You have to love the months with long weekends. It gives fishers a chance to travel further a field to reefs or, if you are lucky enough, to jump on a charter boat. Of course, others make use of the long weekends to revisit the many Gladstone boating, camping and fishing locations, including The Oaks, Yellow Patch and Pancake Creek.
The shoals are on fire at the moment with big fish hitting lines everywhere. Big parrotfish are finding their way into iceboxes from reefs at 12 Mile reefs. Red throat sweetlip are being pulled from Rock Cod shoals and coral trout are being hauled aboard from Masthead.
Cobia and nannygai are featuring on the catch reports from the northern side of Hummocky Island. The size and quality of these beasts makes up for their lack in quantity. They are not being caught in any great numbers but you definitely know when they are hooked.
Seal Rocks are currently housing great cod and, on the smaller tides and small seas of this month, the eastern shelf of the rock formation is a good spot to throw out a live herring or poddy mullet.
Reports show that big crabs are coming to pots from Graham Creek and its tributary with old fish frames doing the trick. My wife Bev pulled in a great buck from our pots near the old jetty in Rawbelle Creek. We threw out some pots in Pacific Creek but only scored jennies.
The creeks around Yellow Patch have also given up good crabs, but the talk at the moment is of the huge whiting catches from the beaches of Yellow Patch and Pancake.
A couple of queenfish are hitting lines on a rising tide off the northern tip of Facing Island with the odd mackerel hitting trolled lines on the ocean side of Facing around Sable Chief Rocks.
I was lucky enough to jump aboard Lady N, the 60ft custom built flagship of Iluka Charters. Peter and Lee are the owners of this luxury vessel that boasts full walkaround access, three cabins, eight berths, two toilets and showers, air-conditioning, a lounge bar and dining saloon.
The Lady N provided all the gear, and not just any gear – baitcasters included Shimano TLD25 and 30, and Penn GT300, and the eggbeaters included Penn gear all threaded with 15kg braid. We could also choose our own size of chemically sharpened hooks and big circle hooks. Gear failure was certainly not going to be the cause of fish getting away!
I would describe the boat as a 60ft floating fishing missile. We loaded up and headed out from Gladstone Harbour on Friday night about 9pm for a long weekend of fishing fantasy.
After motoring at about a speed of 10-knots we arrived at Douglas shoals. These shoals are about 50nm from Gladstone’s northern entrance. It was about 3am when we anchored up and the ocean was as flat as a tack.
These shoals are about half the size of Rock Cod Shoals but they are generally a little deeper. The shallow areas are famous for good quality sweetlip, and the deeper areas on the southeastern side can be 30-40m deep and will produce huge red emperors.
The moon was in the last quadrant so it was quite dark when we anchored up in the shallower areas in about 12m of water and it wasn’t long before we were pulling up hussar, cod, coral trout and parrotfish. We had our choice of squid and pilchards for start up bait, and soon enough a couple of hefty sweetlip were also brought to the boat. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together!
Skipper Peter is relatively new to the Gladstone charter scene, having originally set up base in Iluka. He makes no secret of the fact that he loves the Gladstone reefs and, despite the short time he has been here, he has found some pretty useful spots and really knows his way around these reefs.
As the sun started to hit the horizon, the fishing closed down and we seemed to bring in lots of collared sea bream, or iodine bream as they are commonly called. There are many who screw their nose up at these fish, but I actually don’t mind the bigger species of 30cm on the barbie. They are quite good and if cooked fresh, they make more than respectable table fish. Today however, they were bait – and rightly so. I wouldn’t want these to count in our bag tally, especially as we had bigger and more popular fish on our minds.
As the fishing temporarily closed down it was time for a scrumptious cooked breakfast to build up our reserves. Lee put on a great spread and we gathered around the breakfast table to be pampered. While we were feeding our faces, Peter repositioned the boat for our post-breakfast fishing foray in about 18m of water. Even though there were ten of us aboard Lady N and when every rod was in the water, there was never a time when we were crowded.
We hit the water again after breakfast and the big hook-ups continued throughout the morning and from all fishing stations on the boat. Hussar, red throat, cod, blue bone, red emperor, coral trout and sweetlip all found their way into the boat. We were in fishing heaven!
We dozed, ate and fished all day and motored towards North West Island for our night anchorage. North West is the largest coral cay of the Capricorn Group. It is situated some 35nm northeast of Gladstone and, while the whole area is a fishing wonderland, it is a protected night anchorages.
Being pampered is what makes charter trips special and Peter and Lee put us on the fish and kept the food on the table and the drinks cold. Peter and Lee both had a fish with us and joined in the camaraderie of the group.
As we anchored over the reef for the night we left a few rods in the water while we ate.
Nothing much was hitting the lines during the evening and as we wound in the rods, we found one was offering a fair bit of weight. There was no struggle, so we were curious about the strange weight making its way to the boat. Then we saw a huge Spanish mackerel come to the surface, we all rushed to the back of the boat to watch this monster come aboard.
The head was brought to the surface but there wasn’t much more. One big shark bite mark had cleaned up everything behind the shoulder. The mackerel would have been huge so we couldn’t work out why we didn’t here the rod scream out as the mackerel ran. Given that the hook was only a small 6/0 hook on monofilament, it was just as well that a big battle didn’t ensue as the tackle was really not up to the task. We were still able to get enough fillets for a good snack and seafood chowder from the mackerel that remained.
We motored home on Monday and after spending a fabulous time aboard Lady N, we split the catch when we were back in the marina. Our time aboard Lady N was brilliant and I can highly recommend this charter to anyone. Check out their advertisement in the magazine for details.Reads: 3665