Father and Son Fishing in Mackay

Mackay’s secret fishing hot spots revealed

Twenty-five years ago, my summer break from university would always include a week-long trip to Hinchinbrook Island. It was an angler’s pilgrimage to a beautiful location that – thanks to its commercial netting-free status – always yielded angling as spectacular as the scenery.

Many times while travelling north with my boat in tow, on the northern side of Mackay, I drove right past the Seaforth turnoff.


Family fishing in Mackay

Anglers of all ages love fishing in Mackay

I knew there was some great country in there. Creeks, headlands, inshore islands and sandflats. But the fishing stories were less impressive.

Now, because of the new Net Free Zone (NFZ) established between Cape Hillsborough and St Helens in November 2015, this stretch of coastline is destined to stop more anglers from driving past.

I’ve now taken the turnoff, and it won’t be for the last time.

Twice as nice

Cape Hillsborough

Cape Hillsborough offers a diversity of fishing habitat, from beaches and headlands through to islands that you can walk to on the ebb tide.

As most recreational anglers assume, no commercial nets means more fish for us to catch.

I say ‘most’, because Luke Galea from the Mackay Recreational Fishing Alliance wanted to show there was some truth to what we all assume. He spent weekend after weekend at boat ramps in the NFZ surveying catches, both before and after the zones were created.

“Only six months after the Net Free Zones were created, anglers were already catching twice as many legal-sized fish,” Luke was happy to report.

Twice as many.

Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort’s Ben Atherton is similarly optimistic.

“Our bookings are up, and our visitors are catching great fish – both off the bank and in their boats,” he says. “And every month that fish aren’t being netted means that biomass goes up and those fish can contribute to increased populations.”

What’s biting?

Kid-friendly fishing in Mackay

The Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park is at the southern end of the NFZ and offers excellent angling opportunities

Species thriving in the zone are bream, whiting, flathead and grunter, as well as iconic northern Australian fish such as king and threadfin salmon, fingermark and barramundi.

The same assortment that I’d drive another 600km to catch. Each way.

Great Fishing in Mackay

Grunter bream or javelin fish are a favourite with travelling anglers

Add some quality inshore island fishing for queenfish and great trevally and the reasons to go anywhere else on your fishing holiday begin to diminish rapidly.

Tackle stores are always a great source of information about what’s biting, and the creeks in the NFZ are yielding great catches of king salmon – a species which has been virtually non-existent for years in the Mackay area.

“We had a customer in last week who landed seven kings [king salmon] in a day in one of the creeks,” says Andrew Elworthy of Tackle World in Mackay. “I haven’t heard of catches like that in our area. Ever.”

Even more impressive was that the angler saw another 50 fish in the school.

Safety in numbers

Seaforth resident, Mick O’Donnell, is a retired commercial fisher who has first-hand experience of how a fishery can recover when the commercial nets are removed.

“I saw it happen on the south coast of NSW when I was working there and it will happen here,”Mick says. “Remove the nets and the fishery will bounce back. This is a great gift for recreational anglers.”

And it’s a gift that will keep on giving for anglers from both Mackay and further afield.

So take the turn-off, bring your gear and experience this area for yourself. I’m glad I did.

Mackcay Fishing Tips

Get the tides right and you can launch off the beach

Mackay Fishing Tips

  • Bring the gear you use for bream, whiting and flathead at home – it’ll work just fine in North Queensland.
  • Drop in to a local tackle store in Mackay on your way through. They have all the local information on what’s biting.
  • Remember tides are big in the Mackay area. Check the charts to ensure that launch and retrieval of your boat is easy.
  • No boat = no worries. There are plenty of shore-based options in the Net Free Zone.

Looking for more Queensland places to throw a line in? Visit our dedicated fishing page here.

Have you been fishing in Mackay recently? Share your tales with us in the comments below.

Fishing in Mackay Infographic 2017