Mackay land based Sooty Grunter was the target and my guide duly delivered…….

Conditions: Cool with a light westerly
Season: Winter
Strategy: Fishing with a local and learn
Techniques of the day: Weedless rigged plastics and lightly weighted baits
Target: Sooty Grunter
Gear Set Up: 3-5kg 4 piece graphite travel rod eith 3000 sized spin reel with 10lb braid and 14lb leader
Lure Types: 3″ paddletails and 3″shallow diving hardbodies
Session Rating: 9/10

A Mackay land based Sooty Grunter was the fish I had wanted to catch for a long time. Fishing with locals makes all the difference when trying for that prized fish. I met Matt one night fishing the main bridge in town in Mackay. As the night turned into the wee hours of the morning, we managed to get into a couple solid 60-70cm Tarpon which was fun and got our drags singing. Neither of us however could tempt any one of the bigger Barramundi that were chomping bait in amongst the countless Tarpon.

Dreaming of Mackay land based Sooty Grunter

Finally frustration got the better of us and we started to pack up. I needed at least a couple of hours of shut-eye before getting up early for work the next morning. I mentioned to Matt that what I really wanted to catch while in Mackay this time was a fat Sooty Grunter. Matt’s eyes lit up immediately and asked me “when are you free?”
I picked up Matt two days later before lunch. We stopped by a supermarket for some drinks, eats and to my surprise; some stir fry beef steak. I looked quizzically at Matt and he just smiled knowingly before tossing the meat into the basket.
In my humble opinion, Mackay is an absolute paradise for all things land based fishing. The options seem endless and the biggest problem is deciding which spot you are going to hit for a session. While I have a good handle on a few decent saltwater spots, my freshwater knowledge of the area is poor to say the least.

Nothing beats local knowledge when land based fishing

Matt is another hopeless example of a mad-keen fishing addict who will suffer from this affliction until the day he dies. Having Matt in the car on this trip was a real treat for me; my very own personal fishing guide eager to put me onto some fish. Every creek and waterway we crossed, Matt would tell me what fish you will get there and more importantly; how to get them. It was certainly an eye opener given how many times I had passed these spots without even considering what resided beneath the surface.

Setting up plastics on weedless rigs

We crossed a little bridge just out of town and after hearing more fish stories – I put the brakes on and pulled the car over to the side of the road. I just had to have a cast to see if Matt was being serious. We got out and loaded up a couple of weedless plastics rigs and walked back to the bridge. Rigging soft plastics weedless is a handy little trick to have in your reportoire especially when casting at logs and under creek overhang. Starlo has a good article on these rigs here at This video link below will also give you a practical demonstration on rigging to get you started

First cast

Matt cast first and told me to aim at the same log he had just targeted. As my plastic swam up the log on the far side and then dropped over, the line immediately pulled tight. I wheeled in a handsome little freshwater Tarpon who had been waiting in ambush amongst the timber.
Matt followed it shortly afterwards which looked something like a mix between a juvenile Jack and a Perch. It was a beautiful little creature but not the Sooty Grunter we were hoping for.

We decided to do a spot of exploring along the tropical creek bank. After pushing through plenty of long grass and getting a few spider webs in our faces, we came to the perfect looking Sooty spot. As we stepped lightly toward the bank, two large Sooties got spooked from the shallows and were not seen again.

The search for Barramundi

We headed back to the bridge and flicked under it for a few casts. It didn’t take long for Matt to pull out a gorgeous little baby Barra. We took that as a good omen and continued our journey.
We dropped by a likely looking Barra spot and cast at the rapids. I was told this spot can get pretty hectic in the warmer months. Today however was different and it failed to provide us with anything except some nice scenery.

We reached the spot

We finally moved on to the main meal which was Matt’s local Sooty Grunter haunt. After a bit of a walk, we arrived at the waterway. After water-proofing the phones we then started to wade in amongst the rocks before eventually arriving at a rock outcrop in the middle of the river. Just like the Barramundi, the Sooties feed into the white water as it comes down the rapids. I sent my 3” shallow diving minnow lure out. It didn’t take long before I got a hit with no hook-up. I sent it back out to try and tempt another strike.

