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Weekly Fishing Report - 13th November 2020

It's that time of year to start looking for spotties again and they're bloody delicious in the smoker! Pic: Hervey Bay Fly & Sportfishing
Northerly Winds Will Bring the Heat

The wind has limited local fishing opportunities to protected estuarine systems for much of the past week, with the exception of last Saturday and yesterday when lighter winds offered access to the bay. The week ahead looks even tougher, as northerly winds will set in some time later today and will dominate the local weather scene until mid-next week.

This northerly air flow is certainly going to ramp up the heat over the coming weekend. They are calling it a heatwave and looking at temperatures off the coast, this is a fair call. Storms are possible today, but otherwise it will be hot and sunny until a cooler (hopefully storm-laden) southeast change moves through on Wednesday.

The new moon this Sunday will see plenty of tidal flow, with the tides peaking around the 4m mark from lows below 0.3m. Combine the heat and the new moon and this brings a few target species to mind – in particular, impoundment barra, mangrove jacks and marlin. Here’s your latest report and a few options to consider during a spell of northerly winds:

Coral Reef Fin Fish Closure in Force

Not that it is probably going to matter too much courtesy of the weather, but the second of our two annual Coral Reef Fin Fish closures is in force right now. This closure took effect as of 12.01am Thursday 12th November 2020 and concludes at 11.59pm Monday 16th November 2020. Waters effected by this closure are north of latitude 24°50’ south, which is roughly a line from a little south of Bargara to a little north of Station Hill on Fraser.

Only species listed within the Coral Reef Fin Fish management plan are affected by this closure. In essence, if you find yourself fishing north of the abovementioned line, you can target and keep the likes of snapper, pearl perch and mackerel but cannot take any of our coral reef species such as trout, cod, tuskfish, parrotfish, emperors, sweetlips, jobfishes etc.

If fishing south of 24°50’ south, you can keep coral reef fin fish species. Given that this closure was implemented to enable our reef fish to spawn in peace over two key periods it would seem prudent to leave them alone locally to do their thing as well.

Inshore waters aren't effected by the closure so you can still go get a feed of tasty reefies. Pic: HBFS

Prime Time for Marlin

The new moon in November traditionally sees a peak in activity from marlin and other gamefish in our waters. This fact is not lost on the game fleet, with quite a few nomadic game boats in town right now to take advantage of this prime bite period. The weather is deteriorating with the onset of strengthening northerlies, but the bigger boats will take this blow in their stride during the day and likely seek shelter at Rooneys during the evenings.

Latest reports from outside suggest the best water in recent weeks has been up north, whilst cooler green waters greeted those that ventured south. The prevailing current from the north may well see this blue water push south though, so check your SST charts for the latest update to find where the warmer water meets the cooler stuff. We expect that the big blues and blacks that the heavy tackle fleet will be hunting will be found beyond the shelf in the deeper bait-rich waters off the top of Fraser Island.

Light tackle options abound outside the 13 Mile crossing and down over the shoal country, with small black marlin and sailfish the primary targets. Bycatch (or vermin as the game fishers like to call it) is likely to include mahi mahi, yellowfin tuna and wahoo out wide, with spanish mackerel, cobia and even green jobfish being accidental captures in close.

So, a possible scenario for a budding game fisher might be to kick the day off just outside the 13 Mile after crossing the bar and drag a spread of smaller skirts/baits around these waters early, prior to heading wide and south beyond the shelf looking for the big girls on the heavy tackle. Punching north into the wind and seas will not suit smaller vessels.

Hervey Bay Fly & Sportfishing have been finding a few little blacks inside Fraser.

Back inside Hervey Bay, the local inshore black marlin fishery has been improving. Last Saturday’s tiny neap tides did little to encourage a bite from the marlin, but the building tides since have been a different story. A few crews have found enough baby blacks off Rooneys Point and further south to Wathumba to score up to three fish a day, so it sounds as though there are sufficient fish in the area to warrant the effort.

Most captures off Rooneys/Wathumba have come for those trolling a spread of small skirts behind a decent teaser set up well wide of the island. Focussing effort around the surface-feeding schools of tuna has paid dividends for some, whilst others have raised fish simply trolling the contours and subtle channels that feed baitfish schools and their predators in and out of Platypus Bay.

So, this new moon will see a peak in activity, but will also see the arrival of increasing numbers of billfish to our waters. If you cannot get up there over the new moon due to the weather, then don’t despair, as your chances of tangling with a marlin in coming weeks is vastly enhanced compared to the weeks just past.

