When you walk into a tackle store in any town or city, you will probably see walls filled with packets of weird and wonderful soft plastics. On a recent work/fishing trip to Mission Beach, TNQ, I found this was not the case!
I returned to this not-so-sleepy town after four years in Brisbane to visit the fishing grounds where I cut my teeth as a youngster. I wanted to try my new found ‘style’ of fishing in Mission Beach’s fish rich waters. I was sure that my knowledge of fishing the area, when combined with soft-plastics would equal a fishing bonanza.
Upon arriving in Tully (the gateway to Mission Beach) I was amazed by the lack of soft plastics on offer. Yes, they had them, but nowhere near the range that southern fishers have gotten used to. I grabbed a handful of brands and thought how different it was going to be to fish back in these waters with uncommon plastics.
Rolly Newton at Great Barrier Tackle Village filled me in on the new fishing zones and bag and size limits. After he told me where the fish were being caught, I headed off to the beach.
The conditions were near prefect, the kind of weather that TNQ is famous for in winter. Day after day of flat ocean and a crisp, cool temperature. Small aluminium boats are the best fishing platforms, as they can be used for the rivers, inshore bays, island hopping and on the really good days, out to the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s always nice to catch up with family and friends at the end of a long road trip, and it’s also important to get as much fishing info from them as possible.
Our first morning had a slow start with an unusually large easterly swell rolling through on to the beach where the best launching facilities are. This is where owning a 4WD comes in handy, but don’t worry as there are plenty of local ramps for those without. Dan and I headed out anyway, towards the islands to troll for mackerel. The weather deteriorated as we got further out and my fishing buddy turned a shade of green similar to the ocean and we returned to the beach. The weather then turned bad for a few days as unexpected and unseasonal rain drenched the camp as can quite often happen in the area.
After a few days of sightseeing I began to get itchy fingers and headed down to Hinchinbrook Island to fish the creeks with my partner Claire and Dan. A quick troll across the channel towards the protected island side resulted in a few smaller tiddlers. Claire caught several nice sized bream and cod on bait. Dan hooked a good-sized fish that turned out to be a very cranky, lip hooked 4ft hammerhead shark. The fishing began to shut down and I decided try a soft plastic. We pulled up to a rock bar where the current created a bit of turbulence as it flowed over the top and I fired out a cast up current. Hop, hop, hop, pause. Bang! My first cast using a 5” Gulp Camo Jerk Shad came up trumps. A short struggle later a nice 40cm black bream ended up in my net. Next cast - hop, hop, hop, pause. Bang! Another hook up, another nice bream and another release. Next cast was the same again, but this time a 48cm rock cod came to the net. This continued for at least another 40 minutes until we ran out of light and it was time to head home.
The weather finally cleared and the water once again resembled a millpond. I decided that a night fish was in order to target the abundant spangled emperor that hold on shallow water reefs during the evening flood tide. ‘Full-noise’ was the call and the throttle on the outboard was opened up to get to the fishing grounds before the sunset behind the mountain ranges.
A quick stop over at Dunk Island jetty to collect some live bait for the evening resulted in a tank full of large herring. This jetty is an amazing fish attractant and I just couldn’t resist, so out came the bait caster with plastics attached to the business end. Once again the first cast resulted in a hook up. A 60cm barracuda had made a total mess of my Gulp. It was quickly released and we proceeded to our first spot for the night.
Kumboola Island lies on the southwestern side of Dunk Island and has a great shallow reef tidal flat that drains into a relatively deep drop-off at its southern end. It is here that I have had many memorable catches from good-sized coral trout to large mouth nannygai. Two live baits were set out in about 10m of water along the reef drop-off. The night started slow and began to look as though it was going to be tough to coax the fish into biting. For about an hour there was no sign of interest in our fresh live bait offerings, having never actually tried soft plastics at night, I thought that the livies would have been the go! I soon came to the decision that everything was way too quiet to just sit back and wait. I pulled out my bait caster, put on a new Gulp Jerk Shad and cast out along the reef edge.
