Testing Times for Fraser Anglers
  |  First Published: December 2011

With Christmas school and public holidays coming up, Fraser Island can brace itself for another tourist invasion, though probably not to the same extent as we saw in the recent spring school holidays, which coincided with the annual tailor season.

For many visitors, fishing will come second to chilling out with family and friends and enjoying the cool waters of lakes like McKenzie, Wabby and Birrabeen, and Eli Creek. There are also many smaller freshwater creeks emptying into the ocean, which are also great spots to cool off. More on lakes and creeks a little later.

For the angler on Fraser Island, the summer months bring some real challenges. The combination of the heat and continual traffic on the beach does little for fishing through the middle of the day. This doesn’t mean that it would be a complete waste of time as there are always likely to be a few dart sneaking into the inshore gutters.

Serious anglers will be out and about before sunrise and again late in the afternoon. Both high and low water gutters should hold dart, bream and flathead.

I wish I could be optimistic about whiting, but they just haven’t proved themselves this year at all. Some of the gutters north of Waddy Point, and the beach at Sandy Cape have been producing a few good fish, but the rest of the eastern beach has been disappointing.

The western beaches north of Moon Point are well known for sand whiting, and until recently light line anglers were bagging out in just a couple of hours. However the quality of the whiting left much to be desired. When you have to catch more than 150 fish to keep the bag limit of 30, then you can only get suspicious as to why. You don’t have to be too smart to figure it out, particularly when every second boat that goes past is loaded with fine mesh mono nets.

Anglers visiting the western beach have also been taking flathead and bream, particularly around the mouths of Coungul, Woralie and Bowarady creeks. Unfortunately, excursions to the western beach have problems at this time of the year. Firstly, the Happy Valley to Moon Point road remains closed and those to Woralie and Awinya creeks are both rough and soft.

Late last month I checked out the beach by boat from Moon Point as far as Woralie Creek to find the inshore waters starting to choke up with weed. This is an annual event, brought on by rising water temperatures and seasonal northerly winds in Hervey Bay. Fortunately the ocean beaches remain relatively free of the weed that has plagued the island in past years. I don’t have reliable information about the weed on the beach north of Woralie Creek but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that its presence was being felt as far north as Wathumba Creek and beyond. If the infestation on the inside beach isn’t too bad, it’s possible to find plenty of fish in the clear patches.

Returning to the ocean beach, where hopefully weed has not become a problem, let’s take a look at a good fishing option. The first requirement is fairly calm conditions. The second is to locate a large low water gutter during the day, and mark its position. Then return to the gutter well after dark, preferably, but not essentially, on a rising tide. Fishing with light tackle with natural baits like sea worms or pippies is almost always successful as most beach species come in to feed.

This sort of beach fishing is very special to me. Maybe it’s because it produced my PB for both whiting and dart. Years ago, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to fishing alone at night on Fraser’s ocean beach. Sure, I would often feel a presence on the beach behind me, but I never felt any fear of the dingo that might have just been looking for a bit of company. In those days, dingoes had access to the dumps and there was always plenty of fish offal on offer. It’s a different situation today with a management strategy that leaves much to be desired. I still love to fish these shallow gutters at night, but always in company.

I have been asked on many occasions whether there was any interesting fish life in Fraser Island’s lakes or streams. Before getting too excited, it must be pointed out that fishing in the island’s freshwater streams is totally banned. The experts tell us that there are many more species than I would have imagined. The perched lakes like McKenzie and Birrabeen hold almost pure water, having been fed by seepage from the surrounding ancient sand dunes. They lack the nutrients that would support the food chains necessary for large fish. The only fish that I have seen in there lakes are very small and not numerous. The shrinking Lake Wabby, however, holds some mean looking catfish. I have no idea how long they have been there or where they came from. I see that they are quite well fed by tourists doing the wrong thing parting with food scraps.

Anyone who has visited the idyllic Eli Creek would be familiar with the jungle perch that it supports. The jungle perch is well known in northern streams like the upper Tully River. The Fraser Island fish may be the same, or closely related. Eli also holds a few eels as well as some smaller species. A few of the creeks between Eli Creek and Indian Head also hold jungle perch. Draining swamps just south of Ngkala Rocks, Orange Creek used to support a population of Australian Bass. Whether they are still there or not, I am uncertain. Creeks south of Eurong, in particular Second Creek, which runs through Dilli Village, may also hold bass as well as eels.

There are many island creeks flowing into Hervey Bay and Sandy Straits. Some of the larger creeks include Woongoolbver and Bogimbah, each with a meandering and mangrove lined tidal section. Woongoolbver Creek is well known to just about every island tourist as the crystal clear stream passing through Central Station. At its mouth, barges load vehicles for the trip across to River Heads. Bogimbah Creek carries so much freshwater into the sea that it was once considered as a water source for Hervey Bay. I plan to feature this part of the island in a future article. In their tidal sections, and even extending upstream, these creeks support the usual estuarine species but are probably best known for mangrove jack. The western creeks are visited by small boat anglers but access is restricted at low water. As mentioned earlier, fishing in Fraser’s freshwater streams is not permitted but it is unclear as to how much of the western stream system comes under this.

So as 2011 draws to a close, Fraser Island beach fishos will remember it as a year of extremes. At one end of the scale we saw the strong weather influences related to La Nina where cyclones and east coast lows buffeted the ocean beach relentlessly, not to mention the devastating floods. It was a year where periods of fishable weather were hard to find. The short term effect saw diminished catches of most species particularly early in the year.

On the bright side, we saw a late starting tailor season develop into one of at least an average standard. Early season fish were very small with plenty of undersize fish being released. While most tailor were being taken on pilchards by traditional Queensland techniques, it was noticeable how many anglers were spinning with metals and catching the better class of fish. With a purpose built surf casting rod teamed with a quality high ratio spinning reel loaded with 10kg braid, it’s possible to cast into water unreachable with traditional bait casters. By the quality of fish taken on metals such as Raider 65g and 85g, it seems obvious to me that the bigger fish are not coming into the gutters in great numbers during daylight hours. Of course it’s a different story at night.

With 2012 just ahead, one hopes that La Nina might continue to weaken and allow us to have a fairly normal year, if such a thing exists anymore.

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