Fishing in North Queensland


North Queensland, unlike the southern part of Queensland, has many frontier zones for the avid fisher. It offers a journeying angler a unique range of fishing styles in some very accessible areas. There are huge fishing rewards waiting for those willing to invest the time, effort and perseverance to succeed. Estuary fishing for barra, and mangrove jack is the primary forms of angling in this region. However, it does not stop here. There are many other differing fishing styles to be explored ranging from sweetwater jungle perch fishing, to impoundment barra fishing, reef fishing, and spinning for pelgics in the ocean (to name a few). Some of this fishing action can be had right in the middle of built up towns and cities that line the coast. The inspiration for this site has come from the easy access fishing I have enjoyed in the towns of Cairns, Weipa, Innisfail and Townsville. Before beginning I will briefly explain the importance of the seasons, tides, and weather patterns we have in NQ. For any fishing style it is crucial to consider these variables as they have direct influence on when to fish, largely creating windows of opportunity to target certain species.



In the tropics there are two distinct seasons that influence our fishing. These are the wet season and dry season. Strictly speaking they do not have a start and finishing date, instead you will expect the dry to occur in the middle of the year usually between May-August. The wet will not begin until late in the year, or early the following year. The periods from April-May and September-October are transition periods that are ideal months for targeting barra. During the peak of a wet season the rainfall will cause the rivers to be in an unfishable state. River levels rise, the water becomes turbid and the fish shut down accordingly. During the wet season the weather is considerably more warm/humid. This spurs some fish species into a more aggressive feeding pattern.

 In the wet of 1998/1999 Cairns had a classic wet season with much of the storm and cyclone activity occuring around December 98' and January 99'. For three consecutive years from 2001-2003 things reversed. We actually experienced dry weather during the wet season and much of the years rainfall occurred in the middle of the year. This has implications on the fishing with generally continual above average barra fishing through summer. In 2004 we had a small wet in February, then in 2005 and 2006 things appeared to return to normal with two more late wet seasons once again in February (05') and March (06'). Many anglers fail to understand the importance of concentrating fishing times in accordance with weather patterns. The freshwater rivers become highly dangerous during big floods, and the pelagic species do not like hunting in water with no visibility. When not fishing it allows time to focus on getting equipment stocked up and repairs done so you are ready for that hot bite.



Fishing the right tides is vitally important to catching target species. In NQ we have two high tides and two low tides most days. These tides vary in size and height difference so it is up to the angler to judge how much 'run' there will be. Generally high tidal movement is good for estuary fishing. Large tides will occur during the full moon period which is well known for producing good barra fishing (as well as in non-tidal areas). The water movement  stirs the fish into more intense feeding especially just on the turn of tide. It is no good to head onto the water without a strategy consisting of where you are going to be when the tide is optimal.

 Likewise rigging gear correctly for species that depend on a certain part of the tide is similarly important. In an estuary situation you may commonly encounter grunter, salmon and bream on a run-in tide. This means its time to consider using well presented strip baits rather than lures or live baits. If you understand the specific location you are fishing and what tides produce the best fishing your results will improve ten fold.

Check out this online tide table:



In fishing an exposed coastal location the effect of general weather conditions have huge implications during a fishing session. In Northern Queensland we experience south east trade winds throughout most of the year. Typically strong winds will  intensify around June when we often experience 4-8 weeks of continual 20kn plus days. In summer the winds start to become a bit more sporadic with glassy calm days mixed with atrocious stormy weather. Before any fishing trip (especially when fishing a location exposed to winds) it is mandatory to check the forecast which will tell you the wind speed and direction. In Cairns and Innisfail at several locations tide is far less important than wind speed/direction. Even with a 5kn breeze the wind may be the primary factor influencing your fishing at an exposed location. With all of this is mind it pays to check out the forecast before you leave home!

A few helpful links!


...Now lets take a look at some of the NQ target species!

Here in North Queensland we are blessed with a wide variety of fish species to target. These inhabit freshwater, estuarine and open ocean environments. In this section I will outline some of our main target species and some of the strategies we use when going after them. Don't forget to click on images for extra tips that will give you an edge in your pursuit of each species!




