Billfish going ballistic
  |  First Published: December 2004

It’s been hard to get a day’s reef fishing in lately, due to the weather, but on the days we have been out the place has been firing.

Large schools of tuna, school mackerel and spotted mackerel are all along the coast from Hervey Bay right through to Bundaberg. It’s a great alternative to reef fishing; tossing small metal jigs or lures you can get your bag limit in no time.

If you’re fishing off Rooney’s Point, watch out as there are lots of small black marlin in amongst the schools of tuna and they can make a good account of themselves on light tackle. At the recent Gamefishing Tournament at Hervey Bay one was caught on a metal Raider at Rooney’s Point.


Last year I caught some of my best fish in the weeks leading up to Christmas and through January. On one memorable day last December I arrived at the reef at 6am and threw a bait over and nailed a 26lb red emperor straight off the bat. A Canadian guy who had never fished in his life caught another red straight after mine – a 22lb fish – and wasn’t he excited! My next fish was a 18lb coral trout. Just as I thought it was too good to be true it quietened down and went back to normal, but late in the afternoon I caught another trout of around 18lb, filling our freezer up for Christmas.

As I write this I’ve just returned from a reef trip and it was great, with the big reds moving in on us again. We caught lots of little reds in the morning but after lunch we caught some great sweeties around the 6kg mark and bigger reds averaging 5kg. Not the biggest, but they were in good numbers. Late in the afternoon we also caught a good snapper of around 7kg.


The HBBC ran its tournament on November 20-21, and it was a great success. The prevailing winds backed off for the weekend, creating great conditions for large and small boats to cross the bar on the spit north of Fraser Island.

The fish also turned it on, with plenty of small black marlin and sailfish around. There were also plenty of miscellaneous species caught, including wahoo, mahi-mahi (dolphinfish), Spanish mackerel and mack, bluefin and yellowfin tuna. This made for some great fishing all day, with fish hitting lures all weekend.

My weekend started on a Friday, fishing on Watch-Tower with a group of friends. We headed up the western side of Fraser Island, enjoying the amazing scenery and seeing dugongs, dolphins, whales and large schools of tuna all the way along the coast.

From Wathumba Creek onwards we trolled, catching some nice mack tuna, but we didn’t see any of the reported black marlin that were in the bay. We crossed the 4-mile bar and headed to the north, catching a small wahoo in the first hour we went on and plenty more of them throughout the day… and then the small black marlin came on the bite.

There were five people on the boat and every one managed to catch a marlin on the first day except Alex the deckie. Every time that Alex was on strike we managed to hook another wahoo. We had a pretty hot bite on day one and headed back to Rooney’s point overnight, feeling pretty confident for tomorrow with 10 hook-ups and four marlin tagged and released plus numerous other species such as wahoo, dolphinfish and tuna.

Day two we left Rooney’s Point at 5am arriving across the bar ready to fish at 7am. We trolled around the northern end of Sandy Cape Shoals. With large schools of bait around the fish were looking at the lures but obviously not hungry yet. We had a small black come up and attack the lures but it failed to hook up.

We headed south and managed to catch our first fish – a dolphinfish. We changed tack and headed to the north, heard a call come over the radio as the first billfish was caught at 11am. We radioed our 12pm scheds in and we had five fish (wahoo, dolphinfish etc.) but no billfish.

We arrived at the northern end of the spit and the fish came on the bite. We had small black marlin and sailfish coming from everywhere. The best fish of the day was a 60kg sailfish we caught, with the average black being around 40-50kg. We were fishing light tackle – 8kg – and went into the lead after day one. Alex also managed to catch a marlin, so the curse was lifted.

We thought we'd be out of the hunt as we had a charter the next day and were no longer in the tournament. So we picked up our customer at Urangan and headed north at 5am ready to fish at the northern end of the spit at 8am. We had the best day, with over 20 hook-ups but only six fished tagged by lunchtime.

There was only one angler on the charter, and because of the shortage of people to take the rods from the holders we lost plenty of lures from multiple hook-ups on sails and blacks. At one time we had four fish on, one of them a large sailfish, and the deckies and myself were clearing the teasers and the fifth rod went off while one of the deckies was trying to pull it out of the water. It was a small black marlin and it cut off one off the lines as it crossed across the shotgun line, costing us the biggest sailfish.

