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Fly Fishing

Chasing Golden Trevalley on the Magnetic Island flats.


Enjoying one of the many beautiful beaches of Magnetic Island.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Fishing Location - North Cardinal

The North Cardinal would have to be one of the most overlooked fishing locations out of Townsville. This is the furthermost channel marker heading to sea from the Townsville harbor. At approximately 10nm from the boat ramp, this spot can be easily reached within a 20-30 minute run on most days. The marker is positioned just outside what would form a line between the back of Magnetic Island and Cape Cleveland. As such, it is located wide of turbid inshore waters. The marker is generally surrounded by clean fast running blue water, attractive to most pelagic species. However, at this distance from shore, windy conditions can bring up a rather uncomfortable sea. My suggestion is 5-10 knot winds for boats under 5m. Often, even in 15knots, conditions are comfortable, until the last mile or so. Here the oceanic swell can pick up, and with the added chop make life difficult. Water depth is around 12m at the low tide. Being the only obvious structure in an otherwise barren area, the pylon can attract massive schools of bait fish, particularly herring and scad.

The easiest way to reach the cardinal is to follow the first set of leads out of the harbor. Half way out the channel kinks to the port slightly. At this point there is a second set of leads to follow out of the channel. However, rather than follow this second set of leads, simply exit the channel straight ahead. The cardinal will begin to show up directly on this heading.

The Fish

As with most locations in Townsville, the fish caught at the North cardinal will depend on the time of year. Some of the fish I have caught here include Mackerel (School, Spotted and Spanish), Queenfish, Trippletail, Nannygai, Cod, Tuna and other smaller demersal species. School mackerel tend to be big, 60-70cm on average, and all the Queenfish I have caught have been close to or over the 1m mark. I have also caught several Trippletail approaching 10lbs. Winter is probably the prime time here, as this is when the mackerel make their appearance. However, having said that, I have caught good numbers of larger school mackerel here as late as Christmas! During these later months the mackerel will hold deeper where water temperatures are cooler.


Regardless of the time of year, if you are after big fish, live bait is the best way to go. And let’s face it; usually there are plenty on location. I have found that bait collects on the up-current side of the pylon, and sometimes up to 50m away. Sound around the area to locate the schools. Herring are definitely better than scad, so concentrate on the bait schools from mid water up. These are usually the herring, with scad hanging closer to the bottom. A simple $2.50 bait jigs will do the trick. Make sure you have at least 2 or 3 spare jigs in the tackle box. If mackerel are around, you can quickly loose jigs as they hit the baits before you can get them in the boat! Also, ensure plenty of bait is collected; 15-20 baits can disappear quickly if you hit a hot bite!

I’m not a big fan of wire traces, but single hooks and mackerel don’t go well together. But, minimize the wire as much as possible. As little as 5 to 10cm of light single strand wire is enough to prevent most bite offs. I fish live herring on mustard big mouth hooks. Size of hook should match the bait being used. When the water is running, hook the herring carefully through the front of the eye socket. A running sinker keeps the rig simple and minimizes the number of knots involved. Sinker size should match conditions. I have found baits do best when fished off the bottom, even for Mackerel. A number 4 bean will keep baits down in the peak run of tide. The running sinker will allow the herring to come up off the bottom just enough. But keep your hands tight on the rod as the bait goes down, often this is when a mackerel will hit and run.

If live bait is hard to come by, pilchards are by far the best dead bait. But buy only the very best. Cheap pilchards tend to be soft and hold poorly on the hook. I like to fish half pilchards on a double gang here. The tail can then go over for burly! I don’t use wire on gang hooks, even for mackerel. The extra strikes will be well worth the odd fish lost. Depending of the run of the tide, pilchards can be fished un-weighted, or on the bottom with a running sinker.

Lures and flies will work around the cardinal. Metal slices thrown past the pylon and allowed sink to the bottom before a rapid retrieve work best. The bumpa-bar range of lures are excellent jigged up and down through the herring schools, or close to the pylon itself. Burly isn’t usually necessary here, as the pylon is the attraction. Small-medium deep divers such as the flatz-rat will also pull strikes, but only if the fish are thick and hungry.

The best tide appears to be the last half of a strong incoming tide. This is when the very cleanest of the ocean water is brought in close. Peak time of day is definitely sunrise. Combine the two of these for the very best fishing. However, the odd fish will be picked up in the middle of the day on the slackest of tides, especially if live bait is employed.

For best results the boat needs to be positioned so baits hang nicely back toward the pylon. If the boat swings of one side of the mark, up-anchor and reposition the boat. A little effort is getting the boat right will pay off. There’s no point fishing where there’s no fish!