Mackay fishing guide: Beaches, dams, charters + more
It’s 5am off the coast of Mackay, the sun’s rising from the horizon and the spray from your charter boat is hitting you in the face. This feeling makes a cup of coffee seem like a sedative. Nothing wakes you up faster than a blast of saltwater and the anticipation of a huge catch.
Whether you’re on a charter or heading along the road to one of Mackay’s fully-stocked dams the feeling will be the same. That’s because fishing here is a treat for any fisherman. For old and young, seasoned veteran or unlucky newbie, there’s a fish in Mackay with your name on it. Especially if your name happens to be ‘Barra’.
We’ve created the ultimate fishing guide to Mackay, complete with target species for each region. We call them the ‘Big 3’.
With all the hard work done, you just sit back and get out your calendar ready to mark off ‘Gone fishing: Mackay’.
First things first
Drop into one of Mackay’s tackle shops to get advice on tides, weather and what lures and bait are working well at the time. BCF Mackay, Nashy’s Compleat Angler and Tackle World Mackay have the collective knowledge of the area and all the gear you’ll need.
Once, you have the know-how it’s time to throw those lines into the water like the fish wrangling-beast you are!
So you’re in a city, the cars are honking, there are shops open with ‘SALE! SALE! SALE!’ written everywhere and all you can think about is dropping in a line and hooking up with something enormous.
Mackay is the place for you.
From the city centre you can take a 7km drive and be at East Point for a chance at barra, mangrove jack, queenfish and flathead. Or take the 8km drive to Slade Point for mackerel off the beach, bream near the shore, barra and trevally as well. Get the point? No? Take the even shorter 6km drive to Mackay Marina, which was built by the fishing angels.
This also happens to be where all the charters leave from (but more on that later).
Bring the kids to the rock wall for a chance at “you’re the best mum/dad in the world” award. The marina is safe, easy and full of fish. Drive down the rock wall (Hallelujah! It’s so big you can drive on it!) and park at the end. Fish off the west side for a wind-free bream-fest and maybe some guest appearances…
Your little guy or gal could put you to shame by hooking onto a tuna or passing mackerel.
Afterwards, head to the Pioneer River (the boat ramp off River Street is a winner). Not only is it full of bream, but you can also catch flathead, queenfish (another “hang on” species), threadfin salmon and even those barramundi can make a visit, but using small baits will land you smaller fish (most of the time).
With a six-foot rod, 5kg line and some fresh bait in hand, you can have some serious fun.
Fresh bait awaits when you grab a yabby pump from on of the local fishing shops (if you have your own, you know what we’re talking about). It’ll set you back around $80 but will give you a lifetime of natural bait. Bream will froth over a fresh yabby – the prawn’s ugly Australian cousin – on a hook, so will anything else with teeth that happens to be swimming by.
To catch yabbies you need to find yabby holes (the Pioneer River has heaps, mate), which you might have seen walking on the shore. Swiss cheese sand is what they look like. Dig the pump into the sand and pull the plunger up to suck up these delicious, yummy and horrific-looking animals.
Watch out for the big clawed ones, they can pinch you just hard enough for everyone to laugh at you.
Target species: The little engine that could
Bream are small (in comparison to a barramundi anyway), plentiful and the perfect catch for a first-timer.
Coming in around the 25cm to 30cm mark they’re more fun than a pogo stick on a trampoline.
They magically fit perfectly into a frying pan, isn’t that handy? But don’t get ahead of yourself, with a light rod and tackle, this can be one of the most heartbreaking fish around. They will snap your line faster than Chuck Norris snaps necks.
Bream are nimble, aggressive and have more than a few tricks up their sleeves to break off even the most seasoned angler. So, don’t feel bad if one gets the better of you. They always have a few friends with them, maybe lazier easier-to-catch friends.
That dam valley
Kinchant is the closest dam to the CBD (45 minutes down the road) and Teemburra is the next one down (about an hour) before you get right back into the hinterland for Eungella.
The drive to Eungella is worth it even if you don’t catch a fish. The winding mountain road is capped with a viewing point known as Sky Window Lookout, which is pretty much a landscape photographer’s dream.
