Work, Fish, Repeat
Last weekend saw calm seas and hot weather, followed by a southeasterly change Monday that blew up to 20 knots for most of the working week. This week’s forecast looks like a repeat of this scenario, with light winds for the weekend preceding another southeasterly blow that will kick in Monday and blow all week.
Whilst the winds for the weekend look quite light, they will tend from the north, and there is likely to be a fairly stiff north-easterly sea breeze Saturday evening. Keep this sea breeze in mind if planning to stay out late or overnight, as the seas are likely to get a bit jiggly until early the next morning.
At this stage, it looks like it is going to blow 20 knots SE or possibly more for much of next week, so make the most of the weekend if you can. Sunday is Valentine’s Day, so no doubt there will be a few frustrated fishos stuck onshore, whilst others realise just how lucky they are.
Tomorrow night’s new moon means spring tides and fairly substantial tidal flow. This time of year, the tides aren’t huge with highs peaking around 3.9m from lows of around 0.7m. Take extra care during the afternoon ebb tide out on the bay as it opposes the northerly wind – it can get rough. The increased current will see reefies, pelagics and flats-dwellers on the chew, and should get the crustaceans on the move as well.
Plenty of Tuna in the Bay
Tuna numbers have exploded in the bay, with hordes of mack tuna and increasing numbers of longtails on offer. There are large schools of mack tuna in the western and central bay, with a few schools also balling-up the baitfish in Platypus Bay to the east.
The more sought after longtail tuna are now quite common in the central and eastern bay, making them an easy target for crews in smaller vessels heading up the island in east/southeasterly winds. The black backs of the longtails are a dead giveaway, as opposed to the lighter-coloured backs of the macks. So, it might pay to scan the surface-feeding tuna to see what species they are before wearing yourself out on mack after mack if longtails are your favoured target.
Small metal slugs and heavily-weighted 5 inch jerkshads are scoring well on both species, though a selection of sinking stickbaits is handy when you trip over longtails feeding on larger baitfish. The dreaded sharks are a serious hassle around many of the larger tuna schools, so drive away and find smaller pods when you need to.
Know Your Mackerel Species This Time of Year
There are still a few spotted mackerel turning up here and there in the central bay. They are only remnant schools, but are of quite a good size and are inclined to run down a quickly-retrieved metal slug if the chosen slug matches the baitfish they are feeding on. Carry a mix of 20-50 gram slugs and you have them covered.
Apparently, there are a few broad-barred mackerel in the northern bay. This species is an inshore mackerel that rarely ventures wide off the coastline, so finding broadies (greys) out wide is not a common occurrence. They might respond to a metal slug, but they typically tend to eat larger baitfish and are more inclined to respond to a spoon-type metal lure such as Flasha spoons.
School mackerel are also turning up throughout much of Hervey Bay at present. Small, undersized fish can be an issue in many parts, but there are good quality schoolies mixed in with the juvies, so keep persisting and you will score a feed.
You can find schoolies just off Gatakers Bay at present, off Woodgate and Burrum Heads or out around the beacons and reefs in our local shipping channels. There are also schoolies up the island and out around the reefs in the central bay. Again, Flasha spoons are the locally popular lure for those that like to spin them up, though other metals with broader actions than the slugs, such as Halco Twisties and Neptune Mack Specials, will also score.
Trollers can pick up plenty of schoolies at present. Minnow-style lures capable of swimming at around 6-7 knots are the go, with popular models locally including Laser Pro 120’s, Classic Bluewaters, Rapala CD11’s and even RMG Scorpions and Barra Classics. One of the benefits of trolling is that you will find fish well clear of reef systems and the sharks that reside around these structures.
Metal lures and mackerel go hand in hand, just avoid those razor sharp teeth! Pic: Fraser Guided Fishing
Big spanish mackerel can often be encountered when chasing schoolies inshore. They are sometimes even predating on the schoolies, but typically will be found around larger aggregations of baitfish such as herring or yakkas. Big spaniards to 30 kilos have been occasional captures from inshore hotspots such as Moon Ledge and the Roy Rufus arti in years gone by, but the attending sharks these days would rarely see one of these bigger macks landed if hooked.
