Or why the mighty queenfish deserves a place in yours…
Queenies are a funny fish. Rarely at the pinnacle of most anglers’ tropical wish lists, the sleek chrome-dipped speedsters have rescued more Top End expeditions than you could fling a cast net at.
Blinded by the big names of equatorial sportfishing: barramundi; mangrove jack; giant trevally; et al, countless starry-eyed southerners forge north suffering severe cases of tunnel vision.
Perhaps the barra, jacks, geets, will come out to play. What’s much more of a certainly is that the local queenfish population will be willing to engage in battle on the most sporting of terms.
The giant or talang queenfish is one of four disparate queenfish sub species inhabiting Aussie waters and the strain most compelling to sport fishos.
Giant queenies frequent south/central Queensland coastal waters, up and around Cape York, the entire Northern Territory coastline to the Kimberley and down the west coast to Carnarvon.
The high-octane pelagics are OGs of tropical sandflats, estuaries and inshore reefs and are an all time adversary for wavers of the long wand, lure chuckers and bait fishos alike.
Name a more reliable high energy, readily accessible tropical Australian light tackle sportfish and I’ll stand corrected.
The first commandment in the queenie wrangler’ playbook is ‘no run, no fun’. At and around the slack water portions of the tide the normally high-energy contenders slip into a soporific slump and are rarely tempted to engage.
Something hardwired in their pea-like cerebellums forces a shutdown and conservation of energy until tidal flow allows for a more compensatory reward to risk ratio.
As current and tidal flow forces prawns, gar, mullet and more on the move, predatory platoons of queenies drop all pretense of poker face and line up to engage in dramatic skinny water battle.
If you can think like a queenie, you’ll end up bagging a haul in no time. Anyplace masses of baitfish are forced through a bottleneck or likely ambush point is a perfect starting point.
If the process is repeatable and the bait biomass high, you can bet your last packet of Z-Man Jerk ShadZ that death squads of hungry queenfish will be skulking on the fringes.
An ideal setup for targeting large queenfish is around the mouth of a creek or tributary flowing into a larger tropical harbour or estuary in the final stages of the run out tide.
All the usual baitfish suspects that queenies love to gorge upon will have been forced downstream via hours of tidal flow and will be entering the primary waterway in a consistent, nutrient rich flush.
The predators dart across sandflats and shallows and position themselves along the edges of drop offs or in the lee of structure like rock walls or bridge pylons to take advantage of the movable feast. Get there early and position your casts to beat them at their own game and you could have the session of your life.
What makes giant queenfish such a legit sportfishing target is their propensity to play fair. While metre plus specimen are plenty common, they can still be reliably wrangled on light weight spin fishing tackle – the same gear you’d chase flathead or snapper with a day or two down the coast!
The big pelagics are certainly capable of putting on the afterburners when hooked and squirting dozens of metres of line off the spool in a single run, but they lack the instinct to head towards structure.
The same frustrating reflex that makes mangrove jack, giant trevally and barramundi so tricky to extract from hazardous waters with any but the most heavy-handed approach.
Queenfish will generally run straight out along the sandflats or head towards the horizon just beneath the water’s surface. Their most effective escape tactic is to launch themselves from the water at speed and thrash around midair in a last ditch effort to fling your lure from their jaws.
A midsized size spin reel loaded with 20lb braid and matched to a lightweight graphite flick stick is the perfect queenie slaying weapon.
You want a light, responsive stick with a fast action that allows you to accurately cast light lures a long way and to work them responsively at different depths through moving water.
Once hooked, you don’t need to exert a huge amount of force and control to win the fight. Rather, smoothness and consistency should prevail in most instances.
A handy tip is to watch your line as the fish runs and if you see is start to go slack, it likely means your quarry has angled upwards and is preparing to launch from the water to attempt to throw the lure. Angle your rid tip down hard into the water to head them off in advance and do your best to keep tension on the line at all times to reduce thrown hooks.
If you’ve timed your assault right, the marauding hordes of queenfish should be fired up and focused on smashing bulk quantities of bait. When they’re in this mode, almost any reasonably realistic baitfish profile lure flung into the fray should do the trick.
Soft plastic lures, metal spinners and bucktail style jigs are all perfect for the job. Keep a selection of each on hand and see what’s working best. If it’s possible to eyeball the bait schools that are being harassed, it usually makes sense to match the size, colour and profile of your lure as closely as possible to the hatch.
Queenfish are predominantly regarded as a sportfish and they really stand out in this regard. Look after them and return them to the water as quickly as possible and they usually recover well.
A lot of Cape York locals like to keep the occasional queenfish to create a batch of ‘nummus’ – pickled in lemon or lime juice and marinated in coconut milk, chilli and coriander Pacific Islander style. It’s a great option if you gut or gill hook a queenfish and it looks like it might not make a recovery.
These inexhaustible predators are ubiquitous through the Aussie tropics and tangling with a slew of outsized specimen on light tackle should be an essential component of any Top End sportfishing foray.