“Neap Tide Nannies” Dan Bowater 2016

Another year has flown by and disappeared like a doomed baitfish in a bubble trail. With 2016 behind us there really is no better time to analyse or at least consider what the New Year will produce. It’s worthwhile to look back at how that year long timeframe helped improve our ability on the water. What lessons were learnt?

What new changes will be included into the 2017 repertoire? What methods will be discarded? And what are the goals for the New Year? We all know that basing everything on pot luck is hardly a recipe for success. I’ll admit that while my interest in fishing is as high as ever at the end of each year it becomes progressively tougher to answer these fundamental questions. Now that’s not to say my ability or knowledge can’t be improved- far from it! I think if you reach that limiting mentality the game is up. I guess, for me, I have become very comfortable within a small range of proven techniques. My fishing style has almost compressed and intensified rather than balanced and broadened. It’s so hard to abandon game plans that lead to victory but sometimes you just have to take massive risks or that special angling flame within us simply fizzles out!

Times and Territories

Last month I covered one of my regular favourite target species and approaches (catching fingermark on soft plastics). If you wanted to be pedantic it would be more beneficial to really look at that sort of fishing in a ‘fishing year’ rather than a ‘calendar year’. Remember time spent fishing doesn’t count on your lifespan! In Mourilyan the better months span from about September to April, with May to August offering inferior action across the board most years. I guess there are exceptions like in 2006 when the macks were on the chew something crazy throughout July and August. Or even 2014 when the Russell/Mulgrave junction queenies were going wild at a similar time. All said, I still think the warmer, calmer months in the lead up to the wet are the key times for the more revered target species. With this tropical tendency in mind I suppose you could say we are in the middle of my definition of the ‘fishing year’. Indeed the last few months have really been outstanding from the usual fingermark, GTs and cobia, all the way through to impoundment barra and sooty grunter. In November Paul ‘Teabag’ Tetley from Cairns had purchased a stack of slow pitch jigs and planned to christen them on an inshore mark one morning targeting large-mouth nannygai. For ground that you would call as very much ‘inshore’ (i.e. within twenty kilometres of the ramp) I was very surprised at his level of confidence. When I received the invitation to join this trip my first thought was “bugger me that’s not far for nannygai, should really be fingermark territory”.

‘Money in the Bank’

Some rain squalls threatened to cancel the trip, but our resilience was met with reward. The bottom structure was marked in 25 metres of water after a short voyage past the Islands. Our trusty seven inch Gulp and Zman jerk shads were habitually rigged up promptly to 1.5 ounce jig heads. On the first drift I got the feeling this weight was ideal to counteract only a gentle tidal run. Somewhat contrary to my normal fishing routine we timed everything on small (almost neap) tides rather than the two metres of movement I prefer for big fingermark. Our arrival on dawn was something that also really worked in our favour with fish moving several metres off the bottom to strike. The large-mouth nannys were feeding so aggressively that bits of my chewed up plastics were being coughed up by specimens Paul landed. Both of us prepared well for this trip too with all knots, leaders, line rollers and other potential points of failure checked over to the enth’ degree. I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to get this stuff sorted. The slightest weaknesses or imperfection really can ruin everything. We had a good assorted catch on ice when this turning point eventually came. On a regular hook-up I excitedly worked what felt like a solid 6kg (or thereabouts) nanny to the surface. Instead of another gleaming red prize this time all I got back was a bent jig head with a scale impaled through the point of the hook! We realised that this solid escapee fish had fled in turn probably causing the others to follow. It was hard to be disappointed with ‘money in the bank’ (a nice feed). With conditions glassing out and a full tank of juice we couldn’t help but push wider.


ShrimpZ and Sharks!

For this next move I had a sneaky little trick planned. I set up a paternoster style rig with two droppers. The top consisted of a four inch Zman Shrimpz soft plastic lure and the bottom a squid cocktail (squid tube with pilchard inside). Immediately the machine gun taps of small sweetlip signalled through our rod tips. These little destructive buggers are a blessing and a curse. Their feeding melees tend to draw in bigger predators but at the same time they destroy everything in their path. Even your line isn’t safe as they bite hard enough to leave little kinks and weak points just behind the hook. Enter the Zman Shrimpz! This is one of the most durable plastics and conveniently also one of the most potent in drawing strikes. The small profile does also get attention from the machine gun taps. However, unlike with bait, try as they might, they cannot destroy the Shrimpz. It’s so tough they can’t even bite the legs off it. The trick was to rig it unweighted on the dropper with a 5/0 O’Shaunessy style reef hook. It becomes a recipe for repeated trout hook-ups as old mate trout prefers to play for keeps in the prawn feeding game! As you might guess we were having a ball getting amongst this good trout bite until the sharks moved in. For a laugh I also tied on one of Paul’s 40gram slow pitch jigs and landed a solid seven kilo tealeaf trevally (yep those ‘endangered’ sharks know what to let through). Honestly, we ended up catching that many fish it is hard to easily summarise from Maori wrasse and big trevally bottom bashing the deeper spots to big red bass whilst casting swim baits in the shallows.

A Theory and a Test

Following the 90 minute drive back to Mourilyan I kept thinking of how, just maybe, close to home I was unintentionally forfeiting bite periods on good species by focusing specifically on tides suiting fingermark. My energy levels were pretty much sapped after the reef trip with Paul. I even fell asleep on the boat at one stage. Nevertheless with a very enticing range of parameters playing on my mind it was just too tempting to slam down a Red Bull and throw the gear in my smaller boat the next morning. You never remember good sleeps! I zoomed out to one of my longer distance marks and tied on a Gulp Jerk shad on a light ¾ ounce jig head. Astonishingly on this very first drop I saw the tell tale wiz of braid spew from the spin reel on the freefall. What I thought might be a fluky fingermark was something quite different. It proved my curiosity as very much validated when seven kilos of prime large-mouth nannygai surfaced. The next drop a near identical strike had me excited until the hook pulled presumably causing the remaining nanny school to also disappear. The show wasn’t over as my other new weapons were unleashed. The Zman Shrimpz somehow coaxed a 15 kilo Cobia and a new ‘Fuze’ 38 gram soft vibe raised interest from GT so big that it maxed out my 50lb spring scales. That final trevally hook-up simply pushed me to the absolute brink of total exhaustion. The things we do for fishing! It was well worth it to test out a theory, gain some rewards and hone new skills.

New Anglers and a New Year

Part of the equation that could be overlooked is cooperating with experienced anglers to gain hints and perspectives. To be fair I really do enjoy getting new anglers onto their first proper captures but things can also go pear shaped pretty quickly. When the ‘baby sitting’ effect begins the possibility of advanced learning sort of dissipates. It’s definitely happened a few times over the last year. New anglers are fun company but realistically more likely to copy your actions rather than offer repaid insight offered by guys like Paul. Therefore, I think next year I will put in a more concerted effort to plan trips with experienced anglers who fish differently. The benefit of this decision to chase nannygai on micro jigs really shone through. Ironically though, we never actually tied on a micro jig until well after the key dawn ‘golden hour’ bite time. The old habit of reaching for the big jerk shad ‘SP’ was too ingrained in both of our psyches (sounds like a good excuse to go back eh Teabag?). For 2017 my goal is to continue my existing methods but fish the tides/locations differently with these new lure types. One goal that remains from every other year is to catch the ever elusive magic metre long fingermark. I’m certain this fish is out there and maybe all it takes is a different lure choice, and new approach to get the all important bite? I hope your goals for 2017 are fulfilled and your festive break includes happy memories of thumping trophy fish. Cheers!