Bread and butter species serve up a feed in June
  |  First Published: June 2016

The cooler weather of the last two months has certainly made for more comfortable outings, and many are anxiously awaiting the change in fishing seasons. The air temperature may be dropping consistently at this time of the year but due to the physical nature of water itself, sea temperatures may not fall at anywhere near the same rate. Of course in offshore and deeper waters, temperatures may vary little throughout the year, and then only due to ocean currents delivering either warmer or cooler water to inshore areas.

Bread and butter species

In last month’s column we looked at what we might expect the bream to do this season. Up to quite recently they have continued to be widespread through their feeding area. I have made the mistake quite regularly of expecting bream to turn up in their breeding areas too early in winter, before water temperatures have dropped sufficiently to their liking. However, it’s time to check out the points of Woody Island, Point Vernon, the Picnics and River Heads where bream will be preparing to spawn.

This is the time of year when we start to see tight gatherings of small boats in many parts of the bay. This heralds the start of the annual run of diver (winter) whiting. These fish prefer the sandy and weedy offshore shallows in depths as shallow as 1m.

Like bream, these small whiting feed ravenously to build up reproductive tissues. The movement of these schools is somewhat of a mystery to me. They seem to simply show up in fairly predictable areas during May and early June. These areas include offshore from Dundowran to Gatakers Bay early in the season and south of Round Island to the southern end of Woody Island a little later. Some theories suggest that they are in residence throughout the year, and then turn into feeding mode when water temperatures start to drop.

Another theory suggests that they migrate into these areas from further offshore. Apart from these regular areas, they can turn up in big numbers in places that they might never be seen in future years. Quite obviously they are following a food source that we might not be aware of. From my observations over a number of decades, diver whiting are becoming less prolific as each season passes.

When somebody locates a school of diver whiting, the word soon gets around and the place can be invaded by dozens of boats in no time. Winter whiting fishing requires little finesse and the simplest rig will do just as well as a complex one. As long as there is a small hook (No.4 is good) with suitable bait, you are in business. As simple as it sounds, there are situations where only one boat in a small cluster takes fish. This has probably come about because the successful ones are using a self-berleying bait like yabby, and keeping the fish excited about their offering. Once attracted around the boat other baits like worms, squid strips and prawns will keep them happy. If you find yourself as one of the unsuccessful brigade, the best option is to move a distance away and work to attract your own fish. For me it is almost mandatory to have enough yabbies to persuade the whiting to bite, and then hold them. Once on the bite other baits will be successful, but I like to use a yabby every so often.

Certainly beer-battered deep fried diver whiting fillets are hard to beat.

Taking care of whiting

In years well past there was no regulation of the diver whiting recreational fishery. This being the case it would be possible to catch hundreds daily of any size at all. When the value of this fishery to recreational fishing became appreciated, there was much debate as to best management. This debate continues even though the current management has been established. Some were in favour of minimum legal length, others of a bag limit, others suggesting both. The winning opinion was for a bag limit of 50 fish with no legal minimum length. To be complete we should mention that this is an in-possession bag limit, per angler. Unfortunately, there are those who delight in bucking the system and this is easy to do with the bag limit system.

Competition sport fishers in bass and bream events use the practice of upgrading to ensure that the five they weigh-in will be the largest caught for the day. I don’t have a problem with that as the smaller fish that are eventually discarded, are cared for in a purpose built aerated or irrigated tank. It is widely known that upgrading is rampant among the whiting fishing brigade where small fish are put aside until the catch reaches the bag limit of 50, then progressively discarded – but very much dead of course. If a size limit were imposed, at least these smaller fish would have a chance.

The debate will undoubtedly continue but as little as I like over regulation, both bag limit and minimum size should be the way to go. Why not? Both cover most of our other light gear fish.

Ocean beach

On Fraser Island’s ocean beach, some excellent weather has seen some great catches. It was good to hear that dart have been in form, and of excellent quality. Some of the guests from Stanthorpe were on hand with the kipper box and were rewarded with a delightful feed of smoked fillets. It is well accepted by locals and regular visitors that dart, which is a fair table fish to fry, are the very best to smoke. It is always pleasing to hear that whiting have been plentiful in the shallow gutters, after some lean times in the past. Just to smarten things up a little for whiting and dart anglers, some oyster crackers, aka permit, have joined the party. These include a 6kg fish taken at Poyungan Rocks.

Tailor anglers will be looking forward to the annual season. While small ‘chopper’ size fish can be taken throughout the year, it is the arrival of the larger spawning fish that marks the start of the season. There have been years when mid-June has heralded the season’s commencement but more often it is some time in July that the action really gets underway. So let’s hope we see an early start this year. There are two main influences at work here. The supply of baitfish is fundamental, so too is the weather that encourages baitfish to enter the beach gutters. It is time to get mildly excited when the first southwesterly or westerly breezes hit the beach.

Back in the bay, the shallow reefs are slowing down thanks to lower water temperatures. Mostly undersize coral bream (grass sweetlip) are in abundance and blue parrot (black-spot tuskfish) are becoming harder to find. Many angers give the shallows a big miss through winter, but at this time they can still produce plenty of legal juvenile snapper, blackall, bream and tailor.

Open Water

The open waters north and west of Moon Point continue to support plenty of baitfish as well as the hungry longtails and mac tuna that hunt them. Some anglers have returned with bag limits of spotted mackerel but they haven’t been easy to track down. On the offshore reefs west of Arch Cliffs, golden trevally have been hitting micro-jigs worked close to the bottom. Unfortunately sharks are still making meals of them before a fish can be brought close to the boat. Tea-leaf trevally and school mackerel have also been possibilities. Huge schools of scarlet sea perch (nannygai) have been hanging over the scattered structure, but the majority of these beautiful fish have been undersized. Other species such as frying pan snapper, juvenile snapper, javelin, hussar and venus tuskfish have also been recorded.

Occasionally large specimens of Chinaman fish turn up on the deep reefs. While there are many fish that are sometimes associated with ciguatera, the threat of this debilitating illness is so great in the Chinaman-fish that Grant in ‘Guide to Fishes’ officially recognises it in his treatment of poisonous and venomous fishes. The outlook for these offshore grounds looks good provided those with big teeth and grey suits move on.

June Prospects

Fraser Island ocean beachDart
Fraser Island western beachFlathead
Offshore pelagicTuna
Offshore reefsTrevally
Shallow Inner ReefsBlackall
Deep Inner ReefsSnapper
River HeadsBream
Island and mainland foreshore rocksBream
Offshore shallowsDiver whiting
Harbour wallsBream and mangrove jack
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