Mackay land based Sooty Grunter

Matt was on the other side of our rocky island. He pulled out the steak cuts and set a piece onto the hook with a pea sinker directly above the hook. He cast it out and started counting out loud. At “7” Matt got his first bite and by “10” his reel was squealing. The rod buckled and after a minute or so, he had a fat Sooty splashing around in the shallows. We grabbed a quick photo and swapped rods. It was my turn. I cast into the rapids and let the steak flow back with it. Sure enough the bait was taken.
Now my first Sooty was just a baby but jeez it pulled hard. I kept the rod tip up high as every run was followed by an immediate follow up run. It relentlessly fought every centimetre as it tried to bury itself back in amongst the rocks. I maintained steady pressure and soon had the little thug at my feet. I was stoked.


The bite continued

We kept on fishing through the afternoon and ended up with 9 fish landed and released. The lures got some hits but were clearly out-fished by the chunks of floating bovine that the Sooties simply could not resist. It was an absolute blast.

A quick session in the salt

We got back into Mackay to have a feed and figure out our next move. We still had a couple of hours of fishing left in us so we decided to have a crack down at the harbour. The day was topped off with a couple of solid Estuary Cod on caught on deep divers. It was the perfect way to finish up what had been a tremendous day of land based fishing in Mackay.
Thanks again to Matty for a brilliant day out! I look forward to doing it again next time I’m in town.
If you enjoyed this article check out some other posts at and feel free to leave a comment.


  • Robert Scouce says:

    Thanks for that enjoyed it, cheers!

    • Tim Sibley says:

      Cheers Rob – Was a fun trip – this is my first blog and it amazes me the huge amount of spam that gets directed at this site.

      So it’s always great to know there are real people out there (and not Spam bots punching out Viagra mails) that actually enjoy the read! Thanks for your comment.

  • Kirk says:

    Great read guys, am heading up to Mackay this week, try for a few Barra in the fresh to brackish water in constant and Murray, keep up the blog. Hard to find a good down to earth fishing read. Thanks

    • Tim Sibley says:

      Hey Kirk – thanks for the mail – Was up Cape Hillsborough recently and speaking to a ranger who said he counted 6 lizards in Constant Creek not 3 weeks ago.

      It’s funny how they are scarce around Mackay and the Pioneer River but you go anywhere north (especially near Proserpine) and they are everywhere. Good luck with the Barra – have some mates who are starting to get them regularly now with the weather warming up. Cheers

  • Graham says:

    Hey guys,

    That unknown species looks awfully like a American cichlid. Google jaguar cichlid.

    I really hope its not.

    • Tim Sibley says:

      Hey Graham – It does look similar – I’m with you – hope it’s not. I read recently that people are catching Peacock Bass up at the Dumbleton weir – that’s crazy – Despite it being a legendary sports fish it would compete directly with our Jack and Barra populations which would be bad news and almost impossible to reverse.

      • Mark Harris says:

        Great read Tim, I’m heading up to mackay for the long weekend, and like you, I would love to catch my first sooty, I’m part owner of Jem Lures and would love to catch one on one of our small vibes obviously depending on the surrounding structure. If you are willing to give me a few hints on where I might find a few, would be much appreciated, Cheers Mark Harris 0410039828

        • Tim Sibley says:

          Hi Mark – Very sorry for the late reply. Finch Hatton is the place to start – heading both up stream and down stream- reasonably shallow water and they even bite in the cold. Hope your trip went well. Best Regards Tim

      • Graham Watsford says:

        G’day Tim,
        Most definitely they would give out jack and Barra population’s a very hard time. I think our importation laws should be looked at again for the aquarium trade. It’s unfortunate that a few hobbyist release these fish (fry) in to our waterways without thinking of the detrimental effects it will have on our native species. These things breed prolifically and adapt very well in our warm climate. It makes me laugh when we can’t take any fruit past certain points in Australia because of fruit flies but we can buy fish from all over the world without much regulation. All cichlids should be banned! Period!

  • David Nye says:

    Thats a Jaguar Cichlid alright, bloody shame that they are in there 🙁

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