We’ve had some fairly standard spring weather over the past week or so with light northerlies dominating at times and a few decent showers and storms in the mix to settle the dry season dust. This weekend’s forecast isn’t the greatest though, with showers and storms and a fairly consistent 15-20 knot southeaster likely to keep boaties inshore. Forecasters are saying we could be in for a reasonable fall of rain in coming days, though it would take some serious rain to cause any run-off right now with the parched ground likely to absorb all the moisture.
The big news over the past week has been the sensational heavy tackle fishery off Fraser and the wide grounds to the north thereof. The dark moon saw a gathering of experienced and novice crews working the continental shelf waters of around 200m in depth for some serious numbers of blue marlin averaging 200-400lbs. A few bigger fish to 600lb were managed by at least one vessel, with up to 20 captures for a 3 day stint putting this fishery well and truly on the map for the serious game fisher. Water temps averaged 24C out that way, and the current was minimal and the weather glorious for much of the better period around the new moon. A smaller (yet no less exciting) number of striped marlin were also caught, with the average stripe going 150-200lbs. Yellowfin tuna were the only bycatch reported from those waters, though a range of other pelagics can be expected from the shoals and closer grounds for those with lighter tackle.
The Coral Reef Fin Fish closure caught a few by surprise last weekend, with quite a few anglers dropping in store to gear up for a wide session only to be disappointed by the news of the closure. Another closure will be enforced over the new moon in November (15th – 19th inclusive) and affects all waters north of latitude 24 degrees 50 minutes, so keep this one in mind for the future. Outside the closure some great reefies have been on the chew offshore, with red emperor a real special this time of year. Tragic tales regarding the taxman out wide are still common, though the closer grounds such as the Gutters and Rooneys are still reasonably shark-free. The shoals over the Breaksea Spit offer a great catch of reds, red throat, parrot, maori cod, hussar and a mix of other reefies, along with cobia, snapper and big reef jacks over the shallower reefs at night. The shelf waters offer a mix of snapper, pearlies and jobbies if you can beat the noahs to the boat.
Black marlin captures in the bay so far have been fairly light on. Even experienced locals have only been able to draw a strike or two as yet, but it is still early days. Most efforts so far have been in the popular areas around Rooneys south to Wathumba. Given the clear inshore waters and the biomass of fish and bait that travelled down the west coast of the bay recently, perhaps a few small blacks have been drawn to that activity. They can turn up all over the bay, so have at least a spin outfit at the ready to flick a lure or livie to them if they turn up whilst you are targeting something else. A marlin was recently spotted in the box gutter north west of Pelican Banks as an example. Stay tuned for more updates on the billfish scene as the season unfolds.
Mack tuna numbers are increasing throughout the bay, with occasional schools of longtail busting up as well. Platypus Bay can be quiet surface-wise at times, but is still most popular for those with small vessels due to the protection afforded by the island. The western bay has been more productive of late though consider the wind direction and strength as it is obviously far rougher than the east when the southeasters and northerlies prevail.
Snapper are not a "coral reef fin fish" and as such were eagerly sought by those heading out onto the bay over the new moon. Some great catches were reported too, with spots in the central bay and even inshore around the Arti and Burrum 8 Mile producing a run of good knobbies. Early morning sessions allowed crews to avoid the afternoon seabreezes and bag a few snapper on live baits of yakka and herring. So, don’t put the snapper gear away just yet, as though we can surely expect their numbers to dwindle from here on into summer, they can still turn up at times.
Snapper have not been the only target inshore, with coral trout and cod turning it on in the shallows and over the deeper reefs so long as you time your efforts appropriately. Put simply, fish the turn of tide with livies or plastics in the deeper stuff and revert to trolling hard-bodies or fishing with livies or dead fish baits along the shallow reefs fringing the islands during the run. Don’t expect too much from the shallows during the middle of the day however, as first and last light are prime times in waters so shallow and clear.
That great run of school mackerel that came down the western coast of the bay a few weeks ago has dispersed and they are now well spread throughout the lower bay and the Straits. Look for schools of herring to draw the mackerel and don’t become fixated with just one spot as they are of course highly mobile. Trolling the shipping channels is productive for those that don’t know quite where to start, and of course beacon-bashing is always popular for those without GPS marks or local knowledge.
Queenfish are providing plenty of sport for those spinning metals, fast-twitching plastics and more-so working stickbaits and poppers around bait schools inshore off Gatakers and along stretches of the bay’s western shores. Spanish mackerel have been fairly common in the vicinity of the large schools of bonito and over some inshore reefs.
Trolling for trout around Pt Vernon is most productive early morning over the bigger tides this time of year, though numbers may be a little down due to spearfishing efforts of late. Tight drags and treble upgrades are standard for those serious about their trout trolling, and make sure you hang onto your rod as by the time you remove a loaded rod from a holder a trout will likely be back in the reef. Choose lures to swim within a metre of the bottom and pick up the pace to 5-6 knots if you can. The extra speed will make the trout commit and will reduce the cod bycatch. Don’t be surprised to encounter a few broad-barred mackerel when trolling these shallow reefs, but avoid using wire as bite-offs are rare from broadies.
