Daintree Jacks – Dan Bowater Feb 2016

In the last few editions of Fish and Boat you can’t help but notice how some writers have viewed the rise of social media with mixed feelings. Sure, there are many downsides to the increased power of online communications.

Blind Freddy can now see the influence of promotional anglers pushing business ventures and oppositely a minority of ‘grass roots’ anglers that might push the envelope with lazy requests for GPS marks etc.

All said, I think the ‘snow balling’ effect of online participation has many more upsides. Personally I can plan trips easier now through instant messaging, and can keep up to date with the success of other locals. More broadly it helps the general fishing community share and debate important topics like netting in rivers, closed seasons, size and bag limits etc.

Things can certainly get ugly in open public discussions but people seem to be educating each other through mass communication. Where could that have happened over five years ago? Prior to the social media boom fishing forums were the main online avenue visited by like-minded anglers.

They still have an important place! Back in 2009 an Ausfish ‘meet and greet’ event in Cardwell gave me a chance to fish alongside Cairns anglers Paul Tetley and Richard Stewart. To this day the wonders of easy facebook networking have allowed us to keep an eye on each other’s schedules in case of a magic ‘alignment’ of free days. One such rare opportunity arose recently and a brave plan was made to visit the mighty Daintree River north of Port Douglas.

For me the Daintree is one of those far off rivers that could be classed as a bit too far considering I am notably closer to other notorious locations like Hinchinbrook Channel and the Russell/Mulgrave system. I’ve had opportunities to fish it, but just never taken them- that was until our recent ‘alignment’ event occurred!

The temptation to join Paul and Richard on their northbound adventure was for other good reasons. These lads are both accomplished estuary anglers although Paul was insistent that we’d get a shot at some headland fingermark around Cape Kimberley if the sou’ easterly stayed down. This kind of talk well and truly had my attention! His 4.8m Quintrex ‘top ender’ was the perfect rig for tackling a combination of inshore and estuary work.

Richard had a smaller 3.7 metre ‘edge tracker’ tinny that would be good for sneaking into the many feeder creeks and shallow flats. We had both bases covered! I planned to meet the lads in Cairns where we began a hazy pre-dawn drive along the picturesque coastal road to Port Douglas. Richard got a surprisingly good lead on us earlier on the western arterial road to Smithfield.  In contrast I reckon our slower vehicle had solved all the world’s problems by the time it rolled onto the Daintree ramp.

To my total amazement an approximate eight foot saltwater crocodile was calmly resting on the ramp (near a pile of thoughtlessly discarded fish frames).

Paul and I were understandably cautious as we unhooked the big tinny. The next step was navigating the maze of sandbars in this immense and vast network of miniature rivers that seem to randomly meander and magically inter-connect. Flanking the river was a mass of enveloping rainforest that created a stunning backdrop.

It’s no wonder so many anglers love fishing this beautiful river. When I observed the above characteristics I felt inspired but also knew we’d have our work cut out for us. Just about every conceivable depth of water was at our disposal including featureless sandy bottom right through to the densest piles of timber you could lay eyes upon.

A morning ‘high’ would additionally force us to fish a pretty unappealing stage of tide for snag dwellers. However, when we finally caught up to Richard he was already catching all manner of species using a small Zerek prawn in a deep corridor of snags. As hinted earlier this guy is an excellent estuary and impoundment angler so you always want to hear his input.

He can be a bit shifty and camera shy though! I was amazed at the variety of species from cod, small trevally and grunter that all swooped on the Zerek…the place was clearly alive with fish! Unfortunately for me my small Zerek prawn collection has been marred by excess heat and accidental mixing with other plastics! Paul and I therefore improvised with some other brands.

We agreed to mix things up with Paul using an ‘electric chicken’ coloured Atomic Plazo prong in 4”. I went with the new Zman SwimmerZ V2 in ‘Shiner’ colour also in 4”. Both soft plastic presentations were carefully rigged ‘weedless’ so we could effectively pepper the myriad of snag laden embankments. Apart from the endless arena of snags the Daintree presented much like the Russell/Mulgrave in terms of water clarity and tidal movement.

The immense rainforest-lined freshwater reaches influence both systems significantly causing any keen sports angler to think carefully about lure selection. Although during the peak of the tide the rule book was thrown out the window when masses of small trevally moved through the river. Through the ultra clear waters we could watch them fight over our lures like spoilt kids. We had a ball catching them and I was taking it all too casually when I got caught unaware.

Out of nowhere an absolute horse of a jack stormed out into the open snatching the Zman before disappearing into a steep nearby embankment. This royal smoking showed that it pays to keep your mind alert and your drag bloody tight!

While re-rigging a new Zman I couldn’t help but admire the new make of SwimmerZ style paddle tail. This was the first trip spent experimenting with the new eye-less SwimmerZ and the awesomely strong ChinlockZ jigheads. I found a great combination between the 4” swimmerZ, 4/0 ChinlockZ and a size 0 ball sinker (added to the loop knot).

Additionally I included a small ‘bait dot’ under the small slit in the belly of the soft plastic. These ‘bait dots’ are fed onto the jig head to keep the plastic presenting naturally- definitely worth using. Not only was the lure action impressive, the new neutral/translucent Shiner colour scheme really blended well into water with high visibility. Some of the weaknesses apparent in the original range of Zmans seem to have been ironed out with this new range that’s for sure.

However, it took some time before I would get another shot at the jacks. During the peak of the tide we did our best to sneak onto the flats which gave Paul centre stage as some big flathead took a liking to the ‘electric chicken’ Plazo Prong. They might not be the greatest fighting species but they certainly slam a lure with gusto and the biggest lizard really made for a top photo.

Once the tide started to recede Richard announced he was going to hit the road to be back in Cairns before dark. He had caught more fish than our boat too (the cheeky bugger!) Paul and I quickly declined when we observed a school of mullet getting absolutely smashed in the mangroves. It was the perfect ambush depth around two metres deep- finally we had struck gold! Through the ultra clear flowing water we could polarise clumps of mangroves scattered out into the centre of this very appealing section of river.

I launched the plastic ahead of the boat upon hearing more commotion and the Zman was crunched seconds later. A torrid fight eventually allowed me to steer a solid 43cm jack away from the many imposing subsurface hazards. They would have to be the perfect predator in this labyrinth of snags and perpetually flowing water. The more we explored the more we saw in terms of nervous baitfish and aggressive jack strikes.

Interestingly they favoured the Zman over the Prong which is a trend I have seen reversed in other rivers closer to home (with original Zman swimmerZ anyway). It’s always an excellent feeling to gain confidence in a new lure.

Each time it did that seductive shimmy to the boat I could visualize another jack strike looming! In fact Paul couldn’t get me to stop casting as the trip spilled over into darkness. A final 45cm jack capped off a really satisfying day exploring an amazing and unique river system with good mates. Thanks lads! Subsequent Facebook messaging has revealed that our days off are coming into another ‘alignment’ for late January. Stay tuned for another possible adventure between these three fishing mad amigos!