Nannygai and Grunter Thrive
  |  First Published: April 2008

Continuing rain areas have meant the Fitzroy River is still running and pushing a huge plume of fresh well out past Keppel Bay and as far as North West Island, over 90km offshore, and nearly up to Flat Island.

The unusual enormity of rain we have received out west and up north has done more damage than the local rain, even though we have had almost twice our yearly fall in the first couple of months the water gets away very quickly. When the river is running heavily for so long it puts large amounts of fresh into all of the local estuary systems especially Corio Bay, one of the most pristine spots anywhere. The short term has been tragic and only time will show the benefits.

This is having a major impact on the local fish movement including whiting, black jewfish, salmon and cobia. However the most effected is the migrating mackerel populations. The normal run of big Spanish mackerel that starts around Christmas time and goes for a big part of the year has not eventuated yet. Only the odd resident Spanish mackerel is being taken further north or much wider than usual.

Doggie mackerel start coming in some numbers during March and slowly build to a peak around June and then taper off near the end of the year, greys do much the same peaking almost straight away and tapering off just a bit earlier. Spotted mackerel have small runs in April but they come back in quantity later in the year. It could be some time before any of the big pelagics come through the bay in any numbers and let’s hope they don’t bypass us altogether.

Barramundi and king salmon are around, but it is difficult to find an easy spot to fish for them under the recent conditions. The bottom end of the river delta in the Port Alma and down the Narrows has been the most productive. When the wind drops you can’t beat the wharf where big barra and black jewfish hang among the big pylons. The serious structure makes it very difficult to use lures without losing a few so heavy leader is the pick to do the job.

Big live baits under the wharf almost guarantee mayhem. When you actually land the first fish, you get the feeling that this is what you go fishing for. There are never any small barramundi or much else around the pylons because they probably get eaten quite quickly. It is a rare occasion you won’t get smacked here. There is also the chance of a fingermark or mangrove jack if barramundi and jew don’t grab your bait.

Recent events have lead some of the people involved in fish restocking of The Fitzroy River to question and possibly reconsider any future stocking of the river. The barramundi are being hit hard by the professional effort and plundered by a small minority of netters not playing the game fairly under the intention of the Fisheries Act in regard to fish taken for immediate family use, not for distribution or sale. It is heartbreaking to see hard work not helping the recreational sector it was designed for, while lining the pockets of a few who only take, take, take without giving anything back.

On a positive note, small mouth nannygai (also known as red or pink jew) have been relatively unaffected by the extra fresh and decent captures are being made at lots of the local reefs and wrecks. They come into the bay as far as Iron Pot and Findlay’s and right down to Liza Jane. Flat, The Rama, The Pinnacles and Liza Jane have improved steadily and giving the smaller boat crowd who would normally chase mackerel a shot at a good feed.

Grunter are another fish revelling in the abnormal environment. Just before the moon to just after, the catches of grunter have surprised plenty of anglers when a silver fish appears out of the gloom. The best catches of grunter are usually found away from the bigger structures, in the trenches created by the prevailing currents where the pinks range right up the pinnacle structures.

Both nannies and grunter take much the same baits. Thick plastics can get particularly quick results. My best catches on plastics were on a Storm hardihead imitation that looks more like a fish than a real hardy does. This little plastic has nailed a fair variety of species in the deeper water.

When chasing grunter and nannygai the standard running ball over the hook or the snapper rig both work well on any given day. You also tend to avoid snagging the reef lumps more often than not. Pilchards, squid, flesh strip baits, prawns and herring all rate as good dead baits and if you can get and keep any of these alive all the better.

Prawns and muddies have grown well in the nutrient rich flows of late and there have been no complaints from the locals in that department. The only trouble with the crabbing has been making sure you have lots of rope and even a brick or two to help keep the pot in the same place you left it. The better catches of crab have been in the channels as opposed to the back of the creeks prior to the flush. Statue Bay, Solero, Greenslopes, Coorooman Creek and the Causeway are the prawn hotspots while the river hasn’t even been an option. Low tide is best in the creeks and up to high is the best time for prawning Statue Bay. From now on when you are heading down past the harbour, have the cast net in the car and keep an eye out for the old fellows parked in the Statue Bay car park as a sure sign that the prawns are there.

The last few months I have mentioned the fish tagged in the green zones in an effort organized by David Williamson from James Cook University, about 6,000 in all. To reap the benefits of this work we need follow up information. This is the easy part because any time you catch a tagged fish you can report the recaptured fish to Infofish on 1800 077 001 even if you keep the fish it doesn’t matter. This data will be used to help our cause and make sure we can still catch fish in time to come.

Over the years we have looked forward to having a coldie on the way home at the Wreck Bar after a long trip out wide or even a successful catch around the islands. That appears to have changed dramatically with the closure of the resort and many of the services to the islands. There is only a handful of businesses left operating on the island. Gerry from Island Pizza has stepped in and being the only licensed premises on Keppel he will stay open along with The Rainbow Hut and The Shell House for refreshments for the family as long as they get support. As locals we can do our bit, and as I said there is nowhere else to have a cold beer (or Bourbon) on Great Keppel and we really need to keep them from going down the spout, leaving the island in even worse shape, where we all lose out.

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