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Weekly Fishing Report - 23rd February 2023

Josh with a couple of nice redclaw

Weather to Get Better as Tidal Flow Eases

There are showers drifting past the bay right now, riding the southeasterly trade winds as this report is being written. Conditions are pleasant enough, if not a little frustrating for boaties and fishos. The wind is likely to ease as the weekend rolls by, but we will have lingering trade winds and a few showers until then.

The current 15-25 knot southeasterly will blow right through until Saturday, when it eases slightly to 15-20 knots. Better conditions are forecast for Sunday, with 10-15 knots from a more easterly direction forecast. Apparently, similar easterlies of similar strength are likely for the working week.

We say “apparently” as determining your week’s weather has been a little challenging today. Conflicting forecasts vary (as usual), so only time will tell whose modelling is correct. Suss out the latest reports day by day and take advantage of improved conditions when they materialise.

As the waxing moon gets brighter and we approach next Monday’s first quarter phase, the tidal flow is diminishing. Some might say that this scenario means a less enthusiastic bite can be expected from a host of species, whilst others might relish the opportunity to target certain fish as the moon falls from the sky during the early evening.

It's easy to see how the spanish mackerel gets it's name the narrow-barred mackerel

Seasonal Spanish Mackerel Closures Having an Impact (?)

Spanish mackerel fans will need to get out when the wind eases and target these fish before Wednesday. The short window of opportunity between the new three week periods of prohibition will close quickly when the second closure kicks in on the 1st March.

The supposed shortage of spaniards in Qld waters is a hard one to measure in Hervey Bay. We seem to get a few “runs” of spaniards each and every year, yet many local fishos avoid them due to the enhanced chances of ciguatera poisoning from fish caught in our waters (Platypus Bay at least).

There seems to be no shortage of healthy fish this year, as many fishos can attest if they ventured near the Gutters, Rooneys or several bait-laden spots closer inshore during the first closure. Grounds such as the Outer Banks, Arch Cliffs 6 Mile, reefs off Coongul and Moon Point, as well as the Roy Rufus artificial reef all play host to migratory schools of spaniards this time of year.

They can also turn up down off Kingfisher Bay Resort, the Urangan Pier, the Fairway beacon and even off Gatakers Bay. Tracking them down is made easier due to their penchant to pounce on diving minnows and large lipless minnows trolled at speed. You have many choices at your disposal these days, with those coming from the stables of Halco, Rapala, Nomad and Samaki all well proven in our waters.

A solid lineup of spanish mackerel lures (left to right): Rapala CD14, Samaki Pacemaker, Halco Laser Pro & Nomad Mad Macs.

More energetic spaniard hunters will opt to scope out likely waters with large

spoons and other metals spun vertically at full noise. Seeking out reefy terrain with schools of baitfish in attendance is the first part of the puzzle, and then you can determine whether or not to utilise a wire trace or risk it with heavy mono leader.

Many will favour the wire approach, with single strand wire custom-rigged via haywire twist connections serving to protect their lures and avoid bite-offs from the spaniards’ razor-sharp dentures. Factory-made multi-strand wire traces are also popular, perhaps due to sheer simplicity. You will have to decide which is the better option for you.

Will you get bitten off more often if you use heavy mono? Yes! Will you hook more fish on a given day? Yes! Will you end up catching more mackerel if you don’t use wire? Very likely! Will your lure collection diminish and the other half start glaring at you sideways with disdain? Quite likely! It is ultimately your choice, and like many fishos before you, you will get lucky at times.

Bait fishos have many alternatives when it comes to targeting spaniards in our waters. Unlike those from ports to our north, going to the trouble of rigging swimming ribbonfish and all that jazz is just not necessary in these parts. You certainly can if you wish, and we have the hardware instore if you want to try the northern techniques, but we tend to keep it simple and catch ample.

Rigging a live bait, attached to the trailing hook of a set of gang hooks - 6/0 or 7/0 VMCs are just about perfect - is all you need do. Attach those gangs to a heavy 60-80lb leader and you are in business. Use a single hook, or a tandem-rigged pair of hooks on wire if you prefer.

