Fishing the Picnics
  |  First Published: November 2014

Two small rocky islands just south of Woody Island and 11km from the Urangan boat harbour, The Picnics, offer a very wide selection of fishing experiences.

If you are looking for them on a map or chart you might see them labelled the Duck Islets, or Duck and Picnic islands. Both are lined by rocky ledges and are connected by a shallow ridge.

If launching at Urangan, the most reliable route is around the northern and eastern shores of Woody Island taking particular care at its southern end. Alternatively, a fairly direct route across the shallows on the western side of Woody Island is possible at the higher stages of the tide. You need to keep to the eastern side of a line between the harbour and The Picnics as it is a slow zone to its west. Experience is the key to knowing when the tide is high enough to go this way. It’s easy to become stranded in there on a fast falling tide. Launching at River Heads is another alternative. The islands can be reached by following the standard navigation marks, or by taking a more direct route through narrow gutters in the shallows.

The position and shape of the islands produces a natural barrier to the march of both incoming and outgoing tides. The rush of water as it climbs over the ridge between the islands on big tides is quite spectacular. The ends of both islands experience strong rips, eddies and backwaters. The northernmost island (Little Picnic) is separated from vast shallow banks by a narrow channel. Its eastern shore drops into shallows of rock and living reef. The southern end of this narrow island, complete with stunted mangroves, covers on the higher tides.

Big Picnic is high enough to support mainland trees and other vegetation. An unoccupied dwelling can still be seen here, oyster farmers tending leases on both islands originally used it. The eastern side of this island drops through a series of ledges into up to 7m of water. The western side of Big Picnic borders large sand flats extending towards River Heads. A small triangular green zone covering the western side of the island extends towards River Heads (see map). It just so happens that what used to be one of the best spots in the bay to catch large sand whiting, is now well within the green zone. As some of the most productive spots are very close to the green zone boundary, I have included the GPS marks for them here. I understand there are no ‘grey’ areas around zone boundaries as far as marine park rangers are concerned.

Green Zone Boundaries

(Clockwise from northern end of island)

25° 21.100min S; 153° 00.200min E

25° 21.400min S; 153° 00.400min E

25° 21.600min S; 152° 59.800min E

Baitfish are usually in abundance around The Picnics and if live baiting is the go, then jigging up a few herring, scad or yellowtail pike is seldom a problem. Herring and hardiheads are also there for the cast netter. We could once pump yabbies in the now green zone, but banks a little further afield hold plenty. Bait fishing certainly maintains its place for many of the species but artificial offerings are proving more than equal to the task.

Tidal ranges are significant, more for some species than others. Spring tides produce stronger currents around the island corners with distinct current lines and eddies. Neap tides make for much quieter conditions.

For most of the species I prefer a spring tide or one a few days off. A very high spring or king tide can be almost impossible to fish, particularly using sight dependent lures as the extreme currents stir up surrounding shallows and make the water very dirty. Some of the species I am interested in are still worth chasing on neap tides but these are the exception.

The of the target species found around the picnics can include golden trevally, GTs and a number of smaller relatives. As the predators are on the lookout for baitfish coming across the ridge, they are easy pickings for poppers and other surface lures. Most are taken over the deep hole or along the edges if the eddies. As well as the trevally, queenfish and giant herring often produce some excitement. Golden trevally are also taken on bait, with large yabbies at the top of the list.

School mackerel are often taken in and around the deep hole while Spaniards are often targeted in the hole and in the deep water north of the small island using live yellowtail pike, while metals and WA pilchards account for the spotties and school mackerel.

Most of the common shallow reef species are also available. The eastern sides of both islands fish well, particularly in early mornings. A flood tide works best with reasonable currents. On an ebb tide, particularly an energetic one, the eddies along the line separating the fast water and the backwater produce some excellent fishing for reef species. A similar current line forms on the southern end of the small island on the flood tide. Soft plastics work well in these situations, but bait continues to be the most productive.

Hardiheads, herring, cut baits, half pilchards and large yabbies all see plenty of use. Of the reef species, grassy sweetlip is most frequently taken, but Moses perch, cod and the occasional trout are also available. The Picnics are not known for too many large snapper, in fact the smaller and undersized squire can be a nuisance! During the cooler months it isn't too difficult to pick up a bag limit of fish in the 40-45 cm range. Blackall are not as common here as they are in most of the bay's other shallow reefs. Unfortunately, greasiest (purple tusk fish) can be in plague proportions here and most do not make the 30 cm limit. The closely related bluey (black spot tusk fish) is a likely catch in the shallows but by far the best tactic is to fish into the ridge between the islands on a fairly lazy ebb tide. Of course, rock crabs are almost mandatory for success.

During the winter months, The Picnics provide suitable feeding and spawning grounds for bream. Not surprisingly, best catches are made at night but they are still well worth the effort during daylight hours. It is most important to anchor up as close to the shore as possible where there is a reasonable run in the tide. From the northern end of the big island for about 200m is my second pick for bream. My first is along the western side of the small island, particularly for night fishing.

With the green zone in place, access to one of the bay's best whiting spots is no longer. It is still possible to pick up some good fish in the channel on the western side if the small island, fishing towards the shallow banks. Diver whiting are also taken here but there are much more reliable grounds on the way down from the harbour.

Flathead are in fairly good numbers around the islands. The best spots, inside the points on the big island, are out of bounds but they are worth targeting among the rocks on the western side of the small island. Tailor used to be very plentiful around the islands, but these days we see a few working along the eastern side of the small island during the winter months.

The ideas I have put forward here are based on the experiences of fishing The Picnics regularly for many years. I have to admit that in all the grounds that I fish in Hervey Bay, this is my easily my favourite. I hope it helps you to find a few fish there.

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