Great Sandy Straits & Mary/Susan Rivers
Whiting have been abundant over some of the flats off River Heads and down the Straits, as well as in the Susan River and the lower Mary. Bigger tides like the new moon just passed are prime, so you might need to wait till the full moon approaches for another crack at the ‘ting. In the meantime, flatties are quite prolific and easily targeted with a range of lures, livies or even a dead prawn or fish bait. Winter’s great run of bream has left a legacy around the heads, with some big bream still a common feature at night for shore-based anglers.
It is prime time for the bigger estuarine predators to kick up a gear and the recent northerlies and warmer nights have got them on the chew. Threadies are by far the easiest to target, with a decent sounder, a few vibes, heavy leader and a bit of basic river-reading skills being all that is required to come into contact with some big sambos. For those unfamiliar with the Mary or Susan, concentrate on the Straits as the smaller creek systems are far easier to nut out and still contain some enormous threadies. The bottom half of the run out tide is the best time to seek them out though they are quite active during the flood as well. The difference is in the activity. This time of year they drop back into holes and school up during the ebb and scatter to feed during the flood.
Barra too have been active throughout the Mary and Susan and down the Straits. Trolling diving hardbodies at varying depths to suit the terrain will help the novice find a barra (or threadie), but old bucket mouth also loves vibes which makes them an easy target in any depth. Rolling plastics or twitching hardbodies over rock bars and along banks adjacent to gutters is productive too, as is sitting back with a livie or two waiting for them to feed.
It is time to dust off the jack tackle, pack the Bushmans and hit the creeks along the western shores of Fraser. The hotter and muggier the day seemingly the better, but with such clear water right now they shouldn’t be too hard to track down. Keep your lure offerings small (50-100mm) and try to time your assault to have just enough water up in the mangroves. Too high a water level and you will hear them crunching crabs beyond your reach. Too low and of course you need to target them in sunken snags and undercut banks. A good bait fisho will always out-do a lure angler when it comes to jacks. They are simply suckers for a strip of fresh mullet, livie or even a pillie. Don’t let anyone from up north try to tell you that a 50cm jack is "big". It is a great fish at that size, but around here they grow well beyond the 60cm mark in the creeks. Plenty of us have the scars to verify that.
Burrum River System
The four rivers making up the Burrum system offer a lifetimes-worth of jack-holding terrain that changes season by season. New snags are washed in and old ones wash away or break down, but the rock bars remain largely unchanged. It will be the water quality and availability of a food source that will dictate whether "jack lives here" or not. Be prepared to move around, but ensure you are getting your lures or baits right into their lairs otherwise you may just be trimming the edges and not getting in tight enough. Right now, the mid reaches of each of these rivers are the places to start looking for jacks. Low tide offers the obvious advantages but jacks are super active during stages of the flood tide that see baitfish pushing upstream.
Some good barra have been reported from these rivers this past week. Trolling can be challenging up on the Burrum with so few areas retaining the same depth for any distance. Short runs over productive stretches are called for, with lures that get down to the fish. Vibes will produce over rock bars, in deep holes and along muddy banks, but for snag-bashing you are much better off with a hardbody or weedless-rigged plastic. A fantastic lure that is somewhat overlooked in this new era of 3D imaging and finely tuned Japanese lures is the locally designed Prawnstar. Be it the larger "original" or the mid-sized "junior" these once market-leading prawn imitations are absolutely deadly for those who dare to fish deep into the snags. Barra love them and so do jacks. If you give them a try then make sure you sink them to the bottom and hang on.
There will still be a few schools of queenies, mini GTs and tarpon scattered throughout the mid reaches, so take the light gear with you and you can seek them out on small surface presentations or plastics. Flatties are well spread throughout much of the river, and a few grunter have made their way upstream beyond Buxton.
The Urangan Pier has been producing a good run of broad-barred mackerel this past week. The broadies will certainly take a live bait of herring, but are far more partial to a live hardihead or garfish when they are around. These baits are much harder to catch, but the key is to work your lightly-weighted bait jig through the surface film and watch as they eat it at the surface. Of course, high-speed spinning with Flasha Spoons is also productive for broadies and other pelagics at the pier. A few queenfish have also turned up at times over the past week and are equally keen on a livie or Flasha.
The dreaded green toadfish have given those chasing bread and butter species a real touch up out at the pier of late. Flatties will be a good target over the coming week on livies, and whiting are a chance if you can avoid the toads on the bigger tides.
Word from Lenthalls Dam is that it is still all about the bass, ‘bout the bass. Trolling divers is producing, as is working hard vibes off the points. If you are out there early or late enough in the day then a surface session is on the cards up in the shallow fringes. Barra remain elusive.
Monduran and Awoonga Dams both fished well over the past week. Big numbers are coming back from experienced anglers working points late in the day and weed edges early. Consistency in wind direction will be an advantage when visiting these lakes, so by the looks of things the week ahead will be good if the rain doesn’t eventuate.
Good luck out there y’all.