Sooty Battles – Luke Galea June 16

Sooty’s in winter? You bloody bet! Residing in Mackay, it would be fair to say that our local winter would be quite laughable, especially when compared to the southern states. Despite this, there is certainly a drop by at least a few degrees which is definitely transferred to the water. This can make targeting those fish that are characteristically renowned for being summer time brawlers, a little trickier…..or does it?

Summer thugs such as barramundi, mangrove jack and sooty grunter just to name a few, can all be caught during the change of season when many people would dismiss the opportunity and the challenge. It can be a little harder but it can be done, and often is. As anglers we just need to adapt. This is actually a good thing as it continually keeps us on our toes thinking about the next move, technique or location to try. A good angler will always be challenging themselves, catching fish on techniques that are less common or have a higher degree of difficulty in order to push the boundaries and accomplish the end game of actually catching the fish. Some anglers will even suggest that getting too comfortable with a given species on a given technique is actually akin to going backwards as you stop challenging yourself. The moment you stop learning is the day you die I reckon. There are plenty of self-proclaimed experts out there who think they know it all….but these guys are seriously kidding themselves….you never stop learning!

As far as chasing mangrove jack and barramundi goes during winter, it is a commonly known fact that by downsizing your offering (ie the jelly bean theory) you stand a higher chance at coaxing the more sluggish fish into striking. I won’t go into it in great detail as I’m sure the majority of you would know about this and have heard it before but for those newbies or people escaping the cool water down south and holidaying north and wanting to tangle these iconic Australian sportfish, I’ll elaborate on it slightly. In a nut shell, it is a well-known fact that barramundi have a large appetite and is not uncommon for them to eat a large bait around the 25cm mark in summer, ie a large mullet or legal whiting. During winter, their metabolism slows right down whereby they will not often feed on these large prey items. Downsizing your offering to something much smaller and manageable (hence the term jelly bean) will often tempt a lethargic fish as it doesn’t have to spend a great deal of time and energy hunting it down or digesting it.

Getting to the crux of this article though, I have found that for the most part sooty grunter aren’t like barra as you can catch them all year round with ease providing you have one or even better, two things in your favour.

The first one is depth, or lack of it more to the point. When I fish for sooty grunter exclusively, there are two differing environments I will fish for them in and both are dependent on the season. The differing environments I refer to here are large, deep, Melaleuca dominated waterholes and shallow, fast flowing riffle/rapid zones. The sooty grunter present in the deeper waterholes will tend to be more sluggish due to the water temperature being cooler. The location of the large waterholes I refer to are often situated a fair distance west of Mackay where air temperatures also drop to levels far lower than those experienced in the Mackay urban area. At these times of year, I will not even bother fishing the deeper waterhole locations for sooty grunter. There are bucket loads of them in there but they just don’t turn on.

At the other end of the environmental spectrum, if you focus your targeted efforts on sooty fishing the shallow riffle zones of a wild sweetwater northern river or creek then you will come up trumps every time no matter the time of year. The temperature is the key driver in this scenario. The water will always be warmer for two reasons. The most obvious one is the fact that the shallow water depth takes far less effort to heat up and will be warmer as a result. The second reason is that these riffle riffle/rapid zones are almost always dominated by large boulders, cobbles and stone which absorb the suns heat and transfers it to the water column.

The other variable that will aid in your scintillating sooty success is rainfall and elevated river flows. Many recreational anglers curse the rain for ruining their plans if it happens to rain on a day they envisaged going fishing. More often than not they will can the idea, often opting to sleep in or catch up on all those fishing shows that are aired back to back each Sunday. Now it may not be as comfortable and can often be god damn horrible, but fishing in the rain or at least the runoff a day or two later should be done as a priority. Rain at any time of year will spur these nuggetty black footballs on.

Rainfall spurs these fish into spawning and migrating and will often school up at the base of rapids and waterfalls on their quest to move upstream. As far up as the can physically get to, you get bet that’s where the will go. Snags or woody debris situated in an eddying backwater to the side of where a riffle zone enters a slightly deeper body of water is the absolute pinnacle of sooty grunter structure. Flicking surface lures like an atomic pop 50 or megabass dog-x jr around habitats such as this is a sure thing. Casting upstream above the riffle zone and bringing your lure back with the flow will also entice plenty of strikes towards the base of the riffle zone as the sootys lay in wait for food and highly oxygenated water to be swept straight to them. Just make sure you upgrade your trebles from the stock standard shelf bought ones as sootys will iron them out pretty easily on most occasions. The power of these fish never ceases to amaze me and I have seen some seriously mangled trebles in my time.

If you want to chase sootys, I would recommend 7 foot spin rods with weights around 4-10lb or 6-12lb matched with either a 2500 or 3000 sized spin reel. Spin rods allow a wider variety of fishing applications. I like to run a 6-12lb Samurai Infinite matched with either my Shimano 2500 Rarenium or 3000 Twinpower loaded with 8 or 10lb braid respectively.

These solid black footballs are extremely addictive, fight out of control and are a massive reason why I love my sweetwater fishing so much. It would be a crying shame if they went off the bite with the cooler weather as I would suffer serious withdrawals. Just as well this is not the case. All you need to do is think a little harder.

Live It…Breathe It….

Luke Galea.