On the whole, the waters of Hervey Bay fished quite well throughout 2004.
The summer run of spotted mackerel early in the year was outstanding, with the bag limit of five fish easy to get just about anywhere north of Coongul Creek on Fraser Island’s west coast.
During the last month, spotties have made a promising start to the new season. School mackerel were generally disappointing, with the expected big run of fish off Burrum Heads in August and September almost a non-event. It’s interesting to note that spotted mackerel are subject to severe bag limits for amateurs with commercial fishermen limited to line fishing, but regulations for school mackerel remain very generous for both amateurs and professionals. Surely it’s time for the regulations for both species of small mackerel to come into line with each other. Not only might the school mackerel escape extinction, it would relieve enforcement problems brought about by species misidentification.
It’s been another good year for tuna, with longtails (northern blues) being at least as plentiful as mack tuna. Most anglers agree that the longtail shades the mack tuna in both challenge and fighting ability. In the last few years we’ve seen more and more anglers targeting tuna in Hervey Bay. You need high speed spinning reels as well as the wide variety and weights of metals to match the baitfish the tuna are working on. I like to bring home the occasional longtail that has been mortally damaged but, sadly, some anglers bring in far too many fish.
Last year’s snapper season couldn’t be classed as outstanding but most anglers were happy enough. The artificial reef produced some good fish but better catches were made at the Eight Mile off Arch Cliffs. The low reefs off Wathumba Creek were disappointing early in the season but came good much later. Other reef fish were just about up to expectations, with shallow reefs fishing well during the warmer months.
Early last year I predicted that a bumper bream season would follow the good bursts of freshwater coming down the rivers, but bream numbers and quality were down on the previous year. Sand and golden-lined whiting catches were similar to those in previous years, and during the winter months, diver whiting were particularly plentiful off Toogum, Dundowran and Gataker’s Bay. The normally prolific areas south of Urangan were disappointing, particularly for the better quality fish.
The year 2004 will not go down as one of the greatest at Fraser Island. The tailor season was very late starting, and was marred by that horrible brown weed that has been a problem for the last few years. Throughout the year it’s either right in the surf zone or holding out wide beyond the breakers. Easterly and northeasterly winds (common in the latter part of the year) tend to bring it in while lighter southeasters and offshore westerlies keep it out.
Whiting, dart, tarwhine and bream were in their usual good supply, and where there was no weed there were no problems scoring well. During the very mediocre tailor season, there were plenty of big dart to ‘save the day’ on many occasions.
Now for the year that lies ahead. At this stage, not knowing what sort of weather we’ll get over the next few months, we can only base our predictions on past years.
The inshore reef species – grass sweetlip, blackall, black-spot tuskfish, stripeys, Moses perch, cod, coral trout and others – should be reaching their peak during the next two months and will continue well into May. Both shallow and deep reefs fish well during this time, but as the water starts to cool down the shallow reefs will decline. Blackall, however, don’t seem to mind the lower temperatures and can be taken in the shallows throughout the year. It will be late October before the shallow reefs start to fire again.
Spotty mackerel should continue to be plentiful in the wider bay and along the west coast of Fraser Island in January, possibly until mid-February. They will return in late October or November. School mackerel are likely catches throughout the year and in most parts of the bay but the main run of fish is expected from late July to early October. Schools of tuna are also likely throughout the year as they follow schools of baitfish into the bay. Most of the action is usually in the early months of the year but in 2004 big fish were in action well into winter.
Bream can also be taken throughout the year. The variety of structure in the Urangan boat harbour and the training walls themselves support what appears to be a permanent population of bream. Fishing access within the harbour is limited, but an increasing number of anglers are fishing from boats and working the pylons with soft plastics. This is great as long as you can get away from the yellowtail pike.
Most anglers target bream just before, or during, the spawning season. During March and April bream feed ravenously to build up reproductive tissues. They then start moving towards the spawning areas at the mouths of the rivers and island creeks, and around the rocky foreshores of the mainland and the bay islands. The season reaches its peak in late July, but around the bay islands there will still be plenty of good bream available until late July or early August.
On Fraser Island’s ocean beach and headlands, bream are likely catches throughout the year but there doesn’t appear to be any particular concentration of fish during the normal spawning season. On the western side of the island, however, Wathumba Creek becomes a major spawning ground. It’s a long way to go for a feed of bream, but boat anglers sheltering in the creek regularly report big numbers of large bream. Further south, the mouths of Coongul and Moon creeks also attract spawning fish.
