AFTER an enjoyable day swimming, fishing and wildlife spotting, imagine yourself sitting back at camp sipping a cold beverage in the shade of the towering sand hills, with an uninterrupted view of Fraser Island’s ocean beach. It’s pretty hard to take!
I recently returned from a week’s camping and fishing on this magnificent island with my girlfriend May, and it was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable trips I’ve had in a long time. From day one we were blessed with light crowds, magic weather and favourable fishing conditions.
Day one involved the drive up and finding a camp site. We wanted a grassy area with a few trees for shade just behind the fore-dunes. It had to be far enough away from the beach landing areas for light planes to avoid noise, yet still close enough to facilities. Most importantly, it had to be on a good beach gutter!
We finally settled on a spot in the Cathedrals area, just north of the Pinnacles. As the week progressed this proved to be a great spot. Being centrally located on the island, we were able to do day trips south to the lakes and resorts and north to the headlands. Ice, bread, milk and toilets were easily accessible at the Cathedrals, and we had access to showers and freshwater only a short drive north to Dundabara. All in all, beach camping proved to be a fantastic option in the perfect weather conditions we experienced.
Each day started with a fishing session in our gutter before breakfast. From there we packed up some lunch and headed off for some swimming and sightseeing. There are plenty of places to see and things to do. Places we visited included Lake McKenzie, Lake Wabby, Basin Lake, Central Station, Kingfisher Bay, Eli Creek, Indian Head, Champagne Pools, and Waddy Point. We also had several days off when we just fished and relaxed around camp. Each day was usually finished off with a late afternoon fishing session before dinner and relaxing with a few drinks.
Did I happen to mention just how tough all this was?
Although this was my twelfth trip to this magnificent Island, I’d never really stopped to experience the diverse array of wildlife that’s abundant in this Heritage Listed National Park. Everywhere we looked we saw Mother Nature at work. On the beaches there were dingoes, white-bellied sea eagles, brahminy kites, pied oystercatchers and innumerable seabirds either resting on the beach or feeding out to sea.
Inland, there was bushland and amazing rainforests. These areas were home to a diverse array of creatures, including goannas, large skinks, kingfishers and kookaburras. It was amazing to swim with catfish and rainbow fish at Lake Wabby, and to see jungle perch in the clear running waters of Eli Creek.
Thanks to calm beach conditions it was possible to spot turtles, dolphins, whales, large rays and the odd shark. This was greatly enhanced when looking from either Indian Head or Waddy Point. On one particular day we had amazingly calm and clear conditions which enabled us to see just how much was out there, including large schools of dart and tailor surfing in the waves.
We saw a number of dingoes during our stay, but most seemed quite timid and were either alone or in pairs. This was very different from my last trip a couple of years ago when we often saw large mobs of dingoes, some of which were quite aggressive at times. Obviously the culling following the attacks has kept the numbers in check, making the island a safer place for families to enjoy. There are signs warning of the dangers of dingo attacks, and asking visitors to discourage the animals by locking away food and eskies securely.
Fishing wasn’t the primary focus of our trip, but we still managed to pack five rods and enough tackle to cover almost anything that might turn up. Previous trips have taught me that you don’t need to take bait as long as you know how to catch your own pipis and worms, and use lures to spin up tailor.
On the first afternoon May and I collected enough pipis to get us started, and we managed to convert these into several whiting and dart. The next morning we headed back down to our gutter and caught some worms, which resulted in more whiting and dart. From then on we either fished or wormed (or both) each morning or afternoon, and spent the rest of the day relaxing or sightseeing.
Most of the whiting we caught were about 20-27cm, but it was easy to take up to a dozen keepers in a session. The dart were generally of good size and we kept a few to eat, but they don’t quite rate up there with those sweet whiting fillets. Most of the whiting came from the shallow protected channels at the end or between gutters, while the dart liked the deeper water.
When out sightseeing we always took a couple of rods and a bit of bait, and tried fishing a few other gutters for more whiting and dart. We also targeted dart and tailor by casting chrome slugs, particularly after we started seeing them in the waves.
Fishing conditions were great from the start, and fortunately the weed that Phil James mentioned in last month’s QFM didn’t affect us until the last couple of days of the trip. Even then, it was still possible to fish the edges of the gutters for whiting or to cast chrome slugs for tailor and dart without the weed being too much of a hassle.
The outfits we used for the trip fit into three categories – heavy surf, light surf and light spin. Our two heavy surf outfits consisted of 12-foot and 13-foot rods mated to a TSS4 and a 6 1/2 inch Alvey. We brought these in case we got into some serious tailor fishing.
The two outfits we used the most were our 10-foot light surf rods. I used a 5-inch Alvey on mine, while May preferred her trusty eggbeater. We used these rods for all our bait fishing for dart and whiting, and caught the lion’s share of the fish. May’s rod also doubled well for casting chrome slugs. I also threw in one of my new Black Diamond bass spin rods. Although more at home casting plastics in the impoundments, it did a great job casting 10-30g slugs in the surf, and I had a ball fighting dart and tailor on 4kg line in the surf.
Other handy items for beach fishing included a belt-mounted Alvey bait container, a comfortable leather rod bucket, and a shoulder bag for our fish. These items allowed us to stay mobile and self sufficient when roaming a gutter.
Pipis and beach worms are the two best baits to obtain locally when beach fishing for whiting, dart and bream.
