On October 24 last year, the Federal Court granted Fraser Island native title to the Butchulla People. Quoting from a spokesman from the Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing "…the determination allows the Butchulla People non-exclusive rights to be present in the area, to camp, hunt, gather, conduct ceremonies, and maintain places of importance and significance on their traditional lands in accordance with traditional lore and customs, subject to the laws of the Commonwealth, State and Local governments..."
There has also been agreement between the Butchulla People and the State Government with regard to protection of cultural and environmental values, as well as the use of traditional names. Recreational activities including camping, four-wheel driving and fishing will continue through existing arrangements and there is no foreseeable change with permits and the way businesses operate.
I mention all this because it clarifies at least some of the concerns that visiting anglers might have. I must say that I am reasonably comfortable with the agreements so far. No doubt there will be more questions raised, as they have been already, on chat sites.
We are all familiar with the measures that are in place for dingo management at this time. Fencing of townships, electrified grids, keeping track of the dingo population (particularly of problem animals), as well as strict rules concerning interactions with people and deliberate or accidental feeding are some of the measures in place. We are also well aware that there is no shortage of opponents of the existing measures, but we won't go down that path right now. The fact is that we do have strict dingo management laws in place, and how these will impact on a people group that have had a traditionally close relationship with dingoes will be interesting to see.
With Christmas school holidays now behind us, the island will settle into a quiet phase, at least until the Easter break in April. As expected, it wasn't always easy to score a good feed of fish. There were, however, some encouraging reports of quality sand whiting, particularly in the low water gutters right along the eastern beach. This was great news and if trends in other seasons are a guide, whiting activity should continue to improve into the next few months.
There have been scattered catches of bream and dart along the open beaches, as well as some good mulloway at Poyungan Rocks. The headlands have been turning on some good catches of bream and dart, as well as a few sweetlip and Moses perch.
The western beach of the island was very busy during the holidays. Fishing reports have been sparse, with northerly winds and weed patches not helping. Whiting have been taken in reasonable numbers, but there have been lots of fish not quite making the legal mark of 23cm.
Roads across the island have been in somewhat better condition where there have been heavy downfalls in the past months, but most remain difficult. The Happy Valley to Moon Point road remains officially closed beyond the Bullock Road junction.
Fraser Island's Platypus Bay has seen plenty of activity for many months now. Boat anglers travel from Urangan, with a few tackling the open water trip from Burnett Heads. The main attraction has been the abundance of small black marlin, often not far offshore, south of Rooney Point. There is really nothing new about their appearance, as it is a reasonably reliable event every year. Mind you, this has been an exceptional season, not only in Fraser Island waters, but right along the southern coast of Queensland, as reported by other correspondents.
While many fish have been taken on trolled skirted lures, there have been times when marlin would take just about any artificial that passed by them. Even sight casting soft plastics has been responsible for many hookups. Of course, not a lot of these result in fish being brought to boat, but most agree that it's great fun! I have heard of many first-timers racing back to Hervey Bay tackle shops to become re-equipped. I should mention that others have ‘learned the ropes’ by first taking the opportunity of using one of the local guides.
Platypus Bay and waters south to Moon Point have also experienced some good fishing for other pelagics over the last few months. Longtail and mac tuna, as well as spotted mackerel, have been busy working the bait balls, but it has been too much ‘on again, off again’ with these fish. Experienced anglers, consulting weather and tidal conditions, more often than not can pick the ‘on again’ times.
Golden trevally have been active over the flats that fringe Fraser Island's western shores. From Rooney Point south to Awinya Creek and from Moon Point south to Kingfisher Bay, tailing goldies can usually be found. Fly fishers almost have an ownership of the golden trevally fishery, but the fish have also been taken on bait and a variety of plastics.
Last month I had something to say about the shallow water reef fishery in Hervey Bay, looking particularly at grass sweetlip, or coral bream as they are known in the bay. Catches since the beginning of the year have been encouraging, with most easily making the 30cm limit. Weather conditions have not always been ideal, but you have to make the most of the good days and nights when you can get them.
The coral bream is the most common catch on shallow reef, but it is closely followed by the blackall, or painted blubberlip Diagrammatic pictum. Some other blubberlips include the brown blubberlip of the estuaries and the sooty and gold spot blubberlips of Fraser Island's eastern coffee rocks.
This is yet another species that employs a number of local names such as morwong, slatey bream, sweetlip and even ‘mother-in-law fish’. Before going any further, I need to say that the latter is quite unfair, particularly in Hervey Bay. I understand that the name evolved in north Queensland, where fishermen were so spoiled by an abundance of piscatorial delicacies like coral trout that they deemed this fish to be only worth giving to that much loved member of the extended family. Admittedly, I understand that the northern blackall might acquire a stronger than usual taste in some areas, but in Hervey Bay it is most unusual for this fish to be strong flavoured. Having said that, like most fish kept for the table, it is best to kill and bleed, then store on ice. I also prefer to remove the skin from the fillets. I know at least one mother-in-law who gives the thumbs up…
For the angler working the shallow reefs, the blackall presents the best chance of making a capture in excess of 5kg, but there are plenty around the 2-3kg mark available. Although they will take just about any bait presented, they show a marked preference for crustacean or cephalopod baits such as crabs, prawns, yabbies, squid and cuttlefish. I would choose one or more of these if targeting blackall specifically, but would not be at all surprised to take them on a hardihead or half pilchard either.
The bite of a blackall is usually very soft, often little more than a suspicion. It is usually necessary to drop some slack until the fish is felt to be moving away with the bait. Only then should the hooked fish be dealt with. Even though they live over reefy country, they are usually clean fighters.
Artificials, mostly small grubs or curly tail plastics, produce just limited success. Their use on the reef almost always attracts the attention of more aggressive species like grass sweetlip, Moses perch, cod, or coral trout. It would appear that the blackall finds its food mostly by smell and the use of its blubbery lips, not so much by sight; attributes that do not lend themselves to chasing worked plastics! One particular angler that I am aware of would first disagree with me until he admits that he uses one of the tubed scents liberally on his plastic before each cast…
The blackall has a minimum legal length of 25cm and a bag limit of 5. Being a designated coral reef finfish, it can be part of (up to 5) of 20 such designated fish.
The grass sweetlip and the blackall are the most abundant shallow reef species, but there are others worth looking at. We will continue with this next month.
This 5.2kg blackall was taken from The Graves off Woody Island. For many people, it presents the best chance of making a capture in excess of 5kg.
Longtails are still being taken in Platypus Bay.Reads: 940