Hooked on Mackay - By Brendan Pollard

The 1st of February isn’t far away, and the countdown is on for the biggest day of the year, and we aren’t talking about Christmas. For Queenslanders, this day spells the opening of the saltwater barramundi season for 2019. For many of us, it’s been a long 3 months looking back at photos and videos of the previous year and counting down the days, and hours remaining.

 

The past few months have seen some great rainfall on parts of Central and Northern Queensland which has given our barramundi a perfect chance to breed, with a great wet season and the results for 2018 the coming 2019 season is shaping up to be a cracker.

I know by now most people will have the 1st day crossed off on the calendars and boats, rods and reels ready to go. If you haven’t planned a trip to open your account for 2019 then now is the time to be looking into your options and getting plans in place.

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Here in Queensland, we are very spoilt with many great fishing locations to choose from, with destinations like the mighty Fitzroy River in Rockhampton, the net free zones in Mackay, or the miles and miles of magic channels that make up the Hinchinbrook region. All of these regions have played host to many trophy barramundi captures over the last few seasons and are great options when planning your next barramundi road trip.

Being locals in the Mackay region, we think of ourselves as pretty lucky with all the options we have when it comes to seeking out that elusive barramundi. You may ask, “Why Mackay?” Well, why not Mackay is the question. We have endless fishing opportunities and kilometres and kilometres of coastline to explore. One of the best parts about the Mackay district is that if the weather takes a turn for the worse and the salt options are inaccessible, then we still have world-class Impoundments like Kinchant and Teemburra dams that are stocked full of barramundi and sooty grunter, making for a great plan B. Both dams have great facilities for launching your boat and house some monster fish that have been thriving there for many years.

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The Mackay coastline spans for more than 100Km from the net free zone of St Helens in the north to Rocky Dam Creek in the south. We are really quite spoilt with so much coastline to check out with just on 23 local boat ramps to get you on the water. Keep in mind some of our boat ramps are very tidal dependent and require further research before heading off on a fishing expedition. With so many options to choose from, there is a creek or system that suits all types of fishing from lures, live bait and fly-fishing. Local knowledge or advice is a must before setting off on your very own adventure as a lot of our systems can get very shallow or run dry at the mouths, and I will be one to admit we ourselves have been high and dry a few times at the amusement of passing boaters, but this is all a part of the adventure. Honestly who hasn’t done this before? The area can be testing at times with larger tides and shallow creeks, but the rewards are well worth it with our creeks teaming with trophy size barramundi, mangrove jacks and some great size flathead being regular catches.

Since the removal of commercial nets from the Northern waters of Mackay, the catch rate has increased dramatically. Head over and check out some of the data that has been collated over the past 2 years on captures of species such as barra, threadfin and mangrove jack on the Info fish website (infofishaustralia.comau). The past few years have seen the rivers such as Murray, Victor and ST Helens thriving with life and it’s not strange to hear many stories being told by live baiters at the ramp about the amount of juvenile barramundi being caught as by-catch in their cast nets. This can only mean one thing, “from little things, big things grow”. The next few years we believe will see Mackay grow into one of the premier barramundi locations in Queensland.

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Mackay’s rivers are dotted with many sunken rock bars, or timber laden banks and care is advised when exploring one of the estuaries for the first time. If you don’t find one of these unforgiving snags then there is the miles and miles of shallow sandbars that bring many boats unstuck - there’s nothing worse than giving the prop a rub back. We will be the first to admit we have spent many dry hours sitting high and dry waiting on a tide, thank god for the esky!

The tidal change in the Mackay district can be quite large and especially around a full moon with up to 5.5m of run being common. These are less than ideal conditions for fishing some of our systems and planning and researching the area is what can make all the difference between cooking fresh fish or a steak on the BBQ that night. For first-timers visiting our area, we advise grabbing a local tide time booklet and planning around a medium to small tidal run, this will make the trip far more pleasant and easier to navigate and fish under electric motor power. This day and age the technology developed can help the everyday anglers like ourselves gain some much-needed knowledge of a system without having to leave the comfort of their armchair. We like to spend hours looking at Google Earth searching for possible fish holding locations but also to help navigate the snags and channels in and out of the system. One tip we have discovered that can be quite handy is the use of google map’s satellite image, it’s well worth cross-referencing against the Google Earth map as they can often be taken at different stages in the tide. Utilising both applications can help with smooth navigation of the new location.

