The Rainbow Channel, which runs alongside the inside of North Stradbroke Island roughly from the township of One Mile to Amity Point is a fantastic fishing trip. In February the primary targets are summer pelagics, particularly spotted mackerel.
We treat a spin up the Rainbow Channel as a family and friends sightseeing and fishing day. It’s a chance for a casual trip and we try to catch fish as we go. Normally we end up with a feed of fresh fish and plenty of impressive scenery and sea life to discuss.
In summer, getting out early before the wind gets up is very important. In the hot months the wind typically comes from the northeast and the southeast. We try to get as far down the channel as possible, before the wind gets above 12 to 13 knots and then fish our way home with the easterly wind behind us. This plan seems to work well by keeping everyone on board drier and more comfortable. It’s best to stay at home when it’s blowing at first light or if fronts are predicted on the weather chart. Basically, if it’s pleasant in the early morning the wind won’t get up until the Brisbane area heats up.
On a typical summer’s day we’d hit the Cleveland boat ramp between 4.30am-5.00am for the 6am low tide (high at 12pm). Our first stop is usually drifting for snapper around the front of Peel Island for half an hour or so. It’s a good idea to be rigged before you leave the boat ramp. After catching a few snapper it’s time to run down around the Douglas Light and off to the Rainbow Channel. Follow the channel around to the southern end of the Rainbow, head up to the Myora Light and start working a few soft plastics deep and close to the bottom.
If you prefer a late start you can skip the Peel Island option and run straight from Cleveland Point to Dunwich/One Mile.
The current runs pretty quick at the Myora Light so many anglers like to fish around the changes of the tide. Given our hypothetical 12pm high tide, I would work my soft plastic shads through the strike zone by casting ahead of the drift. Have a few drifts and then move on. The best time depends on a few factors, such as the amount of tidal rise and fall, which influences the flow rate. If the tide is too fast then move on, there are a lot of other spots to try.
I use slightly heavier jigheads at the Myora than at Peel Island. At Peel I use 1/16oz to 1/8oz jigheads; at Myora I run 1/8oz to 1/4oz heads.
If we do use the 1/2oz jigheads (for reefies on the bottom) then I leave them on and we head down the channel. The 1/2oz jigheads cast our 5” shads further when we are targeting tuna. With your tackle rigged and ready to go, if a school of tuna pop ups, you can be quick to the cast.
The retrieve for tuna is pretty much the same with either the 3” Slider (see QFM January), the 5” Shad or even a 6” soft stickbait. With the bigger lures, my gut feeling is that the pauses in the retrieve often need to be longer.
From Amity Point it is a short zip across the Rainbow Channel (looking for tuna and mackerel as you go) to the Amity Banks. Then it’s over to the switchback Wuunulba Passage adjacent to the Welsby Light across to the Rous Channel, up Days Gutter and a slow drive around Crab Island on the inside of Moreton Island’s southern tip. This comes out near the Blue Hole and into Moreton Bay so you’ll be sheltered from the easterly wind for a few hours (max) while you chase tuna in the waters south of the Shark Spit region. It’s then a quiet, slow amble back to Days Gutter (the area is a go slow zone) so now’s a good time for lunch.
We then dash across the entrance on the inside on the sand banks inside the South Passage Bar, using the same channel that the barge takes, to the top end of the Rainbow Channel.
If there is an easterly wind, you’ll have to get back to the top end of the Channel before the run-out tide starts flowing too fast. In our hypothetical day trip, this means being back in the Rainbow by 1pm, about an hour maximum after the turn of the high tide. The tide runs out in a roughly northeasterly direction so if a strong easterly breeze springs up you get a wind against tide situation, which makes for a choppy surface on top of any swell.
Around this time we start looking primarily for spotted mackerel. I’ve found that mack tuna often won’t bite lures in wind conditions above 15 knots.
As the water drains off the flats on the dropping tide, baitfish drop into the draining gutters (including the Fingue, Coolooloo, Erica, Palmer and Dialba passages) and then get flushed out into the main channel where mackerel will be looking for prey. It’s no wonder that some of the best mackerel spinning occurs near the sand banks on either side of the channel. In our make-believe day I think the mackerel bite would start around 2pm. If you leave the easterly end of the Rainbow at 1pm and drive too fast through the channel then you’ll have exited the bottom end without seeing any fish to catch. The mere mention of running back upwind, ‘get your spray jackets on’ would probably be met by evil eyes from all on board. Do it smart, slow on the throttle and eyes wide open.
Spinning for mackerel is traditionally done with chrome metal slugs, a bit of heavy nylon leader and a high-speed outfit similar to those mentioned in January’s QFM. You should only use wire if your slug supply is small. By using wire you’ll reduce the number of strikes that you get. Sure there are days when you’ll need to use wire as for some reason every hook-up results in a bite off when using mono. To recap, the reel must offer approximately 6:1 retrieve ratio and rods need to be 2.1-2.4m long to give you the casting distance. Mackerel don’t fight as hard as tuna so almost any old rod will do as the bay mackerel rod doesn’t need the power to lift a tuna from the deep. Nor does the rod tip need to be super sensitive to cast the typical 40-80g chrome slugs that are regular mackerel fare in SEQ.
To put yourself in with a chance of a hook-up, simply cast the lure across the school when they are on the surface (sometimes letting the lure sink for a few seconds) and then retrieve it through the school of feeding mackerel at warp speed.
After we clear the southern end of the Rainbow it is a short run across to the Platypus Wreck at Peel Island and onto The Bluff. We work small poppers around the structure and then head to Horseshoe Bay where there will probably be a flotilla of cruisers sheltering from the afternoon northeasterly wind. Always, we talk about what it would be like to own one of these big boats and to use it as a mothership.
This area does need a little boating experience (or a bunch of notes and a good chart) to navigate for the first time. I’d suggest taking a trip before you take the family out. On my most recent trip I headed out with charter guide Dave Clayton. Dave and I followed the trip plan covered in this article, and Dave has a bunch of similar trips across the bay for you to check out. Dave can be contacted on (07) 5478 3806.
After Horseshoe Bay, we slip around South-West Rocks (the south western end of Peel Island), and head to the Victoria Point boat ramp. This final run can be the worst part of the day if 20 knots of northeasterly wind is around. I like it best when we hug close to Peel for as long as we can and then turn for the trip to the Raby Bay leads with hopefully the wind behind us. If your friends or family aren’t old sea salts then they are more likely to enjoy this alternative to a direct line soaking across this exposed stretch. If they are old sea salts they’ll appreciate the thought that you’ve put into it. Either way your companions will look forward to their next outing with you. And if that means your family become keener boaters then that’s a pretty good deal all round.
Rainbow Channel - Day trip planReads: 6737