Pier into the water
  |  First Published: December 2016

Before taking a look at the prospects for January, a quick review of the past year along Fraser Island’s beaches and inshore Hervey Bay would seem appropriate.

For most of us who fish the island’s ocean beach, it might be a year best forgotten – at least the last five months. The infestation of brown weed almost totally ruined the seasonal tailor fishing for which the island is famous. Last month there were scattered patches of weed persisting mostly south of Happy Valley. All that remains to be said is that we don’t want to see any form of repetition this year. During the first half of 2016, the island beaches behaved in typical fashion, with plenty of dart, whiting, tarwhine and bream keeping anglers happy. It was particularly encouraging to see the numbers and quality of sand whiting improving. It had even become possible (or so regular light line specialists tell me) to bag out on whiting during those months.

Hervey Bay’s inshore fishing overall was a little down compared to what we might expect. To an extent, we can blame the weather, as uncomfortable conditions prevailed for much of the year, particularly over weekends. I guess that whether we like it or not, climate changes are upon us and we just have to accept that things might not improve. Inshore reefs performed about as well as expected.

Tuskfish were particularly abundant, while others like coral bream and the sea perches were somewhat down in numbers and quality. The bream season was disappointing around the rocky points of bay islands, but the lower Mary River and Urangan Pier pylons saw plenty of action.

The winter (diver) whiting season was patchy, with the main schools of fish continually on the move. As usual, the better catches were made offshore from Dundowran and Gatakers Bay. The usually reliable south end of Woody Island was also disappointing, with reports of low numbers and poor quality. However, anglers chasing flathead were not disappointed during the year, and it’s recognized that the sensible bag and size limits that have been in force for many years, are certainly paying dividends.

So what might we expect on Fraser Island’s beaches and Hervey Bay’s inshore waters this month? I would preface my comments with the hope of reasonable weather conditions and little or no dreaded weed on the island. We should expect dart, whiting, bream and tarwhine on Fraser’s ocean beaches.

At this hot time of the year fishing early morning, late afternoon and even into the night is the way to go. On the western beach, whiting should be plentiful, but a reliable measuring stick could be handy. Around the creek mouths and coffee rocks there should be a few bream and flathead, and visiting anglers might be surprised to catch a dart on the inside beach, as they can also be quite plentiful. We often think of dart being purely a surf species, but throughout Hervey Bay there are many locations in which they can be taken. In fact, in these calm waters, dart are usually of better quality than those caught in the surf.

Hervey Bay’s shallow reefs are now fishing well, with all the favourites like coral bream, blackall and tuskfish, all for easy pickings in the shallow reef fringe of Gatakers Bay, Point Vernon, Pialba, Scarness, Round Island, the northern and western shores of Woody Island, as well as the picnics. Deeper reefs such as the Outer Banks, Moon Ledge, Mickys, Bogimbah Ledge, the Channel Hole and Boges Hole will also be productive. On any of the reefs, but particularly the shallow ones, fishing through the middle of the day is bound to be a waste of time. At this time of the year, I like to fish the shallow reef – leaving the harbour around 5pm and returning about 8pm. This gives me 2-3 hours of prime time. Alternatively, a session from 4-7am is an option, particularly if the coral bream is your main target.

My preferred option allows me to fish further into the night without being cooked. Peak fishing times are certainly over dusk and dawn, but there can still be plenty of action throughout the night, particularly for blackall and some of the sea perches. Of course, it would be rare to take a tuskfish through the middle of the night. Young snapper can be a problem over the shallows, but in the last few seasons there has been a sprinkling of easily legal (over 35cm) fish. Where you would usually need to be quite fussy about the tidal conditions when fishing the deeper reefs, it isn’t so much of an issue when fishing the shallows. Of course a massive flood or ebb tide over the shallows might prompt further consideration, depending on the location of the venue.

At this holiday time of the year, the Urangan Pier becomes a very popular fishing platform. From the shoreline, the pier first crosses a shallow gutter (almost dry on spring tide lows), then the wide sandy Dayman Spit, then through to the outer channel. This outer channel is often the domain of specialist light game anglers chasing tuna, school, grey and Spanish mackerel, as well as great and golden trevally, and at times, barramundi. I wouldn’t recommend joining in with this activity before taking a long look at the gear and methods employed here – however, when the action is on, it makes a good spectator sport. It’s not a good plan to get too close to the action, as it could be dangerous and could incur the wrath of the serious anglers. The pylons of the pier provide structure for the shelter of huge schools of herring and hardiheads, which provide a food sources for the pelagics who make forays into the masses of baitfish. In suitable conditions, particularly over a slack tide, fishing around the pylons, using hardiheads or herring fillets, will make likely catches of bream and flathead. The inner gutter is best known for catches of sand and yellowfin whiting, particularly on a flood tide in the early morning. It’s also possible to take bream and flathead, and even larger golden trevally that venture in on the high tide.

Other land-based opportunities are to be had along the city beaches from Urangan to Pialba. Whiting can be plentiful, but you can expect many to be undersize (23cm). The better class of fish is likely very early in the day on a vigorous flood tide. The rock groynes at Torquay and Urangan make good platforms for whiting fishing along this beach. These are also great for targeting gar. The walls of the Urangan boat harbour also present some opportunities with bream, javelin, mangrove jack and trevally on offer towards the seaward end. Towards the mainland, the wall crosses shallows that hold whiting, flathead and gar.

This will be a hot month, so fish hard and stay cool.

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