Now, you are probably thinking great, impoundments AND salt, I will have to pack twice as much gear, but this isn’t the case!

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We have put together a list of lures that we believe are a great crossover for both the impoundment and the salt systems, but if you're anything like we are, then you will pack 3 times as much gear as we really need and only use a quarter of it. Although, you can never have too much gear! Well, that’s what I keep telling the missus. If only her and the bank balance would agree, life would be much easier.

Sometimes the thought process is 'big lure, big fish', but this isn’t always the case. Barramundi are known as the fish of 1000 cast plus some more, and if they are shut down, a big lure can sometimes result in going home and sitting down to a feed of donuts. As the saying goes “elephants eat peanuts”, barramundi can be the same and downsizing the lure can be enough to tempt the fish into biting. We will be honest, both my mate and myself were stuck in that one track mind of throwing big lures to crack our metre fish, but to tell the truth, the moment we changed our tactics and downsized gear, our catch rate improved dramatically. Not only did the barra numbers rack up but the bycatch was great fun with many flathead, mangrove jacks and finger-mark hitting the decks also and these fish alone can bring many hours of happiness and smiles to the trip.

Below are our top ten picks of lures to bring on your barramundi adventure:

1.   SFT Seahunt 115 (Shallow diving minnow)

2.   Rapala X Rap 90 (Shallow diving minnow)

3.   Soft Vibes (Various weights)

4.   Prawn Imitations (Zerek live shrimp, Atomic Plazo, Gulp 3 inch)

5.   JackallSquairell 79SP (Diving Minnow)

6.   Zerek Tango Shad (Diving minnow)

7.   Soft Plastic Paddle Tail 5 inch (ZerekFlatshad, Castaic Jerky J)

8.   Soft Plastic Paddle Tail 7 inch (Kietech fat impact swing)

9.   Surface lure (Walk the dog type: Zerek Skittish Dog)

10.   Swim Baits (Squidgy slick rig, Zerek Live Mullet)

This above list is just some of our favourites that have worked over the previous seasons. In saying that the lure market is flooded with options these days and it’s up to the angler what brand they choose to throw, but sticking to the few basic types like vibes, minnows, prawns, swim baits and paddle tails should see you putting a bend in your rod in no time.

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The recreational fishing industry in Mackay is quite large with the largest amount of trailer boats per capita in Queensland. This being said, there is so much country to explore, and with some time and exploration, the secrets can be unlocked quite quickly. We have many local tackle shops such as Nashy’s Complete Angler and Mackay TackleWorld where the boys are more than happy to share their many, many years of local knowledge and to assist as much as possible. It’s well worth pulling in for a yarn with the boys and getting some local knowledge on the area you plan to fish beforehand. Be warned though, the lure range available at these shops is top notch and if you're anything like me, walking out empty handed is just not possible.

So the time has come, the boat is loaded, the new area is sussed out, and now it’s time to put it all into action. Whether you’re a live baiter or lure fisherman, you will find many snags, deep bends, timber laden banks and flats to fish for those target species. While you're exploring our magic region, why not soak a few pots and try your hand at snaring a few mud crabs. There is nothing like cracking a cold one in the late afternoon and having a feed of fresh muddies or a fillet of fish (or both!).

For more great info on the Mackay region head over to Facebook or Instagram and check out some of the local catches and information on the below pages - you will not be disappointed:

Casting Cowboys Fishing

Hooked On Mackay

Mackay Impoundment Anglers Group

Visit Mackay

Tight Lines – Brendan Pollard

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Last modified on Tuesday, 05 March 2019 23:58

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