Woody Island mysteries
  |  First Published: September 2014

While visiting anglers enjoy the best that Fraser Island has to offer, this month we will visit another Fraser Coast island. Sandwiched between Hervey Bay’s eastern suburbs and Fraser Island, Woody Island, or Big Woody as it is known locally, has a lot to offer hikers, campers, not least anglers.

Closer to Fraser Island, the smaller Little Woody shares much of Woody's characteristics and history. Both belong to the Great Sandy Marine Park, and are uninhabited. During the early years of the last century, the islands played an important part in providing safe navigation for vessels coming into the bay or bound for Maryborough.

There were two lighthouses on Woody Island and these were manned by lighthouse keepers and their families during the early years of the last century. The one surviving, but no longer operational, lighthouse along with the shed that provided gas for the light, can still be seen near the middle of the island. Both the lighthouse and the gas shed are local historical heritage sites, and are looked after by Marine Park personnel.

The rock structures upon which the island is built are very much in evidence for most of its coastline. Along its eastern shore rocks extend varying distances seaward towards broken ledges that drop off into the deeper waters of the bay. Shallows with small reefs and narrow gutters separate the island's western shore from the mainland. Navigation through this area can be difficult or impossible over the lower stages of the tide.

It's almost continuous rocky shoreline fringing rocky shallows make landing difficult but there are two easy options here. Jeffries Beach, on the island's south eastern coast, the steep sandy beach provides easy landing at all stages of the tide. Behind the beach, grasslands and casuarinas make ideal camping spots for those who are self-sufficient. A permit is required to camp here and bookings can be made online or by phone with the Department of National Parks. It may be interesting to note that a popular TV fishing crew made this their base for one of their expeditions.

On the western side of the island there is an excellent beach landing on the southern side of a point known as One Tree. The prominent remaining coconut tree makes it easy to find. With shallows along the island's western shores, landing here is only viable over the high tide.

As already mentioned, navigation along the western shores is very much tide dependent, and certainly devoid of any navigation marks to help. To reach the eastern side of Woody Island from the Urangan boat harbour, follow the suggested track indicated on the map. This gives an all-tide route. Once past the north cardinal beacon there are no beacons to guide you along the western shore. In some areas the reef flats extend well out so it is best to keep an eye on the sounder.

Having dealt with all the necessary background information it's time to bring some fishing into the picture. Here we will be restricted to the island foreshores and the immediately surrounding waters. Around the northern end of the island, and along the western coast at least as far as the Gas Shed, coral and rock reefs and ledges produce most of the action.

There is a triangular section of Green Zone over much of the reef north and west of Woody Island. White markers indicate the southern and north eastern corners while the north western corner is very close to the red lateral beacon. Along the eastern shoreline broken ledges separate the shallows from the deeper waters of the bay. Some of the better structure is off the bluff and a little further south in an area known as The Graves. Further south there are excellent ledges with plenty of coral either side of the Gas Shed. As far as the southern tip of the island, there are isolated patches of good reef.

These shallow reef areas fish best during the first few hours before and after daybreak and again on dusk and into the night. Species include coral bream (grass sweetlip), blackall, cod, coral trout, black spot tusk fish (blueys) as well as Moses perch.

Blueys are generally daylight feeders and can be taken throughout the day, but it is almost essential to bait with rock crabs. Cod and coral trout are often taken by trolling hardbodies along the drop-offs and by working soft plastics and blades over the coral. The reefs and ledges out from the Gas Shed have proven to be one of the most reliable spot for big blackall, but mostly after dark.

Large yabbies are in a class of their own when targeting blackall, provided there aren't too many pickers about. Then it is good to use fresh squid or cuttlefish. Hardiheads, small herrings and cut baits work well on coral bream and Moses perch. Although good catches of blackall can be made during the winter, most reef areas fish best from October to May.

Reef species taken here are of course subject to legal minimum lengths and bag limits and responsible anglers need to be familiar with these. However I need to mention some that can be relevant here. A small fish, the lancer, looks like a coral bream apart for its long filamentous first dorsal spine and a prominent body spot. As a member of the emperor family (genus Lethrinus), it has a minimum legal length of 25cm. I don't know where they grow to any acceptable size, as here in Hervey Bay where they are often called paddies, it would be exceptional to capture a legal specimen.

I should also mention that juvenile snapper are often in plague proportions in this spot. We must be doing a good thing for the snapper fishery by nurturing so many baby fish. Of course, snapper must reach 35cm, and you can only keep four.

Another trap that misinformed anglers might fall for is having a catch of grass sweetlip (legal length 30cm) including a number of spangled emperor (legal length 45cm). These species are certainly closely related but the spangled emperor can be picked out immediately by the rows of bright blue spots along its body.

The winter months also see a run of spawning bream around most of the rocky ledges, particularly those at the northern end of the island. These are particularly suited to working plastics between the ledges. The current bream season is now winding down but there will still be some good opportunities here before the seasonal northerlies become established.

Despite the general lack of sand around the shoreline, flathead can be taken just about anywhere that sand and rock meet. Sand whiting are not easy to find along much of the island's coast. However, Jeffries Beach often produces some good fish particularly at night. There is a small section of beach below the northern bluff that can also turn on some action at night. This beach is guarded by some nasty ledges so care is needed in going ashore.

At One Tree on the western shore, excellent whiting fishing is to be had on the early ebb tide at night on big tides during winter and spring. Winter (diver) whiting are rarely taken from the foreshores but some of the biggest catches are made offshore from One Tree to the southern end of the island. This year winter whiting were late in arriving but by late July they were well established towards the end of the island.

There are three other islands in northern Hervey Bay, Little Woody, Duck and Picnic islands, the latter two collectively known as the picnics. Like Woody Island, all three have mostly rocky foreshores. At a future time I look forward to unlocking some of their secrets.

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