Sooty Grunter Sessions

Posted by Jane McNeil on

The sooty grunter is an interesting species. In Queensland, “sooties” are originally native to gulf of Carpentaria drainages, but have made their way into certain east coast systems through stocking and habitat modification or water course crossover. In the east draining rivers of Far North Queensland, you will find sooties in the Barron, Russell/Mulgrave, Johnstone and Tully river catchments. Other populations are dotted down the coast as far south as the Mary river. This unusual distribution leads to some interesting patterns. Due to habitat variability and limited gene transfer between separate populations, sooties can be quite different between these systems. A stark example of variation between separate populations of sooty grunter can be seen when comparing the stereotypical “gulf sooty” to populations in the dams and rivers of the Mackay region. This southern population is the result of stocking efforts in dams such as Peter Faust, Eungella, Kinchant etc. and differ greatly from fish taken in gulf drainages. These southern fish are hulking beasts, common over 50cm and a couple kilograms, compared to the gulf type sooties which rarely top 45cm. A combination of habitat and genetic make-up/expression is the driver of this. While our northern populations may not have the size of these southern monsters, we are usually not short on numbers and there are plenty of awesome sessions to be had!

Typically, the drier season is a time I like to target gulf sooties, as lower water levels allows easy exploration through systems and fish tend to be very active regardless. Sooty grunter are usually very voracious predators, and will eat just about anything you throw at them. I find lure fishing to be far and away the most effective, as you can cover lots of ground and see lots of fish. In terms of lure selection, topwaters are an old favourite, though larger soft plastics can be a great weapon, particularly when targeting bigger specimens. This brings me to a recent trip we had to the upper Mitchell river, just over an hour from Port Douglas. After selecting a nice stretch of river on google earth, we hiked in with all the essentials and begun fishing. You can usually tell pretty fast if you are on the right track, as you should start catching fish quite quickly. This trip was no exception, and we started to rack up the numbers straight away. I was catching fish on a 4.5” conventionally rigged soft plastic, while my brother Riley was using a floating cicada imitation. While the surface cicada was getting more hook ups, these smaller lures are well and truly fair game for very small sooties, which can become annoying if they are thick. You should also keep in mind that hard bodied lures with trebles can quickly become casualties to the hard mouths and strong jaws of these tough little fish. Nevertheless, Riley persisted and ended up catching plenty, including the fish of the trip at a touch over 40cm. In a 4 or so hour session we landed around 80 fish between us, which is not out of the ordinary when sooty fishing. Interestingly, only the one fish broke the 40cm mark, which is again not uncommon for these gulf rivers. As a comparison with other populations, I had a session on sooties with a mate down in a Mackay creek last year where we only landed 4 fish. Of those 4 fish, 3 were over 50cm (the other was 48cm). Expect to encounter different fish and different challenges when fishing some of the other systems I mentioned earlier, such as the Tully or Barron river catchments.  Each experience for sooties varies greatly, especially when fishing separate populations in different habitats. This, along with their tenacity and aggression, makes them an awesome target species all year round.

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