It will be no surprise to hear of the arrival of a few schools of spotted mackerel off Rooneys this week. Tuna numbers have been increasing week by week lately and the spotties should be somewhere just north of the bay by now. Spanish mackerel, schoolies, various trevally, queenfish and cobia are all on offer as well as the tuna, the marlin and potentially the spotties, so game/sports fishos have little to complain about other than the weather (and sharks) at present.

Inshore Options Very Limited in Northerly Winds

Northerly winds will keep most of the local boaties off the water or at least restricted to our sheltered estuaries. This is a little frustrating for many, but the upside is that the reduced effort means more fish for the future when the weather abates. Many coral reef species will be spawning this weekend, so perhaps mother nature is looking after her own.

Grass sweetlip, or coral bream as they are referred to locally, continue to gather in numbers throughout the local shipping channels. These little guys are quite prolific in Hervey Bay waters throughout the warmer months and save many a fisho from an embarrassing return home empty-handed.

Targeting sweeties is as simple as “reef fishing” gets. They are ravenous feeders that have a mouth and jaw set up for tearing at flesh and also for foraging for molluscs, cephalopods and crustaceans amongst the broken bottom and weedy/ferny country. Their diet is wide-ranging and they can demolish quite a large bait if necessary, though many will simply offer baits of squid, strip baits and/or large prawns.

Goldies provide plenty of fun on soft plastics and jigs. Pic: HBFS

There is no need to anchor tight to the pressure points of major reef structure like you would for a trout or cod, as sweeties are more inclined to graze the surrounding rubbly country and the bigger fish are often the furthest from the actual structure. There is also no need for finesse when it comes to weighting your offerings as simply having enough lead to hold bottom, or almost hold bottom is sufficient. Sweeties rarely rise much off the bottom to feed, though they are super aggressive feeders at times and are hardly shy when taking a bait.

They bite well during the day, and are even better at night. They can be caught throughout much of the tide cycle, but the period after a tide turn until the flow peaks is often prime sweetlip time. Places to try for sweetlip are many and varied. At present, there are good numbers to be found off the deep edge of our shallow fringing reefs such as those surrounding Pt Vernon and the bay islands.

As our waters get hotter, they will vacate these shallows and become increasingly common around our deeper reefs. The Urangan Channel, Roy Rufus arti, Hardy arti, Bogimbah, Boges Hole, Channel Hole and numerous other reefy/weedy spots within our local shipping channels will be worth a try for sweeties in coming months. The sharks will make fishing some of these areas difficult-to-impossible at times though, so keep this in mind.

The arrival of masses of sweetlip at the same time as the annual inshore run of pencil squid is no coincidence. These little squid make for primo baits (and tucker) and have started to show up locally. There have been a few reported from the deep end of the pier of late and their numbers will swell as summer arrives.

Mac tuna are on the move. Pic: HBFS

Mighty Mangrove Jack on the Chew

Combine the heat, the northerly wind and increased humidity with this weekend’s new moon and you have a recipe for some sensational mangrove jack fishing. The building tides will see a lot of bait movement in our rivers and creeks and the jacks will be out in force to intercept them. Given that it will be mostly sunny, the best bite periods are likely to be during twilight or into the evening, but find shady enough structure during the day and you are in with a chance if your casts or bait presentations are on the money.

For those that can handle the bouncy trip across the straits, there will be some great jacks on offer from the many creeks along the inside of Fraser. High tide can be quite tough with 4m highs though, as the jacks tend to push right up into the mangroves with the tides. You will often hear or even see them smashing small mangrove crabs and mullet up in amongst the mangrove roots. Swimming small paddle-tailed plastics through or past these tangled messes can see you get the bite, but you’d better have the reflexes of a cat and the gear to match them or you will be donating lures to the jungle.

Those who have mastered the art of skip-casting certainly have the edge when it comes to creek fishing for jacks. Weedless plastics are the lure of choice for many when employing this technique. Even weedless-rigged plastic frogs are proving deadly on big jacks when it comes to fishing tiger country. If you can handle the sandflies and mozzies, then Fraser’s western creeks offer some mind-blowing topwater jack fishing around dawn and dusk when the tide is right.

Whilst a few jacks have turned up in the Mary system over the past couple of years, this is likely due to the drought and cleaner water, as this system has only a miniscule jack population compared to the Burrum or the Straits. Many of the mainland creeks, including Kauri, Poona and Tuan offer fantastic jack fishing when the heat is on, and these creeks attract keen kayakers looking to tangle with the red devil.