(click on image for additional tips on targeting barramundi)


Scientific Name: Lates calcarifer

Min Size: 58cm

Max size: 120cm

Bag Limit: 5

Closed Season: Midday November 1st - Midday 1st February (East Coast)

 The mighty leaping bucket-mouth! Barramundi are the most talked about and sought after species by anglers in Northern Queensland. With their powerful nature and elusive mystique it is no wonder that this sportsfish attracts so many anglers. They are most prevalent in tidal rivers but also inhabit the freshwater and inshore headlands that line the coast. In recent years impoundment fishing for barra has also increased in popularity. There are two ways of catching this popular species: lure and live bait.

 Live Bait: In many of the hard hit areas live baiting is the preferred way of catching barra. The live bait usually consist of mullet, prawns, herring or garfish in northern estuaries or mouth allmighty in impoundments (e.g Tinaroo). In an estuary both the bait and barra will use the tide to help with their feeding. Generally the bait moves to feed on the run-in tide and the barra ambush them as the tide falls. In most situations 10kg (20lb) line class will be suitable. However, in a heavily structured location going up to 15kg (30lb) may be necessary. Combining with leaders of 20-40kg (40-80lb) and a quality rod/reel provides the angler with a practical means of connecting with these great sportsfish.

 Lures: Lures such as the faithful gold bomber are a good substitute for live bait. Casting shallow diving minnows or soft plastics from the bank or boat is a good approach especially if the angler has an awareness of specific holding areas. With hardbody lures it is best to keep the lure moving by using rod tip action. Vary the speed to suit the barra you are targeting. In an impoundment situation the barra will not be keen to move fast for their prey whereas a saltwater barra will happily chase down their feed. The best barra anglers experiment with a range of lure styles and retrieves in different conditions. In recent years the range of soft plastic lures has been incredible...but it does not stop there! Surface poppers (and propellers), vibrating blades and ultra deep diving minnows have all developed to give us anglers an amazing repetoire of options.

 Barra are a species orientated to some extent by moon phase, with the period around full moon (3 days before and 3 days after) being prime time. There are numerous other species that may be hooked when targeting barra. Some of the main ones are fingermark, tarpon, and salmon.

Stories on targeting barramundi !

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 * Fishing for after dark saltwater barra

 * The search for Mount Isa's outback barramundi

 * Angling at Aplins brings on barra

 * Catching metre long saltwater barramundi after dark




 (Click on image for extra tips on targeting mangrove jack)


Scientific Name: Lutjanus argentimaculatus

Min Size: 35cm

 The red snag master! Mangrove jack are a structure orientated species found in coastal habitat and the reef where some huge specimens to 10 kg (20lb) are caught. Jacks are encountered by most anglers when they inhabit the tidal reaches of popular river systems. Here they are typically 20cm-50cm in length. Like barra they will aggressively take a well presented lure or live bait especially if it is positioned within a rod length of their snag. During dead low tide I find jacks to be at their most aggressive. At this time they tend to move more freely, especially if coincided with twilight hours. When they move away from structure the angler is presented with an above average chance of landing their fish. On the other hand, when tight in structure a good sized jack will characteristically smoke the angler mercilessly! They will put everything into their initial dash for freedom. However, the following runs are rarely as inspiring. With this in mind a leader of around 20kg (40lb) at a minmum is ideal to protect your line form abrasion. Otherwise your standard barra gear will be suitable for targeting jacks.

 Poddie mullet, mud herring and greenback herring are ideal as live baits for these rusty assassins. Manns 10+ and lively lures 'mad mullet' are good lure choices in the two-three metre depth. Soft plastics also come into their own when rigged weedless and lobbed into deep snags- the traditional jack lair. For fish in shallow water under 1.5m it may be better to switch over to gold bomber or Storm thundersticks. The challenge is to bring them to a sudden hault before they make it back to their snag- no honest fisherman will claim a 100% landing rate!

Stories on targeting mangrove jack !

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 * Fishing Trinity Inlet for jacks in summer

 * Lure casting South Johnstone river jacks

 * How to find large jacks and barramundi in NQ estuaries



(click on image for extra tips on targeting grunter)


Scientific Name: Pomadasys nageb

Min size: 40cm

 The tasty flats forager! Also known as 'javelin fish' grunter are a great eating fish that inhabit saltwater reaches of estuaries in NQ. Their favourite places to hold are on a sandy bottom particularly around shallow entrances to rivers. At low tide the exposed sand can be observed by the angler noting where the deep holes are located. With this knowledge it is a matter of beginning fishing in these deeper sections and slowly moving onto flats where the grunter will be seeking food. They are a foraging species that move quickly. In turn they respond best to a fresh dead bait of squid, prawn or flesh.

