A look at Lutjanis Johnii
By Coby and Liam Pascoe
Lutjanis Johnii are more commonly known as the fingermark, sea perch or golden snapper. Call them what you want, if you’re a keen fisherman and hear any of those names at the local your ears will prick and thoughts of bent rods and tough, dogged fights will have you in a sweat.
The fingermark is a part of the Lutjanis species, a close cousin to the famous mangrove jack and they share similar characteristics as there close relative. Fingermark occupy the northern waters of Australia, frequenting coastal shallows, bays, estuaries, tidal creeks and headlands.
The Australian record is 12.420kg, although they may approach 15.00kg.
Fingermark will eat just about anything. We have even seen them feeding on the surface in twenty metres of water, woofing down whole three spot crabs.
Fresh baitfish, squid, and live prawns are hard to beat.
These fish grow reasonably fast at first then slow down. A 50cm fish is around 5 to 7 years old, where a 60cm plus fish could be anything upwards of 10 years old. Some of the fish we have caught are upwards of 80cm and may well be over 20 years old.
Barotrauma effects fingermark from depths greater than 10m, so if you happen on to a hot bite, please don’t expect to catch and release these fish all day as they will more than likely not survive. Take just enough for a few good feeds and move on; they will be back at that same spot another day.
The fingermark are usually smaller in the estuaries and range from juveniles up to about 600mm. Although you can get larger fish, the majority are the smaller schooling fish, hence we like to use lighter gear.
We only use light tackle – 2kg to 6kg braid with leaders up to about 20kg and as light as 5kg depending on the clarity of the water. All matched with small to medium spinning reels [2000 to 4000 size reels] and matching rods.
Catching fish on lures is our passion so we very rarely use bait. Soft plastics, especially in the 3” to 4” range, are our go-to lures. Match them with a suitable jig head and your off. These little plastics catch everything in the estuaries, especially fingermark.
The last year has seen us using hard and soft vibes. We have had some great results on these, especially when searching out new territory.
The top of the tide and run out seems to be the best for the estuaries, so that’s where we concentrate our efforts
Once we find some suitable structure, like a submerged reef or snag, especially if it’s at a creek mouth or junction, its time to start throwing lures.
I will generally swap colours, weights and sizes until we get a reaction.
Retrievals can be anything from a simple slow lift and drop to a fast rip, pause, rip. Even just drifting the plastics along the bottom close to a snag or over the reef whilst shaking them ever so slightly will have fingers and other fish climbing all over your lures. If the water is dirty, then you need to slow your retrieve down and keep the lifts short and sharp. This helps the fish locate and follow the lure more easily. If you are ripping that lure a metre or more, the fish never has a chance to track it down, so slow up and give him a good chance. Just remember, if you catch a fish, try to replicate the retrieve you caught it on as best you can.
Headlands, close-in reefs and islands
Here we start to get some bigger fish and they get mean once they hit about 700mm and up. You will know you have landed one when you have her at your feet she is kicking and snapping like a Rottweiler and your arms and legs are like jelly.
We up the anti a bit here and use tackle from about 6kg up to 15kg, spinning reels no smaller than 3000 size or larger bait casters with big drags and rods from about 1.8m and up – stiffer but with enough give to flick a lure a long way and power to burn down low.
Off the headlands we arrive well before dawn on a rising tide, just after sun-up, quickly ready the tackle and start casting soft plastics whilst it is still pitch black. We use soft plastics in the 4” to 5” sizes with jig heads from the Squidgy stable of Finesse Heads – 2grm 2/0 to 3.5grm 3/0 hooks.
Fish the plastics slowly enough to just stay in touch with the bottom and hang on. These fish caught around the headlands release very well too, so don’t be scared to put some of them back for another day.
On the close-in reefs and islands we like to stay the night or arrive just after midnight. Provided the weather is good, we generally sound around on the electric motor, marking reef, bait or fish. Once we find the best part of the reef, we then deploy a marker. This marker is just a plastic bottle with a glow stick inserted inside it and enough line and weight to anchor it in one spot. This then gives us an area to stay in touch with whilst covering ground with the electric and casting.
Lures we use out here are bigger again: 7” plastics and 3” to 5” soft vibes or hard body shads. Same again, it’s pitch black so fish slowly. I have a technique of just slowly but patiently jigging under the boat staying in touch with the bottom; slowly lifting and lowering of the lure works here.
Dad will be doing long casts up current waiting for the lure to touch down but also staying in touch with it just in case of a hit mid water which often happens. Once the lure is on the bottom, slow but short draws along the bottom or just off it will draw a strike sooner or later.
As the sun brightens the sky, you can speed the retrieve up and don’t forget to mix it up a bit and think outside the box. We haven’t found any specific tides that we prefer yet. But having a tide change on sunrise definitely fires things up a lot. Also we find full moon brings a lot of surface action as the bigger tides bring a lot of crabs out, which has these fish smashing these crabs off the surface, along with other species.
Take some good pictures of these amazing fish. The ones you catch of a night will look like giant goldfish on steroids. Then as the sun gets higher they will lighten up and get that fingermark back. They are an impressive fish that needs to be looked after so please don’t get caught up in the moment and kill too many of our big breeders.
Tight lines all.