But enough a-boat that, it’s safety time
  |  First Published: March 2017

There are some incredible experiences waiting for anglers in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean east of Breaksea Spit. Unless you take a very indirect route well to the north, you must cross the spit through one of the gutters that cross it. This might sound fairly straightforward, but the presence of big ocean swells can make the journey very hazardous.

Experienced skippers should have a good knowledge of the spit, the weather and the ocean conditions, and most importantly the tidal conditions. The final exit into open waters might be seen as an extreme bar crossing. Unfortunately, the spit has seen a number of bad situations, even fatalities, over the years. I am in contact with a few anglers that make the trip occasionally and I have a great respect for their knowledge and ability.

Expeditions to Hervey Bay’s northern parts are becoming more popular. Without going anywhere near the Breaksea Spit, vessels are visiting spots like the Southern, Northern and African gutters as well as the spit bommie and scattered reef areas east and north of Fraser Island’s Wathumba Creek. Again, there’s great country to explore. Although not directly exposed to the worst oceanic swells, these waters can still become dangerous, mostly as a result of wind-generated rough seas. This is not the domain of the inshore runabout or tinny, although they’re sometimes seen out there.

As well as being capable sea boats, vessels need to be equipped with the very best safety and communication equipment as well as an oversupply of fuel. Members of my family make regular trips to these northern waters, so I am kept well-informed. Even when all the right boxes are ticked, I’m always suggesting that they make these trips in the company of at least one other vessel.

From Wathumba Creek to Moon Point and offshore up to 10km from the island, very popular fishing grounds are safely in reach of a wider range of vessels. It can become very uncomfortable, even dangerous here when seasonal northerly winds come in to spoil the party. Most anglers, myself included, wouldn’t think about heading out in these conditions, which we have had our share of in recent months.

At last, in late January, conditions allowed us to venture to the more distant parts. The usual pelagics have come to the party, and baitfish are holding over the low reefy areas. Mac tuna have been easy to find, while longtails have been somewhat evasive. There have also been plenty of spotty mackerel enthusiastically taking small metals. It has been easy to bag out with five fish over 60cm in just half an hour. Out at the Six-Mile, sharks remain a big problem, particularly when targeting scarlets, golden trevally and other species low in the water column.

South of Moon Point we have the waters of inner Hervey Bay full of mostly safe areas for the smaller vessels. Of course, northerly winds can be bad news here too, as only a few spots are well protected. The latest reports have been encouraging with spotty and school mackerel in good numbers over the shallow reefs. Sandy beaches, rocky ledges, deep reefs and shallow reefs offer anglers a huge choice.

This month, as water temperatures remain high, we can expect to see the reef season continue strongly at least until the end of April. There have been some mixed catches of sand whiting along the city foreshores, really quite surprising for this time of the year. The best whiting catches have been around the banks just inside River Heads, and further south near German Creek. Threadfin salmon continue to challenge anglers throughout the Mary River system, and since the start of the barra season, there has been some action over the ledges and rock bars inside the river.

On the deep reefs, large blueys (tuskfish) and cod have been the standout catches. The shallow reefs have also been good for these species, as well as coral bream, Moses perch, stripeys and blackall. Somewhat surprising to me has been the increasing number of javelin (grunter) coming from the shallows. Perhaps as an outcome of increasing water temperatures, they are extending their ranges and habitats. Also noteworthy, the quality of coral bream in the shallow water has been outstanding.

It would appear that out of all the recreational species found on our reefs, the blackall is by far the most abundant. The numbers of blackall taken by anglers gives just some credence to this claim. Others like coral bream are the more likely contenders. Observations by divers on both shallow and deep reefs would appear to be more relevant. Underwater movie footage is also very convincing.

Blackall are well known right down Queensland’s East Coast and their abundance elsewhere is recognized. In northern waters, blackall are generally shunned as their food qualities are deemed less that average. Here in Hervey Bay, most anglers bleed their fish on capture and skin the fillets. Although they might not be in my top ten, as food for the table they are very acceptable.

Shallow reef anglers rarely target blackall, but are happy to accept them as part of the catch. With the possible exceptions of tuskfish and cod, the blackall is potentially the largest fish taken on a reef outing. Some anglers deliberately target blackall, perhaps because they like the eating qualities or they like the challenge. Maybe they are looking for another personal best.

Although blackall are likely to accept just about any bait offering, they do have a preference for crustaceans like yabbies, crabs and prawns. Squid and cuttlefish are also on their list of favourites. Unlike other reef species, blackall are quite happy to come very close to the boat. A short cast from the boat is more than likely to result in an interested blackall. The first bite of a blackall is little more than a suspicion, as the bait is gently mouthed by its fleshy lips. Once it has taken a liking to the offering, it is necessary to wait for strong pressure as it moves away, before setting the hook.

On Fraser Island’s ocean beach, there are encouraging signs after months of uncertainly due to unpredictable weather and the weed infestations in the later months of 2016. Anglers working the shallow low water gutters have been scoring catches of sand whiting. It would seem that the most productive gutters are towards the southern end of the beach, south of Eurong.

Dart are back to their usual reliability and have been taken mostly in the deeper gutters towards the top of the tide. I have suggested before that many surf species move into shallow gutters to feed during the night. Try fishing at night during the hot months as a way of escaping the heat, and targeting fish where and when they are on.

Members of a recent party told me they don’t feel comfortable being on the beach individually after dark, even in small groups, after negative interactions with dingos in recent months. Most recently it was reported that a woman was bitten and chased into the water by two dingos near Kingfisher Resort. One wonders how long it will be before a fisher can again feel safe having a quiet fish on a Fraser Island beach at night.

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