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Bream time at Harvey Bay
  |  First Published: May 2016



In Queensland we are treated to two bream species – everybody's favourite, the yellowfin bream, and the dominant relative of the north, pikey bream. Of course we have two other species in Australia, rarely encountered in Queensland, the southern black bream, and the West Australian black bream. In Hervey Bay we have the luxury of both yellowfin, and pikey bream

The latter is more abundant in some systems, particularly the Susan River. With the warming of the coastal waters there is no doubt that pikey bream, and other typical northern species have become more abundant in our local waters.

For the late spring, summer and early autumn periods of the year, bream hang out in their preferred habitats, ranging from the ocean headlands and beaches, to the inshore reefs, estuaries, and up to the brackish, even the fresh water reaches of our rivers. It is not uncommon to find that in late spring, bream are not particularly active, and become difficult to entice. After this time of apparent resting, they get serious about the coming winter spawning, and feed ravenously in order to build up energy reserves as well as reproductive tissues.

This has occurred in the Fraser Coast rivers and estuaries over the last month. From recent reports, bream have continued to be mostly widespread but feeding with intent. From this month we see the transition into the spawning season, which will last through to September. For pikey bream, the season starts a little later and continues into October. We can expect to see a general movement of mature bream into their preferred spawning grounds. Further south, the biggest concentrations of spawning bream are associated with coastal bars of rivers and estuaries between the Sunshine Coast and the border. The mouths of the Noosa, Maroochy and Tweed rivers, as well as Amity Point, Jumpinpin and the Southport Broadwater are well known for their winter bream seasons. From my own experience of these, Jumpinpin, adjacent to the surf bar between North and South Stradbroke islands, plays host to huge numbers of spawning fish each year. Not only does it have a huge ‘bream catchment area,’ it ticks all the boxes for the ideal winter spawning ground. Proximity to the turbulent bar ensures a continual supply of clean, well-oxygenated ocean water. The many shallow banks provide food for the hungry fish and the same shallows and mangrove areas are needed for the protection of young fish.

With the absence of surf bars in Hervey Bay, bream must seek out areas where most of these factors can be fulfilled. Fast running tidal water running over shallow ledges produces enough turbulence to enhance the oxygen content of the water. The lower reaches of the Mary and Burrum rivers provide this, and of course tidal movements ensure supply of clean salt water. The rock ledges at the ends of the Bay's islands provide the same requirements. There are adequate shallows to provide food and protection for young fish close to all of these locations.

Putting aside all the theory for now, we should identify some of the best spots to target bream this winter. I would put River Heads right at the top of the list. South Head, the ‘frying pan’ beacon at North Head, and a little further upstream at Beaver Rock should all fish well. The ends of both Picnic islands and the northern end of Little Woody Island can produce excellent catches but have been disappointing some seasons. The ledges at the northern end of Woody Island, and the rocks at Round Island are also worth adding to the list. At Burrum Heads, the black bank opposite the township produces good catches every year.

For the land-based angler, the accessible rocks at Point Vernon and Gatakers Bay and the rock walls of the Urangan boat harbour can fish well. Last winter, the Urangan pier had an exceptional run of big bream, and there is no reason to expect otherwise this year.

No doubt some might be wondering – what about Fraser Island? I must admit that I haven’t really figured bream out as far as the eastern beach is concerned. Bream are widely distributed along the ocean beaches, and certainly around the headlands, for most of the year. If there is some migration of these bream into spawning areas, I am not at all certain. Maybe some use the Wide Bay Bar, maybe inside Sandy Cape. Maybe they spawn anywhere along the beach. There is certainly no shortage of well-oxygenated water. The absence of sheltered waters for their offspring is a problem. Perhaps there is a much bigger exchange of bream populations than we might imagine.

I have made some good catches of bream on the beach, but not at any particular time of the year. On the western beaches north of Moon Point, the story could be a different one. The Wathumba Creek estuary in some ways resembles the surf bar situation mentioned earlier. Significant surf develops along the entrance to the creek, particularly when seasonal winter winds from the west and northwest blow. The shallow estuary not only provides a good food supply but the numerous small creeks and feeder drains provide shelter for the young. I have always been amazed by the sheer numbers of bream seen moving in and out of the estuary during the winter months. The value of the Wathumba estuary as a spawning and nursery area has been recognized by it classification as a yellow zone in the Great Sandy Marine Park.