A selection of rigged spanish mackerel baits

Swim that livie mid-water unless it is dawn and you are confident there are spaniards cruising the surface layer. Dawn sessions can be super exciting, where you can be forced to lob your unweighted live bait skyward to get enough time to engage the reel when the bait hits the water because the spaniards smash it instantly. Some folks also favour the proven tactic of attaching a balloon to get their macky bait well away from the boat and other lines, which isn’t a bad idea with multi-crew on board.

Live baits wise, spaniards will eat just about anything! If chasing trophies, then a live schoolie (legal size or better of course) is deadly, as are live bonito, spotties and indeed squire. Most will favour the local baitfish population however, and still catch mammoth spaniards on the day. Large herring, yakkas and pike will all attract a spaniard, as will a live squid. Of course, our ever-growing shark population has a taste for all of the above too, so some may regret their wire trace approach as they enter hour two of the fight.

The humble old pilchard, rigged on a set of gangs, with or without wire will still catch spaniards and is all that some need do to score a fish. Trolling appropriately-rigged baits such as pillies and garfish, or even livies, is increasingly popular as more fishos move into the bay from elsewhere, yet many locals won’t go to that much trouble.

As always, avoid spanish mackerel in Platypus Bay where the take of this species is prohibited year-round due to ciguatera poisoning risks. Your bag limit of 3 fish is still current (with a boat limit of 6 fish if 2 or more people are on board). These regulations will change come 1st July, when the new bag limit will be 1 fish per person, with a boat limit of 2 fish when 2 or more people are on board.

An airborne spanish that's just missed a lure 

Smaller Tides Favour the Deeper Reef Fishos

Just as the recent new moon tides favoured the shallow reef fishos, the diminished tidal flow as we approach the next set of neaps will make life easier for those fishing deeper reef systems. Our tides run quite hard in the lower bay and grounds that many find too challenging over the springs are quite fishable this week.

Grass sweetlip are prolific and well spread right now. Not everyone likes them, particularly those with tastebuds more attuned to the glamour species, yet they offer great sport on light tackle and a handy feed for many. They are super-easy to catch and if it wasn’t for the flaming sharks stealing them so often, then you would score a good feed quite quickly quite regularly.

Darryl (above) and Emily (below) with a couple of nice lil tuskies

You can find sweeties over almost any reefy, weedy, ferny or rubbly grounds inshore, and bigger and better specimens on similar country out wider. Anywhere from the Urangan Channel, the local artis, the Channel Hole, Boges Hole and some of Fraser’s western ledges will give up sweeties. Fish the fringes if it is hard reef or the likes of shipwrecks and use hardy baits such as squid to resist the attention of the smaller fish.

Whilst targeting sweeties, you are quite likely to encounter blackall, small cod and if you are lucky, some bonus scarlet sea perch. Take a break from the sweeties etc when the tide slackens for the turn and shift your focus to coral trout and estuary cod on the pressure-edge of the reefs. As always, live baits will attract them, or you can simply tea-bag softies or jigs to tempt a bite.

The new Nomad Squidtrex vibe has been catching a huge range of species

Pelagic activity varies depending upon where you venture this time of year. You are likely to find monstrous GTs haunting the local shipwrecks and some ledges, whilst spaniards and schoolies will make their presence felt in the shipping channels. Golden trevally and a couple of their cousins are possible from grounds such as the Outer Banks, Sammies or Moon Ledge, as well as the larger artificial reef structures such as the Simpson.

Mack tuna are still entertaining the kids when the weather enables access to Platypus Bay or the central bay. The longtails have been a little slow in turning up in any numbers this summer so far. We nearly had a suitable east coast low impact our coast recently, but it swung a little too far offshore and the winds returned to the north too quickly thereafter. We are bound to get such a weather system some time in the not too distant future.

