Beach yourself for August
  |  First Published: August 2008

The beach is often overlooked as one of Mackay’s rich fishing resources, especially throughout the cooler months. Late winter coming into early spring, our beaches have much to offer both the local and visiting anglers.

Mackay’s beaches are typically very flat and quite different to the well-formed structured beaches of the more southern parts of Queensland and further south. At first glance this flatter type of beach formation can be a bit off putting for the visitor, but with a little guidance, lateral thinking and some luck, anyone can score a feed or two from these beaches.

In August there are only two weather conditions: dead flat calm, or blowing 15-knots plus from the south/southeast. The former makes life easier in the selection of a beach for fishing, while the latter forces us look for beaches with some protection from the wind.

In the following I will take a look at Mackay area beaches, extending from the Sarina Beach/Inlet to St Helens beaches about 45 minutes drive north of Mackay. All these beaches yield fish of a few common varieties and all are readily accessible. For the visitor, I always recommend a visit to any of our excellent tackle stores for some up to the minute local information and directions.

Our flat beaches are designed to cater for the large tidal variations, up to 6m plus, and so it is not advisable to drive out onto the beach and risk getting stuck. Park the car and get walking, as there can sometimes be a walk of up to 2km to get to the water at low tide. Fortunately, most of the beaches are easy walking, and the best results are usually had on the making tide and top of the tide, so it is not necessary to be there at dead low tide.

Due to the flatness of the shore, the tide comes in quite quickly and it is easy to be cut off so keep an eye on the water behind you as you fish. Be mindful that large rays, and similar, work up with the tide and in shallow water, so keep your eyes open and your wits about you.

Most beaches have at least some yabby beds below the high tide level and the holes are a dead give away. A yabby pump, some exercise and a cane creel will give enough bait to last for a session. The cane creels are great as they can be continuously dipped into the water to keep the bait fresh. At the end of your session, release any unused bait back into the water.

Worms and pipis can be found on the beaches but are fairly hard work to find, as they are not in big numbers. If you want to use worms, the local tackle stores sell frozen beach worms, but they are not as good as fresh ones. Normal garden worms and bloodworms can be used as well with good results. Small strips of squid, cut to worm shapes are also useful, as are prawns and small whitebait. But for all round use, fresh yabbies and worms are top baits.

The ideal gear to use would be a light spin rod or sidecast outfit rigged with a small running sinker above a light trace, about 300mm long, and finishing with a long shank whiting hook. A piece of red tubing just above the hook will attract fish and also give some protection to the line just above the hook. Hat, sunnies, fish bag and bait creel, and you are ready to roll.

Experienced anglers will have guessed from the bait selection, that the targeted species on the beach is whiting and flathead, but there are a few others that can make up a mixed bag or just provide some fun.

Small dart commonly shoot along the more surf type beaches, such as between the harbour and the river mouth, and Lamberts beach. And if they are small, bled and kept cool they are quite tasty. There are often steelbacks (like a chopper tailer) and small queenfish mixed in with the dart, and all will readily take yabbies, squid strips or worm baits.

Larger species that are likely to be encountered include golden trevally, and snub-nosed dart (aka oyster crackers). And both will come into surprisingly shallow water to feed. They chase pipis, yabbies and small fish, like juvenile whiting, so will often be caught amongst the whiting, but usually in slightly deeper water. Both of these are good eating and will give a generous return of flesh, so keep just one or two.

Offbeat ‘other’ species that are often caught on the beaches include various rays, shovel nose sharks, garfish, mullet and long toms. Most of these are regarded as nuisance species, but the smaller shovellies and gar are good eating if they are bled and kept cool.

Most anglers know whiting are what I term ‘cruisers or roamers’ as they move with the tide looking for food in the shallows. Flathead and dart are generally not far behind them so it pays to keep on the move to stay in contact with the fish. One way to achieve this is to walk out past the incoming tidal water and fish back towards the shore, you will often find whiting milling around your legs as they move inshore.

Due to the presence of extensive sand flats, it is a good idea to identify small gutters that run in towards the beach and work these areas, as they are usually the first places to get the incoming tidal water. The water is usually marginally deeper in these spots, so perhaps the fish feel ‘safer’ rather than just out cruising the flats. This deeper water may often be only 200mm or so deeper than the flats but it can make a big difference to your results, particularly if they have yabby beds in them.

It is important to keep moving around until you locate the fish, and then stay with them as they move shorewards. Mackay has a good population of genuine ‘elbow-slapper’ whiting and only a few are needed to get a feed. Practice restraint and there will be plenty left for next time.

So far I have concentrated on bait fishing along the beaches, but savvy anglers will have already worked out that there is a few targets for the lure or fly fisher. Ultra long casts are not necessary so the fly anglers biggest bugbear is the wind, the bloody wind that lately does not seem to have dropped under 15-knots!

The most likely targets for the lure/fly angler include flathead, dart, steelbacks, queenfish, trevally, oyster crackers, and long toms. Occasionally a small mackerel or two will come into range of the beach angler, usually at high tide with a northerly wind. Whiting will take small plastics and flies, but I have no experience with them on that gear.

Lures that will be successful include small shinies, like pegron spoons and similar, that are easy to cast, give off good flash and have a strong action. Soft plastic choices are almost endless, but I would stick to small worms or worm sections, Gulp 2” Mini Grub, Storm Twitching nippers, and Mister Twister single and double tail styles, as a basic beach kit that can be used elsewhere, even in freshwater. In the shad styles, I suggest the likes of the 3” Storm swim baits and similar offerings.

The fly angler can use either a floating or intermediate line and I suggest a six or seven weight outfit would work well. The water depth is not great so sinking lines are not necessary. Suitable flies would include the Crazy Charlies and small Clousers tied in various colours but with a strand or two of Krystal flash, Polar flash or similar, added. I suggest keeping the colours fairly neutral as most bait along a beach are very lightly coloured to provide them with some camouflage from predators, so it makes sense to try to duplicate that aspect with flies or lures.

An aspect often forgotten along our beaches is that most have rocky headlands at the ends and the interface between sand and rock is a top place to chase fish. Here all sorts of surprises can turn up from bream to barra and anything in between.

One really top table fish that can be caught here is the bluey, or tuskfish to give it the correct name. These fish are great ‘knock-down-drag-’em-out’ style fighters and are not usually targeted with anything resembling light gear, as they invariably head straight for the rocks on hook up.

Blueys will move right into very shallow water on the making tide and fresh large prawns or small crabs are top baits for them. They are hard enough to land out of a boat but when shore based the angler is really at a disadvantage, as invariably the fish has to be hauled in over rock studded sand giving them plenty of opportunities for a bust off.

Most of these fish are of the smaller size, but some mates who regularly snorkel around these headlands and beach areas tell me they often see blueys in the 4-5kg range quite close to shore, and certainly within casting distance at high tide.

Some beaches end at creek mouths and these spots are great fish junctions, which can provide spectacular sport for a large variety of species. Places, like the mouth of Reliance Creek, involve a fair walk along the beach but they are pleasant places to fish and can be hot on both flood and run out tides.

At Reliance Creek in particular, there is a small side creek that runs parallel to the beach and forms a distinct sand spit extending out into Reliance Creek proper. Here there are mangroves within casting distance and the deeper water on the corner can be a great little spot for anything from queenfish and trevally to barra and jacks.

There are plenty of choices available for the beach or shore based anglers around our piece of paradise. The only question left is, when are you heading out there to pick up on some great fishing in a clean peaceful environment?

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