 Grunter can potentially grow up to around 7kg (15lb) although more are more commonly caught under 3kg (6lb) here on the east coast of Queensland. On the west coast locations such as Karumba draw thousands of travelers from the southern states who target grunter in the dry season (cooler time of year). Good sessions can yield cricket scores of quality fish exceeding 2kg (4lb) in the larger rivers. On light line such as 6kg (12lb) monofilament a large grunter will fight admirably. So will catfish and stingrays- both annoying by-catches when targeting grunter. As mentioned earlier the cooler months are traditionally favoured for grunter- a time when most of the other estuary species are quite conveniently less aggressive.

Best months are July-October.

 Stories on targeting grunter !

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 * Fishing the Russell river for grunter






Scientific Name: Megalops cyprinoides

 The night flash! Tarpon or 'oxeye herring' is a nocturnal species growing to around 2.5kg (5lb). Most tarpon are encountered when barra fishing although they are also specifically targeted by fly fishing enthusiasts. They are a fast swimming surface feeder that thrives in freshwater streams as well as in tidal rivers. Tarpon feed aggressively on small baitfish especially prawns and greenback herring. For gear I'd recommend using light spin tackle in conjunction with small feathered jigs or soft plastics.  In recent years refined fly fishing and soft plastic techniques have proved immensely successful on tarpon (amongst a host of other sportsfish).

 An 'old school' saltwater method (still sworn as the best by some) consists of drifting a small herring or prawn drifted freely in the current. Watching for floating debris or trademark bubbles on the surface gives away tarpon schools. They are one of the few species that can breath air effectively from the surface. On 3kg (6lb) spin gear tarpon are one of the great sportsfish in this region providing steaming runs and surface antics. A heavier 7kg (14lb) or 10kg (20lb) flurocarbon leader is necessary to avoid your leader being worn through by their sandpaper-like teeth. Tarpon are also a very acrobatic species which makes it difficult to stay connected. This problem can be countered by using smart rod work a small fine gauge 'wide gape' style of hook. They are a poor eating fish known only for catch and release. After dark tarpon swarm the saltwater reaches of NQ rivers and during floods can be equally prolific in lagoons and swamps.

 Stories on targeting tarpon!

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 * Fishing Trinity Inlet by night for tarpon and barramundi








Scientific Name: Scomberomorus munroi

Min size: 75cm

Bag limit: 3

 The bluewater bullet train! Spanish mackerel or 'narrow-barred' mackerel are one of the most targeted pelagic species on the reef. 'Spaniards' are top table fare and merely writing about them creates imagery of fresh mack steaks sizzling in a fry pan. The most common ways of targeting spaniards include: spinning metal lures, live baiting, and drifting pilchards. A length of single strand wire is essential on rigs to counter fiercely sharp rows of serrated teeth. It is wise to adjust your tactics according to the location, tide and wind direction- this is where experienced mackerel anglers prevail.

 Spanish mackerel are experts at throwing the hooks when they headshake and change direction. Therefore the importance of intelligent rod work and drag settings cannot be understated when fishing for them. We normally leave our reels 'in gear' to help set the hooks- then maintain this pressure through the fight. Often the spaniard will swim toward the boat during the early part of the fight. During this time the angler must maintain pressure, then he/she will have to last through some sizzling runs while it tires. It goes without saying that using quality gear is essential. Lumpy drags or seized rollers will cost fish- its that simple. Recommended line class for spaniards ranges from 8kg (16lb) to 15kg (30lb). Being involved in a wild spaniard session is well an truely up there in adrenalin awesome target species!

Stories on targeting spanish mackerel!

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 * Succeeding with spanish mackerel off Cairns

 * Chasing inshore spanish mackerel after floods





Scientific Name: Carnax sexfasciatus

 The ocean street brawler! Giant trevally or 'G.T' are one of the strongest and common pelagic species to catch in North Queensland. They respond well to a range of techniques and grow to massive sizes. G.Ts over 40kg (85lb) have been caught in North Queensland- although some serious luck is needed to win a fight involving any 'GT' over ten kilograms. When live baiting using 24kg (50lb) tackle is recommended including a heavier leader. When using lures such as poppers, jigs, or metal slugs marginally lighter outfits come into their own for practical reasons. However, using gear under 15kg (30lb) class would be considered suicide by hardcore GT specialists.

