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Weekly Fishing Report - 15th July 2021

A nice bay snapper caught with Hervey Bay Fly & Sportfishing.

Westerly Winds Dominate Next Week

A couple of decent days mid-week offered boaties the chance to hit the bay, but for the most part, the weather was rather unkind last week. The fishing was a bit ordinary for many too, but more on that later.

Check out the latest weather forecasts and you will see a rather dramatic northwesterly wind that will howl up to possibly 30 knots tomorrow. Certainly not a day to be on the water. The wind will ease back to 15 knots Saturday, but from the west. Sunday will see similar wind strength from the southwest. This is less than ideal for those hoping to fish over the weekend.
Even the mid-week weather next week is a little frustrating.

The southwester is likely to dominate, albeit fairly light some days. We should expect these little spates of westerly wind this time of year, as it is a constant each winter, but it is hardly encouraging for Hervey Bay locals that know how unproductive westerlies are for fishing.

It is a shame about the wind direction, as the neap tides around Saturday’s first quarter moon phase and the building tides thereafter until the full moon next weekend can be quite productive. Maybe the weather boffins will change their minds, so monitor the forecasts and make the most of any weather windows as they open.

Snapper and Pearl Perch Off Limits for the Next Month

Both snapper and pearl perch are a no-take species from today until the 15th August (inclusive). This ban was initiated last year due to concerns over the decline of our state’s snapper and pearl perch fisheries. The ban applies to all parties, both recreational and commercial, and is intended to protect our depleted stocks from being plundered whilst they are gathered to spawn.

Please do the right thing and avoid targeting these species during the month-long closure. You might catch snapper in the bay accidentally during this period, which must be released immediately. Steer away from snapper if you need to, and avoid snapper hotspots and target other species elsewhere.

Some will be tempted to chase snapper regardless of the rules and will likely think that catching big knobbies and taking photos before releasing the fish is an acceptable thing to do. It is not. This will only interrupt the fishes’ all important spawning urge and possibly result in shark predation in their weakened state.

So far it's been a great snapper season, now it's time to give them a rest and hopefully further improve future stock. Pic: Hervey Bay Fly & Sportfishing

Anyway, sharing brag shots of big knobbies in a closure would be akin to winning the State of Origin series, but losing the last game. Kind of spoils the prize and hardly good for the ego as the capture doesn’t count. Go the Maroons!

For those that are interested, the new moon snapper bite inshore was vastly less exciting than anticipated. A few decent captures in preceding weeks gave us hope, but the baitfish simply didn’t flood south into the lower bay as expected. Very little in the way of baitfish over or south of the banks meant few snapper in pursuit, and accordingly the better captures were reported from the northern and central bay.

Arch Cliffs and a few other reefs in Platypus Bay gave up a feed of squire and the odd knobbie. Sharks took a terrible toll in some locations however, stealing prize fish and wasting ever-precious breeding stock. Timing was everything out wider too, with some failing to find snapper at the 25 Fathom Hole whilst others scored a couple of large fish.

Inshore, very few fish turned up on the Roy Rufus arti – again, due to the lack of baitfish. Moon Ledge was more productive, if you could get near it for boats when the weather was good. A couple of quality snapper were landed, but some crews were plagued with sharks during the evening.

Even the Outer Banks and Simpson arti were relatively devoid of baitfish schools, which is quite surprising for mid-winter. We haven’t heard how the reefs in the western bay faired, hopefully better than elsewhere.

For those wondering what we are referring to when it comes to baitfish - it is yakkas, herring and pike (amongst others). A decent winter season should see such vast schools of baitfish that your sounder is blacked-out, almost top to bottom in the vicinity of our inshore reefs. This is simply not happening this winter. It is likely that the lack of rains for so long now, and the resultant lack of nutrient fails to attract the baitfish inshore that attracts their predators.

What to Target in Lieu of Snapper

During the closure, reef fishos can target other species out wide if the weather allows. Avoiding floatlining techniques whilst bait fishing, and utilising heavily-weighted plastics that crash-dive to the bottom and stay there can help to avoid the snapper, whilst still pick up a feed of tasty bottom-dwelling reefies.

Coral trout become quite lethargic during late winter, making them easier targets for live baiters, or for those jigging or tea-bagging lures during the last tide change of the day. Don’t expect too much enthusiasm from our trout during chilly early mornings. Estuary cod too, become quite lethargic and are less likely to roam from their lairs, except over the neap tides during the middle of the night and pre-dawn.

Cod are a regular catch on the reefs, particularly when chasing coral trout on live baits or trolled hardbodies. Pic: Hervey Bay Fly & Sportfishing

You can target jacks at night over our wide reefs if you have the skill to anchor accurately (or perhaps just deploy a spot-locking electric motor if you don’t). Scarlets, reds, grass sweetlip, spangled emperor and moses perch could all feature in catches for those heading for the Gutters or wide off Rooneys in the near future. The sharks will welcome your arrival in many spots though, so make sure you have plenty of options and stay mobile if necessary.

