Trumping Fingermark – Dan Bowater 2016

At the time of writing I am feverishly typing in order to meet the deadline for this story between also watching bits of the U.S election coverage. It seems like the whole world has lost its mind with Trump now on the brink of victory. If it weren’t for all the good recent fishing action I think I’d even be little annoyed about this news.

However, in Mourilyan FNQ the rigors of politics or any considerable evidence of human activity is minimal. Each weekend is decided by the direction and/or strength of the wind and whose boat might be ready for a reef trip. November is prime time for some of the greatest target species, none more so than fingermark or golden snapper (locally called ‘big scale’). When your clothes are drenched in sweat, the barra season has closed, and the supermarkets are putting up Christmas paraphernalia you know its prime time.

Mega Mourilyan Fingermark

Fingermark are targeted all along coastal FNQ it’s just that Mourilyan has a notorious reputation for large fish exceeding 70cm. In this story I will explain my specific approach to chasing these large adult fish rather than those plate sized tackers you may find in a river system. As Donald Trump has already said “You gotta dream big” (disclaimer: this quote does not imply I am now cheering on the now likely prospect of a Trump win). One of the great things about fingermark is their varied feeding behaviours and movements. I have found these fish in as little as 5 meters of water to over 30 meters. It’s that zone in-between 8-25m where, off Mourilyan, the adult specimens repeatedly congregate. In terms of feeding these fish will chomp down a huge array of bait species generally preferring squid, herring, juvenile trevally, slimey mackerel and yellowtail (in that order). I tend to view reef fishing for other species as sort of like aiming a shot gun in the general direction of a target whereas fingermark fishing is more like using a finely tuned sniper rifle. Inwards of the shipping channel the diversity of species is lower but it is a nice feeling to claim fewer, higher quality fish with that finely tuned scope.

Big Scale’ Seasons

Once the wet season arrives it might sound melodramatic but honestly the show is over until the next summer. Over several years I have gone to the extent of cancelling trips with certain anglers who think they can miraculously conjure a miracle winter bite just by showing up with a shiny new reel or pack of lures. In any fishing scenario there are anomalies and flukes that are used to try and dispel hard truths. Personally I think unless that angler achieves results on a regular basis ‘rabbit out the hat’ outcomes are entertaining yet no more meaningful than what Donald Trump’s catwalk model might say in a plagiarised speech. Despite the recent onset of favourable conditions for fingermark overall the fishing this year, characterised by a late/prolonged wet, has been very tough indeed. In stark contrast 2015 really had no significant wet season therefore the fingermark bite extended and even peaked (thanks to some great tidal movement) in Easter. Many guys do the 90 minute drive down from Cairns at random times guns ablaze but funnily enough it’s usually the minority who return for the second trip. Just like when targeting barramundi successful fingermark fishing could best be divided into two types: live baiting and luring.

Going Bait or Lure?

Both of these methods are undoubtedly art forms within themselves. Anyone who dismisses live baiting for fingermark as a lesser pursuit really has no idea of the effort and knowledge required to pull off consistent captures. I’d even say an angler who has experienced rewards from both spheres has a significant advantage in understanding their feeding behaviours more intimately. However, today it’s the latter approach I will delve into- your big fingermark on lure! Now, before I get too engrossed in the subject it’s worth noting that Mourilyan is a unique part of the FNQ coastline. It’s characterised by plunging depths, rocky outcrops and sparse kilometres of mud bottom. In several other locations you can target this species in a wider range of depths and habitats therefore a bigger range of applicable lure types. Locally I find soft plastics to rein supreme being perfectly suited to probing deeper structure whilst also offering a deadly/stealthy presentation. You could best describe it as vertical fishing so under this umbrella other lures such as soft vibes, micro jigs, metal slugs, and buck tail jigs certainly all enter the equation. It’s exciting to think what some of these different presentations bring to the table. Personally, I can only comment on what has historically/repeatedly produced the goods and that has been using soft plastics.

A Split Decision

Targeting fingermark on soft plastics is a specific method but the range of options within it in terms of lure selection is staggeringly huge. It’s always nice to have a range of ‘Sp’s’ on hand to cover different ground or imitate different bait types. At the same time it’s also beneficial to keep things practical. I like to place soft plastics into two categories: self-generating or non-generating actions. For example a squid profile like a Keitech crazy flapper, Gulp ‘Squid Vicious’ or Zman curl tail grub would all count as lures with self-generating actions in my book. They are the type of lures you can leave in a rod holder, do nothing else, and still receive hook-ups. Any current and wave action alone causes enough action to trigger a bite. Contrastingly non-generating lures could best be categorised under the jerkshad, ‘flick bait ‘or ‘split tail’ family. In my opinion it’s this latter type that offers the biggest advantage in the depths I’ve outlined. They have been an unchanged/integral part of the soft plastic market for over a decade. Getting the most out of a jerkshad pattern asks more from the angler but also gains more varied predatory responses from below.

