If I told you there is a beautiful sheltered waterway, scattered with picturesque, islands and supporting one of the most exciting and diverse recreational fisheries on the Queensland coast, you’d probably think I was talking about Hinchinbrook Passage or some other more remote location. Well while Hinchinbrook sure fits that description, in this case I’m referring to a place which can be found a whole lot closer to the major population centres in the state’s south east corner. The location in question is Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Straits and, believe it or not, this little piece of angling paradise is less than four hours drive from Brisbane.
Despite being close enough for a quick weekend trip, Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Straits get off lightly in terms of angling pressure and this is reflected in the quality of the fish its waters produce. Sure the place gets busy at times, but there is plenty of room and even in school holidays periods you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a spot away from the crowds.
It seems to me that the region as a whole gets overlooked by a lot of travelling anglers in their rush to head off to the more remote areas. This burning desire to head up north is understandable, as everyone knows about the great fishing The Cape can produce, but the Hervey Bay region can also produce the sort of fishing which will amaze you and all without the mammoth investment in time and resources which are needed to make it to somewhere truly remote.
In fact, as I write this, I’ve just been speaking to a mate who lives down near the Straits. Even though it’s quite cold by local standards, he has caught and released around a couple of dozen barra in the last few days. Sure most of them have been around the legal minimum length, but he has also accounted for at least one yellow tailed salty barra over the magical metre mark. Captures like that give you some idea of how good the barra fishing can be when you know what you’re doing and have a bit of that all important local knowledge. It’s certainly not bad lure fishing for the middle of winter either, especially when you consider that most southerners would be happy with a couple of decent tailor at this time of year.
The main lifeblood of these southern strain barra is the Mary River and while it’s a pretty unattractive looking bit of water, if ever there was a good reason not to judge a book by its cover, then the Mary would be it. This rather muddy looking tidal waterway bears a striking resemblance to its namesake in the Northern Territory and there are times when it almost has the barra producing credentials to match.
Switched on locals have got the place well worked out but visiting anglers could do worse than trolling the lower reaches of the Mary and nearby Susan with deep diving lures as a starting point. If bait fishing is more your go, you can always try soaking a live mullet or prawn in the shallows. While you are at it, keep an eye out for signs of small prawns or baitfish moving in the gutters that drain off the muddy flats as the tide drops. It might only be bream or flatty feeding but there’s always the chance it could be a thumping big threadfin salmon.
The clean blue waters that separate Fraser Island from the mainland make up what’s known as the Great Sandy Straight.
This area takes in a massive body of water stretching all the way from Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach in the south, to the wide expanses of Hervey Bay in the north. The whole of the Straits looks like it was custom designed for anglers. There are massive sand flats to polarise, deep holes to dredge and all sorts of other structure, both natural and artificial to toss a lure or baited hook at. In fact, there are just so many inviting looking features that it becomes hard to know where to start.
The many islands which dot the Straits are the first feature to catch most angler’s eyes and therefore they are as good a place as any to begin exploring. The fishing around most of these islands is tide dependant, because as the water pushes through the Straights with each tide change, the leading and trailing points of these islands poke out into the flow and create current lines and eddies. These swirling currents then become magnets for the local pelagic species and you want to be there when it all happens.
On my most recent trip to the Straights, I fished with Danny Grasser who runs the local Boab Boat hire outlet. Using Danny’s knowledge of these waters, we fished the points of the Picnics and Woody islands and had little trouble pulling good numbers of small to middling trevally, queenfish and mackerel. We took the mackerel by casting chrome metal lures into the white water and pressure waves and retrieving them at high speed. The trevs were caught by drifting small soft plastics (Gulp Shrimps and Minnows) down deep through the eddies on the back edge of the rips. While none of the fish were record breakers, they provided constant action and more than enough sport on our bream gear.
While we mainly fished in fairly shallow waters, there are plenty of deeper sections to prospect. At one stage, I let a 3” Atomic Prong get down to the bottom a bit further out and was surprised to find myself attached to a parrot fish. By all accounts it’s not unusual to get quite a selection of bottom dwellers on plastics in the deeper stuff, with anything from snapper to coral trout a real possibility.
For those who enjoy a true heavy weight slug fest, it’s also quite possible to get your arms stretched by much bigger critters. At times, large giant trevally tear through the same fast water rips around the islands we fished. The bigger fish are mainly taken on rapidly retrieved poppers and I have a mate who specialises in this type of fishing and his results would surprise a lot of people who believe you have to get out on the Great Barrier Reef to catch big GTs. In fact, he has landed quite a few GTs around the metre mark and thanks to a bit of clever boat work, he has been able to get most of his fish on relatively light tackle, which makes his feats all the more impressive.
