Golden Desires – John Boon April 2015

Fingermark, golden snapper, chopper, call them what you want, but you have to admit they are a stunning specimen of the Lutjanid family. Ever since I went for a trip with Coby Pascoe at the start of 2014 I have been hooked. Young Coby is a weapon when it comes to all things piscatorial. The knowledge that he possess at a young age will steer him onto bigger and better things in the future, I’m sure of it.

On that particular trip at the start of last year, I was the novice. I was very green when it came to the jigging scene. I had only ever done well on the plastics in the creeks. My eyes were opened to all the weird and wonderful artificials that you would need for an inshore or offshore jigging session. The fact that Coby was a lot younger than me didn’t stop me from listening and learning, which goes to show it’s not just the older generation you will learn from. If you keep your ears and eyes open at all times you might be surprised where your next tip or technique might come from.

While we were travelling in the boat to the jigging mark Coby also ran through a few different retrieves that had worked in the past, but the biggest piece of advice that was given is to change it up. If something’s not working, it may not necessarily be the lure or jig that is the problem; you might just need to speed up or slow down.

On this trip, the very first drop, Coby hooked up solid proving he was on the money and the rest is history. Fast forward another twelve months and we were well overdue to get back out on the water and see if we could jig ourselves up some big fingermark or anything else that we could fool into having a chew.

The weather was looking ok, not great, but certainly doable. The tides were also about average, a bit more run would have been nice, but sometimes the weather decides when you go, not the tides, so we would have to make do. As we were planning an overnight inshore mission, I did succumb to the pressure of wanting to throw a block of pillies in as sometimes when the bite shuts down it’s good to have a bit more variety. Coby was keen as mustard for another jigging session and he certainly did me no favours showing me a 90+cm fingermark that he had caught only a few weeks before hand.

We loaded the tinnie with all the necessities and made our way north of Yeppoon to a few marks that have produced the goods in the past. There are a lot of spots from Finlay’s Reef all the way up Stockyard Point for the small tinnie enthusiast to explore during good weather periods in search of trophy sized fingermark. We tend to spot jump a fair bit. We will hit one spot for maybe an hour, changing retrieves and lures until we have satisfied ourselves that the spot won’t produce the goods at this time. It always pays to revisit though, just because they won’t bite when you are there, doesn’t mean it’s a write off; it just means that a different stage of tide or day may be required.

On this particular trip we were running a bit behind schedule. As our editor has said in the past, “the golden hour” of when the sun is just starting to come up is prime time. It didn’t worry us though, as we were overnighting and we would be ready for the golden hour the next day. We didn’t get lines in the water until about 7am. First pass over the mark and we could see good sized fish holding close to the bottom. Looking at the size of the returns we were getting on the Humminbird, we were fairly confident that they were big black jew. I got two hops on my jig before it was crunched and the Toray jigging braid started spewing off my 5000 sized Stradic. The fight seemed to last forever and with the powerful runs we called it for a decent jewie. A big silver shape materialised from the depths and Coby reached over and swung it aboard. Not a bad way to start the trip, but not quite the quality we had come for.

We repositioned the boat and hit the spot lock function on the Minn Kota Ipilot to keep us in the zone. It’s definitely a huge advantage using smaller tinnies that can run electric motors when doing this type of fishing as you can spot lock yourself in position and don’t have to scare the crap out of everything in a five mile radius dropping the anchor. It’s also less strain on the deckies having to pull anchor.

The morning was starting to get away from us and it was almost time to move from the location we were fishing. Coby had gone back to an old faithful 5 inch Gulp Jerkshad and was rewarded for persistence with a solid hook-up that was crunched on the drop. It was an interesting fight as Coby was dragged around the boat a few times and the wind was making the conditions less than ideal. Colour showed and this time it was the right colour. Coby directed his prize into the net that I had waiting and it was smiles all round with a quality fingermark being swung over the side. It really is a great feeling when you set a target for the trip and come up trumps. We placed the fingermark on the brag mat and at 83cm it was certainly an awesome specimen. Video footage of Coby’s fingermark can be viewed on our very own fish and boat tube:

We had a bit more of a jig on this spot for nil result before the birds working the bait schools off in the distance got the better of us and we took off in hot pursuit. They were a bit harder to round up in the average conditions, but we did well to get within casting distance. Metal slugs were flung into the terrified bait fish and hauled back at a rate of knots. It certainly is entertaining fishing watching the surface follows and strikes. The majority of the busting schools were hefty mack tuna, so the back and arms were receiving a fair sort of a work out. I did keep a couple to be slabbed and cryovaced for reef bait and we let the rest go. It was a great session with a lot of fun being had.

Once the sun started setting, we went on the hunt again. A few of the marks that showed fish earlier were now barren, but one little lump showing up a few fish. Coby opted for a 150mm Quick Catch vibe this time and after only a few jigs was nailed. We were hoping for that gold goodness to come calling, but it wasn’t to be with another decent black jew being subdued.

They are good fun, the big jewies, but fishing for them in depths over ten meters means they don’t release well at all with barotrauma taking its toll. So when they decide to move in we normally move on and try our luck somewhere else.

That seemed to be the only luck we had for the night accept for a decent sized grunter that was taken on a whole pillie. We turned in for the night and would return for the golden hour in the morning.

We were ready. We were sitting on our mark waiting for something to happen. The bait was starting to thicken on the sounder with the sun getting closer to poking its head up. The jigs were deployed and everything felt right. The first few drifts only turned over a few small cod before the rod in the holder came to life. I had a Berkley Gulp 6.5 inch Nemesis just sitting near the bottom and was letting the boat’s rocking motion do the work. I grabbed the rod and went to work. Just as I thought to myself that I may had snagged myself a fingermark, the Toray braid started heading towards the surface at a fast pace before a magnificent queenfish took to the air. The fight lasted another ten minutes and the queenie put on a good show for us before Coby managed to net him and bring him in for a quick photo. It was definitely the biggest queenie I had ever caught by quite a bit and it was great to watch it swim away after we speared him back into the briny.

We went from spot to spot jigging our arms off for the rest of the morning with very little to show for our efforts. It didn’t matter to us though, because one good fingermark for a trip is more than enough to keep us satisfied.

When we do a jigging trip we often take a range of soft plastics and jigs. All of the Berkley Gulp range is a great place to start and we have had good success with Squid Vicious, Nemesis and JerkShads. Zmans, both 7″ and 8″, are also another great option and fellow Fish and Boat writer Dan Kaggelis would back that opinion, I’m sure. Vibration style lures have also worked well in the past like Quick Catch and Sebile Flatt Shads. Having jigheads sorted out in a tackle tray will also save time when out on the water when changing soft plastics. I have mine sorted in weight and hook size.

I have been asked a fair bit through our facebook page Fishing Central Queensland about tips and techniques for people wanting to catch their first trophy fingermark, so hopefully I have shed a bit of light on the subject and passed on a few of the tips and techniques I have learned over the past 12 months. Please remember though that fingermark are a very slow growing species, so it does pay to limit your catch and not catch your limit.

We do love seeing people succeed in this wonderful sport of ours and do our best to help others. It doesn’t matter how old or young someone is or their experience level, it always pays to listen to others as you may be surprised where your next valuable piece of information comes from.