Further south along the western beach, at Coongul and Moon Creeks, we see much the same but on a smaller scale. The flats and creeks south and east of Moon Creek also produce plenty of food and cover for small bream. The numbers of bream anglers using artificials is increasing each season, however the majority still prefer bait. Without any hesitation, I would put the humble yabby at the top of the list. Of course when pickers become a nuisance, there may be a need to call on hardiheads, half pilchards, prawns or cut baits.

This month sees the start of the season but in some of the locations mentioned it might not be until June that bream arrive in numbers. July and August will probably be the top months, but September should be as productive, particularly for pikey bream.

If you have already glanced at the photo included, you might be thinking that your correspondent has finally gone round the bend, or he doesn't know what a bream looks like. On the first count you might be right – I have suspected this for a while, but on the second count – well, read on.

I didn't think we needed yet another photo of one of our local bream species, but yes, the illustrated fish is a true bream, one of the twenty or more species, members of the genus Acanthopagrus. I couldn't help imagining how colourful our bream catches would be if the two-bar bream illustrated were as common here as they are in their own territory, in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and along the north eastern coast of Africa. From my understanding they occupy much the same niche as our bream do in Queensland. Members of the family are found throughout the world but few can match the colours and markings of the two-bar.

ARTICLE FROM LAST MONTH

Last month Phil James wrote an excellent feature piece on bait collection and use. Much to our dismay, we accidentally only published half the article. With great apologies to Phil and the readers we have included the second half of the article this month.

Last month I mentioned that sea worms can be caught on the western beach, but there are no pipis. Baitfish, particularly hardiheads can be netted on this beach.

Yabbies

The humble yabby is undoubtedly the most famous live bait of the rivers, creeks and estuaries. Where once most whiting anglers wouldn't consider going without a bait creel full of yabbies, more are now using a variety of plastics and surface poppers. It is no wonder these are getting the results as they almost perfectly mimic the natural food source of whiting. So, the humble yabby has experienced a slight reprieve, so much so that some popular banks that were being hit hard are now making a comeback. Whether you are land-based or use a boat, yabby banks are easy to find. On the western shores of Fraser Island, you can easily pump yabbies within the Wathumba estuary, Coongul Creek and reliable banks from Moon Creek right through Sandy Straits. For land-based anglers at Hervey Bay, the best-known yabby banks are just south of the Urangan Boat Harbour, but I need to say that they have not been as prolific as other periods. The most reliable banks for a bucket of good yabbies are at the mouth of Eli Creek. From the Esplanade at Point Vernon, follow Martin Street, North Street and Eli Creek Road to the site of the old dump, and then work around the creek mouth or the flats just outside. Other reliable banks are off Dundowran Beach and inside O'Regans Creek. Yabbies are in a class of their own when chasing whiting and bream as well as blackall and other reef fish of the shallows.

Herring

Live herrings are almost mandatory for success when fishing the Urangan Pier. Fished live under floats for mackerel and trevally species, or as dead or live baits for monster flathead around the jetty pylons, herrings get the job done. Herring cutlets account for excellent catches of bream at the jetty during the winter months. Fortunately herrings are usually found in dense schools under the pier and are easily captured using bait jigs. They are also great bait on the reef, particularly for snapper and large grass sweetlip. Hardiheads can be netted on some of the beaches, but netting is prohibited from the Urangan Boat Harbour to Point Vernon. This includes the Urangan Pier so cast netting or hoop netting for any baitfish is not allowed here. Hardiheads are plentiful along the beaches of the western shore of Fraser Island and can be taken using cast or legal haul nets.

Squid

Squid are plentiful for most of the year, but the cooler weather is most productive. At the Urangan Pier, bright gaslights are lowered down towards the water surface. Pencil squid are attracted to the light and are easily hooked on small jigs. Around the reefs of the bay and islands, the larger local squid are either taken on jigs or speared. On the reefs, squid are one of the most versatile fresh baits. Of course, not all make their way into the bait freezer. They are just too good for another purpose!

Black spot tuskfish, locally known as blueys, are particularly partial to crustacean baits. Both yabbies and soldier crabs will account for blueys, but these are susceptible to being taken by small reef fish. Anglers who target blueys rarely venture out without a supply of rock crabs. For the very large fish, whole sand crabs or the feisty blue claw crabs are favoured. For smaller blueys, any of the small baits such as sleepy crabs or black runners are the way to go. Small rock crabs and the larger blue claw can be collected around the rocky foreshores of the mainland and islands.

Other do-it-yourself baits include yellowtail pike and gar, both of which can be caught on light gear throughout the bay. Whether you like to use bait regularly or just occasionally, make the collecting process at least part of the total package of your sport and enjoy.

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