best yak sessions in quite a while with a PB coral trout, sharing it with a great bloke like Dave was just a bonus, he even saved my life jacket after I left it at the launch spot, thanks mate!
Paddling in Paradise!
Launched my kayak at the Pioneer River boat ramp Sunday morning after having a fishing trip cancelled the night before due to a thunderstorm. It was a beautiful morning on the water and as I made my way out to the mouth of the river I came across a bait school of large herring being tormented by some as yet unknown predators. I had on an Atomic Prong prawn imitation so threw it in amongst the school, let it sink for a few seconds then on a slow roll retrieve it was hit hard by a 50cm GT that put up a great fight on 6lb braid, what a great start to the day!
The next couple of hours were spent playing with some medium sized estuary cod along the rock wall with about 5 fish caught and released. Its been a while since I had been out in the yak and as usual I had a blast.
Catching a few Cod and GT’s in Mackay’s Pioneer River is one of my favourite ways to spend a Sunday morning.
“Gotta Love Fishing in North Queensland”
Friday night, 11pm and I can’t sleep, what else to do but load up the yak for an impromptu barra session on Kinchant dam. A 40 minute drive and I was on the water just after midnight. The moon was nearly full and shone brightly as I pushed off into the glassy vastness that is Kinchant dam. Immediately the telltale boofs were all around with lots of surface action in the shallows. It didn’t take long for my unweighted SP frog to be engulfed by a good sized bucket mouth in amongst the lily pads. Now I hear a lot of people say that freshy Barra don’t fight as hard as salties, all I can say is that this fish never got that memo taking me into the weed then out into open water where he went aerial against the backdrop of the moonlit night. The fight was intense as he tried everything to rid himself of that frog but after two missed net attempts I slid him onto the yak. The 84cm fish is by no means a monster for these parts and no PB but I was feeling grateful for my insomnia none the less.
The rest of the night yielded no more fish although two brief hookups and countless boofs and follows behind my lures ensured that I will be burning the midnight oil at Kinchant again very soon.
“Fish vs Sleep?……. No contest!”
I attended an awesome event put on by the Mackay Recreational Anglers Alliance and Reef Catchments at the Gooseponds just a short walk from my home. The mission is to attempt to eradicate the Talapia in this unique ecosystem before they take a hold by releasing large numbers of juvenile barra into the waterway. There is already a healthy population of barramundi in the Gooseponds and at the moment only relatively small numbers of talapia have been found so the idea is to tip the balance in the favour of the good guy’s ……. our precious natives.
This release of the barra also coincided with a family fun fishing day where the kids were encouraged to have a fish and the banks were lined with hopeful young faces eager for that special capture. With talks about pest fish, the importance of looking after our waterways, electro fishing and tagging barra. I was baiting hooks, untangling lines and removing fish for 4 children aged 3 to 6 including my daughter who received a $20 gift voucher from Tackle World for catching the first fish of the day, a nice little sleepy cod. It was a great morning and such a great thing to see the young kids enjoying learning about fishing and their environment. We are lucky to have local organisations such as these, a big thank you on behalf of Mackay’s future anglers.
Good luck little fellas!
Arriving at the boat ramp shortly before dawn with a fairly stiff south westerly that could only be described as bitterly cold I went through the routine of setting up for a morning fish. A rag tag bunch of older gentleman were sitting next to the ramp as always, watching the boats come and go, needing no invitation to impart some words of wisdom onto Mackays’ boating fraternity. The comments directed at me on this day were the always predictable, “do you ever catch anything in that thing” punctuated by the token crocodile and shark comment, then came the one that I was actually thinking to myself as I paddled off into the rising sun, “you’ll be lucky to get much with this westerly”
I was feeling anything but confident but I had a plan for this supposedly no fish producing wind. The previous night I had cut up a smorgasbord of bait to use on this session, so armed with prawns, sand worms, pilchards and squid along with a few soft plastics I set off with no real target species in mind. I baited up my Shimano Caenan reel spooled with 30lb braid and 20lb leader matched with a silstar power tip pro rod. My bait of choice was a whole pilchard presented on 3 gang hooks floated out the back of the yak while I made my way to my first spot.
