Scotty K with one of two quality cobia encountered for a day's fishing out in the central bay. At this size they certainly take some stopping on snapper gear.
Standard Mid-Winter Weather Returns
It has been a rather confused week weather-wise here in the Wide Bay – Burnett. The warm spell was very welcome though, as was the light rain that followed (which spawned another series of freaky fogs that enveloped our coastline during odd hours of the day).
This morning’s south-westerly wind will blow that all out to sea and leave us with several days of fairly standard mid-winter weather. High pressure to our west means cold and dry south-westerly breezes will dominate the coming mornings. 15 knots or so early suggests a sleep-in for all but the super keen. Late starts will see you greeted with vastly better conditions both Saturday and Sunday when the wind eases around midday.
Those that don’t have to work will enjoy lighter southerly or south-easterly breezes of barely 10 knots for the first half of the week. Colder nights and partly cloudy days will add to the wintery feel whilst you enjoy a return to normality after the kids go back to school. If the bureau has it right, then we can expect a continuation of the glamour conditions right through the remainder of the week.
Even though we are returning to another neap tide phase, there is still reasonable tidal flow. The waning moon passes through the last quarter phase Monday and then the tides start to make once again. Moonset will be a particularly interesting time to be fishing.
New Rules for Spanish Mackerel
As of last Saturday 1st July 2023, new regulations are in effect for Qld’s east coast Spanish Mackerel fishery. The recreational bag limit has been reduced to 1 fish only – in possession. The recreational boat limit is also amended to just 2 fish per boat (with 2 or more people on board).
These very restrictive regulations are obviously quite drastic, being a measure the Qld government feels necessary to curb the supposed decline in spanish mackerel stocks in our state. These rules will impact fishos throughout other parts of our coastline more than they will most of us.
Here in Hervey Bay, we have been self-regulating for years due to the necessity to throw back “risky” spaniards of any substantial size due to the heightened risk of ciguatera poisoning from fish in our waters. As you all know, spanish mackerel are a permanent year-round no-take species for the whole of Platypus Bay due to the high poisoning risk from fish frequenting that area.
Most locals would view spaniards in excess of say 10 kilos with great suspicion. These fish are highly mobile and nomadic, so drawing a line from Coongul Point to Rooneys Point and deeming fish safe on the west side thereof and too risky on the east side is potentially flawed. The springtime bloom of dinoflagellates that creates the ciguatera issue off Wathumba etc sees the toxin spread through large predatory fish such as spaniards that feast on fodder species during their passage through the area.
Is it safe to eat spanish mackerel caught in other parts of Hervey Bay? Maybe. Many do and very few ever fall ill. By the way, females grow much quicker than males and therefore lessen the chances that similar-sized females have traversed the areas where the toxin originates. If in doubt throw them all back as many locals do, or just keep a smaller fish when you so desire.
By pure coincidence, the new regulations will probably reduce the chances of ciguatera cases in the future, as being a possession limit, your chances of gorging on multiple meals of spanish mackerel will be substantially reduced. Tiny doses of ciguatera can be controlled by our bodies, so illness mostly occurs in folks that have consumed larger amounts of fish and the toxin therein.
Urangan Pier Has Kept the Crowds Entertained
Word of a 25 kilo spanish mackerel caught out near the end of the Urangan Pier a couple of days ago spread like wildfire through the local grapevine. Some of the visiting tourists that witnessed the capture seemed to be every bit as excited as the lucky angler on the day. Whether the fish was released or kept, we cannot confirm.
The sight of fishos deploying live baits the size of fish many onlookers would be happy to catch also raised a few eyebrows this week. Live baiting with legal-sized school mackerel or bonito is a popular pastime for pier regulars seeking to draw the attention of passing spaniards. A similar scene that unfolds each summer too, when large GTs are the target.
Needless to say, the kids have been having fun with the consistent run of bonito and any school mackerel foolish enough to hang around the pier. Whether spinning with spoons, slugs, or even with jerkshads, the youngsters have had plenty of action to keep them busy. Of course, live baiting with herring is the alternative for many, which also catches both species, and potentially other pelagics or any flathead lurking beneath.
Pods of longtail tuna came within range during the afternoon on occasion this week, adding to the excitement. Ballooning live baits away from the pier is popular for longtails, though they can be spun up or tempted with free-swimming herring when they come close enough.
