Tropical reefs. Bubbling creeks. And sunshine year-round. Three reasons why Cairns is considered an angler’s paradise and Queensland’s prime fishing destination. Add to that its proximity to the world-renowned Barrier Reef, and no wonder visitors across the world often refer to it as “paradise”. There are literally hundreds of perfect places where you can drop a line. Here we explore some of the best fishing spots near Cairns.
First off, though, we’ll cover some of the practicalities. In terms of the best time to go fishing in Cairns, it depends on what you want to catch! If you’re after Barramundi, October to April is prime time as Barras love warm water. If you’re after Queenies or Trevally, plan your trip around the cooler months. And for those after Marlin, seasoned anglers recommend September to mid-December.
Regarding permits, you are not required to have one in Queensland for recreational fishing. However, you may need a stock impoundment permit if you plan to fish in stock impoundment areas. Understanding the rules and restrictions of your location will allow you to get the best out of your trip, protect the area’s natural resources and possibly save you from being dealt a hefty fine!
In terms of the best land based fishing spots in Cairns, Kings Point is right up there and renowned as a “big fish” area. Situated around 15 kilometres south of Cairns Inlet, it is nestled between the mainland and Fitzroy Island. It is a deep water trench with a 40-foot drop, so you are almost guaranteed to land a black jewfish or golden snapper, particularly in the summer. There are limits though, as golden snapper are vulnerable to over-fishing, so they need to be over 35 centimetres in size, and the possession limit is five.
This is a great inland spot that’s located off the Barron River and only 15 minutes from the city centre. At the top of the creek is Crystal Cascades, a beautiful waterfall that washes mangrove jack, barramundi and the rare jungle perch into the waters below. Hence, you are limited to one jungle perch due to their slow-growing nature. From land, head upstream from Lower Freshwater Road to fish, but be mindful as this is croc country, and mozzies abound!
Another great spot just a few minutes from the heart of Cairns, this is a unique, mangrove-lined estuary comprising 90 kilometres of calm waters that are home to over forty species of fish. When it’s warm, mangrove jacks, barramundi and golden snapper abound, and in the cooler months, look out for trevally. And if you don’t have a boat, consider hopping onboard a charter boat, as they’ll know the best spots to fish! For land based fishing in Cairns, anglers can try the pier near the mouth of the inlet at the northernmost boat ramp, where you’ll often find barramundi and bream.
Boaties can also explore the coastal headland point of Cape Grafton. When the tide begins to push around this headland, it condenses bait and attracts predatory species like mackerel, queenfish and giant trevally. You might also bag a golden snapper, barramundi, coral trout or coast mangrove jack. These ocean giants thrive in bottom reefs and underwater caves, so it’s a fantastic spot to try if you’re after a “trophy” fish.
Just twenty kilometres north of Cairns is this breathtaking beach, and in terms of fishing spots in Cairns, it is an excellent location to cast a line. Spend your day hunting for flatheads, mangrove jacks and trevallies, and in summer, keep your eyes peeled for barramundi. After rain, the adjacent creek flushes out baitfish and prawns, so offer them plenty of tasty treats.
If you’re looking for places to fish in Cairns that are the perfect combination of both action and peace, then this is the spot for you with its serene waters and mountain views. During the summer season, rainfall floods the narrow valley. Baitfish fill the creeks, lagoons and backwaters when the waters recede, attracting medium-sized Barramundi.
A twenty-minute drive from the centre of Cairns, the Barron River boasts prime tropical river fish and is an excellent spot for land-based anglers. Bream, flathead, grunter and salmon are all on offer here. And if you’re lucky, you might even snare some barramundi. The Kamerunga Bridge can also be used as a fishing platform, and sand flats at the mouth of the river are safe spots for family fishing.
Tinaroo Lake is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Cairns, and thanks to the Queensland Department of Primary Industry’s Recreational Freshwater Fishing Enhancement Program, it is filled with barramundi and sooty grunter. The best times to spot a Barra are at sunrise and sunset on humid, balmy days. Sooty grunters prefer mornings and late afternoons. This enormous lake also boasts several access points and sports and recreational activities.
Accessible by boat or commercial ferry, this is Australia’s largest Island National Park and is situated almost halfway between Cairns and Townsville (approximately 200 kilometres south of Cairns). The vast flats and channel systems surrounding the Island and mainland proper are home to many prime tropical sportfish. Aside from the much-prized snub-nosed dart, you can also catch mangrove jacks, barramundi, queenfish, trevally, fingermark, grunter, cod, and salmon.
Princess Charlotte Bay
An hour and a half by plane from Cairns (where you’ll fly over breathtaking World Heritage Daintree Forest), this fishing spot boasts various offshore coral reefs, lagoons and mangrove river systems. And the fish in Princess Charlotte Bay are as diverse as the Great Barrier Reef, with coral trout, red emperor, barramundi and mackerel all on offer.
The journey to Fitzroy Island is just as beautiful as the destination itself and can be accessed by a 45-minute ferry ride from Marlin Marina in Cairns. Sheltered but the Great Barrier Reef, it’s not only a spectacular World Heritage site but the jumping-off point for some of the best fishing charters in the tropics. The waters surrounding the island provide abundant fishing year-round, and between July and September, you can fish the iconic black marlin, which can reach a weight of over 40 kilos!
A two-hour drive from Cairns, Mourilyan Harbour is a tidal estuary with channels, mangrove-lined creeks and sandbars. During the summer months, you may get lucky with a barramundi catch, but there is also a wide range of tropical species on offer, including bream, cod, salmon, flathead and barracuda.
A 30-minute drive from Cairns, Palm Cove is a gorgeous seaside suburb and one of the most productive fishing spots in Northern Queensland. Grunter and whiting can be caught from the jetty, and prime Spanish mackerel swim near the shore and pass parallel to the beach through the gutter.
Just over an hour from Cairns is Port Douglas, considered one of Australia’s best game and sports fishing spots. Sugar Wharf is popular with land fishers and the Anzac Park rock wall (by Dickson Inlet) for golden snapper, barramundi and mangrove jack. One thing the city is famous for is its fishing charters — book one for access to the best spots for coral trout and trevally.
- 2022, 5 Best Fishing Spots in Cairns, One Adventure
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