Queenfish – Royal Sportfish of Northern WA

Ben Knaggs loves his Queenfish. They are the sports fish of the north. As Ben explains they are abundant in northern WA’s inshore waters.

Soft plastics can be deadly on queenfish that aren’t fired up enough to charge down surface lures. A more subtle approach can quickly turn lookers into biters.

Soft plastics can be deadly on queenfish that aren’t fired up enough to charge down surface lures. A more subtle approach can quickly turn lookers into biters.

As Australian salmon are to anglers in the southern states, queenfish are the everyman’s sportfish of the north. Queenies are all but tailor made for light tackle sportfish, being fast, acrobatic and ultra aggressive. If you want some guaranteed inshore fun on light to medium tackle, queenfish are the go-to target.

Much of the reason queenies are so much fun on the end of a line is due to their out of control antics once hooked. Few Aussie species can match the outrageous aerials queenies will routinely perform once pinned. Couple this with astonishing speed and more staying power than they’re given credit for, and you have a sportfish that is born to get the pulse racing.

The inshore waters of northern WA are a queenfish stronghold. From roughly Carnarvon right up through Broome, the Kimberley and to the NT boarder (and beyond), queenies are never far away from the action. As you’d expect, they’re also very popular with visiting fishos, ranking high on the wish list of most anglers making the pilgrimage to what is one of the fishiest parts of our wide land.

Find big aggregations of bait in northern WA and you’ll find queenfish. Here a big mob of hardyheads are being hounded by packs of queenies.

Find big aggregations of bait in northern WA and you’ll find queenfish. Here a big mob of hardyheads are being hounded by packs of queenies.

Finding Queenies

While northern WA’s inshore waters are loaded with queenfish, these are a very mobile species that live a fast paced life necessarily fuelled by large amounts of baitfish. Therefore, queenies – and in particular big queenies above the benchmark metre length – are always on the hunt and rarely linger in one place long. It stands to reason then that the primary factor that will attract and hold queenfish to any one location is the presence of copious amounts of baitfish. Aggregations of baitfish such as hardyheads, herring or small mullet loitering in one area will rarely go unnoticed by queenfish for long, so anywhere you find big bait schools in northern WA is almost guaranteed to also be holding queenies.

Like most strong, swift predatory fish, queenies also love to hang around and hunt in locales that are heavily current swept. Think spots like inshore reefs, islands, spits, creek mouths – anywhere that will bottleneck tidal current and so trap weaker baitfish into an isolated area where they are easy pickings for these sleek and powerful fish. For similar reasons, the daily movements of queenfish are heavily dictated by the changing tides. In this part of the country, tidal variations can be massive – in excess of seven metres through parts of the Kimberley. This is great news for the current loving queenies, but a little problematic for the angers that chase them.

Light tackle and surface lures is what spinning for queenies is all about!

Light tackle and surface lures is what spinning for queenies is all about!

The upshot is that the prime time windows for chasing queenies in these highly tidal parts of northern WA are small, but then the flip side of this is some hectic queenie fishing when the time and tide is right. To be in the right place at the right time, you’ll want to concentrate on the two or three hours around the top of the tide when fishing the flats, and the first hour or two of the run-out tide around creek mouths, inshore reef edges and the like.

A Love of Lures

The other reason beyond those aforementioned spectacular fights that queenfish are such brilliant light tackle sportfish is their willingness to eat lures. Live baits and drifting dead baits work well on queenies, but to fish anything but a lure of some description is simply robbing yourself of half the excitement of catching these fish. Queenfish are renowned for their love of surface lures, and there’s no doubt that casting poppers or surface stickbaits is the most stimulating way to connect with big queenies. The mistake a lot of first time queenfish anglers make though is to go over the top with surface lure size. Relatively small (8-15cm) poppers or stickbaits are the best choice, even for big queenfish, as these represent the typical baitfish queenies feed on throughout northern WA.

Queenies love the chase, so a reasonably swift retrieve is the way to get them to take notice of your surface lure. Once a queenie is in pursuit though, slow things down a bit to allow the fish to cleanly catch the splashy lure. On a straight, fast retrieve, you’ll experience a lot of missed hits and pulled hooks.

The author with a nice queenie on a surface stickbait. While these fish will hit a wide range of lure types, nothing beats spinning them up on topwaters.

The author with a nice queenie on a surface stickbait. While these fish will hit a wide range of lure types, nothing beats spinning them up on topwaters.

As much glasses-down fun as surface luring for big queenies can be, the topwater approach is not always the best way to go. Often times, a surface popper or stickbait will actually spook big queenfish, particularly when fishing clear, calm water. In this instance, a more subtle sub-surface offering will get the job done. Sinking stickbaits are relatively new to the Aussie fishing tackle scene, but have quickly proven themselves as killer lures for a long list of fish. Queenfish would have to be very close to the top of this list. Even just working a sinking stickbait a few centimetres below the surface can turn fish that were shying away from surface offerings into easy pickings. By that same token, simple metal slugs are great queenie lures too, either worked on a standard flat out retrieve just below the water surface or when allowed to sink and worked back through the entire water column. Metals are usually the lure to turn to when queenies are feeding on very small baitfish, as carrying just a small selection allows you to easily match your lure size to that of the baitfish.

Being such great sportfish, big queenfish should be considered catch and release targets only.

Being such great sportfish, big queenfish should be considered catch and release targets only.

Stickbait or paddletail type soft plastics are other queenfish killers well worth having on hand when a stealthy, subtle approach is needed to draw a strike. Queenies being a fly fisho’s wet dream, and it’s a rare day when a queenie will refuse a well presented fly as well.

For high flying, hectic fun with one of Australia’s very best light tackle sportfish, northern WA is the place to be. Come experience some of this regal inshore sportfishing action for yourself.

 
Ben Knaggs

About Ben Knaggs

Born and bred in South Australia, Ben’s love of fishing developed from a very early age and evolved to become an obsession which would ultimately shape his life. Actively involved in fishing related journalism from his mid teens, Ben has written articles for most Australian fishing titles and served as editor of Saltwater Fishing magazine for eight years.

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