Sorry Darryl, I think Adam's tuskie might have yours pipped

Barra Fans Rejoicing at Burrum Heads

The weather won’t appeal to everyone for bay trips this weekend, so luckily, we have a plethora of estuary options in our district – and some are firing! The most obvious is the Burrum Heads area, at the mouth of the mighty Burrum system. There has been schools of spawning barra gathered there for weeks, and crowds have been descending on the quiet little village ever since the season opened.

The average size of these barra has been impressive. Any barra over 80cm is a female, and we continue to hope that these larger girls all got to do their thing for the future of the fishery this season. All and sundry have been catching barra, one way of the other, so if you are keen to get your barra fix, then you know where to head.

Live baiters have caught their share on baits such as prawns, mullet, gar and herring. Those adept at lure casting are having a ball in the lower reaches too, often catching multiple fish for a session from differing terrain. Barra can be found in skinny water such as the sandbanks and shallow rocks bars around the Gregory mouth and the islands, along deeper ledges such as the Black Bank, and indeed just finning in the tide in the deeper sections of river, out of the current flow.

Young Jordan was stoked with his first barramundi

Barra have also been on the chew elsewhere, with our local creeks giving up a few fish and decent numbers coming from some creeks down the straits. The Mary/Susan system is home to a few schools of barra, but they can take a little more tracking down for those unfamiliar with those waters.

We carry such a huge range of barra lures instore these days that you would be hard-pressed not to find several winners. New lures are always arriving, and few have been better received than the brand new Rapala X-Rap Saltwater Deep 11cm. These wicked new offerings are perfectly balanced and twitch superbly, whilst finally offering a slow-floating tendency that can enable a reasonable hardware upgrade.

The NEW Rapala X-Rap Saltwater Deep 11cm has been getting runs on the board for barra fishos, comes in a great range of colours and twitches well

Fresh out of the Pro Lure stable is a brilliant new topwater offering, called the Ultra Gar. These incredibly lifelike lures mimic a garfish perfectly and can be worked in a variety of ways to impart varying actions. A hard and sharp stab of the rod tip will see this lure leap from the water and land again – like a gar. A couple of quick cranks and it skitters – like a gar. Walk the dog and pause it with either rod tip up or down and you are mimicking the feeding motions or dying rolls of a wounded fish – like a gar.

Impoundment barra fishos will love these two new lures, and so will the barra. Just these two new lures alone will compliment your saltwater barra arsenal nicely. You will be good to go for a session twitching the snags or rock bars, and just as ready for a topwater session over the flats. Add these to your collection of vibes, prawn imitations, suspending hardbodies, paddle-tailed plastics and poppers and you have all the barra bases covered.

The Pro Lure Ultra Gar not only looks incredibly realistic but also has a killer gar-like action in the water

You Wouldn’t Want to be a Prawn

It isn’t just the barra on the chew in our estuaries at present. If you can find them, there are schools of threadfin salmon actively rounding up the smaller prawns in the Great Sandy Straits creeks and the Mary system. Blue salmon are surprisingly abundant as well for summer and they are harassing the prawns and herring as they traverse these streams.

Grunter have become quite scarce around many of the inshore and shallow reef grounds recently, but this is only because they have been making their way into the rivers and creeks. Hunt them down by hopping softies across likely bottom or sit and wait for them to pass by with a prawn, herring or bunch of yabbies on a hook. Until the rains come and flush them back out, there should be good grunter fishing in many streams from the Burrum to Tin Can Bay.

The grunter won’t be limited to the creeks either, as many of the channels of the straits are littered with gravelly bottom that attracts quality fish. Some of these grounds also house annoying critters such as juvenile mackerel, green toads and juvenile cod, so lure losses can be a thing, but the rewards can be worth the pain.

Staff member Muz caught this nice jack recently .
on a Pro Lure Clone Prawn

Fraser’s western creeks are also home to numbers of grunter right now, sharing those waters with healthy populations of mangrove jacks. The jacks have been hyperactive this summer, spurred on by spells of extreme heat in recent weeks. It might be cooler right now, but still pleasant, and we are in the jacks’ prime fattening time of their year.