Add the option of fishing for bream between the pylons both day and night, and the pier has been a great place to be for the holidaying landlubbers this week. The bream are in quite good numbers too, and enough larger models are mixed in to heighten the challenge. It still sounds as though the really big bream of a kilo (42cm) or so are quite scarce if even there at all.
Alternatives for the Landlubbers
There have been a few quality lizards lurking around shoreline structure along our town beaches this week. Only few fishos will get to tempt such fish with so many hopefuls wandering our shores, but when someone does, the capture rarely goes unnoticed. Otherwise, it has been small bream, small whiting and the odd little shark, ray or shovelly that has put a bend in the kids rods along our beaches.
Wandering our creek banks flicking small lures or soaking baits is the alternative that many favour. Flathead are again the most common large fish encountered, with plenty of bream and some very decent whiting on offer at times. Beelbi, O’Reagans and Eli Creeks all get some attention, though from what we hear, Eli will be worth avoiding at present due to a weed issue.
Prospecting the Booral mudflats during the spell of offshore winds this week is worth considering. It is not easy going down there. Rock boots or other footwear that will stay on in the mud and also protect your feet from the sharp little rocks is a must. The rewards can be great if your timing is right. Whiting and flathead are the main targets, but blue salmon, sharks and bream are also possible.
It has been standing room only at night on the River Heads pontoon of late. When the squid wander around the corner, they stand little chance. Jewfish numbers appear to be down out there this season so far, which is also the case elsewhere nearby apparently.
Within a month’s time in a standard winter, there would be school mackerel, broad-barred mackerel and tailor all coming within casting range of the rocks at River Heads. This winter has been exceptionally warm and a little weird so far, so it might be a later run than usual this year. If you see others casting metal spoons or slugs towards Fraser Island and cranking them back flat-out in the near future, then you will know what they are chasing.
It is a tad crowded out at Burrum Heads during school holidays, but all the same, the kids can have plenty of fun catching bream, whiting, and the odd flathead. The pike around the boat ramps keep many entertained, and make for the best live bait for big flatties or any other large river predator that might pass by. School mackerel have entered the river at times recently and can occasionally come within range of land-based fishos out that way.
The lack of tiger squid in our heavily fished locals waters this year is very notable. This late in the season, there is a chance of squid turning up and entering the Burrum (or at least they have in the past). Keep this in mind and always carry appropriate squid jigs with you.
Fun on the Flats
Slipping into stealth mode and creeping across the local flats is a great option this time of year. Bream are the number one target for many a flats fisho, and rightly so, as large numbers are on offer.
Fishing waters often less than a metre deep, you can be blind-casting as you drift along in wind-ruffled waters, when you witness bream after bream making a beeline for your little lure. The fun then begins as you pit your skills against their cunning and work out what retrieve, twitch, nudge, stall or crank it will take to tempt them to bite.
Tiny hardbodies are being smashed just as frequently as small softies and blades. Topwater options are many as well, particularly during periods of low light. Regular topwater whiting fishos need to change tactics for bream and stall their presentation frequently, as well as slow down substantially.
Periods of light winds offer another whole ball game, where schools of solid bream can be actively pursued and sight-fished, making for some of the most fun you can have with the super-light finesse gear. Watch your shadows and minimise your movements or noise to avoid spooking the wary older bream.
Many rocky areas abound within a shot drive of River Heads or Urangan that can see you mixing it with schools of bream. The flats and rock shelves that shroud the bay islands are but one option, the western flats of Fraser Island, the stony shores of South Head or the many rocky outcrops further south being others.
Bycatch can add to the excitement, and also lighten you of a few lures. Blackall are frequently spotted and occasionally tempted whilst scoping out the bay island shores or Frasers ledges. Estuary cod are actually worth avoiding if you can, often packing a bit too much grunt for light leaders on noodle rods if they are of any reasonable size.
Flatties on the flats or the fringes of the rocks, and some very nice whiting from the sandy and muddy shallows offer even more fun on the flats and a handy feed to boot. Even grunter get in on the act in certain areas, and these things can really shift some water when hooked in the skinny margins.
Stepping up a class or two in the tackle department can see you tangling with the queenies that are becoming a feature of the Great Sandy Straits flats fishery. Fly fishos will enjoy the challenge and will soon get their backing wet when they connect to the really big queenies on offer down there.
