During the past 10 years’ guiding in Hervey Bay, I have had many people ask me what fishing is on offer in the Great Sandy Straits. Without a little bit of local knowledge, it can be very tough — finding the fish, navigating the numerous channels and sandbars, and working out the tide heights can be hard going.
The Straits start from Tin Can Bay in the south and run right up to Moon Point, however, ask any local and if they go fishing “down the Straits” it is generally a term for “south of River Heads” and this area from the mouth of the Mary River to the top of Tin Can Bay is what I am referring to in this article.
As usual in South East Queensland, we have 2 major seasons, summer and winter. Summer is realistically the best time to sportfish the area. The Mary River and the surrounding region has the second highest commercial catch rate of barramundi in the whole east coast of Australia, and going by catches I have seen in the past shows staggering numbers of barra and salmon are available this area (we are talking double figure tonnes per year). Recreationally, they can be tough, as the Mary system runs very dirty depending on tides and rainfall, making it almost impossible to get bit on lures unless you keep placing them right on their noses.
I remember talking to a pro barra netter working in the river and he told me of a 93 and a 97lb barra going through the co-op when he was working there years ago as a kid. These were wild salty barras, not hatchery-bred specimens either. My 12-year-old son recently caught and released a 132cm fish, and a mate of mine lost one of similar size, so they are there!
Most of the fish in the river are constantly moving, often holding on a spot/rockbar/eddy or snag for a short period before moving along with the tide, giving the angler a small window to get the bite. Things are a little easier further down the Straits where tidal movement is usually less harsh; find the fish in the holes and snags, keep working at them and eventually you will get a bite.
The bottom end of the Mary is a maze of rockbars, sandbanks and channels. During early summer, before rainfall dirties up the water, I have seen big golden trevally, queenfish, threadfin salmon and giant trevally on the sandbanks. The goldies are happily tailing on yabby banks, while the queenies and GTs are hunting garfish, mullet and whiting. These flats are also a great spot to try popper fishing for whiting on the last of the ebb tide. Big pikey bream and grunter are around the snags too, so they are worth a cast.
Around the corner heading south from Shoulder Point (the eastward point of the southern side of the river mouth), a maze of flats, creeks and channels start. Honestly, it would take years to investigate it all, it’s massive. Opposite the mainland along the island around Wongoolba Creek, Ungowa and Deep Creek, there’s a few barras, threadies and jacks at times on the ledges, plenty of grunter and flathead, and the ever-present bream and tailor in winter.
Occasionally schools of longtail and mac tuna make their way down in here, and these can be great fun; hooking tuna only a few metres from the bank is a real buzz. Some great sight fishing for squid can be had around the rocks along this bank as well.
Be careful not to speed when heading southwards through the Sheridan Flats towards Garys Anchorage, as it’s a go-slow zone (check your maps), but it’s worth a run. Some great little creeks are found in here, and they have a few jacks and threadies in summer, and bream, grunter, flathead, small queenies and GTs in winter. Once again, whiting are in reasonable numbers and are a great option on poppers along the mangrove edges on the run-out tide.
On the mainland side, many creeks including German, Long Pad, Butchers and Kalah have a great prawn run after good rains, and threadies, barra and grunters can be caught on vibes and prawn imitation plastics like Prawn Stars, Squidgy Stealth Prawns, and Z-Man Shrimps worked with a slow retrieve.
Below these creeks, a few small seaside townships like Maaroom, Tuan, Boonooroo, Poona and Tinnanbar have accommodation ranging from cabins to caravans and powered sites, and are boat-friendly. These small townships are all located conveniently at the mouth of their own creeks, which all have jacks, the odd barra, flathead and bream. Just find deep corner holes, rock bars and snags, and work them over.
Kayak fishing is pretty good in these creeks as well, especially if you can find access to the upper reaches. Most of these run tannin-coloured from the forestry, so darker lures seem to work best. True wild bass are in here too; not stocked fish either, so be gentle and release them carefully.
Further south, Kauri Creek has a deserved reputation as being a great jack spot. I have caught nice barras in there on plastics, but more jacks and flathead than anything else. The top end was fantastic once, but now it is deemed a green zone, and runs through the Camp Kerr military training area.
Early winter sees the deep area between Kauri, Inskip Point and the Big Mick Beacon leading into Tin Can Inlet firing for longtail tuna. From April to July they cross over the Wide Bay Bar and feed inside for several months. These can be big fish, often over 20kg, and make great sportfishing in wintertime when other bigger targets have left Hervey Bay.
In the years when we get big floods, the dirty water keeps them outside, and only small numbers enter the Straits. Chrome slugs work well, but a 5” Z-Man Jerkshad on a ½oz jighead is an alternative that they can’t resist.
This area can also offer great fly-fishing for tuna. They feed on small pilchards, hardiheads and herrings, so a 1/0 Surf Candy works a treat. Tailor can be encountered in really good numbers along the Fraser side of the channel during the colder months, and a few nice lizards as well.
So there it is, if you are into lure or fly-fishing, there are some great options in the Sandy Straits area. There’s plenty to explore and you will need a long time to check the whole area out, so good luck with it and tight lines.
Small GTs can be fun on light tackle during wintertime.
Tony Risley caught this big golden trevally on fly tackle on a Sandy Strait sandbank in early summer.
Jack Jones with a whopping 129cm threadie caught on a Killalure.
Dave Scully with a metre barra from the Straits.
Steve Clark and a nice wintertime flathead.Reads: 3734