Affordable Flats Fun
  |  First Published: December 2008

Hervey Bay is renowned for its exciting flats fishing, putting it on the map as an exclusive fishery that produces the likes of black marlin and golden trevally.

be realistic

Thousands of tourists and sportfishers flock to the bay during the warmer months of the year, in search of some outstanding fishing. However, many of them are left with a budget dilemma, as it’s not exactly cheap to run a boat 60km+ up and back to Roonies Point every day to chase elusive pelagics. You may get lucky, like my young mate James Otto who caught 100lb+ black marlin, which was sight cast to in less than 2m of water on a 9wt fly rod, but on the other hand you may not. I’m not saying the run shouldn’t be made, I’m just saying there is an amazing fishery right on the bay’s doorstep.

While I‘ve seen some spectacular captures in the bay’s top end, there is a huge variety of species available to almost anyone’s budget barrier at the bay’s southern end.

The Go-to Species

The forgotten species are the so-called bread and butter fish. The fish that generations of anglers have taught their kids how to catch, such as yellowfin bream and dusky flathead. There are large number of species that are in range and shelter of the western side of Fraser Island.

The pure mass of dense rainforest and scattered islands provide the waters of Hervey Bay with almost picture perfect cover for even the smallest of tinnies. What’s more, this area is within reach of the tightest of budgets concerning the fuel bill.

Flathead and bream are usually the go-to species for the advancing angler, especially when experimenting with lures and soft plastics for the first time. The success rate amongst these species with artificial baits has been outstanding, and the bay is no exception.

Sight Fishing

The bay’s yabby beds, mangrove roots and vast sand flats hold some of the most exciting sight fishing. Watching a massive lizard engulf your plastic as you hop it past her nose, or a school of bream appear out of nowhere shouldering one another out of the way to eat a surface popper, can make just about anybody’s knees wobble. Not to mention the attraction of a tailing golden trevally or hardihead-crunching queenfish that always keep you trembling, with a fly rod in one hand and a small spin stick in the other, the options are endless at the southern end of the bay.

When trying to locate fish pay attention to tidal flow and baitfish migration when fishing the mangrove fringe, as small eddies created by forward trees seem to hold bait, and where there’s bait there’s predators. Overhanging branches provide great cover for bream and jacks, whilst small ridges and gutters with fast flowing water give cover to flathead.

When targeting queenfish, follow the bait trail to a spill over or sand bar where the water runs fast to a drop-off. Try to fish these areas when tidal flow is at a peak, as queenies can be spotted patrolling the surface of these areas.

While polarising for golden trevally, look for erratic moving shadows on the vast yabby beds. Don’t be surprised to see these fish hanging off the back of a ray or a shovelnose; they are prone to school with other species.

A Session with James

My mate James and myself set out in our 4.5m bluefin at around 8.30am, where it was about a 15 minute run to our stomping grounds. It was a making tide with the top being at about 11.30am. As we neared the flats, a 10-15 knot east/northeasterly breeze presented itself.

Our first plan of the morning was to chase a few flatties as they moved up onto the flat in search of the new delicacies that awaited them from the early morning low. We weren’t long under electric power when the first beast of a lizard lay in ambush in our view, unbeknownst of our presence.

James was on strike on the front deck, and his cast could not have been better. His plastic hopped perfectly across the sandy bottom swimming freely after each bounce, like a scurrying baitfish. About 3ft from the big girl’s nose, she made her move, engulfing the plastic with one swift movement followed by an erratic headshake caused from our young angler’s quick but efficient striking motion. After a few short bursts, with outstanding power, the fish was landed in our barra sized Environet, which suddenly seemed small with an 85cm dusky in the curve. This was to be the first of three flathead landed in a 15 minute timeframe, with all being sent on their merry way.

Insane Surface Tactics

After drifting the mangrove edges, the presence of some rather large bream had caught our eye. Selecting a small walk bait style of surface lure worked a treat, as its length was optimum to that of the hardiheads that were shoaling along the mangrove fringe.

Making short but accurate casts towards the edge, getting the lure under branches if possible, seemed to have the best result of getting their attention. Slow, but erratic, style of the walk-the-dog retrieve had the best bite result, proving time and time again a solid hook-up.

This was exhilarating fishing as it was borderline at times, with fish peeling line off quickly and heading for the safety of the mangrove roots. With a little help from the Minn Kota most fish were steered clear back to open water.

I had my doubts when a 4kg queenfish nabbed my lure, luckily for me, it headed for open water and I was thrilled to have the fish landed. As the tide neared its peak, and some 15 bream later, the pelagic brigade had entered the flat in full force.

Pelagic Fun

The decision was made and the deck was cleared for some flyfishing. It didn’t take me long to spot a school of five tailing golden trevally around the 4-5kg bracket. These mid-range fish are real monsters on a fly or lure, and they almost fight each other over the presentation. The bite was aggressive and the fight was tough, it was a nice feeling to have landed my first golden on fly for the season, especially in September.

After that I retired myself to Skipper and let James take front deck position. I was glad to see his 4lb thread line outfit come tight with about an 8kg golden, unfortunately for James the fish made a short bust around the electric motor, dislodging the hook at the same time.

It wasn’t long before he was hooked up again, and we successfully landed a total of six queenfish and three golden trevally for the day. The tide eventually got the better of us and we were forced off the flat by the lack of water.

Love for the Bay

It was now 2.30pm so we decided to make the 15 minute run home as tomorrow was another day. We had a whole summer of pelagics to battle with, and these bread and butter species, well, they’re always here. Days like this make you appreciate where you live, and when you can come home from work and duck out in the boat for an afternoon session of sportsfishing, or spend a day on the water with the family, or a good mate, you learn to love the bay and the variety of species it holds. – Justin Nye


Gear Box

Bream: 1000 Shimano Stradic on a 7ft Pflueger Trion 1-3kg graphite rod fitted with 2lb Berkley Fireline Crystal and a 7lb Nitlon fluorocarbon leader.

Queenfish and Trevally: 6000 Shimano Stradic on a 7ft Wilson LCS Pelagic Spin fitted with 30lb Nitlon PE braid and 30lb Penn 10x leader material.

Flathead: 2500 Daiwa Ondine on a 7ft Shimano Raider Bream Specialist with 6lb Berkley Fireline and 10lb Penn 10x leader material.

Lures: 5” Snapback Terminators in any colour, Red Pepper Micro Walk baits


Precious Handling: FLATHEAD

When handling female flathead, especially during the spawning season, it is important to wear gloves or wet your hands thoroughly before touching them. An Environet or similar is a good idea if they are to be brought onboard, as the sustainability of such a great species is important. The less damage to occur to their precious slime coating is an important aspect to think about when photographing and handling fish.

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