IF YOU look up ‘hot and steamy’ in the dictionary you’ll find Marilyn Monroe right beside Gladstone from January to March. These typical Central Queensland days of near 40 and high humidity have an impact on estuary and offshore fishing, not to mention the anglers. Summer storms are unpredictable and any trip out requires careful consideration.
High winds in recent weeks have slowed traffic offshore and pushed most fishers into the estuaries. Any day where winds drop below 15 knots and when the swell is less than 1.8m creates a rush to the boat ramps to take on the Gladstone reefs.
March is looking a little better for offshore fishing with the winds and swell becoming more favourable.
The Rock Cod Shoals off Gladstone are fishing well at the moment and are expected to fire up during March. As shoals go these are relatively small, measuring only 17km running east-west and some 8km running north-south. The fish attracting devices are small bommies, shelves, gutters and drop-offs. The fish here aren’t usually found in large schools, so planning a trip requires knowledge of the area and a way to attack the area.
A trip to this location can be very productive. As soon as the wind dropped recently my son Adam and I headed out, giving the rocks on the northern tip of Facing Island a wide berth. I prefer to follow the leads well out before heading ENE on a heading of 67 to Rod Cod Shoals.
We headed for the 8m central shelf (GPS 23S41.57 151E37.22), which drops down to 20m. Drifting has proven a productive start in the past and this trip was set to please. I use paternoster rigs with two sets of ganged 4/0 hooks, 30-50cm above each other connected to dropper loops. A 10-15cm twisted loop keeps the hooks away from the main line, avoiding tangles and enticingly dangling the bait. On this trip we were using small full squid bait with the tentacles attached. The more wafting movement the bait has, the better.
Drifting over shoals is often hell for terminal tackle. Anchoring might save on tackle but on these shoals it never seems to bring home the bacon. Structures are usually small here and fish tend to stay close to their little piece of Australia.
The first couple of drops brought half a dozen decent iodine bream, which make excellent flesh bait. Iodine bream are generally not regarded as a good tablefish but only a small percentage of these fish have an iodine taint in their flesh. Usually, when bled and thrown into an ice slurry, these fish make good table fare.
The gutters of the north-eastern edge are the home of many red-throat. It wasn’t long before Adam’s line was peeled from his reel and an impressive red throat was soon on ice. It’s not uncommon to hear of red throat to 6kg or more. Red throat are best fished on a rising tide as they sweep across shoals on feeding excursions, and we stayed to bring a few more of these fish to the boat before moving to explore new areas of the shoals.
The central northern side of the Rock Cod Shoals is mostly sea grass and it wasn’t long before we hooked onto some parrotfish. The parrot is one of the best of all reef fish – the flesh is white, juicy and sweet.
Squid usually follow the catch to the boat and it’s common to return with a squid or six in the creel. Those not eaten can be stored for bait for the next trip.
The next fish caught was the spectacular footballer cod – reportedly one of the best tablefish of Australian seas. This one was a deep, iridescent pink and measured 34cm, so we returned it to grow a little.
At this point large schools of fish darted under and around the boat. It surprised us until we saw the 3m grey silhouette that followed. We were also visited by a small pod of dolphins that circled the boat and a pair of large sea turtles that surfaced beside us. It had been a great day so we turned our boat towards the peak of Mt Larcom and motored homeward.
The recent storms have sent mud and debris streaming into the estuaries. With strong winds making it difficult to venture too wide, the inner estuaries are worth a look. Trees Inlet provides a haven from the strong winds as well as providing a varied fishing experience. The Trees Inlet can be accessed via the Toolooa Bends or Auckland Creek. I prefer the Auckland Creek route as it gives me the chance to flick a few lures around the causeway en route. The best spots tend to be where the mangroves open to expose small channels. Fishing on a flooding tide presents the best opportunity.
Extensive mangroves line this small estuary system and every spot offers a good chance. As the tides flood into the mangroves the bream, grunter and the more elusive mangrove jack move in. This is a perfect opportunity to waft bait in front of a marauding predator. The best times are early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
As luck would have it though, on a recent trip with Al (my fishing mate of many years) we were anchored up in the middle of the day. Not a good time to fish at the best of times but tides and weekends don’t always match up as you would like. Even so, we did manage to pick up a couple of whiting, a few grunter, a half-decent flattie and several bream, which obviously became separated from their parents. They were returned to the water, none the worse for wear and a little wiser for their experience.
There’s nothing worse than pulling the anchor into the boat and bringing with it the mud and mess from the bottom into the anchor well – or worse still, inside the boat.
I recently added a hinged bow roller and a new central clip bollard. This enables the anchor to be carried on the bow safely both on and off the water. It’s also simple to drop the anchor by unclipping the holding pin – a simple alteration with many benefits.
Masthead is fishing well, with several prized coral trout coming to the boats that braved the conditions. Even some big trevally are gulping down the baits. Pilchards seem to be doing the trick. The ocean side of Masthead appears to be the spot if you can stay out of the northerlies. Coral trout have also been active around Polmaise Reef and Erskine Island. I reckon these locations would be worth checking out when the weather clears.
In the closer reefs, I’d give Bass Shoals near Rundle Island a go. These are a lot smaller than Rock Cod Shoals but do have some big bommies. The Bass Shoals are a little more protected and have produced some monster jew. Rundle Island is often overlooked but gives up some decent sweetlip. You can always find a spot to get out of the breeze so fishing around Rundle gives you a lot of options.
If the conditions are right you could also duck around the corner to Yellow Patch. Whiting have been actively biting at Yellow Patch lately. The sand bar at the entrance should be approached with caution; use the tide to get you in and out.
With the recent heavy rain, you can’t go past the mouths of most estuaries. Calliope River hasn’t been producing much of late but March might just be the month for it to fire up. Once the rains slow down the fresh water should start moving out to sea. I’m hoping to pull some elbow slapper whiting from the yabby banks near Wiggins Island.
Rock Cod Shoals are 35km ENE from the Northern Entrance to Gladstone.
1) Adam and one of red-throats from Rock Cod Shoals. These fish are avid biters and fight remarkably well.
2) The author and one of the parrotfish destined for the plate.
3) Al consoles a small bream before returning it to its mum and dad.Reads: 5542