 Through the 2000's a GT popper craze has shown some incredible advancements in tackle and opened up new possibilities for chasing this cult species. These fish have plenty of stamina and know to run for cover- an unusual characteristic for a pelagic species. It simply adds a further advantage to an already difficult adversary. Unlike many other reef species GTs are poor table fare but arguably the toughest and meanest fish to patrol NQ waters! A great target species that I believe personally has added a few inches to my arms over the years!

Stories on targeting giant trevally!

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 * Fishing for giant trevally on inshore wrecks

 * A unique encounter with a large trevally

 * A Day of Lure casting for Giant Trevally






Scientific Name: Scomberoides commersonianus

 The sleek inshore acrobat! Queenfish are another common pelagic species growing to around 14kg and making for some great fun. They take a wide variety of lures including metals, feathered jigs, harbodies, poppers and plastics. Queenfish will run strongly in open water and provide a great aerial display. Consequently downgrading to lighter gear is a popular choice, with lines classes below 10kg (20lb) providing a practical and enjoyable balance.

 On the west coast of Queensland some great queenfish action can be had with fish over 4kg (8lb) a common occurance. The coastal towns between Weipa and Seisa in particular regularly see insane queenfish activity. These large schools of hungry fish enter the big Cape river systems during run-in tides. When the tide falls this species feeds wildly- often slashing at bait with incredible speed. Due to commercial pressure and other factors 'queenies' can be taken in lower numbers in most of the exposed coastal locations around East coast towns like Cairns and Townsville. A truely awesome sportsfish!

Stories on targeting queenfish!

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* Discovering new fishing techniques on Qld's west coast







Scientific Name: Kuhlia rupestris

 The jewel of the rainforest streams! Jungle Perch (or 'JP') are a great freshwater sportsfish found in the sweetwater of Northern Queensland. Unfortunately due to habitat destruction and pollution this species is endangered. However, it is still possible to catch jungle perch in most of the large rivers inbetween Cairns and Townsville. Casting small minnow style lures to structure, rock pools and overhang is the best way to hook up a prized lime drag screamer.  Long casts help achieve better results since they are easily startled from close range. Jungle perch often mill around on the surface waiting for insects to fall on the surface so the angler will get an instantaneous hookup as soon as their lure lands.

An average JP will measure around 20cm although it is quite possible to catch a 40cm specimen within a one hour drive from Cairns. They are great fighters, going on strong runs and sometimes even jumping. Recommended tackle consists of a spinning outfit loaded with light braided mainline in 2-4kg (4-8lb) down to a flurocarbon leader in 5-7kg (10-14lb). Fishing ultra light tackle is a known way of hooking Jungle Perch in higher numbers. In my view the experience of releasing a big specimen is the pinnacle of wild sweetwater fishing! 

Stories on targeting jungle perch!



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*  Targeting Jungle Perch in Far North Queensland

 * Fishing freshwater reaches for jungle perch and sooty grunter

 * Freshwater fishing around Innisfail during summer months






Scientific Name: Hephaetus Fuliginosis

 The dark lure cruncher! Sooty grunter (or 'sooties') are the other primary freshwater species commonly targeted by anglers of the far north. These are a very aggressive territorial fish that respond well to a small lure offering. Sooties will typically charge back to structure in similar fashion to mangrove jacks making them a worthy fighter on light spin tackle. Their aggressive nature means they will feed strongly even when they are clearly visible in crystal clear water. It may be preferable in some scenarios to upgrade from light spin tackle to medium baitcast tackle in order to land larger specimens.

 The sooty grunter is abundant in freshwater streams and impoundments of North Queensland in varying numbers. Your average river sooty my be around 20cm, however in some impoundments they grow to much larger sizes. The 'holy grail' of sooty fishing is to crack the magical 50cm mark. A fish of this size is naturally described as a 'tank of a sooty' and occasionally accomplished by eccentric impoundment anglers. However any fish over 40cm will fight strongly enough to challenge the most determined angler. By-catch when targeting sooties may be tarpon, barra, jacks and jungle perch.

Stories on targeting sooty grunter!

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 * A freshwater canoeing trip targeting sooty grunter and other species

 * Fishing the rapids by foot for sooty grunter

 * Fishing for large highland sooties