Within 50 metres of the boat ramp line began zinging off the Caenan at a great rate as I battled to get the rod out of the holder. I turned the yak to face the fish that was travelling rapidly in the other direction and cranked up the drag. After a few minutes of a most torrid tussle the fish started swimming in large circles directly below the yak giving away its identity. With the first colour showing I instantly recognised the golden hue of a good sized golden trevally, now these fish do grow quite a bit larger than this 85cm speciman but it is quite a large one for this estuary system.
The next hour produced only a small cod and a flathead so although the fishing was definitely a bit tough as my early morning advisor predicted I still managed to land a personal best and to me thats gold!
“Fish when you can“
One of the most important attributes that an angler can possess is perserverance and with this species, boy have I had to persevere! The many of miles paddling, walking and casting for hours on end for an opportunity to hold in my hands one of Australia’s ultimate prehistoric piscatorial beasts was at times a hard slog but also an incredible privilege. The fish I am referring to is the southern saratoga and for as long as I can remember it has been on my bucket list of fish to catch.
A 4am start was required for this winter toga party west of Mackay, over the ranges, into the Fitzroy / Dawson river systems where the Saratoga are most plentiful. As this was a brand new location my mate Mark and I had decided to check it out one morning for a couple of hours. So with Mark walking the banks and me in the kayak we commenced our search for the elusive toga. Within the first 20 mins I had managed to land a respectable sooty grunter on a Megabass pop-X and even though it was great fun to catch it was not what I had come for.
So moving further downstream, as the sun became a little brighter I came across some submerged timber, in the middle of the river, next to a deep hole. With the sun being higher I had swapped the popper for a Megabass Dog-X Jr and with a perfect cast right on top of that submerged tree ……. a couple of twitches …….. a pause …….then a good strike! I instantly knew this was a saratoga as half of its body came out of the water as soon as it nailed the lure. It took to the air once more during the fight and although this highlight of the trip was not captured on film, that spectacular moment will live with me for a very long time. It was a great feeling landing a fish that I have been targeting for so long but an even greater moment was when this amazing creature swam off powerfully from my grasp.
The next hour was spent casting at the myriad of fishable structure lining the banks with swirls and bumps every other cast. I was contemplating a lure change when the dog-X Jr was hit hard with a loud POP! as it was engulfed by a solid sooty. A tremendously hard fought battle ensued as he had got me around some timber at the start but eventually I had in the net a 41cm sooty, a good quality fish.
The saratoga has been one of those mythical type of fish for me as I did not target them when I was younger. They are beautifully ancient and in my opinion have a magical quality, I respect them and hope that all future anglers have the opportunity to witness first hand…… the magic of the saratoga.
“If you think you are winding too slow……. wind slower.”
The Cobia (Rachycentron canadus) or black kingfish as it is sometimes known is a most sought after species by recreational anglers and it has been on my target species list for quite a long time. Cobia are usually caught while targeting other large pelagic species and will take baits of squid, live baits, lures, crabs or slabs of fish flesh. They are an extremely aggressive fighter and have a distinctive flat head and large dorsal and pectoral fins, because of these attributes they are commonly mistaken for sharks. Cobia can grow up to two metres in length and weigh over 70 Kg’s they have excellent eating qualities and are sometimes preferred over Spanish mackerel and other pelagic targets.
With the local weather forecast looking very favourable for the trailer boat brigade to get out a bit further than their local creeks I recieved an invitation to join a couple of mates Mark and Steve Clark for a fish around the islands off Sarina. Accepting this invitation gratefully I arrived at the Sarina Beach boat ramp at 3.45am as planned but when I got out of my comfortably heated ute I could tell that the weather forecast of 5 knot winds and clear skies was not entirely correct. Dark and cloudy with a 10 to 15 knot south easterly and 1 metre swell greeted us as Mark steered the 4.85 metre Sea Jay through Sarina Beach inlet into the open water for a roughly 50 mile journey to our preferred fishing grounds.
Reaching our destination at sunrise we prepared for a bit of bottom bashing as we anchored up over a usually productive reef structure off a small island. I landed the first fish of the day, an undersized red emperor with a couple more coming over the side along with small wire netting cod and Spanish flags (commonly referred to as stripies). We decided to up anchor and head over to another larger island close by, I tossed some soft plastics in amongst some bait schools for a while with no result and after nearly 2 hours of fishing had only one legal stripy in the esky. Exploring new ground I was instantly rewarded with not a large but well over legal sized sweetlip which succumbed to a well presented squid bait and our esky had yet another occupant. All the while small cod, stripies and juvenile red emperor were being landed regularly but none had any size and our baits were being picked clean on every drop. That was until I dropped down half of quite a large squid, as soon as the bait hit the bottom and I locked the reel into gear it was smashed hard, I set the hook just as hard and instantaneously line began to peel off my Penn GT 330 with ease. Tightening the drag only seemed to fire the fish up more as it steered me to the other side of the boat but after a few minutes the fish began to tire and after one failed gaff attempt an 85cm Cobia was netted beautifully by Steve.
