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Paddling the piles
  |  First Published: June 2006



Roughly 25km north of the centre of Brisbane, the Houghton Highway Bridge provides about 500 fish attracting devices right at Brisbane’s doorstep. The 3km long bridge spans the Pine River and Hayes Inlet from Brighton to Clontarf.

The large concrete piles that support the bridge are home to algae, molluscs, barnacles and other small creatures that fish love to feed on. As the water flows past the piles they provide excellent cover that larger predators, such as bream, lie in to wait for small morsels that pass by with the tide. This location is an ideal spot to try for hard fighting bream that congregate around the river mouths during the cooler months in SEQ.

The Houghton Highway is a vehicle only bridge, so it isn’t as heavily fished as the redundant Hornibrook Highway Bridge. Land-based anglers can fish the full length of the Hornibrook Highway Bridge with lines or cast nets and drop crab dillies over the side. The Houghton Highway covers mostly shallow sandflats so a kayak is the best craft to use when fishing the piles and chasing bream when the tide is flowing.

Small lures do work

I have had the most success using small hard-bodied lures including models such as MicroMin, SX40, and Mini Micro Mullet. All the colours that I have tried so far have worked with good numbers of fish falling to natural bait-like colours as well as black, brown, and pink. I also believe that lure placement is more important than the lure’s colour around these bridge piles.

Position, position, position

When looking for the best fish holding real estate under the bridge I tuck myself right in amongst the four gaps between each set of piles and within a metre semicircle of the last downstream pile of each set.

Fishing the last pile is easy. You just have to stand off and a bit to the side about 5-10m downstream so that you can put an angled cast beyond the pile and work the lure back past it (see kayak Y in diagram). The good thing about this method is that when you hook a fish it’s easy enough to let the kayak drift with the current as you pull the fish away from the pile. For this reason I always try a few casts around this particular pile position before moving in closer to work the other piles in a set of five.

Fishing in close to the upstream piles, however, is not as easy and I have found the best way to do this is to nose right in behind the downstream pile (see kayak X in the diagram) where the lower pressure of the water flow actually helps you maintain position, but you will still need to paddle to stay straight so the kayak’s nose isn’t damaged on the concrete.

Once in position, the cast needs to go just past the farthest pile (the fifth) and then the lure can be retrieved by manoeuvring the rod tip to keep it in close and even bumping along the piles on the way through. A reasonably fast retrieve is necessary to keep ahead of the tide and if I get a hit but don’t connect I pause briefly and then start retrieving again.

Once hooked up however, it then becomes a matter of quickly getting the fish away from the piles because, if it darts between them, you can usually say goodbye to the fish as well as an expensive lure. With larger specimens I often find the kayak being pulled towards the piles and I have to hold the paddle in one hand or push away while guiding the fish out with rod in the other hand. I have been using 4lb Fireline with 12lb leader and this works okay for 25-32cm bream. If the occasional larger fish does cause problems and a few bust offs occur then try upgrading your line.

Fish the tides

The tides are even more important with this location as sandbanks completely surround many of the piles at low tide. The best times to fish are from half the run-in to the top of the tide and back down to halfway out. I usually fish the Pine River end of the highway on the flood tide. I start by working the piles near the main channel and move along towards the shore until I find where the fish are feeding. On a very high tide it is sometimes necessary to go right into pile sets two to six while at half tide or lower bream will often be found from pile sets 20 back to the channel. On an ebbing tide I start fishing in shallow water near the Brighton end of the bridge and work back along the sets of piles until I find water deep enough to hold fish.

Where you launch is also related to the tides and Brighton Park is a good option if fishing the top part of the tide. If you are fishing the run out Dohles Rocks is a better launching choice because it doesn’t have to carry your kayak over Brighton’s vast sandbanks.

It’s a good idea to check out the terrain under the bridge at low tide so you know what you’ll be fishing in when the tide rises.

Conserve the stocks

This is an ideal spot for kayak fishers to get onto bream without lots of powerboats or bridge-based anglers catching all the fish.

I only occasionally keep a few medium-sized fish for a feed so that others can also enjoy fishing this location in the future. I always release any littlies under 26cm because the fillets end up too small for a decent meal and I don’t like keeping any really big fish because they take so long to grow.

One thing about fishing for pile bream from a kayak is that time flies. You have to keep the kayak in the right position while casting, land and release fish, avoid hooking the occasional bit of bridge superstructure and check over your shoulder for the wake every time you hear a powerboat go past, before you know it three or four hours have passed and it’s time to head in. It is, however, a great way to learn how to handle your equipment and enjoy the kayak fishing experience while keeping fit at the same time.

So next time you are using the Houghton Highway to travel somewhere else to launch your kayak, why not consider having a poke around under the bridge? You might be surprised by what fishing action you can find beneath a major highway so close to a big city!

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