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The Bay of Plenty
  |  First Published: March 2015



Whether it is the beaches of Fraser Island, or the sheltered waters of Hervey Bay, March is a month that can produce plenty of variety.

While Fraser Island’s famous tailor season is still some time off, small choppers are likely to start appearing in small isolated schools, giving us a brief taste of what lies ahead for the coolers months. As I mentioned last month, the quality and quantity of sand whiting caught during summer suggested a return to the bumper seasons of the past, and is welcome sight for the future.

Dart equally have been thick in numbers right along the beaches, and is in keeping with their usual abundance, with best results coming from the disturbed water on the edges of deep gutters during the day, and the quiet inshore waters at night. Bream in comparison are thin on the ground, and have been for some time. While bream have been turning up in catches, they haven’t been in great numbers. Having said that expect them to be active and hungry over the next few months as they build up condition for the winter spawn season.

Frogmouth, white and small blue pilchards, or even halved WA pilchards are the gun baits for bream, while pippies and worms will suffice as a second best option. In good conditions with light winds and limited water movement allowing your bait to drift down through the washes around headlands and coffee rock will bring the best results and larger sized fish.

Holiday Madness

With Easter school holidays coming up early next month, the island is bracing for its busiest time of the year, with boatloads of visitors expected to visit. Many will be keen anglers and there is every reason to be optimistic about their catches, while others will visits inland attractions like Central Station, Lake McKenzie, Lake Birrabeen and Kingfisher Resort on the western side of the island. Regretfully many visitors get into trouble on the island, with countless bogged and broken down vehicles a salient reminder of the potential risks when driving on the island.

Visitors need to realize that although a low clearance all-wheel drive will sufficient when driving along the ocean beach in good conditions, its limited ground clearance will make going difficult on the island’s inland tracks. When speaking with prospective visitors I always check that they have reliable, high clearance vehicles, particularly if they wish to go inland. Last year’s many breakdowns and vehicle issues were generally associated with one of more of the following.

•Low clearance and/or underpowered vehicles

•High tyre pressures

•Towing heavily loaded trailers

•No recovery helpers eg track mats and shovels

•Inadequate 4WD driving skills/experience

•Lack of awareness of conditions

Hopefully next month we will see trouble free traffic on the island’s major east-west tracks and hassle free commuting to Fraser’s popular lakes.

While most capable long range vessels (and some not so), will head to the offshore grounds north of Hervey Bay, most vessels will choose to fish closer to home, and target the areas within 30 minutes of the launching ramps. Admittedly the inshore fishing doesn’t quite compare to the offshore grounds but the excitement is still there with some excellent fishing to be had. While the inshore options are largely of the light tackle variety they happily offer less pain on the hip pocket when filling up at the fuel bowser.

In search of perch

With inshore fishing at their best this month, it is time to look at another family of reef fish, this time the sea-perches, or more correctly the fishes of the Lutjanus genus, a member of the Lutjanidae family. There are over 170 species of sea perches throughout tropical waters, many of which we have in Queensland. The name sea perch is misleading as most members of this group have common names that do not tie in with the sea perch name. Amongst their common characteristics are their well-developed canine teeth and aggressive predatory behaviour.

Many of the group can be found on the deep reefs north of Hervey Bay, and in oceanic water. These include scarlet sea perch (nannygai), red emperor and hussar. Scarlets and hussar incidently are occasionally caught on our inshore reefs. Mangrove jack (L.argentimaculatus), the premier sport fish of the estuaries, don’t exhibit a preference for shallow inshore reefs, but the larger mature fish are regularly caught on offshore reefs and ledges. One other family member needs to be recognized, and that’s the fingermark. Fingermark, or spotted scale sea-perch, (L.johni) is a popular species in North Queensland, and in recent years has started to be caught in and on Wide Bay’s estuaries and reefs with more regularity. This would appear to be another example of the changes in the range of fish species due to the increase in water temperature.

Other Lutjanus species that are plentiful on Hervey Bay’s shallow and offshore reefs include Moses perch (L.russelli), stripey (L.carponotatus), and occasionally maori sea-perch. Moses perch can come in various guises, with colours ranging from dull olive through to light red, while some will have yellow bands, while others none. The common characteristic is the presence of a black spot close to the dorsal fin. As its name suggests, the stripey is prominently marked but there is no black spot.

Both species are likely to be found on most coral reefs in Hervey Bay, but they appear to prefer the edges of the reefs rather than the reef flats. Anglers chasing grass sweetlip and blackall regularly catch Moses perch, an all too common, and generally unwanted bycatch. They are however fun and excellent sport on light tackle, and when hooked put on a brief and energetic fight. Both species have distinct feeding times, with the period just before and after dusk their peak time to feed.

When they are in the mood they will enthusiastically attack just about any bait presented but my preference is for whole hardiheads. I expect that hardiheads are high on their list of prey, but the reality is any bait that closes matches the hatch will get eaten. As a result they are happy to attack just about any artificial you present to them, particularly in the late afternoon.

Facts

Bag and size limits of popular reef fish

SpeciesMin SizeBag Limit
Nannygai (both species) #40 cm9
Red Emperor #55 cm5
Hussar #25 cm10
Maori Sea-Perch #25 cm5
Fingermark35 cm5
Mangrove Jack35 cm5
Moses Perch #25 cm5
Stripey #25 cm5

# Coral Reef Fin Fish – combined bag limit 20

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