The Outer Banks, Arch Cliffs 6 Mile, the Fairway beacon and the reefs within our local shipping channels can all produce spanish mackerel this time of year. A bait source in the area will be necessary to hold them, so concentrate your efforts around the bait-rich reefs for best results. Troll larger lures, troll live baits or gar, or anchor with live baits suspended mid-water and you will soon attract any spaniard in the area.
As a quick reminder for the many newbies to the bay, spanish mackerel are a no-take species from Platypus Bay waters (east of a line from Coongul Point to Rooneys Point on Fraser Island). The chance of ciguatera poisoning is so high in that area that it is deemed too risky to allow the fish to be consumed. Of course, the same fish that might contract the poison from the dinoflagellates up that way have tails and can swim, so locals would rarely risk eating any spanish mackerel over 7-8 kilos from anywhere in the bay or the Straits.
Mackerel sizes and bag limits vary from species to species too, so make sure you have a ready reference to tell them apart if you are new to mackerel fishing. Googling a species on your phone takes way too long and might see an undersized fish die while you seek the clarification. Carrying a handy laminated ID chart is a much better idea and will ensure you have a quick and up-to-date reference when needed.
Know your mackerel species when out on the water, especially the different size & bag limits.
You Want Pelagics – We Got Pelagics
Tuna and mackerel might seem a bit easy, boring or mundane for many, so if that is you, yet you enjoy a spot of inshore sportsfishing, then Hervey Bay and the Great sandy Straits have other species on offer this time of year. Queenfish and giant trevally both offer sensational sport on the right tackle and love to hunt down a surface lure.
Queenies can be found throughout our shipping channels and around some of our beacons, but they will also be good targets along the ledges on the inside of Fraser or around the bay islands. The bigger new moon tides will see plenty of water draining off the flats, and the queenies will be aggregating in likely areas to ambush baitfish forced off these flats with the ebb tide.
Work your stickbaits or poppers over shallow waters teeming with gar or hardiheads, or fast-hop soft vibes or a vast array of soft plastics through the deeper waters along drop-offs or current lines and you will soon connect to a high-flying queenie if you have chosen your location well. Queenies over a metre are quite common, but of course we also have schools of little tackers milling about in some areas as well.
A nice longtail tuna caught on a recent charter with Hervey Bay Fly & Sportfishing.
Queenfish do not handle well. They fight all the way to the boat and the bigger fish can be quite challenging on lighter tackle. They are clean fighters, so heavy tackle is never required. Sharks can be a real problem when queenies are hooked in deeper water, so move on and find another school if the sharks are a problem.
Enormous GTs are a summer special in the southern bay. They are often found lurking around high reef structure such as the shipwrecks on the arti or Moon Ledge where they are inclined to pounce on reefies of all kinds being hauled to the surface. Big sinking stickbaits are worth a try in these locations if you can be there with a low tide on dusk, but otherwise it is those live baiting that will hook up to these reef-dwelling GTs.
Bryce Francis with a solid golden trevally caught on one of the inshore reefs. Pic: Hervey Bay Fly & Sportfishing.
River Heads, Ungowa, Kingfisher Bay Resort’s jetty and the bay islands all see their share of big GTs in a dry summer and the bigger tides such as now are the time to target them. Look for structure breaking the strong current and you will find the GTs at some stage of the tide. Heavy tackle is a must for the bigger models, but all sizes are represented in our waters from little river models to big black terrorists well over 30 kilos.
Flats fishos sneaking up onto the vast mud or sand flats along the inside of Fraser or down the Straits can occasionally encounter large golden trevally up in skinny water. We used to be famous for this fishery once, but too much netting pressure over the years put paid to that. Nowadays, it is more a matter of focussing on bait-rich flats on sunny days with enough tide to reach the mangrove line and scouting out feeding fish if you can find them.
Reef Fishos Need to be Mobile
Sharks continue to destroy many a reef fishing outing, both inshore and out wider. Some crews find small isolated patches of rarely-fished reef and do quite well, whilst the vast majority head out to commonly known country and struggle to score a feed amongst the sharks. Unless you are lucky enough to know spots that no-one else does, or are willing to put in the hours and miles finding new ground, then at least be prepared to move elsewhere when the sharks move in on your favourite patch.