Free-spooling Fingeries!

Given that it’s easier to use a lure that works well with minimal energy input why chose something like a Gulp or Zman Jerkshad? Personally I feel the jerkshad profile is perfect for getting a special reaction type response from deep structure compared to only a regular feeding response. Principally there are three key moments during a cast and retrieve when you will hook your fingermark. Without doubt the most likely time is during the freefall. Fingermark are a bottom oriented species meaning they are forever watching above them. Any time a correctly weighted and delectable wafting morsel appears they are onto it like Trump on a mainstream comedy show before voting day. Problematically it is also this time when you are at your most vulnerable. Presuming you are using spin tackle (which I would recommend to maximise a natural freefall effect) it means your reel is totally out of gear. Typically you will be watching to see whether your braid slackens after reaching the bottom. It also pays to be alert- sometimes it won’t make it that far! Any manner of things can go wrong during a free-spool strike, including being taken into structure or more commonly missing a solid hook-set. A nifty trick is to flick your rod tip skyward and engage the reel in one quick motion. By doing so you are giving your bail arm a pivotal mille-second of slack time to flick over. It’s a bit of a counter intuitive technique but honestly works wonders in this very decisive moment.

Taming your Target

There are two other definable times when I’d say your plastic will be scoffed. The next most common time occurs when you begin a series of jigging motions. Jerkshads are a unique lure that dances in short/quick movements when worked correctly. For whatever reason I’ve noticed ol’ mate fingery is aroused most by the first/quickest jig in each series. Perhaps this is related to the fact your lure is closest to the bottom, or perhaps it is actually one of those bite trigger responses. For a classic example of this type of hook-up check out the below online clip. It’s an oldie but a goodie!

The third and final type of hook-up interval I could define involves anytime during the remaining series of jigs. It might sound like a less enlightening observation but it really is something to note separately. Keeping your jigging pattern in an erratic sequence of steps will flush out trophy fish to strike. For instance if you simply imparted three twitches of equal length and speed you are, in my view, most likely forfeiting a shot at a bite. It’s being able to work that lure in such an unpredictable way that it draws a reaction bite. I’d even say over time you might form your own special recipe of jig patterns. Mentally I will mix up the short and long jigs by counting them (i.e. one-two, one-two-three, one-two). In a sense this final stage of the retrieve has a kind of over-arching importance since it sets the stage for another deadly free-spool.

Fine Tuning for Fingers’

It might sound more absurd than building a wall around America but the above instructions are still not solely sufficient to get your big fingermark hook-up. Most integrally its worth raising that while this is essentially vertical fishing it is still imperative to use casting to your advantage. A short cast that flicks your lure up-current of your position will allow the presentation to waft down more naturally, and with each series of jigs this importance becomes amplified. Once your lure can no longer freefall naturally (i.e. jigging directly against the resistance of current) its due time to retrieve and re-cast. Additionally there needs to be added consideration to a plethora of other things that influence the physics of your lure in the water. Getting certain setup based issues fine-tuned really helps give you a greater edge such as line choice, jig head weights, and rod length. There is already an abundance of information presented in past stories that outlines this more general topic. If you are unsure about setting up tackle do yourself a favour with some basic research on archived F&B stories through the website Perhaps also visit your local tackle shop and get them to show you some different examples of specialist soft plastic outfits, jig heads and line combinations. Back when I was going through the ropes there was nowhere near the amount of useful online information available as there is currently. Yet remarkably many new anglers just seem to ignore it all. A great pre-Trump American president once quoted “ignorance is not a virtue”. In my opinion it is wise to choose a quality reel with a powerful waterproof drag system and high speed retrieve. Match to a lightweight seven foot spin stick capable of handling up to 50lb braid. Finally acquire some 60lb fluorocarbon leader and an assortment of strong jig heads from 1/2oz to 3oz in weight. For the sake of conciseness I won’t start listing more information on the soft plastic lures themselves apart from what has already been suggested.

Coming up Trumps

Breaking through with big fingermark on lure is no easier than getting your first big impoundment barra or hooking your first marlin. I’ve seen some excellent anglers throw in the towel after succumbing to the remorseless oceanic environment and frustrating habits associated with this species. Worse still I’ve seen a lot more presumptive and audacious anglers expect the absolute finest results without expecting to lose a droplet of sweat. Oppositely I’ve seen delighted anglers get their breakthrough wins and experience that cool feeling of being the supreme soft plastics puppeteer. A good angler is always someone who respects equally the adversity and attention to detail involved in this particular activity. At certain times it is relatively easy but those times are not necessarily representative of an average day on the water. When it all comes together the feeling of seeing a hefty golden slab reflect through the water column can scarcely be replicated. Fingermark are without doubt a special summer target species and iconic fish to my local waters. I hope this story has helped give you an advantage on your next trip. Cheers