Earning our fish at present
  |  First Published: May 2015

These last months have seen the Fraser Coast experience a variety of weather conditions that haven’t always been kind to recreational fishing. On Fraser Island, almost wall-to-wall sou’ easters have made venturing out onto the ocean beaches something of an endurance test. There have been some short periods of relative calm where anglers have been able to get into a few good fish though. This is a period of the year where we don’t see a lot of seasonal variation, with the usual surf dwellers of dart, whiting, bream, and tarwhine featuring in most catches.

This month we can expect more of the same except that bream and tarwhine should become more active. Still a few months short of the tailor season, it is reasonable to expect the odd patches of small chopper tailor. Many will be line-touchers barely making the 35cm limit.

I don’t have much to report on the western beach. In the sou’ easterly conditions that have dominated, this section often resembles a millpond, but during strong winds with a component between north and south west, it can become difficult. The few anglers who have made the trip across the island have reported catches of small whiting from the beach, and bream and flathead from the creek mouths.

In Hervey Bay, the most significant influence has been the introduction of fresh water from the rivers and creeks — particularly the Mary River that was responsible for flooding of Gympie and minor flooding in Maryborough. There is nothing new about these flood events, with some years more significant than others. They are necessary for the continuing health of the neighbouring marine systems, with renewed supplies of nutrients delivered. There may be short term effects on fishing, but these we must accept enthusiastically with the promise of better things to come. Their main effect is to temporarily translocate populations of some species.

In the northern parts of the bay where flood run-off is minimal, mac tuna, longtails, spotty and school mackerel are being taken, but not to the extent that they were over the New Year period. The hectic run of small marlin has subsided, but those who experienced the excitement are already gearing up for next season.

In the last few columns we have been looking at species that are likely to be taken over inner Hervey Bay’s shallow reefs. So far we have dealt with grass sweetlip (coral bream) and its relatives, blackall, the sea perches (Moses perch, stripey) and the tusk fishes (blueys, greasies). This month I will try to wrap the series up by looking at the cods and trouts, as well as few others, some of which might be unwelcome.

Both estuary cod and coral trout are quite common over Hervey Bay reefs. The larger cod are more frequently taken along the deeper ledges and reef structures, including those between North and South Head at the mouth of the Mary River, the Channel Hole, Bogimbah and Moon ledges, and the Rufus Artificial. Over the shallows, a smaller class of fish is the norm and many are taken on conventional gear when targeting other species.

There is general consensus that coral trout are becoming more common in Hervey Bay waters. This could be due to the activities of extra anglers with more productive methods and equipment. It can also be argued with some justification that rising sea temperatures might be making local waters more attractive to this favourite fish. Certainly there are many other examples of where traditionally northern species are becoming more established in southern waters.

Coral trout are also likely captures using conventional methods and baits, but both trout and cod are responding well to a variety of artificials. My preference is for trolling along the reef ledges with suitable depth rated hardbodies. Just about all the reefs hold cod and trout. My preference for cod is working the eastern Woody Island ledges as far south as Jeffries Beach. For trout, the reefs north of Round Island and those fringing Point Vernon and Gatakers Bay seem to be most productive.

Snapper can be quite plentiful over Hervey Bay's shallow reefs, although the larger specimens are more likely to be taken on the deeper bay reefs. For most reef species, the top months are those with higher water temperatures, from November through to May, whereas snapper appear in best numbers between April and September.

Locally known as reef rainbow, the barred-face spine cheek (Scolopsis monograma) often finds its way into reef catches. It does have a superficial resemblance to the blue-faced whiptail or rainbow. These make prize table fare.

Although closely related to barramundi, the sand bass (Psammoperca waigiensis) does not achieve the same degree of greatness. Also known as reef barramundi, the sand bass is taken occasionally over Hervey Bay's reefs and measures up to about 30cm. This is another worthy candidate for the pan.

I need to mention a few species that do not necessarily find favour with anglers. A variety of sharks, some with big teeth, others without, can turn a good fishing trip into a not so good one. As well as captured fish being taken or damaged, the smaller sharks demand time in careful handling before returning them to the water. Of course, ex- Victorians don't mind taking a school shark home for the cook.

On the reefs of Hervey Bay, the winner of the most unpopular award, by a huge margin, goes to the black spinefoot (Siganus nebulous). Affectionately known as happy moments, they can be in plague proportions over most of the reefs. Every spine of their abundant fins are capable of inflicting a particularly nasty sting. It is often said that you only get stung once, as you never allow the possibility of it happening a second time. It is quite common to anchor up at a favourite spot and take 1 or 2 good fish before hordes of happy moments turn up to destroy just about any offering, even plastics. The only option then is to move. They seem to be particularly active in the late afternoon and early mornings. Fortunately, they usually become inactive after dusk.

I once tried eating some cooked fillets and found them acceptable, although quite bland. I recall a trip to Hong Kong where a huge basket of live happy moments was emptied onto a street market floor, to be snapped up by eager buyers almost diving into the writhing mass to secure their purchases. I never did find out how they did it.

Finally, the last on my own personal nasty list is the giant salmon catfish (Arius thalassinus), which can take over a potentially enjoyable reef outing. They are exceptionally hard fighters and cause havoc with the usual reef fishing equipment. Once defeated, they are difficult to handle because of the dangerous serrated dorsal and pectoral spines, as well as the slime that is often left clinging to the terminal gear. The good news is that they have not appeared this year after the plague season of 2014.

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