Moreton Bay’s Bird and Goat
  |  First Published: December 2004

Now that it’s summer the pelagics are more prevalent, and with the warmer water they’re often more aggressive. It’s the perfect time to chase them on poppers and other reaction baits.

Southern Moreton Bay is one of the most beautiful boating paradises you could ask for. We don’t hear enough about this area and its islands, maybe because it’s so close to the doorstep of Brisbane and we take them for granted. Whatever the reason, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the diversity that’s on offer.

First and foremost, the islands of the southern bay offer respite from bad weather. On a recent trip to Peel Island it looked like the wind was going to get up from the northeast (and it did) so we slipped over to the Bird and Goat Island group just out from Dunwich. Here we got into some good fishing action before making our way home.

The many islands in the area often give the sheltered option of getting out of the wind, all you need is a good navigational chart (which you should keep handy at the helm) and some flexibility in your plans for the day.

Bird Island and Goat Island are so close together that they are considered by most people to be one island, and are simply called ‘Bird and Goat’.

Bird is the northernmost island, and these days it’s bare of green vegetation, looking more like a sand flat than an island. A few dead trees are its only decoration.

A mere stone’s throw to the south is Goat Island, a mangrove island with fantastic rocks on the southwestern corner. The rocky corner is a great fishing spot. As the tide floods in, all sorts of species gather around the rocks to feed. There are trevally of many species, tailor, longtoms and aggressive bream.

The secret here – it’s a secret ingredient in most of the bayside shallows but especially at this spot – is to stand off the rocks a long way with the boat and fire in a long cast. To get good casting distance we lean towards the larger of the popper options I’ve discussed in this magazine in recent months. Something around 70mm is ideal, rather than the smaller 50mm versions we tend to favour for bream.

The ultimate target is the yellowtail kingfish. These hard-fighting fish cruise the circuit between Peel Island, the beacons in the area and Goat Island.

On the last couple of trips (since August) we’ve seen the kings hanging out in the region. Historically they’ve shown a love of poppers, especially pink ones. For the bigger class of kingfish, the old floating wooden Kingfisher Fat Rs in pink are a favourite. For the smaller ‘rat’ kings of around 6lb, we use the 70mm poppers from the larger end of the bream surface lure spectrum – again in pink. To look at some Moreton Bay surface lure tackle boxes you’d wonder if there is any other colour! Pink is hard to find in international lures, but the locals and some Japanese versions offer poppers in the bright bubblegum pink that has been a Moreton Bay favourite for decades.

I’ve been chasing these fish in the bay since I could first cast a rod. Surface poppers were our favourite lures as kids. Our casting accuracy wasn’t great, but sometimes with the poppers it didn’t matter. The poppers attracted fish from quite a distance when we retrieved them at kidspeed (i.e. winding the lure flat out back to the boat until our primary school arms gave up). Often we left the lure floating on the surface while we took a breath, and a king or baby amberjack would smash it. 2-3kg of fish is bigtime to a kid! Another great thing about these lures was that they seldom hung up on the rocks.

The 70mm popper suits all the species available around Goat Island. The trevallies and tailor don’t care much between sizes when they are on. Big bream will eat the 70mm but on some days when they are shy you may need to throw a 50mm popper or a 65mm Rise Bait, which is skinner and more suited to a bream’s mouth. Longtoms can be taken on 70mm poppers, but the small poppers and metal lures are often better.

Speaking of metal lures, Bumpa Bars, Raiders, Lasers and Flasha spoons are all local origin products that the trevally, tailor and yellowtail kings love when presented to them with high speed retrieves. Everything is pretty much similar to the poppers, with regard to tackle and casting distance.

The only difference is that with the popper you can let your lure float on the surface either straight after splashdown and/or during pauses in the retrieve. But with metal lures, due to the shallow nature of the area and the rocky treble-grabbing bottom, you’ll need to start winding as soon as your sinking metal lure hits the water. Better still, close the bail arm and start winding before the lure touches down so there’s no belly in the line and the lure doesn’t get a chance to sink and hook the bottom.

During early October, Dad, me and Chris Barnes headed out to ‘The Group’ (a group of rocks out from Point Lookout). Dad gave us an on-water lecture about where to cast the poppers.

“See that rock just about to be covered by the incoming tide,” he said, “spots like those are often the best. I reckon predatory fish hang around just in case some poor helpless critter is standing on its tippytoes trying to survive on the rock before it has to make a swim for it.”

He cast to it, and was just telling us that a pause in the retrieve doesn’t hurt when he was interrupted by a loud slurp on the surface as an unknown fish inhaled the popper. All 70mm of it was well and truly down inside the fish’s gob.

It looked to be a good fish – 4lb Fireline screamed from the little bream reel and the bream rod arced over. Chris Barnes remarked that things looked in favour of the fish, and Dad reminded him that it was Chris’s rod and lure that he’d picked up to use. Chris was pretty concerned about his knots as he jumped onto the electric and gave chase across the top of the coral and rocks that abound around these beautiful islands.

