Charter Chatter
  |  First Published: October 2010

You have to love October in Gladstone. Warmer weather is here to stay for a while and the fish become more active, particularly on the reef. Fishing in the estuaries, while often insect-filled, are usually productive.

Bream will attack anything that moves, so if you want to try your new hardbody lures or start flicking the newest style of plastic, now is the time to get it from your tackle box.


Fish have been active in the estuaries over the past month. The mouth of most creeks and rivers will continue to be good places to start.

The mouth of Calliope River, near the Wiggins Island, is worth a go as the bream have started to congregate around the mangrove banks. There is a fair bit of depth along the southern edges of the mouth. I like to bring the boat close into shore and flick into the mangroves. If the bream don’t come out straight away, I chuck in a bit of berley mixed with tuna oil. It spreads like wild fire and usually initiates a strike. A cheap berley mix of tuna oil and chicken pellets is worth keeping in the boat.

The sand banks around Wiggins Island, just inside Calliope River, houses quite an extensive yabbie bank. On a flooding tide, whiting have been known to work this bank. It is quite shallow so you need to keep your eyes over the side if you bring your boat inside the channel. Still, the quality of the whiting that can be found here make it worthwhile.

On the Reef

If you are old enough to start considering your ‘Bucket List’, then the first thing that you should add is a live aboard Reef Charter Trip. You have to go a long way to match the reef options available around Gladstone.

The Swains Reef is a huge section of the Great Barrier Reef expanding from Gladstone to Mackay. This expanse is serviced by a number of charter operators from various locations along the Central Queensland Coast. It would be parochial of me to say that the best charter operators come from Gladstone, but it would be close to the truth. There are several very fine operators so checkout the advertisements at the back of this mag.

On a particular trip we travelled out on Capricorn Star and its new owners Scott and Soozi Wilson. Scott has owned other charter boats from Gladstone so his extensive experience in this area puts him in a great position to guide us around the Swains. Scott and his crew made us welcome aboard his boat and treated us to one of the best weeks I have had on the water for a long time.

The first thing that strikes you about the 22m Capricorn Star is how clean, well maintained and organised the boat is. Our deckie Morgan has been with Scott for four years and he was assisted capably by his off-sider Wade.

When we came aboard on Saturday afternoon we were shown to our air-conditioned cabins and helped with the stowage of our personal and fishing gear. The Capricorn Star caters for up to 13 anglers but on this trip we had 11 new and old friends with one goal in mind – catch big fish.

We must have done something to appease the weather gods because the condition for the trip was fabulous. We steamed out to the 150nm or so during the night and arrived at our first fishing spot. Conditions had glassed out with barely a ripple on the water.

Scott had put us onto an 80m hole just full of huge small and large mouth nannygai. We spent the day pulling up great specimens with the occasional coral trout and red throat lipper to break the monotony – not that anyone was complaining about any monotony.

Continually pulling big fish from 80m puts a strain on muscles that haven’t been used for a while. Morgan and Wade were always on hand to encourage us during the battle and unhook the catch when they surfaced. The boys immediately brain spiked the fish, bled it with a small cut and placed it in the iced brine mix before bagging and snap freezing the fillets.

Scott, who has completed an advanced fish handling course explained later the importance of this practice. The brain spiking speeds up the rigamortis process to reduce enzyme impact on the meat, the small cut for bleeding minimises bacteria access to the fish while the brine and the snap freezing of the fillets protect the quality of the meat. This knowledge has certainly improved my own fish handling processes when in my own boat.

When the sun went over the yard arm, we settled in for our evening meal in the comfortable Capricorn Star dining room. Our skipper Scott was also the chief cook on this trip and his gourmet meals earned him our Masterchef votes. The meals were substantial for the biggest appetite and were 5 star restaurant quality. We figured we were all going to put on the kilos after a week at sea.

Day two saw us fishing on bommies in depth ranging from 15-25m but the weather had turned. A slight chop made us put our wobbly legs on, so standing was uncool but the fishing was unreal. We were pulling in big coral trout, solid Venus tuskfish and thumping red throat emperor.

The fishing was hot with mad periods of ‘lift and wind’. When the fish went off the bite, Scott moved us onto the next hot spot, which gave us a chance to catch our breath, rest our aching muscles and reset our rigs with new sharp hooks (it is amazing how blunt hooks become after continual use). We put almost 100 keepers in the ice box made up predominately of 40 trout, 30 tuskers and 30 red throat. Morgan was working overtime at the filleting table.

Day three weather turned freezing cold with a slight chop – But no one cared because the fishing continued to keep us pumping. We were fishing in 12-15m of water again and, apart from a few small minor tangles over the side, fishing was active all day. We pulled in a mixed combination of trout and big tuskers, but the catch of the day was Paul’s Spanish mackerel caught on a trolled lure while moving between fishing spots.

I’ll fill you in on the rest of the trip next week.

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