Trolling is More Popular than Ever
Whether it be a mackerel fan deploying a trolling board or paravane trailing a spoon, or another that favours the simplicity of a high-speed minnow, trolling is a very popular pastime right now. The schoolies are in and are highly mobile, so trolling can get you back in the strike zone after periods off the water. Seeking out the schools of smaller herring in the western or southern bay is the go for now, with some attention given to shipping beacons that are hosting bait schools.
Lure selection is obviously important to mimic the bait source a target predator is keen on, but every bit as important is the speed at which a given lure is trolled. There are times, such as with deep divers that you just cannot go slow enough, (yet there are also varying paces required to get the desired swimming action of many lures). When swimming with the current, the lure shimmies less, yet deeper, than it does when swimming against the current.
High speed lures are tied on to tempt pelagics and these critters are fast. A given lure has a speed limit, and in many cases, with minnow styled lures, the ultimate speed at which it should be run is that speed at which it is just about to blow-out.
Essentially, if your diving lure is tracking dead straight (as it must or it will fail altogether), then it will start to wander slightly from side-to-side just as the optimum maximum speed is reached. This wandering effect is the very bite trigger that will drive a following predator nuts and make it strike.
If running lures in tandem, then consider different profiles or lure lengths, even differing depth capabilities, but always run lures side by side that have similar optimum swimming speeds. There should be a couple of pictures hereabouts of just a handful of the more popular trolling lures that we stock, grouped in likely bundles that could see them trolled together in tandem. Offer alternative profiles initially and see which ones excite the fish the most – then you can change the others and run a suite of like lures.
When you have the Need for Speed, we have some of the best in the market rigged and ready to rumble.
Pick your weapons to probe the depths. Top row for 5 metres or so; bottom row for 9 metres or more.
These days, many fishos that like to catch their fish on the move and minimise their interactions with sharks are trolling super deep divers in the search for snapper, cod and coral trout. Trevally, longtail tuna and mackerel bycatch is definitely a thing too when one trolls passed hungry pelagics.
By skirting the fringes of known reefs, or traversing channels and passageways that fish must travel, trollers can often find lots of new ground whilst catching fish without drawing the attention of the sharks that would otherwise rock up as soon as you stopped.
Tying on a deep diver that doesn’t plunge quite as deep enables the same fisho to scope out the many ledges that fringe the western side of Fraser Island. Estuary cod captures will outweigh all others always, yet enough trout, jewfish, and other species can be caught to warrant the exercise.
Wandering up a creek or river whilst trolling either a deep diver or shallower model is commonplace for those that enjoy that sort of thing. It is incredibly popular in the north, yet less so down here. Perhaps the ease of which we can work all waters with vibes these days negates the need to troll. All the same, many threadfin and blue salmon, barra, flatties and jewies will be caught in the future as they have the past, by savvy trollers plying our estuarine waters.
The flats and shallow creeks offer yet another option for many flathead fans that favour the trolling option. Small diving lures that touch bottom occasionally and make a commotion are the go, and the flatties are absolute suckers for them. You can even troll a soft plastic or vibe if you wish – just get your speed right and place the lure the right distance behind the boat.
And, not to be left out, the humble bream are very much attracted to tiny lures trolled at a slow pace. Electric motors enable enhanced stealth for such activities and catches reflect this. Without an electric though, all a boatie might do is put more distance between the boat and the lure and the same bream will react with less caution.
Rocky areas are productive for bream trollers, yet fraught with danger. Snag-ups can be one issue, but estuary cod are potentially far worse. The muddy verges nearby, or gravelly/weedy flats and creek mouths are potentially better areas to focus upon.
All this talk of trolling might have you thinking that your scribe is a big fan of the technique. Whilst happy to extoll its virtues, nothing could be further from the truth really. Yet, I must admit that I have found, and caught, many barramundi and threadfin salmon over the years by simply tossing a favourite diving hardbody or soft plastic out the back while I wander back up-current to work a set of snags or likely bank.
Similarly so, in the barra dams, when a short relocation is required of maybe a hundred metres or so, tossing a big oversized weedless-rigged softie out the back as I relocate has caught me many large barra. On occasion, that simple little troll has actually resulted in multiple captures on the cast thereafter from a patch of fish that I had not spotted on my fancy scanner previously.
Some 24 years ago I arrived here after traveling around Australia. It only took one glance at the Pt Vernon – Gatakers Bay fringing reef system to consider it worthy of a troll for coral trout as I had done elsewhere. Starting out with yellowbelly lures at a slow pace, I copped a flogging from what was big numbers of sizeable trout and cod, and soon discovered the need to speed up, beef up the hardware and lock up that drag. The results came and many lessons were learned and shared.
