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Top Reef Fishing Charters in Cairns

Reef Fishing in Cairns

Cairns reef fishing has to be on everyone's bucket list. Located in the north of Queensland, Cairns is known as the "Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef" due to its proximity to this natural phenomenon – it's just 27 kilometers (16 miles) away from the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef! The Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the only living thing that can be seen from space. That’s not something you’ll easily forget! The fish here are varied and beautiful, ranging from small Clownfish to huge Maori Wrasse and trophy-sized Marlin.

What to Catch

Although Cairns is known as a Marlin Meccah, when reef fishing, expect to see huge Maori Wrasse, Giant Trevally reaching 100 pounds, Narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel, Red Bass, Coral Trout, Sweetlip, Nannygai, Queenfish, Red Emperor, and many more amazing species that swim in these waters. The Great Barrier Reef is the richest in marine biological diversity, and over 1,400 species make their home here – fish and coral structures rule under the water.  

Where to Go

The Great Barrier Reef can be split into different areas that should be explored fully. The further out you go, the better the visibility – great for both divers and those sight fishing. The mix of marine life is huge, from tiny fish to trophy-sized. There are many feeding sites for big predators, especially where the ocean floor drops from 100 to 1,000 fathoms. Make sure you have a packed lunch with you, it can be a long ride out to the best spots.

Inner Reefs

Around the islands, such as Whitsunday Islands, you’ll find the inner fringing reefs. These can be reached on a day trip, and offer a lot of juvenile fish species.  It’s also possible to find Giant Trevally, plenty of Sharks, and Maori Wrasse on the inner reefs. If diving here, you’ll have around 5 meters of visibility – also perfect for spearfishing and sight fishing, perfect for a day trip.

Outer Barrier Reef

A long day trip or an overnight trip are best to explore the outer parts of the Great Barrier Reef, which are over 60 kilometers from Cairns. Here, the continental shelf drops off, leaving you with some record-breaking fishing opportunities. Top spots to choose from include Bait Reef and Hardy Reef.

Ribbon Reefs

These narrow reefs, also called the Northern Reefs, need a multi-day trip to fully appreciate, due to the 96 km distance from Cairns. Remote but bountiful, not only can you hook reef fish, but game fish too. Black Marlin fishing is incredible here, and you are sure to hook a personal best. You’ll also catch Sailfish, Wahoo, Giant Trevally, Coral Trout, Yellowfin Tuna, Red Bass, and many more.

Holmes Reef

This reef is split into two sections known as West Holmes and East Holmes. There are two pinnacles here that are home to a multitude of Barracuda, Trevally, Nurse Shark, and Stingrays amongst others.

How to Fish

Reef fishing is locally called “bottom bouncing,” and with 10% of the world’s coral reef ecosystems here, you’ll be bottom bouncing to your heart’s content.

  • When reef fishing, many methods can be used with great results. Overall, use short 2 m rods.

  • The currents are strong here – to counter them, use heavy lead sinkers.

  • The fishing action is non-stop, so use a minimum 50 lb braid to prevent your line from breaking or snagging.

When to Go

Don’t forget that the seasons in the southern hemisphere are opposite to the northern hemisphere.

There is a closed season on the reefs in October and November (four days in each month around the time of the new moon) where you won’t be able to fish.

For excellent Red Emperor and Coral Trout fishing, head over between October and December.

Head down under for the ultimate reef fishing experience and dive in!



Based on 13,560 reviews by FishingBooker anglers

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What People Are Saying About Reef Fishing in Cairns

"Wow!!! Full day private charter with Pete (skipper), Ben & Logan"

Cate Long fished with Cairns Reef Fishing on September 11, 2019

What a fabulous experience doing a 2 person private charter with Cairns Reef Fishing. These guys know their stuff and catered to all our needs. They made the day so much fun we are still talking about it 2 days later. Would highly recommend a day on the reef with these guys. One for the memory bank!

"Full day trip with Nick on Blue Whaler "

Stephen Davis fished with Cairns Reef Fishing on July 20, 2018

Great day on the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns. Awesome time watching my son catch fish. Had a blast.

Top Targeted Reef Fishing Species in Cairns

Trevally (Giant)

Coral Trout

Spanish Mackerel (Narrow-barred)


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