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North Queensland Reef Sportfishing

May 31, 2018
North Queensland Reef Sportfishing

As a keen angler, chances are at some time or another you’ve seen pictures, videos or shows about the fish-rich waters that lie off the coast of North Queensland. For fishos in that part of Oz, it’s only a short trip from the boat ramp before they’re floating on the Great Barrier Reef and its endless fishing opportunities.

For everyone else in the country, we sit there, staring at a screen, filled to the brim with jealousy at the myriad of tackle-busting species they have on offer. The phrase “if I lived up there…” gets muttered all too often. But, with the angling community starting to travel further and further afield in search of greener pastures, a trip up the highway to “God’s country” doesn’t seem all that daunting. Especially if the fishing is as good as it looks! With so many hard fighting pelagics just waiting to stretch your arms, it’s hard not to dabble in the sportfishing side of things first. So, let’s check out what you’ll need to get amongst a few.


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GT cuddles! This guy smashed a 120gr popper


Species: While the list of species could literally fill an article itself, we’ll narrow it down to the ones anglers really get keen about, namely, giant trevally (GT’s), Spanish mackerel, dogtooth tuna, sailfish and wahoo. These make up the 5 most commonly caught and targeted species that frequent the coral sea. What do they all have in common? They’re big, bad and loveeeeee destroying tackle! Each has its own unique way of pushing an angler’s abilities and tackle to the limits, but that’s all part of the attraction isn’t it? When the law of the reef is ‘eat or be eaten’, the five species above are true piscatorial thugs that earn their spot on every angler’s bucket list. After all, they don’t grow to such impressive sizes playing nice.

Locations: The sheer volume of fishable country on offer out from the NQ coastline, makes it difficult to pinpoint or suggest specific spots to try your luck. Alternatively, it’s more productive to explain ‘what’ to look for and how to pick fishy areas so you can apply those principles to local spots. The five target species all hunt in basically the same areas, so it can very much be a lucky dip with which one you will come across first!

The first feature to look for is a deep, blue water drop off. Most of the bigger reef edges will drop straight into deep water quite quickly, and it’s along these drop offs that predator’s patrol. Areas that drop from 2-5m into 10-20m are prefect.

The next indicator is good current flow. The current provides the bigger stronger predators a massive hunting advantage as they wait for small baitfish to struggle and get swept around with the flow. The majority of the time, where the current first hits the reef (leading edge) will be where the fish are waiting for a meal.

Finally, look for areas where bait is funnelled into particular areas. These spots create the perfect opportunity for pelagics to capitalise on an easy feed. If you manage to align all three factors together you have the makings of the perfect spot to start fishing!


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Only a puppy at this size, even the small dogtooth pull some string!


Tackle: It’s pretty fair to say targeting fish of this calibre isn’t for the faint of heart, it truly is a ‘hang on and hope’ style of fishing. As such, tackle well and truly needs to be capable of withstanding the punishment dished out by these powerful fish.

Casting outfits should consist of, at a minimum, a 14000 sized reel and a pe6-8 rod, with an 18k reel and a pe10 rod being perfect. Braid should be in the 100lb class to cope with locked drags and repetitively casting heavy lures all day. Leaders are also beefed up for the task and should be in the 100-200lb class.

Remember, these fish take some serious stopping and while this tackle may sound over the top, sometimes it still isn’t heavy enough to stop a fish from dragging you back to the reef! If trolling is more your caper, heavy overhead outfits in like the Tiagra 30’s matched with a 24kg trolling rod offers plenty of power and line capacity during the fight.

Reels can be spooled with heavy braid backing and a mono topshot, or entirely with mono. Regardless, the mono should in the 24kg class. If you do intend on using braid backing, 80-100lb braid is right on the money. Wind on leaders in the 100-150lb range should do the job for all species.


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A nice GT caught right on dusk!


Lures: The fun part, right?! Who doesn’t love buying a few new toys! Well, you’ll be happy to know the options for this style of fishing are almost limitless! For guys looking to cast for their fish, poppers and stickbaits offer a very visual and exciting technique to get connected to a few fish. These come in a whole range of shapes, sizes, colours and weights, it’s almost overwhelming! A couple of lures that are great for beginners are the Halco Roosterpop Haymaker, Nomad Tackle Chug Norris, Nomad Tackle Madscad and Maria Loaded. These are nice and easy to fish without being too savage on the hip pocket. It’s also worth noting that each lure will have recommended hooks and split-rings to rig it with, but if you’re having trouble getting it right, be sure to hit up your local tackle shop for some advice and they will point you in the right direction.

While casting, focus your efforts towards the pressure edges, working your lures from the shallows out into the deeper water. Once you get hooked up it’s imperative to give the fish plenty of curry and even use the boat to help drag them out into the safety of deeper water.


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A sailfish on a popper, the ultimate sport fishing achievement!


Trolling will require a different set of lures, more suited to being towed behind the boat. These can be trolling skirts, bibbed minnows and also bibless minnows. Some consistent performers include Halco Laser Pro’s, Nomad DTX minnow, Pakula 3D shredder and Lively Lures Mac Bait. These should all be trolled at varying distances behind the boat to prevent them getting tangled while the boat is turning. To keep them in the strike zone, the boat should run along or just over the drop-off and then motor out into deeper water once a hook up occurs. After that, it’s all action stations to clear the remaining lines and assist the angler fighting the fish.

Sportfishing in North Queensland is something that just has to be experienced to be believed. The explosive strikes and huge displays of power put on show by the GT’s, Spanish Mackerel, Wahoo, Sailfish and doggies is unlike anything else in the fishing world. If you haven’t started planning your trip north by now, then you might need to go see a doctor! Best of luck out there guys, I hope you don’t get pulled out of the boat! Stay safe and tight lines!


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