Tailor can be taken all year round at Fraser but it is only during the run of spawning fish that the big ‘greenbacks’ can be expected. Normally we start to see the big fish appearing in June or even earlier (not in 2004 though).
Traditionally, the southern beaches see the first good tailor of the season, with those beaches further north fishing better in later months. Just a reminder that the closed season for all fish, not just tailor, extends from 400m south of Indian Head to 400m north of Waddy Point for August and September. For tailor there is an in-possession limit of 20, or 30 for anglers spending three days or more on the island.
Tailor can also be taken in Hervey Bay, but not in the numbers that were enjoyed years ago. These days most are in the chopper class. They are taken during the late winter months around the bay’s islands, from the Urangan pier, Kingfisher Bay, River Heads, and in Sandy Straits.
Four species of whiting are caught in our area, the most abundant of which are sand whiting and diver whiting. Golden-ined whiting are often confused with sand whiting, and collectively misnamed ‘summer whiting’.
Northern whiting are mostly taken in the Mary and Susan rivers. These pale coloured fish have a conspicuously flattened snout.
The sand whiting is the dominant species on all Fraser Island beaches, from Hook Point north to Sandy Cape and south along the western beach to Moon Point. I have heard people claim to have caught golden-lined whiting here but I have yet to score one myself.
Around Hook Point there is an annual burst of sand whiting from August to October, reminiscent of the run of fish that’s experienced at the same time of the year at the southern end of Bribie Island. Like the fish at Bribie, these whiting really turn it on during southeasterly conditions.
At the same time of the year, western beaches north of Moon Point see prolific whiting fishing but the class of fish is rarely as good as that seen on the island’s eastern side. Whiting can be taken throughout the year along most of the eastern beach, with the best time being February to May.
Inside Hervey Bay, sand and golden-lined whiting are taken from the beaches, piers and sand bars throughout the bay for most of the year. During the winter months the best whiting fishing happens over the high evening tides, particularly around One Tree Point on Woody Island, on the western side of the Picnic islands and close in to the mangroves around Bogimbah and Urang creeks.
From April through to September, spawning diver whiting swarm into the bay. They usually make their first appearance off Toogum and Dundowran, then gradually move into the inner bay, presumably following food. Last year they didn’t make much of a move south into the inner bay, however. If all goes according to plan popular areas like the southern end of Woody Island and the buoys north of Urangan will be producing plenty of good divers from early May.
Fraser Island and Hervey Bay continue to provide great fishing. Legislation changes to minimum sizes, bag limits, restricting commercial equipment, closed seasons and geographical limits have helped to enhance some of our amateur fisheries. These include those for tailor, spotted mackerel, flathead, snapper and the regulated coral reef fin fish.
Changes to the by-catch rules for commercial fishermen have helped to protect to diver whiting. In 2003 we were promised that the draft report or discussion paper for the Great Sandy Marine Park (northern section) would be made available in August of that year. Presumably that document would have set out measures to bring balance and equity into the taking of fish and other marine life from these fragile waters and would have introduced measures to protect the marine environment upon which fish breeding and feeding cycles depend.
At the time of writing, we are still waiting to see this draft report.
Since the Tom Burns enquiry there has been talk of sensible bag and size limits on a variety of bread and butter fish. Bream and whiting are heavily targeted and come in for plenty of commercial pressure in Hervey Bay. Hopefully, the much-awaited subtropical inshore fin fish discussion paper will look seriously at bag limits for bream, diver whiting, and sand and golden-lined whiting, as well as a legal minimum size for diver whiting and increases in the required sizes for other whiting species and for bream.
Hopefully, when we eventually see these reports and have the opportunity to contribute to comment on them, we might be able to look at the future of recreational fishing at Hervey Bay and Fraser Island with some optimism.
Sadly, this is my final monthly report on Hervey Bay and Fraser Island. Circumstances change and we sometimes have to change with them. However, I’ll still be making further contributions on various aspects of our sport from time to time.
I have enjoyed the writing immensely, and hopefully I’ve been able help some of you to find a few more fish in beautiful Hervey Bay and Fraser Island. I thank Steve, Nicole and the team at QFM for their support. I would also like to acknowledge the many anglers who have emailed me with questions, comments and photographs. Many of your comments and questions have inspired my writing. Keep in touch – I look forward to making contact again in the future.
Happy New Year and good fishing!
|1) This typical Hervey Bay longtail was taken close to the Picnic Islands on a 40g Raider worked by a high||speed Shimano TSS4.|