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Small boats, fast fish
  |  First Published: December 2005



When the weather gods allow, small boat owners can get into some great inshore pelagic action.

At certain times of the year, stable weather conditions create at least a couple of ‘glassed out’ days each week. In southeast Queensland, the better weather usually occurs in autumn and winter. Early summer is also a favourable time, with the chance of some light northerlies. Keep an eye on the weather patterns and be ready to go on short notice. These good days usually come between two high-pressure systems or, if you’re really lucky, when your area is located right at the centre of the system.

Early morning is the best time because the wind doesn’t usually pick up until lunchtime. This can save a wet ride home, as small boats generally can’t cover lots of water quickly. Learn to read conditions at the ramp, because weather can change rapidly at sea and rough water and a big swell can be very dangerous for small boats.

Deepwater action
Casting

A recent day out at a local river mouth was a perfect example of taking advantage of ideal conditions. We had planned to target bream and flathead in the Burnett River mouth, but a survey of the shipping leads saw a frenzy of surface activity as predators bailed a bait school up to the surface. We left the sanctuary of the river mouth (with the required safety gear) and manoeuvred toward an actively feeding school of fish.

We cut the outboard about 20m upwind of a school and cast out a pair of small slugs. I had attached a 35g Bumpa Bar while my mate had tied on a nondescript slug, both of which landed right in the strike zone. We gave a short pause before commencing a flat-out retrieve, and both of us hooked up almost immediately. Line peeled off in opposite directions as each fish fought for freedom. After torrid battles both fish were landed: a 6kg mack tuna and a 5kg turrum. They had been feeding on a massive school of small anchovies, with the turrum hanging deeper while the tuna tore the surface to shreds. After a quick photo we let the fish go to harass the bait schools once again.

We saw another patch of fish just a couple of hundred metres away, and a quick spurt of the outboard saw us on the fringe of another feeding school. We got another double hook-up, this time on a pair of mack tuna. Fighting a tuna is like pulling a leash on a rottweiler: the harder you strain, the more it pulls. Heavier lines allow you to land these fish reasonably quickly and release them in much better condition. Light line might be sufficient for catch and release in the estuaries, but if you plan to release bigger fish in the best possible condition you’ll need 0-15kg mono or braid.

Over the next couple of hours, we brought 15 tuna and a half a dozen turrum to the boat before the swell picked up to the point where it became uncomfortable.

Trolling

Although the action was fast and furious, it was annoying to see fish go down as boats tried to troll straight through actively feeding schools. More often than not, this resulted in the fish becoming very cagey, surfacing only intermittently before popping up hundreds of metres away. This was especially frustrating when you located a patch of fish for yourself only to have it dispersed as a boat raced straight through the middle.

If you are trolling lures you will have much more success working the edges of a school than ploughing through the centre. When casting, identify which way the fish are moving so you can position your boat upwind of the school. By locating your own group of fish you will experience more success without raising the ire of your fellow anglers.

Finding Structure

When fish are feeding actively on the surface, it’s easy to know where to fish. However, when the fish are deeper or surfacing intermittently, they can often be found close to some form of structure. Because the Burnett River mouth is used frequently by ships loading at the bulk sugar terminal, it is quite deep. The shipping leads border the channel as it works its way out to sea, and the pylons – often surrounded by schools of baitfish – are a good place to start fishing. A show of bait on the sounder is a fairly reliable sign that pelagics are nearby. The drop-offs either side are not always pronounced, but these also attract bait and predators. When the fish are in close, the end of the northern retaining wall and the patch of rock halfway along the northern side of the wall are ideal places to target on a peaking tide.

Tackle

For this style of fishing you’ll need a spin/threadline fibreglass or graphite rod in the 6-10kg class to allow you to cast light to medium weight lures considerable distances. This is important when fish are flighty or schools are moving quickly. A casting distance of 50m+ can be achieved with 10kg monofilament or 15kg braid or gelspun line.

Braided and gelspun lines have the advantage of allowing the angler to fish a slightly heavier line class while increasing line capacities over equivalent monofilament lines. However, you will need a lighter drag to prevent pulled hooks.

A heavy mono leader promotes more hook-ups and a superior lure action, and is therefore preferable to wire. Drags need to be smooth, as a jerky drag can result in bust-offs when big fish put on a sudden burst of speed. Strong treble hooks in the size 2 to 1/0 range will increase hook-up rates and won’t bend out over prolonged fights.

Try something new

This type of fishing can be experienced up and down the Queensland coast, and is not restricted to the big, expensive boats. Other species that are regularly encountered are school, spotty and Spanish mackerel, bonito, longtail tuna and various trevally species. Most of the action occurs from spring to autumn in southern Queensland, while further north the peak period is in the winter months.

So when the weather gods smile, just make sure you are there to reap the rewards! – John Loeskow

FACT BOX

Which lures?

A number of lures are effective for this type of high-speed spinning. On those days when there is a mixture of baitfish and hungry predators, most offerings will be readily accepted. But when there are big schools of a particular bait species, you’ll need to more closely match both the size and profile of the lure.

Slim profile slugs like Raiders are good when small baitfish are around, as are the many narrow, shiny metals on the market. Wider, kinked lures, often called ‘action’ lures, work at both fast and slow speeds and are more effective if the fish are hitting the lure on the drop. The Aussie-designed Bumpa Bar range of lures catch a huge variety of species and come in many sizes.

By having a good supply of sizes and profiles, you will be prepared for any situation that may arise.

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