The smaller tides will favour jack hunters flicking lures at mangroves, mud clumps and rock bars. Those that target the shaded areas in locations with structure that breaks a decent tidal flow will score. Make the most of the jack fishing options in our creeks right now by the way, as our wet season has been non-existent in recent weeks and a major deluge in the future will change this scene dramatically.

Once again, the Burrum system’s plethora of jack haunts makes it a favourite stomping ground for jack fanatics. The mid-reaches and lower reaches are home to the better numbers right now, whether that be the Burrum itself, or the Cherwell, Isis and Gregory feeder rivers. Otherwise, our local creeks such as Beelbi are worth a crack, or even better still, make the trip down the straits and ply the waters of the mainland creeks.

Crabbers Scoring Well Down the Straits

Those venturing down the straits that enjoy a feed of mud crab would be well-served taking a few pots for the ride. The straits’ creeks and the mangrove-fringed verges are crabbing quite well at present. Many are scoring quality bucks, and most have been quite full.

Going the extra mile, and placing your pots in the hard-to-access backwaters of the creek systems or the seemingly insignificant little bays and inlets at the back of the flats amongst the mangroves can pay dividends in areas otherwise seeing lots of crabbers. Refreshing baits for overnight soaks and otherwise checking your pots regularly and shifting them when necessary is also worth considering.

Whilst we are all too aware of the prevalence of crab pot theft and indeed crab theft from our waters, there is another major issue that is also worth addressing. Our fisheries officers are seemingly forever having to recover abandoned crab pots from our waters, and even more-so during and after periods of school holidays.

Many supposed cases of pot theft have been proven to be a lack of forethought on the crabbers’ behalf when it came to pot placement and appropriate pot weight for the stronger currents in a chosen location. Many pots are simply drifting off with the tide and being found elsewhere by others.

Make sure you secure your crab pots properly to avoid them drifting and becoming ghost pots

There are steps you can take to avoid this happening to your pots. Firstly, you can purchase the larger, heavier-ringed pots that will resist movement compared with the cheaper, lighter models. Otherwise, you can add weight to the pot, be that bricks, rocks, or lead, or you can simply secure the pot to a suitable fixed position on the bank. Tying to trees, tree roots and the like is popular.

Simply choosing spots to drop the pot that are out of the main flow, or perhaps tucked in behind a stand of mangroves that breaks the current will help keep them where you left them. Also, avoid placing them near major snags or prominent rock bars, as fishos that ply those waters might end up entangled with your rope inadvertently. Ensure your pots are suitably identified too, and that will ensure they are not confiscated by the authorities in your absence.

“Ghost pots” are a real killer too by the way, so please consider the after-effects of being ill-prepared or slack with your crab pots. Once a pot strays and isn’t checked, any creatures trapped within will eventually die, attracting other critters/crabs which also eventually die. Until the pot rots away, this cycle of death continues. We would ask that our future visitors, and those folks new to the bay or new to crabbing take heed of these words and take steps to minimise the carnage and litter in our waters.

The sand crabbing scene is still relatively quiet apparently. The sandies have not been in anywhere near the abundance of recent years, with little return for effort from the popular inshore grounds off the Burrum or in Platypus Bay.

Once the sandies kick into gear again, we will let you know. And once they do, make sure you heed the words above, as the same issues apply out in the deeper waters of the bay as they do in our creeks. The bigger issue out wider is a lack of rope. A scope of 2:1 is an appropriate minimum, meaning you will need at least 30m of rope for any pots placed in 15m of water. Clipping on additional weight such as chain or lead via the handy “shark clips” we have instore will help keep your sandy pots in place.

Banana prawns are still only present in smaller numbers and the annual run is yet to commence. As mentioned in recent reports, there is a modest feed on offer of smaller/medium prawn for those willing to get dirty and work the smaller creeks. Decent wet season rains in the near future will be a game changer on the prawn front, yet even without such an event, a drop in water temperature and a little rain will go a long way to triggering our prawns to move.

Good luck out there y’all ……Jase

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