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Mackerel Make Their Mark
  |  First Published: March 2003



IT’S ALWAYS great to have some really good news to report. Over the last six months there has been much doom and gloom from my pen, but there is now much more to stimulate optimism.

FRASER ISLAND

The ‘doom and gloom’ prize for 2002 goes to the weed that plagued Fraser Island’s ocean beaches for more than the latter part of the year. Thankfully, the situation is improving week by week, with days of totally clear water followed by days when the weed becomes a nuisance. More seasonal south-easterly winds should clear the weed further, hopefully completely.

With the reduction of weed has come an abundance of the bread-and-butter beach species of Fraser’s east coast. The most impressive re-appearance has been that of excellent quality sand whiting. They have been in just about every gutter from Hook Point to Indian Head, and probably beyond, with the best catches coming from the section between Happy Valley and Cathedral Beach. The top months for whiting on the ocean beach are traditionally March, April and May, so this mid-Summer appearance of whiting points to excellent catches in the next few months.

Like the whiting, dart too have enjoyed the demise of the weed. These fish have been caught in good numbers right along the beach, particularly on the early morning flood tide, and in the deeper gutters. During the night, dart move into the shallowest gutters to feed and it’s then that some of the best quality fish are taken.

Amongst the dominant whiting and dart there has been a sprinkling of bream and tarwhine. The coffee rock outcrops at Poyungan, Yidney and Ngkala have been producing bream, tarwhine, the occasional school jew and moses perch. Tailor have been located in a few isolated schools, with little better than small choppers being taken. On the western beach, the annual weed invasion is over and reasonable catches of whiting are resuming. Flathead and small bream have been caught around the coffee rocks and around the creek mouths.

This time of year has its share of south-easterly weather, but on the calm days there should be no shortage of good sport on the ocean beach. During strong south-easters, many anglers make the trip to Moon Point to enjoy some good fishing in protected waters. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the Happy Valley to Moon Point road is in bad shape. The track to the western beach at Woralie Creek, which turns off the main beach just north of the Maheno wreck, is just a little better. Within walking distance of the end of the track are the creek mouth and coffee rock exposures, both forming excellent features for targeting whiting, flathead and bream.

HERVEY BAY

Since writing my last report, Hervey Bay anglers have been enjoying some great fishing. In fact, the inner environs of the bay have been fishing as well as I have seen for years, despite frequent bursts of strong southerly weather.

Pelagic action is now being dominated by mackerel, with the big schools of feeding mack tuna apparently taking a break for the time being. A few macks are still being taken from the Urangan pier, with the occasional longtail showing up as well.

Mackerel

Both school and spotted mackerel have been taken throughout the bay in recent weeks. Most of the spotties are coming in from the inside of Fraser Island, north of Moon Point, and the majority of schoolies from the beacons and buoys north of the pier. Some anglers are reporting mixed bags of both species.

With new regulations now in force, it’s important to be aware that spotties now need to be at least 60cm long with a bag limit of five fish. The legal minimum length of schoolies remains at 50cm, with a bag limit of 30 fish. For this reason, it’s important for anglers to be able to tell the difference between the species. Spotted mackerel have an abundance of well-marked but small spots concentrated on the upper half of the body. The spines of the dorsal fin are fairly uniform in size, and the membranes of these rays are dark blue to purple in colour.

School mackerel have fewer spots. Their spots are also much larger and less distinct, and are distributed fairly evenly over the body. From the leading spine of the dorsal fin, spine heights decrease markedly and the filaments of this fin are jet black and glossy.

School mackerel also come under considerable pressure by both commercial and recreational fishermen and, in my opinion, are worthy of the same management measures that have been applied to spotted mackerel. Such uniform minimum lengths and bag limits would alleviate the problem of misidentification as well.

While on the subject of mackerel, a number of large Spaniards have been caught – and mostly released – around the inner bay’s islands. One of the hotspots has been the western slopes of Boge’s Hole, between Woody Island and the Picnics. Even though these are fish being taken away from Platypus Bay, where the threat of ciguatera poisoning is very real, most local anglers aren’t too keen on taking them home. After all, Spaniards are very fast swimmers and it’s possible for a fish to be feeding at Boge’s Hole just days after leaving Platypus Bay.

Reefs

Hervey Bay’s inshore reefs have been performing well, and should continue to do so at least until the end of April. Coral trout have been the season’s surprise package. These fish have been coming in from most of the reefs, with those fringing Point Vernon and the eastern side of Woody Island responsible for most reports. Many of the trout don’t make the 35cm limit, and thankfully most anglers are taking care to return them to the water unharmed.

Coral bream catches have been disappointing on the shallow reefs, with many undersize fish being taken. Better specimens are coming in from the deep ledges at Micky’s, the Channel Hole and Boge’s Hole. Spangled emperor are also coming in from many of the reefs, with some anglers believing that they have coral bream. This mistake could be costly at a fisheries inspector’s examination of a catch. The legal minimum length of coral bream (grassy sweetlip) is 30cm, while that of spangled emperor is 40cm with a bag limit of 10 fish. The simplest way to distinguish between these closely related species is to look for lines of bright blue spots running across the upper body of the spangled emperor. The coral bream is much more drab, and lacks the bright blue spots.

Blackall to 6kg are still plentiful on both shallow and deep reefs. Most are being taken well into the night on squid, cuttlefish, yabbies and prawns. Disdained as a tablefish by many, this is one reef fish whose eating qualities are enhanced significantly by bleeding.

Estuaries

The Mary and Susan estuaries haven’t been breaking any records lately, but the rain should bring some worthwhile activity. The only fish being reported at the moment are a few javelin, bream, perch and the occasional flathead. Further south, Turkey Straits and German Creek are behaving reasonably well with whiting, bream, flathead, cod and javelin coming in. At South White Cliffs, javelin, school jew and a few blackall are being taken at night.

If all goes according to plan, March should provide plenty of opportunities. This is a month that always seems to produce plenty of variety for lure and fly specialists chasing tuna and trevally. We should also see more reliable catches of whiting, particularly at night, and the first of the season’s Winter whiting might just make an appearance later in the month. All the reefs will continue to fish well in favourable conditions. Fish well this month!

1) You can tell whether you have a spotty mackerel by the abundance of small spots on the upper half of its body.

2) School mackerel have larger spots than spotty mackerel do. Because of the new regulations, it’s important to be able to tell the difference between the species.

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