Pipis are very similar to freshwater mussels. If you look carefully at low tide you can spot small lumps in the sand where vehicles have been travelling. Then it’s a simple matter of digging an inch or two into the sand to find them. At times you can actually see them at the edge of the wash, feeding and moving with the waves, before digging themselves back in. If you’re quick enough you can grab them or dig them up by hand. You can also feel them under your feet when fishing or searching for them.
While pipis are good bait, you can’t beat beach worms for surf fishing; they stay on the hook better and catch more fish than the old pipi. Unfortunately, it takes considerable skill to master the art of beach worming. The best time to try to catch them is on the last hour of the outgoing tide. First, you have to berley them up by using fish frames. The smellier the better!Once the worms get a whiff of the fish, they’ll pop their heads up for a look.
Next, you have to offer them a piece of pipi or fish flesh. Get the worm to latch onto it and then work your fingers into the sand until you feel the body below the feelers. When the worm is ready to grab the food, it will arch up before pulling downward to tear off a piece of flesh. You have to wait for the worm to arch before squeezing tightly and then pulling it out of the sand. Timing is crucial!
Worming can be very challenging. The best advice I can give is to find someone worming and then go and watch and ask a few questions. I’m sure they won’t mind passing on a few tips. It can take a lot of time to master the art, but the worms are an excellent bait and you only need half a dozen to last a session.
Beach travel is very dependent on the tides, so it’s important to work around the low tides when planning your daily outings. This is especially important when you’re arriving at and departing from the island, because a loaded vehicle is much harder to manoeuvre in soft sand.
During our stay the inland tracks varied from average to shocking, thanks to the ongoing dry conditions. Still, most vehicles had few troubles traversing inland. The worst track we encountered was from the ocean beach to Kingfisher Bay. This 18km stretch took about an hour and a half each way, and I nearly got stuck on a couple of occasions.
The Indian Head bypass road caused problems for many vehicles, but this was mainly due to inexperienced drivers. Fortunately, a helping hand is generally not too far away. The friendly atmosphere on the island is contagious.
Although the island wasn’t too busy during our stay, I’d say half the visitors to the island were international backpackers. Every second vehicle was a hired LandCruiser troop carrier, loaded with overseas visitors on a three-day self-drive trip. Although these visitors were well-meaning and friendly, most didn’t have a clue about sand driving. One crew came to grief whilst rallying around on the beach, but luckily there were no serious injuries this time!
If you’re looking at staying for a week or so, it pays to be properly set up to handle the conditions. Over the years May and I have collected a fair amount of camping gear, which is necessary on these extended trips.
Tent size is up to you and the size of your clan. We recently upgraded from a three-man dome to an Oz Trail Highlander 4. This four-man dome tent has an extended annex and incorporates an optional extra bedroom, and has worked really well for us. For two people it allows more than enough space for bedding and bags. It’s great to be able to stand up and walk around inside, and we used the additional bedroom in the annex to house all our food and additional supplies, keeping them away from the ants and dingoes.
For a little more comfort, I strongly recommend a good tarp of at least 16 x 20 foot. This provides additional shade and protection from the rain (just in case it ever rains!). Ensure you have plenty of poles and ropes and, most importantly, plenty of sand pegs. Conventional steel pegs just won’t do the job in the sand.
Keeping your food cold is always a big issue on extended trips. For this trip we used my 50-litre EvaKool fridge/freezer to house all the frozen goods and to freeze down water containers and a few fillets. Set up in the back of the Jackaroo, the EvaKool ran off a deep-cycle battery when stationary. To save batteries we switched it to the car cigarette lighter socket when travelling.
Two deep-cycle batteries only just got us through the week (it would be nice to afford the luxury of a little Honda generator). We used a conventional 50-litre esky to keep drinks cool, but we went through two bags of block ice a day. I’ve now got my eye on an EvaKool E85. It’s the ideal size for keeping our drinks cool and it would keep ice for a lot longer.
Fraser Island is magnificent location which offers good fishing and a whole lot more. Although the weather, the time of year and the crowds can affect your trip, there’s always plenty to see and do. If you’ve never been to Fraser it’s well worth a trip to experience the diverse array of wildlife, friendly atmosphere and, of course, the fishing. But make sure you take the time to relax and enjoy the serenity!
[FACT BOX 1]
• Camping permits cost $4 per person per night which, for the two of us, worked out at $56 for seven nights.
• Vehicle permits are $30 per month.
• Barge fees have recently been reviewed by the ACCC, and are now set at $35 return for both of the barges from Inskip Point.
• Fuel prices on the island varied from $1.21 to $1.30. At Rainbow Beach the fuel prices hovered around 90c.
• Food, ice, gas and alcohol is considerably more expensive on Fraser than on the mainland, as you’d expect.
[FACT BOX 2]
If you’re heading over to Fraser, contact one of the permit issuing offices at least three weeks before you start out. We went to the Naturally Queensland Information Centre in the city, and you can contact them on (07) 3227 8185. There are other offices at Rainbow Beach, Maryborough, Gympie, Bundaberg and River Heads. Once you submit your permit application it will take about 10 days before you receive your permits, along with a very informative package.
There are a host of 4WD hire companies available at Rainbow Beach, Gympie and Hervey Bay. If you’re not a keen camper, there is motel and resort accommodation available at Eurong, Happy Valley and Kingfisher Bay.
1) Looking north from Waddy Point.
2) Spinning up tailor on bass gear.
3) A comfortable camp.
4) Quality dart put up a good fight and aren’t bad eating.
5) Beach worms are great bait.
6) The wreck of the Maheno has attracted visitors since running aground in 1936.Reads: 720