Cobia will continue to feature in catches for a couple of months. Find the bigger aggregations of baitfish to find them. The ever-popular Red Ned shipwreck off Rooneys is a common cobia haunt, due to its location and consistent masses of yakkas. Otherwise, expect cobes from the Gutters and from reefs within Platypus Bay where the bigger bait schools have amassed.

Trevally will be fairly abundant at the Gutters and off Rooneys, as well as in Platypus Bay. Even our trevally populations have been severely impacted upon by sharks in recent years, but big numbers still arrive each winter and they are the easiest and most consistent option for sportsfishos looking to entertain the kids out in the bay.

It is unlikely that anyone will be heading offshore this week, unless you plan to sneak out Monday during the all-too-brief window of light winds. As soon as the weather comes good again though, offshore will beckon for many crews and the fishing should be first class due to the lack of effort recently.

Extraordinarily Tough Fishing Inshore at Present

Whilst the odd snapper, cod, trout or a few blackall were hauled over the gunwales over the past week, if you struggled to scrape up a feed whilst fishing our inshore reefs then you weren’t alone. It has been a remarkably dismal scene around many of our reef systems, made blatantly obvious by the excellent sounder technology we have at our disposal these days.

A lack of baitfish as mentioned above is certainly a contributing factor, but the constant attrition of our stocks of reef fish from shark predation and increasing effort as our population explodes cannot be denied. It is increasingly challenging to remain positive whilst reporting on our local fishing scene of late, and whilst we resist using the words “crisis” or “disastrous”, we can only hope that things improve dramatically from the current status quo.

It is not only our inshore reef scene that is of concern, as our potentially fantastic flats fisheries and our beloved Great Sandy Straits and local river systems are all showing serious signs of over-harvesting and decline. The lack of rains in recent years has left our waters depleted of the much-needed renewal of life that flood waters bring, yet the effort from us is increasing.

Our shallow waters should be alive with all manner of juvenile species and baitfish in droves. They are not. Just looking at the bay islands and the surrounding flats and channels, we should be driving past vast schools of bream, pike, whiting, trevally and queenfish, whilst flatties scoot out of the way, cod and blackall race for cover and schools of large tiger squid cruise the shallows. But nothing.

Yet, at the same time, one commercial net boat after another drives past, scanning the waters for anything they can mesh or round up with their nets, only to keep driving and scanning as they too struggle to find anything left to harvest. When good honest local net fishers are resigned to sending rubbish fish to market that no-one would even consider keeping, then you are seriously scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Unfortunately, we are also hearing that vast stretches of the straits are devoid of baitfish and their predators. Let’s all hope that this is only a temporary phenomenon, and that we again return to some semblance of normality. The straits offers such a great winter fishery for many of us, whether we just like to sight-fish for flatties or other flats-dwellers, or like to pursue more challenging critters.

The westerly winds will likely kick start the annual mullet run along our coastline. Big mature sea mullet will be schooling up and heading out of our rivers and creeks to spawn. Not only will these mullet have to run the gauntlet of awaiting nets, but the larger predators that pursue them on their journey (think large jewies and bull sharks amongst others).

Now, whilst the preceding paragraphs are somewhat negative and (hopefully) concerning for many of us, it is not all doom and gloom. There have been a few shining lights locally over the past week for those that were in the right spot at the right time.

Kingfisher Bay Resort’s jetty is home to a few decent jewfish. The water is too dirty for spearos and unlikely to change during the impending westerlies, so fishos have a chance at extracting them from amongst the pylons. There are also a few flatties lurking beneath the jetty, as well as along the adjacent beaches. Plenty of bream can be caught from the jetty too, with the chance of tiger squid when the water clears up again.

A birds eye view of the River Heads area.

Shore-based fishos at River Heads have had squid, both tiger and pencil (arrow) to target at night, along with bream, the odd flathead, cod and jewfish. As far as we know, the herring and hardiheads are still yet to show up, so the mackerel, tailor and even tuna that follow them in are yet to make an appearance. Once the bait arrives, head out there with a spin rod and some spoons and you can get a little exercise whilst spinning from the stones.

Upriver in the Mary, there are bream, a few grunter and loose schools of blue salmon. Big threadies can be targeted in winter with vibes, trolled divers, softies or live baits in the deeper holes, but their numbers are quite low and they will be somewhat lethargic. Hauls of large fish netted just this week are hardly encouraging, but still indicate that there are/were big sambos in the river.

Burrum River Options in Westerly Winds

Recent reports from locals from Burrum Heads suggest there is a bit of fun on offer up that way. It is not a bad option in westerly winds if you resign yourself to targeting winter species and forget the glory fish such as barra and jacks.

