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Hooked - fishing with Phil.

Cairns local Phil Laycock says you don’t need much to enjoy fishing – a hand line, a hook and a packet of prawns is just fine. Read on to find out about his five favourite fishing spots that he loves going back to, time and time again.

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Fishing is as much about immersing yourself in the environment around you as it is feeling the tug of a fish. There’s a reason it’s called ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching!’

1. The big Wet Tropics rivers – the Russell-Mugrave, the Tully, and the Johnstone 

With some careful planning and patience, you can navigate a long way upstream at a certain time of year. Phil likes to start his fishing day up in the freshwater and drift down towards the river mouth, casting lures.

What’s there 

Sooty grunters, jungle perch and barramundi are the targets in the upper freshwater and mid river sections. Mangrove jack begin to appear in the lower sections, and at the mouth whiting and flathead are common. Queenfish and trevally school in the river mouths in September and October and provide great sport.

2. The inshore area of reefs, sandflats and estuaries running from Yule point to Wonga  Beach in Douglas Shire 

Find beautiful mangroves, good coral life and seagrass, and you can explore up the Mowbray and Mossman rivers all the way to the mountains.

What’s there 

Jungle perch in the freshwater river headwaters; mangrove jack and barramundi in the estuary mazes; coral trout inshore or even sight fish a trevally.

3. Hinchinbrook Island and Hinchinbrook Channel 

One of the most diverse fisheries in the Wet Tropics and very popular with locals and visitors alike.

What’s there 

Lure fish for mangrove jack in the mangroves, fly cast on the sand flats for the prized permit, soak a prawn along the channel edges for javelin, or set a pot for a tasty mud crab… Hinchinbrook really does have it all. Take care and choose deeper channels to navigate where possible, to avoid animal strike.

4. Trinity Inlet 

The net-free zone provides fishing tourism opportunities for Cairns, showing that fish are worth more in a photo than in a net.

What’s there 

Barramundi and threadfin salmon on the beaches. Handle them carefully as threadfin are fragile. Keep one to eat. If you catch another one, let it go. Abide by the closed seasons that protect fish when they’re spawning and don’t target barra at this time (Nov 1 – Feb 1).

5. Saltwater Creek 

Back in the 70s, Saltwater Creek meandered through land that was transitioning from cane and cattle to residential. It looks different these days but Phil says it still provides habitat for a lot of fish.

What’s there 

Expect to see lots of tilapia. They’re a pest fish. Humanely kill and dispose of them by either burying the carcass above the high-water mark nearby or by placing it in a bin. The system still has tarpon, jungle perch, mangrove jack, barramundi and javelin fish as you get further down, but a lot of the fish Phil caught as a kid can’t make it up to the headwaters anymore because of the now fragmented, concrete-lined parts of the creek.


Phil’s best-practice fishing tips

If you are keeping a fish for eating, be humane. Act quickly after pulling it out of the water, using the percussive stunning or spiking methods.  

For those you let go, here are some easy things to do:

  • Use pliers to squash the barbs on hooks. The easier it is to get the hook out, the less trauma and damage inflicted on the fish.
  • If a fish swallows a hook beyond its mouth or jaw, don’t try and get it out. Instead, cut the line as close as you can. This ups the survival chances to 90 per cent, as opposed to 30 per cent. Fish can rid themselves of hooks and even pass them as they would for a spine or shell fragment for their food.
  • If you use a landing net, use a knotless one to stop the fish’s mucus coating from rubbing off. The coating is a barrier between the fish and the environment, and stops bugs, viruses and other nasties that can make a fish sick.
  • When you have a fish out of the water cradle it horizontally using both hands to support the belly and head. Holding a fish vertically can cause organs to sag and tear, and vertebrae can even separate.
  • Keep your fish wet and cool. If you’re bringing it into the boat, get a nice wet surface such as a brag mat ready, and cover the fish’s eyes with a wet cloth while you remove the hook. Like the knotless net, this protects the mucus coating and keeps the fish cool. Get the fish back in the water as soon as you can.


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