Softening on Plastics
  |  First Published: December 2008

I have a confession – I like bait. Let me clarify that. It doesn’t mean I hang out for a squid sanga, it’s just that I prefer to fish with live or dead bait. The whole soft plastic thing really hasn’t grabbed me – yet.

The idea of casting over and over and over again has me perplexed. If I don’t catch anything with bait, I only have to make a cup of coffee or get out my salad roll and sure enough, my rods, just at that very moment, go crazy. It always happens. However, whilst out in the estuaries I gave it one last try.

In the Estuaries

It was a quiet weekend and my boat was still in for repairs so I purchased myself some 3” Berkley Gulp smelt minnows, some 3oz heads and headed down to Pikes Crossing.

Pikes Crossing is a small causeway on the way to Awoonga Dam. It is a tributary of the Boyne River but getting to the water isn’t always easy as the bush along the bank is very thick. The little track I found was only wide enough for a goat but it did meander to the water and an obvious popular swimming hole.

All the trees that could support any weight had thick, knotted ropes hanging from them and you could easily visualise joyous shouts as young kids swing their way into the water. Perhaps if I was 40 years younger I might have left my rod on the bank and had a swing out myself. And for that reason, I bent back the barbs on my jighead hooks – I wasn’t going to leave any dangerous hardware behind at this beautiful location.

Working soft plastics is still new to me, so I flicked my Gulp minnow out mid creek, letting sink almost to the bottom. Advice I have received was that retrieve should be just slow enough for the tail to work, so I jerked the lure slowly to the surface and let it drift down again. I was prepared to put in the yards and experiment with all types of retrieves, jerks and flicks.

I remember reading a hint in a previous QFM article about starting out with plastics. You can’t fish soft plastics and bait together so I didn’t even bring bait. In the past I have packed the plastics up too early only to fall back to the old faithful prawn, squid or whatever. But this time I was going to really make a go of the plastics.

On the second flick, I thought I felt a nudge, which sharpened my senses and put me at DefCon 2. It was on my fourth flick that the hit came with such ferocity that my rod nearly came loose. This fish felt like a horse and it jumped like a barra.

While it was looping in the air, I saw that it was a little 50cm tarpon. It took me by surprise. Tarpon are not good table fish as thousands of tiny bones pretty much make them inedible but their fighting prowess is considered legendary for estuary fish. What a buzz this battle proved to be.

I have a newly gained respect for soft plastics and will continue to develop my skills.

On the Reef

With the summer changing of the guard, the big fish are coming out to play. Gladstone reef areas are giving out some thumpers. Sweetlip and some solid red emperors have been caught from the reef around North West Island. North West has been the place to be for quite some time and seems to giving up consistent catches.

Reports from the shoals have been fairly slow with only small catches on the register. For the coming month I would be targeting the shallower areas of the shoals for trout and sweetlip.

It is also a good time to leave a floater out the back of the boat, perhaps an unweighted pilchard on a gang hook. This has been known to entice a mackerel or two but I have also caught some red throat sweetlip that have risen to the bait.

In the Harbour

Night fishing around the closer Gladstone islands is proving productive and should continue to do so during the summer months. Some quality fingermark and cod have been caught recently around Quoin, Turtle and Tide.

Occasionally taken on lures, fingermark are best targeted with bait. Bottom structure is essential to hold these fish and the deeper water is preferred. Tide Island is a perfect place to target as it has several large holes that are home to some of these brutes.

This, of course, dictates fairly heavy tackle, strong leaders, sharp 6/0 hooks and fresh fish or large prawn baits. Either a running sinker or dropper rig gets the job done well. The fish should be allowed to mouth the bait and take it before striking hard to set the hook in their solid bony mouth.

The Gut is an area between Curtis and Quoin Island, and just inside the port marker is a large hole where eddies form on both tides. The water bolts past this spot but if you anchor your boat out of the flow you can usually pick up some good cod. However, there is really only enough room for a small boat, so it is first in, first served.

The nearby Pelican Banks dry out to a large sand bank during low tides but on high tides the edges of the banks are worth flicking yabbies for whiting, bream and flathead. If you are working this area be aware that the tide goes out quickly and it is not unusual to see a boat sitting on the sand until the water returns. Been there – done that!

A Dam Fishy Tale

Doug and Andrew Harwood were just wandering around some shallow bays and points at Monduran Dam, watching as many as half a dozen barra, all about the same size, finning in the weeds, trying to warm up after the cold winter. Some of these fish were almost close enough to touch with rods and the boys were casting lures at them, but none of the barra were interested.

They were on one side of a small point, when, just around the other side, they heard what they thought was a bit of action. Doug moved the boat under electric power to see the strangest of sights. White water was thrown up literally feet into the air, like revving a small outboard just under the surface. It was a barra.

Andrew realised that a barra had beached itself. They moved straight to it and grounded the boat and found a 1.25m+ fish about a third out of the water. Andrew measured the barra, posed for a quick shot and promptly took her back into the water to try to revive her. They walked and swam the fish back to the boat and then used the boat to swim her some more.

After several minutes of flushing water through her gills, Andrew was very relieved to feel some biting down and watched some kicks. The fish swam off upright with a lot of hope for its continued survival.

Many thanks to all QFM readers for their feedback, emails, photos and reports. Best wishes for the festive season and may Santa recognise and reward you for all the good things you have done this year.

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