Tie on some soft plastics (creepy looking squishy things); they’re great for catching barra, as are poppers (splashy, noisy, pretty things) and both can be purchased from the local tackle stores.
Float your boat around any underwater structure and be ready with all your strength.
Target Species: The underwater horse
Barramundi is an Aboriginal name meaning “large-scaled silver fish”, which is spot on, especially the LARGE part.
A common length is 1.2 metres.
When their huge paddle tail lashes back and forth, the feeling is as close to lassoing a wild horse as you can get while sitting in a boat. We heard that Ned Kelly made a saddle out of palm fronds and rode one to get away from the cops. (Okay that’s just a rumour but seriously, these guys are big.)
“Hang on!” is a common phrase around the Mackay area thanks to these beautiful fish and that phrase is usually followed by; “I know what we’re having for dinner” or, if you’re lucky, “that’s too big to bring into the boat”.
After you bag yourself a barra, head out and catch a sunrise or sunset to reflect on how awesome you are.
South to Sarina, North to Seaforth
Sarina has more than just a big cane toad. It’s also got a coastline full of chomping fish, snapping crabs and whatever it is prawns do (flap?).
Start in town and take a 13km drive out to Sarina Beach, this is a great place for long relaxing days with a rod in the water and a bucket full of bait. If it’s not firing here, Grasstree Beach is 11km to the north and is on the north side of Cabbage Tree Creek which can hide all sorts of tasty treats.
Rumour has it on a high tide you can pull in some Spanish mackerel from the creek. Surely, mackerel from the shore sounds too good to be true? Nope, not around Mackay.
Now we head north of Mackay to Seaforth and the Hibiscus Coast.
The highlight of the Hibiscus Coast has to be Cape Hillsborough National Park. Add a camera to your tackle box because if the fish aren’t biting you can catch a perfect photo instead. Just watch out, wallabies frequent the beach and have a tendency to pick up your rod and catch all the big fish. That’s not true, but they do distract you because they are too darn cute.
A great tip here is to get some GPS markers from the local tackle shops. You might have to buy some really expensive stuff to get the REAL ones, though. Or just be really friendly.
Target species: Antonio Banderas of the sea
“Dios mio!” (Spanish for OH MY GOD!) Spanish mackerel are like long silver bullets with razor-sharp teeth at the end. Well, that’s kind of a disservice to these monsters. They can grow over two metres in length and weigh over 60kgs. That’s one big bullet. Maybe ‘missile’ is a more apt description?
Needless to say “hang on” applies here as well.
The razor-sharp teeth are something to keep in mind if you actually land one of these into your boat, especially when it comes to picture-taking time. ‘Stumps’ isn’t a cool nickname.
Your heart will jump out of your chest when you hook one and when you’re done you’ll need a nap and NO ONE will call it a ‘nanna nap’. More like a ‘MAN-AHHHHH NAP’!
Hire a charter
You’re on vacation, why are you doing all this hard work? Baiting lines, using a GPS, dropping anchor, these are things best left to the deck hand on one of Mackay’s fishing charters.
Hook up with some of the local outfits, like Reefari, Action Charters and Megaforce Charters. These three all offer multi-day trips for serious anglers or Reefari and Megaforce also offer day trips.
The charters will give you your best shot at landing a Spanish mackerel (outside of putting on some tango and holding a glass of sangria over the side of the boat, of course) because they need to be trolled for (dangling something tasty 60 metres behind your boat hoping that something massive bites it) and no one knows the best places to do that better than the locals.
Plus, charters are the easiest way to reach the Great Barrier Reef, which opens up another world of fishing that deserves a whole different blog post.
Reefari also gives you the option to take a charter to Kinchant Dam. Barra are notorious at finding a hiding places and the pros at Reefari are the Sherlock Holmes of fishermen. They will find them and catch them.
There are more fishing spots to go to like these ones, suggested by Luke Galea. He’s like a fishing ninja and there’s nothing he hasn’t caught. So don’t be afraid to explore to your heart’s content.
If you’re all fished out, give these other activities a try.
Have a secret fishing spot in Mackay and want some company? Let us know in the comments section below!