Mangrove jack, such an aggressive fish that will take a wide range of lures.

Stories of bust-ups are common for kayakers though, as they often lack the power to drag the bigger jacks from their lairs. Jacks over 50cm are quite capable of towing a kayak far enough under locked drag to make it home, so savvy ‘yakkers tend to position their craft side-on or even rest it against structure or a bank to try to gain the necessary leverage.

If it is big estuarine jacks that you are after though, you would be hard-pressed to find a better system than the Burrum. All four rivers of that system offer great jack fishing, with many fish exceeding the magic 60cm mark on offer. Extracting a jack or that size from a snag-filled estuarine environment is a great challenge and one that is achieved far more often by bait fishos than lure fishos.

Time your assault just right over the new moon period and you can experience topwater jack fishing at its very best. The many rock bars in the Burrum system offer a crack at jacks on topwater over skinny, fast-flowing water that will most certainly test your skills and perhaps your ticker and/or your bowels. You cannot deny the tenacity of a hooked jack, so do not under-estimate them and go armed for bear.

Estuaries Best Bet in Northerlies

It is not just jacks that will revel in the heat and bigger tides in our estuaries. You might be able to scrounge up a feed of whiting in the lower reaches this weekend, or perhaps a flathead or two around the mouths of feeder creeks and drains during the ebb tide. Even pikey bream are worth a crack for those preferring the light gear. Their distinct black bodies are quite obvious amongst their favoured habitat of bushy sunken mangroves and until you lose one or spook them, they can be very aggressive towards all manner of smaller lures swum past their hangouts.

More appealing to many of us though, is the improving threadfin salmon fishery and the quality grunter on offer throughout many of our creeks and rivers. The big tides will see both species move with the tides, feeding as they do so. Small plastics or small soft vibes will account for both species, but you really should target one or the other as the suitable leader size varies for each species. 50lb+ leaders are suggested for the bigger sambos, whilst 20lb is ample for the best of the grunter around their favoured terrain.

A few of us have had great sessions chasing fingermark over the years locally, much to the disbelief of other long-term locals who still don’t believe they reside in our waters. They are not common, but they can be caught locally if you put in the time and effort. A few random fingermark are caught each season by folk targeting other species. They are very much prone to over-fishing in these parts and already some of the prime hotspots have been wiped out, so if you trip over a patch that holds these enigmatic fish, it may be best to keep it to yourself.

Mondy Barra Over the New Moon

Undoubtedly one of the best options for the coming weekend will be a trip to one of our fantastic barra impoundments. Choose Lenthalls, Monduran, Awoonga or Callide and you should be in for a treat. Experienced barra fishos will know just how productive the dark of the moon can be this time of year, and with such heat and consistent northerly winds forecast it is bound to be a ripper.

Looking at Monduran alone, there is likely to be a crowd, but the fishing should be great. It is going to be hot, with 39°C forecast for Sunday. Storms are not likely after Friday night, which is a blessing, as you will be able to put in the hours during the prime dusk period without having to dodge one storm after another.

With ‘moon above’ during the middle of the day, those that can handle the heat should score well. Taking a swim to cool off, or even just a sit down in the shade off the water might help to recharge the batteries and keep you casting during the prime periods. Warm nights are fantastic for topwater fishing this time of year, so if you are bored with catching barra on big plastics and suspending hardbodies, then bust out the poppers and stickbaits right on dark or first thing in the morning.

The Mondy barra sure are packing on the kilos. Rusty's Barra Charters has been getting onto some nice fish.

After a few days of southeast, then easterly weather, the turn to more northeast and northwesterly winds this weekend should see the big open bays such as Bird and South “B” Bay fire up. The periods during and after stronger northerlies will see masses of barra “migrate” to the southern extremities of these bays and the many points and bays in the area should be super-productive. Unfortunately, these same areas are quite popular with the masses nowadays, so if you want to avoid the crowds, then perhaps look elsewhere.

The upper reaches around “H”, the back reaches of the North Arm of “B”, the first rainforest, the cut-throughs and the north-facing points of the main basin are just a few other areas you might wish to try. It looks as though there will be yet another opportunity for land-based fishos to score a barra from the boat ramps during the evenings when the boat traffic wains. All in all, it is looking very favourable for dam fishos this week.

Good luck out there y’all.

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