Rekindling Mourilyan Magic! – By Dan Bowater

Experienced anglers of the far north know that during each year, something of a ‘sweet spot’ occurs for about six weeks in FNQ.

From late September to around the end of October, the dry season fizzles out, maximum temperatures increase by a few degrees, and the most revered inshore tropical species feed fiercely. Combine these factors with a peak moon phase, and small boat owners dare to dream big.

With this knowledge at hand, I decided October 2022 would be my favoured month for a rare far-northern foray. It is one trip that has been a very long time in the making after dealing with, what seemed, an endless procession of life’s cruelest curve balls.

A Southern Sojourn

Within hours of my flight arriving in Cairns, a flurry of messages had my phone buzzing non-stop. It was inevitable that I’d find myself fishing ‘somewhere’ as a weekend was looming. But it was the same story from most locals “Too windy for reef fishing ay Dan!”. One of my old mates, Paul’ Teabag’ Tetley, was about the only person willing to think outside the square. The fact I am banned from booze nowadays might have helped persuade Paul to consider an unconventional idea after a few pre-fish pub drinks. Rather than joining the chorus of complainers, I insisted on chasing the calmer weather further south to a particular spot dear to my heart- Mourilyan Harbour near Innisfail. From my point of view, Paul’s petite 3.7m Seajay was the ideal boat for this trip.

Many enjoy the prestige of owning large reef-worthy boats but the irony is how those anglers fish less frequently since their larger rigs are impractical for many estuary or impoundment fishing applications.

A small/open rig means versatility. We could sneak onto the shallow reef and nab a few jacks in the linking Moresby River for good measure.

Paul’ Teabag’ Tetley with a beautiful 78.5cm Mourilyan Harbour fingermark- an iconic capture.

Paul’ Teabag’ Tetley with a beautiful 78.5cm Mourilyan Harbour fingermark- an iconic capture.

Mourilyan Harbour Magic

Typically speaking, Mourilyan harbour gets overlooked as hordes of trailer boat anglers travel onward to Hinchinbrook Channel. By doing so, they all miss a rare chance to fish productive patches of shallow reef virtually in the shadows of the ancient rainforest that lines Mourilyan’s picturesque shores. Gun anglers know it’s possible to catch tusk fish, coral trout and many other reef dwellers all within a few hundred meters of launching and along much of the coastline on either side of the harbour entrance. On calm days, the late Sam Pagano, an Innisfail fishing identity, often muttered “A good pair of thongs and ya walk out there” (RIP old mate). More standard reef expeditions involve a far more extensive, more difficult journey. Back in my halcyon days of regular Mourilyan Harbour trips, I’d happily compare my catches to the reef fisho brigade without even needing to cross the shipping channel. Since some went to the trouble of driving to South East Qld (where I now live) to ask me for GPS marks, I must have been doing something right!

Standard bottom bashing techniques still have their place, but often lack the finesse required to unlock pressured fish.

Despite much common misconception, there is more to this smash ‘n’ grab’ fishing style than simply pinging secret coordinates.

Some Sunup Nostalgia

Classic fluorescent hues of dawn signaled the beginning of our trip as we prepared to exit the confines of the harbour entrance. Welling currents poured around us and became illuminated by emerging crimson light. For many years I lived right near this unique location. If there was ever a moment for nostalgia, this was it! Within minutes we had the Lowrance scanning shallow bommies, and Teabag quickly had an excellent line of drift worked out. A greedy cod whacked Paul’s Gulp jerk shad on the first drift and put a little tussle on his Abu Veritas outfit. Then, I followed suit with a solid bar cheek trout that proved an entree for things to come.

Dan Bowater with a nice bar cheek trout jigged up from shallow reef country.

Dan Bowater with a nice bar cheek trout jigged up from shallow reef country.

A Mega Mark

To spice things up, Paul began experimenting with a new Nomad Vertrex Swim vibe that sank delectably through the water column. Meanwhile, the little boat bounced around like a tin can in the light southerly swell- lucky for the short run-in!

About ten minutes later, I looked over to see Paul’s rod keeled over BIG TIME to the unmistakable tail beats of a mega Mourilyan fingermark.

The brute fish gave Teabag a torrid fight and, classically, illuminated the aqua lime depths with a mesmerising prism of golden reflections in the morning sunlight. At 78.5cm, this fish was definitely in the ‘trophy’ specimen category and justified the choice to send down a slower sinking presentation. Good thinking, mate!

A Trophy Apiece!

We had barely packed Paul’s fingermark into the esky before my rod buckled over. Some huge lunges and abstract headshakes had us believing lightning could strike twice. Those iconic oversized gold armour scales reflected below the little tinny once more. As another 80cm beauty slid effortlessly onto the brag mat, Paul couldn’t resist asking me, “Would ya ever move back here, mate?”. The 55L esky had no room for more of these Mourilyan Harbour monsters, but we figured there just might be space for a couple of tasty Moresby River mangrove jacks.

The author with a typical Morseby River mangrove jack caught on an Atomic soft plastic lure.

The author with a typical Morseby River mangrove jack caught on an Atomic soft plastic lure.

A Gold Medal Finish

Next, we ditched the heavy gear in favour of lightweight/low profile baitcast outfits and smaller soft plastics. I should have stuck with the heavy gear as I hooked up to a sizeable golden trevally not long into the new snag casting crusade. Somehow, despite zig-zagging across the river and into a pile of snags, we miraculously pried the sizeable fish out. Everything we touched turned to gold…golden snapper and golden trevally that is! Over the preceding two hours, a few respectable jacks completed an FNQ seafood basket and capped off a dream day in Mourilyan.

Teabag isn’t a fan of the small country towns, but I could see how the raw character and mystery of Mourilyan had lured me in for all those years as a young fella (pun intended). For a few fleeting moments, the day’s euphoric fishing action had me contemplating throwing in a quick application at the nearby barra farm. Then, I had to remind myself how we were fishing in the ‘sweet spot’ of the year. The mere thought of boiling summers, monsoonal wet seasons, and holiday season frenzies made me appreciate the aircon and the outbound road to the Bruce Highway.

Teabag and I had timed our run to Mourilyan perfectly and tasted the sweetest slice of piscatorial cake offered by that section of coast to the budding small boat angler.

A day when god sprinkled a little Mourilyan magic on a couple of reminiscing old mates! Feel free to watch the edited GoPro footage from this trip. It is viewable on my YouTube Channel at:, or simply scan the included QR code to take you straight to the video.