With the New Year comes the first of five months when the shallow reefs of Hervey Bay can be relied upon to produce excellent catches of a variety of species. This month we will look at some of them, the members of the genus Lethrinus.
Grass sweetlip, Lethrinus laticaudis, is one of Hervey Bay’s favourites. Locally known as coral bream, it also answers to red-finned emperor, grey sweetlip and simply sweetlip in other coastal waters. Our local name is certainly misleading as it is not closely related to the common bream. This is just another example of how the variety of names for a species can be most misleading. For the purpose of this article and with respect to our locals, you will also see me refer to them as coralies.
The coral bream has a mottled yellowish brown colour, a pointed snout and bright blue lines radiating from the eye. They are likely to be found in just about every piece of reefy country throughout the bay. This also includes the deeper spots like Boges Hole, Mickys and Moon Ledge, places that tend to fish well before the warmer water invades the shallows. I have never been too enthusiastic about fishing the shallows until December, but from January through to April and early May, anglers can expect to do well. Here, reliable catches of coralies up to 1.2kg are made with fish over 2kg being the exception. Of course in some of our offshore grounds like the Southern, Northern and African gutters, our bay fish would be regarded as tiddlers compared with their frequent catches of 5kg+.
The recreational fishery for grass sweetlip is one of many that has reacted to, and adapted well to the use of a wide variety of artificial lures. It would take much more than this column permits to list every one that has caught a coral bream in Hervey Bay. Suffice to mention that there are plastics and hardbodies that are particularly suited to working over shallow and snaggy country. Of course there are other reef species to be dealt with in later columns, which are particularly suited to artificials. The accepted procedure of cast, drop and lift can be difficult in the snaggy country. Using plastics on extremely light jigheads and working them through the upper waters is the way most of the successful anglers are doing it.
Bait fishing for coralies continues to be the most popular approach. With much of the successful fishing happening in or close to dark, bait tends to take over. Coral bream are not difficult to please when it comes to bait. However there are some that stand out for different reasons. Large hardiheads are right at the top of my list. They are natural food sources that resist the attention of small fish that might try to tear them apart. The smaller hardies tend to be too soft.
Half-pilchards are worth their place in the bait cooler. They are particularly effective when used at the start of a fishing session. They work like super magnets for coral bream as the oils and titbits are released into the water when they are being attacked. In their own right they make excellent baits, but once fish have gathered around, it’s time to change to hardiheads or other baits.
The herring is my next pick. Used whole they really do seek out the larger fish. As a cutlet, the retained bone helps to keep the bait in tact but I cannot get too enthusiastic about herring fillets as they are quickly destroyed by small fish. Squid and cuttlefish strips are also excellent grass sweetlip baits. Usually firm enough to withstand the attention of bait pickers, they are also particularly attractive to blackall.
The list of other effective baits is a long one. Just a few are cut baits of mullet, yellowtail pike and small unregulated fish like rainbows (whiptail). Prawns, crabs and yabbies work well but are probably best reserved when targeting blackall and crabs for black spot tuskfish.
In Hervey Bay the most productive shallow reefs fringe the foreshores of Gatakers Bay, Point Vernon and Pialba as well as a short distance off Scarness, around the northern and eastern shores of Round Island and Woody Island, and along the eastern edges of the Picnic islands. Unfortunately, the once popular western shores of Little Woody Island are now out of bounds being part of a green zone. The shallows around the red beacon south of Little Woody Island are also within that green zone. It is still possible to fish the very northern end of Little Woody as the green zone boundary runs due south from the red beacon at the northern end of the island. I also need to remind fishermen that there is a triangular green zone to the north west of Woody Island. Although this zone covers a wide area of reef, there remains plenty of good country. See insert for boundary marks.
Now for a few ideas towards successful grass sweetlip fishing in Hervey Bay. It is really just a matter of getting together as many positive variables as possible. There is little doubt that the hot feeding periods are early morning, up to about 8am, late afternoon and early evening. Throughout the remaining daylight hours you might score a few good fish but you will also land plenty of small ones. It seems to me that these small fish actually prefer the bright part of the day. During the remainder of night hours, coral bream are not always as active as some of the other reef species. So a planning to include dusk or dawn is a good idea.
When considering tides, I like to avoid the very biggest spring tides as well as the very smallest. Depending on the chosen location, you might have to contend with fast running water and turbulence on those very big tides. On the other hand the neaps see very little run in the water, not enough to motivate the fish into feeding freely. The preferred stage of the tide also depends on the location, but for most I like to start fishing at mid-flood, when there is enough run to get the bait working. Having said that, some areas that fish well on the flood, also do so on the ebb. There is no easy prescription here. This is one of those areas where experience comes to the fore.
Just as important, even more so than factors that have already been mentioned, are the equipment and fishing methods that are used. Having said something about use of artificials, I will now concentrate on bait fishing. Of course it is important that the angler is comfortable with his choice of rod, reel and line, for this type of fishing. My own shallow reef outfit is a well broken in eight foot Ugli Stik with a 6” Alvey and 10-15kg mono. Terminal gear doesn’t need to be fancy, just a ball sinker right on the hook. I use a metre of mono trace connected to the main line by a good quality swivel, so as to reduce the line twist associated with the Alvey. I would also recommend a good length of mono trace if using braid as it is easier to repair such a trace in the case of inevitable snagging. Hook patterns and sizes are very much a matter of preference. I use Mustad 540 or 542 size 2/0. If using particularly large hardiheads or large herrings I will go to 3/0. Sinker size should be the absolute minimum for the conditions.
One of the most common mistakes is to cast across the run of the tide. The current invariably washes the terminal gear into a snag. Unfortunately this often happens when there are too many anglers in the boat and with the need not to get into other people’s way, casts are made in all directions. Overriding this is the importance to cast directly down tide, not just to reduce the opportunity of snagging, but to attract fish into this bait-rich water. I have already mentioned how I like to use a self-berleying bait like half pilchards, just to let the fish know where the action is. Some fishermen use other methods of berleying and these are fine as long as over-use in fast running water doesn’t take fish right out of the zone. Coral bream rarely exhibit a lot of finesse when it comes to taking a bait. At times they can be a little timid and the angler might have to give the fish a little time particularly when using larger baits like whole herrings.
Apart from grass sweetlip, there are many closely related species of the genus Lethrinus. Two of these should be mentioned here. The spangled emperor, or yellow sweetlip, L.nebulosis, is a well known and much loved sportfish throughout tropical waters. They bear a superficial resemblance to grass sweetlip but can be set aside by the lines of bright blue spots along its upper body. Spangles are frequently taken in the company of coral bream. For their size they put up an amazing battle when hooked. For the unwary angler, the problem lies in the much longer legal length.
Another member of the family, the lancer, L.genivittatus, is common in Hervey Bay where it is known as the paddy. It can be mistaken for a coral bream, but its long filamentous second dorsal fin makes it easy to identify. I mention this fish here as in Hervey Bay, it rarely reaches its minimum legal length.
This column has been devoted mostly to the coral bream. In future months we will check out some of the reef dwellers such as blackall, black-spot tusk fish, Moses perch, stripeys, cod and coral trout.
|Grass sweetlip (coral bream)||30||10|
|Spangled emperor (yellow sweetlip)||45||5||CRFF|
Note: CRFF Coral Reef Fin Fish. Total combined limit 20
|Eastern||25° 16.1’ S||152° 56.4’ E|
|Southern||25° 16.683’ S||152° 55.666’ E|
|Western||25° 16.0’ S||152° 55.6’ E|