Kane Barclay nailed this 56cm mangrove jack up Coombabah Creek throwing a Z-Man soft plastic.

Join the Gold Coast jack hunt

Will Kitching with a Gold Coast Seaway mangrove jack caught on a live pilchard. This fish measured 51cm.
The author’s spread of FatBoy Lures skirts for mahi mahi and marlin.
The author with a Seaway jewfish taken on the drift with live yakka for bait.
The author’s son Bailey with a mahi mahi off the 36 North East FAD that ate a pilchard.

LOOKING back, 2020 was an awesome year for the fishing and boating industry, as well as for fishers. Talking to many of the boat manufacturers, it seems they are going to be building new boats for quite a while. The boat yards are selling boats faster than they can get them. Tackle shops, who this time last year thought things were going to be tough, have powered on with good sales and increased turnover.

The fishing in 2020 was superb and now that it’s the summer of 2021, let’s have a look at what’s going on around the coast. Firstly, I want to talk inshore, and the hot humid days and long sticky nights bring one amazing fish to mind. Mangrove jack – also known as red dogs – are probably a fish on your bucket list or maybe you’re one of those lucky fishos who have caught a few. Either way, in my mind they are the trophy fish of every Gold Coast estuary angler. Jack hunt

Now, it’s up to you to get motivated! Let’s talk about how you’re going to get one. Whether you’re a bait fisher or prefer lures, it doesn’t matter – jack will smash both. Also, fishing with a spin or baitcast outfit doesn’t affect your chances either, as both will work. Whatever you need to get a lure or bait up into the zone is fine. A reasonably fast taper rod is best and a reel that has a good 4-6kg of drag pressure will suffice. I prefer a rod of around 5’10” to 6’, and I use a Shimano Curado baitcast reel with 20lb braid and a 30lb leader. It’s perfect for casting lures into and around snags to tempt fish out.Jack hunt

My spin combo is a Daiwa TD Sol III LT 3000 with the matching rod. It’s better for those times where you want to cast lighter plastics or surface lures with accuracy, particularly into the wind. Bait can be just about anything, with live herring, poddy mullet, mullet strips and prawns being a few favourites. Fresh bait is always best, so try to avoid using that old refrozen bait from your last trip.

The rig I use is a running 3, 4 or 5 ball sinker down to a swivel on a 40cm trace of 30lb monofilament leader with a pair of 3/0 octopus or suicide hooks snelled about 8cm apart. This rig is good for livies or strip bait, the key is getting the bait up into where the fish feel comfortable having a crack. Often you won’t feel comfortable casting a bait into what looks like a hopeless situation, but you might have to. It’s just not going to happen if you’re casting out into the middle of the creek.

Make sure you get right up in there, just 1m or so away from the pylon, snag, jetty or whatever piece of structure you think has a jack in residence. The strike is hard when bait fishing and occasionally it’s all over before it begins. As soon as you feel the hit, go hard and give them hell until you have the dog out. The jack is going to keep fighting all the way to the boat, so have the net ready.Jack hunt

If you’re using lures, it’s the same principal – get in close to the zone, work the lure as intended and always be ready for the strike. You can lace the lures in one of the gel scents that are available, and I highly recommend you use it because it seems to increase the hook-up rate. Set the hooks hard on the hit and go for gold – it’s the best feeling getting smashed by a jack on a lure. Remember, fish around low light, find the structure, use good fresh bait or if using lures work them in close to the structure.Jack hunt

Offshore and the Gold Coast Seaway are cranking out the goods at the moment, and everyone I’ve spoken to has had good results. Mahi mahi have been the main target on the fish aggregating devices around the 36-fathom and 50-fathom marks, and for those you who keep asking where the FADs are, they are on the Queensland Government website and the GPS locations are freely available. Pilchard and live bait are great for mahi mahi on FADs. If you want to target a big bull specimen, get yourself a spread of skirted lures similar to the one from FatBoy Lures. A locally supplied product, they have been designed for targeting mahi mahi in particular. A little secret, FatBoys also work wonders on marlin.

Talking about marlin, small blacks should be showing up very close soon and trolling skirts is one of the best ways to hook one. In fact, if the bait comes right in close, you can start trolling the minute you leave the Seaway. At this time of year, strong currents make the wider grounds a challenge to fish so keep your options open and be prepared to change it up. Have a range of knife jigs onboard for when you get to a FAD and the mahi mahi aren’t on – you can cruise around and have a jig for kingfish instead. Plenty have been getting caught on the 50-fathom line off the Gold Coast and 200g plus knife jigs can be worked in the fast current with plenty of success.Jack hunt

Jewfish are still around in the Seaway snatching live bait and big plastics, and the summer species are all going to be chewing for the start of the year. Mud crabs after the rain will be everywhere, so remember to put the pots in. Enjoy and look after what you’ve got at your doorstep, we’re all very lucky. Thanks to all the crew out there who give me a shout and wave whenever you see me cruising by in the blue Bar Crusher.

To everyone else out there, enjoy February.

About Ben Smith

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