As we got the teasers close to the side of the boat a large school of sailfish swam right up to the back of the boat trying to eat the teasers, one jumping out of the water and almost in the boat as it chased the teaser up the outrigger. Out of all these fish jumping over the back and all we ended up with only one fish still on – a small black marlin of around 40kg. We lost over 10 lures on the weekend, and ended up with the last day with over 20 hook-ups and six tag and releases. It was the most exciting fishing I’ve ever experienced. The week after the tournament I heard Justin Nye and his dad Trevor were fishing the inside of the island catching blacks up to 50kg on Raider lures.

As it turned out we had enough points to win the tournament, taking out Champion Boat and Champion Light Tackle Team. A great effort from our team and our deckies, who worked really hard all weekend, averaging four hours’ sleep a night.

This tournament will be huge next year, with boats coming from all over Queensland and Australia. It’s one of the only tournaments you can safely fish in and catch small black marlin in the lee of Fraser Island.

One of the blokes who fished with us came up from Kiama in NSW and wanted to catch a barra, so the day before the tournament we took him up to Monduran Dam and my third cast hit him in the back of the head, lodging treble hooks into his ear and the rear of his head. We cut our trip short without a barra and headed off to hospital. Not a great start to his trip!


Watch-Tower has got some great charters booked in for January. One is a three-day charter doing heavy tackle fishing for some of the biggest marlin that inhabit Fraser Island, and with a $10,000 bounty for the first one caught in the Hervey Bay area it should be exciting. In this charter, if we have some good weather, we will also chase Broadbill at night.

I’m also looking forward to throwing poppers on the shallow reefs on the spit to catch some of the world’s biggest GTs, with fish as big as 60kg being caught previously. The light tackle fishing will keep going off with some great catches of sailfish and black marlin along the shallows, but over the shelf we should see some action from blacks 150kg-plus and big blue marlin. There was a recent hook up of a 700lb blue, so the possibilities are endless. Watch this space!


Earlier in the year, with our seat of Hinkler being in a marginal electorate, John Howard tried to cool off Bundaberg by sending the new Environment Minister Ian Campbell down to sort things out. Mr Campbell could see that Bundaberg had caught the wrong end of the Green Zone stick and he promised to start a dialogue between the people of Bundaberg and GBRMPA, and also the federal government.

To his credit, he has done this and has instructed GBRMPA to start up an LMAC group in Bundaberg, which is a group who consults regularly with GBRMPA on decisions made about the Great Barrier Reef. There are 11 LMAC groups along the coast of Queensland and five people will be elected out of these groups to talk directly to the minister.

On the first meeting to form the LMAC group, the head honcho of GBRMPA, Virginia Chadwick, turned up to a hostile reception from local rec fishers. In her opening address she said that the LMAC will be great for Bundaberg, giving us a direct input into the future developments undertaken by GBRMPA, but they won’t change any of the current zoning or break down Green Zones in any manner. I was hoping they would consider putting rec fishers in a different bracket from pro fishers, to allow us to fish some of these areas, but she said none of the zoning definitions will be changed either. This leaves the humble old fisherman having to go to his local member to make his feelings known, and the fishing clubs facing their local members as a group. If we all do this it will have a direct effect on future policy. A sad day has come when fishing has to get tangled in the evil web of politics.


Watch-Tower will head off to Cairns to do the heavy tackle season, operating with a mother ship with full catering facilities. After Cairns we will head to the Coral Sea, working with two game boats and a mother ship. We will operate from Ken Reef and will fly customers in on a floatplane for a week of game- and sportfishing. If you would like to book for either of these, give us a call at Bundaberg Fishing Charters on (07) 4159 0995 as bookings are filling fast.


1) Alex Zorgati, Mark Way and Ian Borland with a 60kg sailfish.

2) Dave Woollard, Alex Zorgati and Ian Borland with a small black marlin.

3) Mark Way with a new earring, trying (painfully) to keep with the times.

4) John with a nice red emperor caught on Kato.

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