The massive bulk of Fraser Island makes up the eastern border of the Straits and it protects the waters to its west from the ocean swell. The fishing that can be found along the rocky cliffs and sandy beaches that line Fraser’s inside coastline are almost worthy of an article all in themselves. For example, on any one trip, you could find yourself doing anything from trolling big deep diving minnows along the deep rocky ledge down at Ungowa for all types of cod (and other unstoppables) to sneaking up one of the many little creeks and tossing little lures for bream, flatties, jacks and chopper tailor.
Then there’s the famous Kingfisher Island Resort jetty. This prominent projection of pylons would be one of the most consistently productive land-based locations in the Straits. All the structure and shade provided by the jetty attracts baitfish by the millions and of course, wherever big mobs of bait accumulate, you can be sure the predators won’t be too far away.
Tossing a bait or a soft plastic under the jetty might appear to be a quiet way to while away a few hours, but be warned. What usually happens is that you find yourself hooked up to something which is virtually unstoppable around the pylons. The most common opponent is likely to be a large trevally of some description, but it could end up being anything from a decent jewfish to a thumping big flathead. In fact, the waters around the jetty have a well deserved reputation for producing huge, shovel headed lizards, so it’s always worth tossing a softie or soaking a live bait here if you get the chance.
This article mainly deals with the more sheltered waters found in the Straits and the bottom end of Hervey Bay, but because of the protection provided by Fraser Island, it’s quite feasible for even relatively small craft to run up the inside edge of the island as far as your fuel capacity will allow. If anything, the fishing gets even better as you head further up the bay, especially for schools of pelagics like mackerel, tuna and queenfish. And, as anyone who has watched the Fishing DVD will have seen, even juvenile billfish hunt the shallows inside Fraser, so you just never know what you might find yourself hooked up to.
Of course no overview of Hervey Bay’s fishing attractions can be complete without at least mentioning the incredibly long and productive Urangan Pier. As good as Kingfisher Bay’s jetty is, amazingly this place is even better and way bigger, which means even more people can fish from it.
This staggering structure sticks out a long way into the warm, shallow waters of the Bay and each year thousands of anglers dangle a line over the side to try their luck. Depending on which part of the pier they fish from, their catch could include whiting and bream, to Spanish mackerel, tuna or even giant trevally. Those who venture out along the pier at night may even be lucky enough to see some big barra tucked away in the shadows beneath the pier as they wait to feed on the baitfish and squid which are drawn to the lights.
In reality, it would be quite a simple matter to write a whole article on the different fishing options available off the pier, but that’s a story for another time. Besides, the best idea is for you to come up here and have a look for yourself. Watching the locals in action will show you what’s required to land big fish from this sort of structure. Actually, that’s probably a good idea for the region as a whole.
This article has really only provided a very brief overview of what’s available fishing wise and there is so much more that could have been included. So why not drop in on the Bay or the Straits and check the place out for yourself. It might just provide you with the fishing action you are after without needing to spend days behind the wheel just to get there.
If you are in the area but don’t have your own boat, then you don’t have to miss out on the opportunity to get out on the water. Hervey Bay’s Boab Boat Hire have a couple of extremely well built and maintained craft for hire and these boats are ideal for really getting out there and accessing the wide range of fishing options this region can provide.
This well known and highly regarded boat hire business offers the choice of a runabout (4.5m Polycraft/40hp Honda 4-stroke) and a larger 5.1m Kimberly plate aluminium boat (75hp Honda 4-stroke) for hire. Both boats are well fitted out with shady hard tops and carry top class electronics. They can even be supplied with bow mounted electric motors if required.
Their rates are very reasonable and you can hire on a walk on, walk off basis or trailer and launch yourself. The best part is, the runabout can have the motor governed, so that you don’t even need a boat license to drive it.
All tide boat ramps are conveniently located in the Hervey Bay Marina, and at the mouth of the Mary River at River Heads. Beach launching is available at several locations along the Hervey Bay foreshore, but is extremely tide dependent.
Log onto www.boabboathire.com.au or contact Danny direct on 0467 531 430 and he can supply you with some of that all important local knowledge to help make your trip a success.
The Hervey Bay region has heaps of things for the non-fishing members of the family to partake in while you are out on the water.
Whale watching tours
Fraser Island tours
Dolphin feeding (Tin Can Bay)
Vic Hislop’s Shark exhibit
Wetside Water Education Park
Pubs and clubs
Water sports (parasailing, kite surfing or even kayaking)
Neptune’s Reef World