With the legal size for these fish being 75cm this one was by no means a monster but with the fishing being unusually quiet it was a welcomed addition to our meagre tally for the day and yet another species ticked off my bucket list.
“One fish can make my day”
It was an early Monday morning start as I took advantage of a rostered day off to have a Pioneer River flick session with my old mate Steve Bugeja. Steve is a legend of the Mackay kayak angling fraternity and what he doesn’t know about the subject isn’t worth knowing. He put me onto my first kayak fish nearly five years ago and I have been lucky enough to witness some of his epic captures including this personal best 50cm mangrove jack.
After a short time negotiating a fairly rough launch area we slid our yaks into the glassy river in the half light heading downstream in search of anything willing to take a lure. With large mullet jumping from the shallows as we headed for deeper water there seemed to be plenty of surface action and our hopes were high. Steve settled in drifting the sand bars trying his best to tempt a flathead to take his 3″ Berkley powerbait minnow in clear while I targeted a deeper section adjacent to a rock wall with a 3″ Atomic prong whilst floating a Pilchard on gang hooks out the back. I was struggling with my pilchard line being solidly connected to the bottom when I heard a commotion coming from the direction of Steve. After ridding myself of the offending snag I paddled over just in time to see him bringing a large fish over the side of his brand new 2015 Hobie Outback. A 70cm winter barramundi had taken a liking to the most minute of baits in very shallow water, again the master showing the apprentice how it’s done. The first fish for his new yak and another personal best and the sun was not even up!
I then realised maybe I was fishing too deep and proceeded to follow Steves lead and fish the sand banks, gratefully declining his offer of lending me one of his powerbaits. I stuck with the Atomic prong and was rewarded with a feisty strike and run but was disappointed in the end result as a 35cm Barracuda came on board. These fish have nasty teeth and a quick look at my leader confirmed that it required replacing so after a quick cut and re-tie I continued peppering the shallows. In a short while a solid strike peeled the 6lb line off my Shimano Aernos with ease and after a very entertaining fight one of my favourite target species the Grunter or Barred Javelin fish was in the yak. At 50cm this fish was a personal best for me, although Steves barra was a little bit more spectacular a PB is a PB and i was stoked!
So the lessons learned today on winter fishing tactics, when the temperature cools fish shallower with smaller baits and you just may be rewarded with some quality fish. Oh and it does help to take a legend with you!
It was a great Monday morning out on the river made all the more enjoyable by watching the heavy procession of cars travelling to work over the bridge with their occupants looking down longingly at two very lucky mates on kayaks enjoying the best a Mackay winter has to offer.
“The colder the better”
Plastic vibes are not lures that I’ve had much experience with but my inquisitive nature got the better of me yet again so this morning I gave them a go. First I needed a target species and after much deliberating I decided on that green backed speedster the queenfish (Scomberoides commersonnianus). These fish are extremely entertaining to catch and I have had a lot of success in the past, mainly using live herring as bait. Queenfish are quite plentiful in the local estuaries at this time of year and they can be found chasing schools of baitfish with the spectacular gusto that they are renowned for. Once hooked these fish fight well above their weight, readily taking to the air attempting to dislodge the offending connection to the angler.
Next thing I needed was a location but for me there really ever was only one choice. My childhood fishing nirvana that is the mouth of Bakers Creek. If you would like to find out more about what this now very popular local fishing spot means to me please see my previous post “My Fishing Roots“. I have spent many hours fishing this ledge and the steep drop off is perfect territory for queenfish, barramundi, bream and during a fresh north easterly the occasional mackerel can be taken.
After a quick visit to my local tackle store (Nashy’s Compleat Angler) and a few quick words of advice from the guy’s there I was on my way with two brand new Transam plastic vibes. A perfect morning greeted me with comfortable temperatures, very light winds and a vivid clear blue sky, you have got to love winter in Mackay.