Reports from the Gutters last weekend suggest a couple of crews scored a modest feed of trout and mixed reefies by avoiding the larger ledge country and settling for smaller patches of broken ground. Grass sweetlip were the other main catch from those waters, but the odd snapper, scarlet, parrot, moses and even red emperor made it into the esky for some. The Gutters will be popular again this weekend, but things might get a little jiggly for those overnighting Saturday night.
The Rooneys reefs produced a few trout, squire, scarlets, sweeties, blackall and cod. The fish in this area are rarely of the same size as out wider and the sharks are a major hassle. Grunter are a regular feature after dark on some reefs south of the point.
More and more crews are driving up the Bruce and launching at 1770 when the weather is good these days. Not only is the light northerly a lot kinder to you and your vessel up that way, but the reef fishing is vastly better and the sharks a lot easier to avoid. Perhaps your crew might consider a 3 hour stint in the car and a quick trip out to the reef more appealing than the long slog and tough fishing we are experiencing in the northern bay these days.
Those that head out to our inshore reef systems will likely find plenty of grass sweetlip on the chew. There will be a lot of current, so time your efforts and position your boat to allow for this. Drop live baits to the bottom, or tea-bag plastics and you might score a trout or cod over the turn of tide. Blackall, squire and the odd scarlet are the other possibilities, whilst mackerel will likely make a nuisance of themselves at some stage.
Bait Fishing Easiest Option in the Rivers
The big new moon tides will favour the bait fishos in our rivers for the next few days. Those working lures will need to focus on the short window at the bottom of the tide, or otherwise look at the flats and shallower waters in the lower reaches.
The Burrum system is giving up some excellent mangrove jacks and quite a few barra. Burrum Heads locals and visitors have been scoring large barra since the season opening. Tragically, many of these fish will never get the opportunity to spawn, but at least enough are being released to enable a late spawning event should the rains eventuate.
Barra and threadies have been the main targets in the Mary system. The bigger new moon tides will see both species moving considerable distances in the river, making them easier targets for bait fishos, but more challenging for those favouring lures. Trollers will find fish if they concentrate their efforts along deeper snag-strewn stretches of river during the lower ebb tide, or conversely, along mangrove-studded mud flats over the top of tide.
Threadies can be sight-fished over the big ebb tides as they hound the baitfish and jelly prawn washed out of the drains. Look for the tell-tale swirls or protruding dorsal fins or tails of the threadies and offer them small hardbodies or plastics. Bait fishos need only set up nearby with a live bait out the back to await the passing threadies or barra.
Down the Straits there will be options galore, with barra, threadies, jacks and even jewies on offer in some of the creeks. Grunter are also a great target over the darks for bait fishos and those hopping small softies along the bottom. The odd blue salmon is still poking about, along with queenies, small GTs, flatties and pikey bream.
Staff member Logan with a jewfish caught on one of the new Nomad Vertex Max soft vibes.
Muddies Still Active – Prawns Still Scarce
Crabbers have been fairly happy with the quality and number of crabs they have been catching recently. The big tides will see plenty of movement from the muddies, so set your pots in likely haunts and you should score. Make sure your pots are well-secured or well-weighted to ensure they are not washed away in the tidal flow.
There is still no word of any serious banana prawn. Understandable, given the lack of rain again this “wet” season. In a good early wet, we would have already had substantial rains and the prawn would have propagated and be mature enough to run by the new moon in February. If we get rains anytime soon, we will still be looking at a 2 month wait for the new progeny to run.
So, whilst we wait and see what mother nature brings, your best chance of a feed of prawn is to work the upper reaches of local creeks and rivers (avoiding the green zones of course) where the smaller prawn is settled in feeding on the available detritus. The one exception may prove to be the rivers of the Burrum system, that received small inflows a couple of months ago and had mature prawn therein at the time.
If you were ever a chance at catching what prawn is available, then over the darks will be the time to do it. Stay tuned for updates on the prawn season as summer gives way to our usual prime time in autumn.
Good luck out there y’all.
In conjunction with the Berkley Boat Bounty promo, we've got some great in-store deals on Berkley product listed below.