As I chatted to Dan about the fish I had caught at this spot in past years I wasn’t really concentrating all that much on working the lure. About half way through the retrieve I got a slight knock. I stopped for about 5 seconds gave a small flick of the rod tip and came up tight on what I thought was just a small reef fish. About 10 seconds after hook up the line begun peeling from my Pflueger President LP and I locked the spool to stop it burying me into the reef. A short time later a 55cm spangled emperor came to the net. I flicked the plastic back over the same area and hooked another nice spangly for the esky. We decided to wind it up for the night as dinner was already in the boat. I was left astounded that the two herring we set out earlier were still alive and untouched. This was the beginning of a trend that was going to determine the way the rest of our trip would unravel. Baits: 0, Plastics: 2.
Our next opportunity to head out resulted in the decision to flick lures around the shallows on the rising tide. A quick drive to the lookout at the northern end of North Mission Beach township revealed that Clump Point was protecting the bay from the wind, so we launched the tinny from Clump Point boat ramp. I idled the boat around the corner, threw out the sea anchor and began flicking soft plastics at the rocks. Shoals of small mullet were hugging the rocks and the water rippled with nervous tension as queenfish, salmon and GTs tore through the schools. Countless retrieves showed fish shadowing our lures all the way back to the boat and it wasn’t long until I hooked a healthy GT.
After several drifts along the rocks we had caught a few good salmon, small jacks, queenfish and tarpon. All the fish were released and this session had once again proved the soft plastics dominance!
After the wind from the days prior abated, glassed out conditions returned once again. It was Saturday and I knew that an early start was necessary to beat the hoards of other boats out. This time our target was 40ft Rock, a well-known local hot spot for 60lb+ monster Spanish mackerel. 40ft is due east about 400m from the southern tip of Woln-Garin Island, which is at the eastern most tip of Dunk Island. The name 40ft refers to the depth of water to the top of the bommie outcrop, which rises out of 70-80ft of water. Some big scary monsters reside in this neighbourhood.
Baits were deployed and a good solid run on the TLD was missed due to lack of early morning co-ordination. In 15 minutes 10 boats had arrived, so we pulled anchor and headed to the clear water further north.
This is also well known area when the spotted mackerel are running. There is no bonafide reef structure around; therefore the boats can be more comfortably spread apart. About 2km east of Dunk in 60ft of water a good patch of baitfish close to the bottom showed on the sounder. Out went the sand anchor with two livies following soon after. One of the TLD’s screamed into life and Dan hooked on to a black tip reef shark.
The other rod livened up as soon as Dan’s shark was released and this time a small school mackerel graced the esky for lunch. There were 7-10 small reef shark circling the tinny and any effort to get baits pass them was fruitless. Dan didn’t mind and he continued to catch shark after shark. I left him the remaining live baits and decided to try getting a soft plastic to the bottom. The lure had only just made it to the bottom when the Gulp was nailed. My poor bait caster wasn’t really the best choice of outfit for this type of fishing. A good five minutes and several blinding runs later up popped another reef shark! I released the Noah to be with its friends and ended up catching another five sharks! Talk about a sucker for punishment!
The remainder of our trip was crammed full of as many fishing days as possible. The trip total for all baits versus soft plastics ended up 3 to 12. Plastics fishing in northern waters proved better than I was expecting, although there were a few occasions where bait came out on top. When fished side by side the soft plastics were (on most occasions) engulfed on first cast as opposed to the baits soaking untouched for a while. One style of plastic was used for this whole trip and took such a large array of fish. Imagine what results more specialised plastics could bring? Most tropical fish species have nasty sets of teeth that can destroy tails in an instant, this lead to the only down side. The amount of plastics that we went through! As we all know they can be quite expensive. Then again, bait is getting up there in price and the hook up ratio for plastics far outweighed any other type of bait. We had an absolute ball returning to fish this area again and our newfound fishing techniques also learned a few vital lessons. I really hope you get a chance to fish Mission Beach and it’s surrounding islands, as it will definitely leave a lifelong impression on you!Reads: 5187