It is easy for me to fish the mouth of Bakers Creek, although I am casting, working the lure and anticipating a strike, my soul is somewhere in the past, re living a myriad of happy memories that this humble little creek gifted me all those years ago …….. at peace.
A violent surface disturbance awakens me from my sentimental reflections as a school of herring scatters from a pursuing predator. Acting quickly I cast the Transam vibe in the direction of the turmoil and with one lift of the rod the tiny pulses of the vibe through the rod tip were replaced by a solid strike and screaming drag of my Shimano Aernos XT 2500. A very entertaining fight ensued as the fish predictably started its arial routine, dancing on top of the water with spectacular leaps. (Tip – When a fish takes to the air keep the pressure on and lower the rod tip).
I glided the fish into the shallows and with a firm grip on its tail landed my first target species on plastic vibe. A smaller model followed shortly after then a little trevally decided to have a go as well. I was very happy with the mornings effort and found the vibes relatively easy to use. The vibe transmits a signal through the rod tip and successful retrieves can vary from slow rolls to erratic lifts and pauses, vibes have the ability to explore the entire water column and the two trebles used are needle point sharp, although if targeting larger species I would recommend an upgrade of the split rings. I will definitely be using this technique a lot more and can see myself purchasing a few more of these great lures.
Today was all about the good vibe, the vibe of the location, the vibe of the queenfish and the Transam vibe.
My tireless attempts at improving my skills as a fly fisherman has meant that my latest blogworthy efforts have been limited to tarpon and catfish. This, coupled with many hours of frustration, blisters and my family not having had a decent feed of fish for quite a while prompted me to pull the yak out of the shed and take to the Pioneer river at dawn for what turned out to be a memorable session.
The tide was on it’s last run in and the Yak sliced through the glassy surface with very little effort, with a light wind from the south east I made a beeline for my favourite rock wall in the half light of pre-dawn. My plan was to jig soft plastics whilst drifting along the wall in the hope of picking up an estuary cod, mangrove jack or even a barramundi.
The action was fast and furious with the cod smashing every bait I dropped down, all up I would have caught over 30 of them but only a couple were legal so all were released to fight another day. I had a feeling that with so many fish on the chew it was only a matter of time until I banged into something a bit more challenging.
Estuary cod dwell in the heavy cover of sharp oyster encrusted caverns so my gear of choice is 30lb Fins Windtamer braid with about 6 feet of 20 lb fluorocarbon leader loaded onto a Shimano Caenan baitcaster with the drag locked up tight so I can extract some of the larger specimens before getting busted off, matched with a 4kg -6kg Silstar Power Tip Pro baitcast rod.
I was enjoying the familiar comfort of fishing from the Yak and with a fish every other cast I was having a great time. Suddenly my Atomic Prong 4″ prawn in Old Penny colour was smashed hard adjacent to the rock wall but instead of the fish heading straight for cover this one took off into open water. With the fish under the Yak and the drag locked up tight I had to think fast dunking the rod into the water as the fish powered off. Realising that this fish was not a Cod and had no intention of burying me deep into the oyster strewn abyss I regained my composure, loosened off the drag a little and settled in for the fight. At first I had visions of this being a Barra but as it dived deeper and deeper swimming in large circles under the yak I was convinced it was a Giant Trevally.
My suspicions were thankfully proven incorrect and I found it hard to contain my elation as the golden tail and barred striped flanks of a Golden Trevally became apparent through the clear water. A nervous couple of minutes followed as I did not want to rush such a fish only to lose it yak side so I played it out until it surfaced then slipped the Environet underneath.
Golden Trevally ( Gnathanodon speciosus ) are quite common around our local estuaries and inshore reefs and can reach sizes of 25lb plus. Eating quality is average to good with the pictured specimen being a better option if catching a feed is your goal. They can be found on both rocky reefs and shallow sand flats. Targeting Golden Trevally with a lightly weighted 5/0 hook threaded with several saltwater yabbies is a tried and tested way of tempting these aggressive fighters. They will also (as in this instance) succumb to soft plastics, in the shallows where they can be quite skittish fly fishing methods can also be very successful.
A brilliant morning on the river with a light wind and perfect conditions served up a piscatorial plethora of enjoyment culminating in one of my favourite species and a new Personal Best from the kayak.
“GOTTA LOVE MACKAYAKKING!”