Fast-forward to now, and trolling for coral trout over shallow reef is one of the most popular pastimes for many fishos. Some even seem to pursue the art at the exclusion of all others. The numbers and sizes of fish may not be on offer like they used to be, but luckily for the modern fisho, the coral trout is a fast-growing and very inquisitive fish, so this form of fishing will continue to live on.
Hectic Times on Our Rivers
The boat traffic on our rivers this winter is unprecedented. The Mary is now the focal point of much effort from those keen to catch king salmon or a winter barra. Some will succeed, some won’t, yet for all concerned, the whole fishery will now be that bit harder. Boat traffic and such a massive shift of effort from alternatives will have its impact, just as the cooling water will.
Vibing for threadies has been popular since those lures were introduced many years ago. They work very well. Exponents talked up their successes in the past, but never dared give away where they enjoyed such success. Times have changed apparently.
The effort on the Burrum’s ex-Lenthalls barra was just as dynamic and topical a few months ago. The Burrum system is still seeing a much smaller fleet of barra-hungry fishos wandering its length looking for sizeable fish. This has been a very unique (warm) winter, during which barra captures have been reasonably consistent. The quality and average size of the fish up that way is what draws so many back. The sweet content of winter captures making it all the more memorable.
Blue salmon can be found in both systems, as can a good run of grunter for those who know where to look. The Burrum’s big whiting have been active over the bigger tides, and enough flatties can be found to warrant the search. Still no word of queenies or river GTs as yet, but it is still early days.
Trevally Outnumber Snapper
It is hard to write about the local snapper scene in a positive light. The numbers inshore are low – very low. Yes, a warm winter has had its impact, but loses relevance when you recall similar winters many years ago that still saw big snapper numbers in the bay.
Right now, clear waters and excessive boat traffic are certainly issues around popular inshore reef systems. The snapper are often there in small groups, and of decent size occasionally too – but they are spooked. Hopefuls wishing to tangle with old man snapper this week might want to give thought to stretching their legs and trying further afield.
There is ample baitfish in the bay now and many reefs beyond the banks are worth a look. Try the Wathumba region up in Platypus Bay or other sites in the central bay. The south-wester won’t make this option very comfortable for the next couple of days (unless you opt for a late arvo session), but as the new moon approaches soon, such grounds would traditionally come good this time of year.
There is only a week or so to go before the snapper and pearl perch closure kicks in on the 15th. We need what snapper are in the bay to spawn if we have any hope of a recovery of the resource in the future. Genetic memory is a very important fact of life and nature, that dictates where progeny of the parent fish might turn up in the future.
You would expect Dane's head to be bigger with a snapper like this. A Zman 5in Curly Tailz in Electric Chicken tempted this fatty.
Trevally numbers are better at present, offering fun times and considerable sport for keen sportsfishos. Inshore, it’s the shipwrecks of the Roy Rufus and the structures of the Simpson that draw many trevally. Further up the bay, there are even more schools aggregating each week as winter wears on.
The number of trevally species that migrate to our waters to join the local goldies is a venerable who’s who of the trevally clan. Many reef systems will be inundated with hordes of trevally hot on the heels of the yakkas and herring etc that they predate upon. They can be hard to avoid at the Gutters and over towards Rooneys this month, and big numbers will call Platypus Bay home for the next couple of months too.
So, if the snapper are too elusive, or you just want to give them a spell, then pick up the pace on your retrieve and exaggerate your twitches when working your plastics, or better still, bust out the jigging outfits and get tangled with trevor. See how many different species you can catch in a day – it could be a lot.
Watch your sounder or peer over the side from time to time and you might spot one or several of the big cobia that are gracing us with their presence at this time. Southern movements deeper into the bay mean they can turn up almost anywhere, (we have found them down beyond Kingfisher in the past). Live baits and many lures will tempt them, and then the fun begins. Let the big ones go – they are way cooler in the water, and are a real nightmare in the esky or onboard anyway.
Large longtail tuna have been caught in Platypus Bay this week after swiping at softies or jigs meant for snapper etc. There are also reports of a few mack tuna up that way for those keen to track them down.
Here’s hoping the next week is both better weather-wise and fishing-wise and you catch what you set out to catch.