This month Fraser Island’s tailor season will reach its peak and with school holidays occupying the latter part of September, the human population on the island will also peak.
With good campsites available right along the ocean beach, by far the majority will camp in the tent cities north of Cathedral Beach. In another tent city near Orange Creek, north of Orchid Beach, hundreds more anglers will catch up with others who make this an annual event.
The last few years have seen an increase in the numbers of camper trailers and caravans making the trip up the island. The camps north of Cathedral Beach are particularly popular for these as most of the sites are a little above beach level and access from the beach is usually firm.
As well as having an abundance of good campsites, good tailor bearing gutters are almost always right at hand. Most of the action takes place in the early morning hours but there is usually a good burst of fish just on dusk. These long, relatively calm gutters are not usually as productive during the middle of the day.
The most popular way of targeting tailor involves the 4m purpose built surf rod teamed up with an Alvey 650. Mono main line of around 6kg is used with terminal tackle of gangs of 5/0 Mustad 4200 or 4202. The heavier trace of 12kg mono reduces the chance of being bitten off but also helps in handling the fish when beached. The rig is weighted by just enough lead running between two swivels to place the bait where the fish are feeding.
The purpose built beach tailor rod has a much firmer tip than what might be expected in a beach rod. When a tailor is hooked this helps keep the pressure on, to stop the fish throwing the hooks.
I recall passing my tailor outfit to a novice angler to try while I rigged the soft tipped rod that I normally use for dart. Tailor attacked the bait with the same enthusiasm but I hooked only about one in five.
Most anglers will be using West Australian pilchards. Before these became readily available many decades ago, the favoured bait was the sea gar, which I find superior to pilchards. These are still available but they must be genuine sea gar, substitutes will just not do. They also work out a little harder on the pocket.
Fillets of horse mackerel also make great tailor bait particularly when targeting the bigger fish at night.
Every season we see more anglers using different outfits and techniques with success. Of course many of these are spinning with metal like Knights and Raiders. Some are using a variety of softies but tailor easily destroy most of these. A few anglers bring their fly gear with them and use it successfully in good conditions.
Just another reminder that the Indian Head to Waddy Point closure extends to the end of this month.
September is also a top month for other beach species such as dart, bream, whiting, tarwhine and jew. Last September the beach had a few other surprises for us with snub-nosed dart (aka oyster crusher and permit).
Big dart and bream are usually found in company with tailor, picking up the scraps following a tailor attack on a baitfish.
Whiting are also usually found in the tailor gutters, but in the shallow blind ends either side of low water. Clean sandy gutters also produce tarwhine but they are more plentiful close to the coffee rocks at Ngkala, Chard, Yidney and Poyungan Rocks.
Jew come into the inshore gutters and flats just after dark. Hopefully there will be a few more legal fish than what was taken last September.
Wathumba Creek on the west coast is Fraser Island’s largest estuarine system, probably known best by small boat anglers who use it as a protected stopover on extended trips to Fraser’s northern and offshore reefs. For island visitors it is worth considering for a day trip, or for a longer stay. The estuary is mostly very shallow with a few relatively permanent channels and holes.
Most of the area covered by the mud map is continually changing as tides and weather conditions determine. The entrance can be so fickle that navigating in or out of the creek has to be done over the high tide, preferably in daylight.
Orchid Beach is the starting point for the trip across the island. A map of the island will show that this is the shortest cross-island road. It doesn’t see much traffic these days but it does have an interesting history.
Before the notorious Middle Rocks jump-up was boarded and made more accessible, and when there was a reliable barge service running according to the tide from Urangan to Moon Point, this road became part of the major route between the mainland and the northern end of Fraser Island. Vehicles would traverse the beach from Moon Point to the mouth of the estuary, then through a small steeply banked creek and across a mud flat to the Orchid Beach road.
Fortunately there were usually two or more vehicles travelling together as the inside beach of the island had plenty of challenges including creek crossings, coffee rocks and peat beds. With those challenges still there we cannot recommend single vehicle trips south of Wathumba Creek without sound local knowledge.
The Wathumba to Orchid Beach road was particularly important to the development of the original Orchid Beach resort. Barges and other vessels would bring building materials and supplies from the mainland to the creek, then to be trucked across the island. During the sixties there was a makeshift wharf in the small creek, just upstream from its mouth.
The road across the island is quite uninteresting and lacks a section of rainforest seen on other cross-island tracks. At Wathumba Creek there is an established National Parks campsite with all amenities.
At this stage I need to be totally up front to say that this place has often been known as ‘Sandfly City’. So whether you visit for a few hours or for a few days, you need to be prepared.
A number of small streams draining the neighbouring wetlands flow into the mangrove lined estuary, producing a rich system supporting a wide range of life forms that are significant in important food chains. Most of our usual estuarine species spend at least some of their time inside or just outside the creek.
Sand whiting are available all year round and are best targeted over the shallow flats of the creek on the flood tide. Any of the flats and small channels upstream from the mouth are likely to produce results.
Not surprisingly, yabbies are out on their own when chasing whiting. They are easily pumped in the creek itself or along the edges of the small creek at low tide.
Flathead is one fish that really stands out, and it’s not difficult to see why. As the tide floods swarms of baitfish, mostly hardiheads, pour into the creek. On the ebb, it’s easy pickings for the flathead that lie in ambush in the channels that drain the banks. The deep hole just outside the mouth of the small creek, is without a doubt, the most productive flathead spot I have fished.
Bream find the conditions provided by the estuary ideal for spawning. Strongly oxygenated fast flowing water and a plentiful food supply are just what is needed. I suspect that resident bream from a wide area congregate at Wathumba for spawning, as there are no other significant and suitable conditions almost as far south as Moon Point.
Apart from the three main estuarine species, javelin (grunter), mangrove jack, tailor, golden trevally and school mackerel, often turn up in the catches.
Wathumba Creek is zoned yellow in the Great Sandy Marine Park map. This means that with the exception of targeting bait, no other form of netting is allowed. Those who have fished the creek regularly for many years say that catches have improved since general netting was banned, particularly catches of good quality fish,
So how does Wathumba Creek stack up as a west coast option? For anglers based at Orchid Beach or Waddy Point, it is an easy one and worth the effort. For those based further south you need to take into consideration the tides and the time taken just to reach Orchid Beach. Wathumba is not the place to prop the rod up and wait for the scream of the reel. Anglers need to be prepared to cover a fair bit of country, trying this drain, then this bank and so on. If it all adds up, then go for it! Oh and don’t forget the repellent.Reads: 4866