Keeping the rod bent is important in these situations so you can to keep pressure on the fish and keep steering the fish as best you can. A fully loaded rod is a dynamic tool when used against a slugging fish, especially when the rod appears undergunned. Just be sure that you have enough quality in your rod to push it to the limit.

Chris hotdogged on the tail of the fish with the electric and we soon saw a glimpse of colour. It was a king and he had a mate with him. I’d like to say that we landed the fish quickly and went on to catch his mate, but unfortunately I missed with the net shot. I just couldn’t move the Environet quick enough through the water and the little bream-sized net couldn’t really hold a few kilos of kingfish. After a couple more unsuccessful attempts we wised up and I tried netting the fish from underneath, about halfway along the body. Perfect! On the first try the king folded into the net.

Then it was Chris’s turn. After about five minutes of casting we moved further along to try some new rocks, and what we think was the other kingfish smashed at Barnsey’s popper. It looked for a moment as though everything had come up tight but the king and lure didn’t stay connected. Bummer!

Some days here you’ll catch three or four species of surface feeders as you motor around from rock to rock. It really is a great spot, and one of the best kinds of boats for this location is a shallow draft bass ‘n’ bream style tinnie or skiff with lots of casting room.

Often cruisers and half cabs queue at anchor along the drop-off near the beacon just out from the southern shallows. Here they baitfish for squire, snapper, sweetlip in summer and the occasional parrot (tuskfish). Soft plastics also work here.

Along the western and eastern side of the group are large expanses of coral and rocks. You could fill up a whole day here by casting floating lures amongst the bommies. Shallow-running jellybean minnows and surface poppers are perfect here, as is flycasting. There is more fish-holding country here than at many of the better known spots. If you motor along through the bommies under electric power and keep your eyes peeled you’ll see a vast array of desirable fish. Once these fish are spooked they’ll rarely eat your lure, but at least you’ll know where they are so you can go back later. Allow about half an hour between visits to the same region. Again, it’s critical to ‘stand and deliver’ with long casts.

Soft plastics work here as well. We’ve had success with paddle-tail grubs swum slowly through the water, and don’t forget to try some of the ‘southern’ soft plastic kingfish jerkbait retrieves with large stickbaits, such as 4” and 6” Gene Larew Sluggers.

Around the island there are a few sand flats and sand banks that are good producers of whiting on small soft plastics and bait. In summer these sand patches often deliver good numbers of flathead as well, which can be trolled up on jellybean minnows or by casting and flicking soft plastics.

The drop-offs are also worth targeting, and not just with bait. In recent times, finding baitfish (by sounder, vision or knowing the spots) and working soft plastics through the school has been producing arguably more fish and bigger fish, especially during the day.

To cover all the fishing options in the region, I recommend that you take a few outfits pre-rigged. Ideally, you should have at least a jellybean troll rod and three or four spinning flick sticks. To the flick sticks I’d tie an assortment of lures from the following options: a 65-70mm bubblegum pink popper, a 15g metal slug or spoon, a deep-diving crankbait, a shallow-running jellybean minnow, a weedless unweighted soft plastic jerkbait or slugger, and/or a T-tail soft plastic on a lead head jig hook.

Remember, most of this fishing is reaction strike fishing and often you’ll see the strikes. The more rods that you have rigged, the merrier your options. To keep a practical eye on the budget, use your best high-modulus rod for the soft plastic. I like the G.Loomis DSR820S dropshot rod for this.

For the metals and surface lures, IM6 graphite and upwards will do the trick 99 times out of 100. I’ve been using the Pflueger Trion spin sticks of late and they fit the bill nicely, particularly the Artificial Bait series which are slightly lighter in power than the standard models and are designed for Australian conditions.

And, of course, you can take a fly rod as well. Anything from 6wt to 8wt would suit the purpose, and opt for a floating flyline if you want to stay above the rocks and coral.

So, if you haven’t tried this one before, you have another spot in the bay to wet a line or spin a lure.


Digitial Photo from Disk: Steve Bain with a Bird Island popper-eating yellowtail kingfish.

1A,1BThis trevor took quite a dark coloured Sugoi popper (look closely around the face over the eye to see the lure).
2A,2BTailor from out in the paddock west of Goat Island. Sometimes the tailor are out in the deep channel herding up baitfish, other times they’ll be in amongst the rocks. The lure here is a pointy nosed Quick ‘B’ surface lure, which can be retrieved quite fast without tumbling. The shape also allows then to be walked and paused across the surface.
3AThe southern kingfish techniques work just as well on Moreton Bay Kings. The lure is a 4” Pearl Slider and the hook is a Mustad Mega Bite 5/0 size. Either a twitching retrieve or a steady retrieve with the lure just cutting the surface will often do the trick.
4AKim Bain with a Moreton Bay squire that ate a Smoke Yellow Core coloured 3” Slider grub.
5A,5BHere you can see Bird and Goat Islands from the air at low tide. The large island to the right is North Stradbroke, and just to the left is Peel Island.
6AAggressive bream often attack bigger surface lures but if they can be troublesome to hook up. Go for a long skinny topwater such as this Rise Bait or a Heddon Zarra Puppy or Pooch.
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