There has been a few squid in the river, mostly taken by folks sight-fishing for them around the heads, but also possible further upstream. Tailor might be found, albeit more-so closer to the next full moon. Look for bird activity and surface commotions in the river channels to find the tailor. Tarpon and blue salmon can also push bait to the surface and feed up river too, and are far kinder targets for those favouring soft plastics.

It's always worth carrying a squid jig this time of year as you never know when you'll stumble across a tiger squid.

A couple of tourists up on their annual holidays have been in bragging about recent flathead captures in the river. Often, they are only trolling, so if they are picking up enough fish for a feed, then a fisho armed with the right lures and the ability to identify obvious ambush points should score a few flatties with ease.

Those crazy enough to sit in the boat up on the flats at night have scored a modest feed of large whiting. Bream can be caught in reasonable numbers by berleying the rocky, broken-bottomed areas in the lower reaches. We haven’t heard of any grunter, but night sessions on the bigger tides up past Buxton would likely see if they were present.

By this time in winter, the schools of mini GTs and queenies should have made their way into the river. If they have, then look for them milling around in schools in the deeper sections between sandbanks or around rock bars in the mid-reaches. They are a ton of fun for the kids, and whilst flicking little plastics or the like for them you just might encounter giant herring, blue salmon, tarpon or even the odd threadie or jewfish.

Winter Whiting Options Improving

Winter whiting fishos have had a better week than many others. Clusters of boats just to the west of Gatakers Bay were a dead giveaway as to where the whiting were for a few days. Many opted to join the crowd in lieu of finding their own patches and still scored a decent feed.

The best winteries found out from Urangan Harbour appear to have been just south of Round Island. The size has been quite good apparently, though size is a very relative term it seems, depending on who you are talking to. The westerlies this week should see the whiting start to feed further south of there, nearer the south western side of Woody Island and in the channel near the “go slow” marker in the middle of the flats.

Heading up along Woodgate Beach in a boat chasing winteries is a good option for those wishing to launch from Burrum Heads. It is an easy steam, steering through the sand banks in the river then hugging the beach around the corner and running along the coast. This can be treacherous at dawn if you don’t know your way through the banks, so beware. Drift in 4-5 metres of water and once you find some whiting, anchor up and haul in your limit if they are thick enough.

Winter whiting are a great species for young fishos to start their angling journey as they are easy to catch and handle and taste great in the pan.

Winter Species on the Chew at Urangan Pier

Bream fishos have been catching plenty of bream at the pier. There are a few bigger models mixed in with the regular bream too, which are proving quite the handful on the light gear around the pylons. The neap tides will hardly excite the bream, but the cold westerly next week and the approaching full moon should see a spike in their numbers.

Flathead are a much more responsive species during the neaps at the pier and can be sight-fished in the first channel or out along the slope near the end. Live pike are certainly the gun bait, but herring will tempt a hungry flattie if you cannot secure a pike.

There has been a smattering of pencil squid out the end after dark, though only very small numbers compared with the seasonal summer time run. Tiger squid are a chance too, so ensure you have larger jigs for them so they can be lifted without them falling off if you are lucky enough to spot them before anyone else.

Jewies are a chance from the deeper waters out the end after dark any night, but will be an even better proposition closer to the full moon. Apparently, there were a few mackerel lurking around the pier last week, but all were fairly small.

The iconic Maheno Wreck on Fraser's eastern beach is not only a great photo op but you can also find some great gutters and fishing in the vicinity as well.

Mixed Bag on Offer in Fraser’s Surf Gutters

Our fisho on the island has been having a bit of fun chasing a range of species over the past week. The weather has been less than ideal, and the big northwester tomorrow will likely change things a bit, but for now we can report quite good fishing in the central section of the surf beach.

The beach itself is hard-packed and good to travel on. Even at high tide there is a good track up along the top of the beach, sufficient for vehicles to pass safely along most of its length. They are scoring plenty of beach worms when needed over there, and there are eugaries (pipis) in patches for those favouring them for bait.

Grant Currey spun up this nice tailor on a metal slug. 

The big whiting backed off a bit with the neap tides, but they are still scoring a modest feed of whiting to 30cm. Select low tide gutters have produced a few chopper tailor from the back of the gutters on metals, with the trusty old Halco twisty getting the job done. There has even been the odd trevally caught via the same method.

Gutters interspersed with a bit of rock have produced quite a few large tarwhine to 35cm. There has also been a few decent sea bream cruising the same rock-strewn gutters. Some of these critters have proven quite the challenge around the rocks, with bust offs not uncommon.

Dart are great fun on light tackle and put up a good fight for their size. If you put them in a brine mixture overnight and cook them in the smoker box/nipper kipper they come up surprisingly good too!

Good luck out there y’all.

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