Hot bites in cool weather

Winter in north Queensland … you’ve got to be kidding don’t you?

Does a true winter even exist in tropical north Queensland? It’s a truly debatable point. We Queenslanders are the envy of all in the snap-frozen southern states, particularly in the cooler months. And although we hate to admit it, even in north Queensland the waters do cool causing fish to change their habits come June, July and August.
Tiwis (2 of 11)

Big barra such as this one caught by Luke are a possibility for anglers who down size, think like a fish and present appropriate ‘jelly bean’ type offerings.

This often means an angler needs to change their target species by focusing on bread and butter species that are more prolific at this time of year. Northern winter species such as bream, whiting, flathead, javelin fish and blue salmon are dominant during the middle of the year and although most are sensational eating they still lack the overall appeal of hard-fighting summertime sports fish. But there’s good news for forward thinking anglers – you can continue to target warm-water thugs regardless of the season by simply varying tactics and mindset.

Ol’ Bucket Mouth

Two suitable target species that spring to mind are the beloved bucket-mouthed barramundi and our big black footballs of the north – the much-loved sooty grunter. These revered species are prevalent and regularly targeted during summer.  But try forgetting about them for the rest of the year – it’s near on impossible.
This beautiful freshwater barra was caught by the author during the cooler months - not that it ever gets too cool in north Queensland.

This beautiful freshwater barra was caught by the author during the cooler months – not that it ever gets too cool in north Queensland.

The attraction of targeting these species even when the going gets tough overrides the thought of waiting for warmer weather. To fish for them year-round I fish smarter and adapt my angling techniques so I may continue to target them even in less than perfect conditions. Although these fish do go off the bite to a degree they can still be caught if you play it smart. But this is where it pays to experiment. You need to think like a fish and consider employing both new tactics and new locations to get regular results. After all, at the end of the day a fish still needs to eat.

Give ’em a Jelly Bean

Fish such as barramundi are notorious for their aggression and ability to eat large baits such as mullet, tarpon and garfish. But during winter they become lazy and far less inclined to strike a large bait. This can be attributed to the fact that these fish possess a slower metabolism at this time of the year. Downsizing soft plastics to smaller, bite-sized, two or three inch offerings like small atomic prongs or atomic fat grubs will often tempt even the laziest fish into striking. The same can be said for hard-bodied lures. If we liken this analogy to a real-life example, the point is clear and easy to comprehend. Even when a person has eaten so much food they are nearly at bursting point, they can still fit in a small jelly-bean sized snack. Instead of the jelly bean try eating a three course meal instead – there’s no chance is there? When the fish’s metabolism slows during winter, they’re unlikely to eat something like a large mullet – a food source that requires a lot of energy to hunt then digest. But if you dangle a small lure or bait in their face, they will be far more inclined to eat it.

Try Downsizing

Tiwis (4 of 11)

Sooty grunter aka ‘the big black football’ of the north are a legitimate year-round target species. Give them a jelly bean insteThe ‘jelly-bean’ theory is one that has certainly produced the goods for me particularly during the winter months. This theory has been tried and tested by many anglers in many different locations. Regardless of ‘theory’ status it is gaining considerably more support and verging on becoming fact.

Try downsizing your plastics and jigheads and consider rigging your offerings ‘weedless’ on Gamakatsu Worm hooks. These hooks are able to be rigged with the smallest plastics, yet are built for strength. I’m yet to see one bend or straighten and I use them religiously when bumping soft plastics over harsh terrain. When it comes to targeting sooty grunter through the cooler months, it is imperative the angler targets shallower water rather than deep holes. It takes less effort for the sun to heat up a shallow body of water – water that is often an all-important degree or two warmer. In addition to finding warmer water it is worth noting that in cooler months sooty grunter will be far more dominant in habitats characterised by cobbles and boulders. This structure is dominant within the shallow, steep and picturesque rainforest streams of north Queensland and similar to jungle perch country found further north around the Cairns area.

A Natural Heater

Tiwis (11 of 11)

Rocky country holds warmth during winter – this heat being transferred to nearby water and always attractive to fish.

          This rocky substrate acts as natural heater – heat being absorbed by the stone and transferred to the surrounding water. Throughout the winter it is important to target this habitat over larger, deeper waterholes dominated by snaggy debris and undercut banks, areas that are more productive in summer. The same principle can be applied in the saltwater environment where large rock bars and man-made structure such as bridge pylons absorb the heat throughout the day. Applying a scenario like this is relevant to a lot of people particularly when you consider most urban centres have bridges and other infrastructure nearby. These tips will greatly assist the dedicated angler who likes to ‘push the envelope’ and keep fishing even when the easier alternative would be to wait for warmer weather. If targeting summer species during the winter months sounds too hard why not target the winter fish in a more sporting way? This style of fishing is not only more fun but also puts your skills as an angler to the test. Despite the cooler weather we sometimes experience through winter the fishing can still be red hot … but only if you think outside the square.

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