On Mackay’s beaches
  |  First Published: April 2004

RECENTLY QFM received a letter from an avid reader asking for some info on beach fishing in the Mackay area. We have so many great beaches here it would be impossible to report on each one individually, so here’s a general rundown on locations, species and tactics.

One of the easiest to get to locations is the stretch of beach that runs from the new Marina down to the mouth of the Pioneer River. Access is easy and there’s no need for a 4WD. Simply follow the signs along Harbour Road to the new Marina area and turn right towards the Surf Club. Continue past the Club and onto the gravel and just head south to the river. The road is rough but if you take it easy you won’t have any problems. There are a number of tracks that go down to the beach from this access road but I suggest you park your vehicle and walk down rather than drive over the fragile dune areas.

This beach is similar to most in the Mackay area in that it’s relatively flat and doesn’t have many features apart from some obvious gutters at low tide. With the large tidal range we have here the water goes out a long way at low tide and can come in fairly fast, so keep your wits about you and watch that you don’t get cut off by the incoming tide and have to swim for it. The same common sense rules apply to any beach fishing situation.

There are literally hundreds of other spots to beach fish in and around Mackay. Some of the more popular are Lamberts beach, Harbour Beach, Town Beach, Far Beach, Mc Ewans Beach, Half tide and Sarina Beach to the south.

North of Mackay try the beaches in the St Helens area, Seaforth, Blacks and Eimeo beaches and near the mouth of Slade Creek. To get more info on these areas, have a talk to any of our local tackle shop staff and they’ll give you accurate, up-to-date info to assist you. If there are northerly winds be very mindful of box jellyfish and always carry some vinegar with you at the beach in case of stingers. Better still, don’t get in the water at all unless you have long trousers or a stinger suit.


The whiting is probably the most common fish caught from our beaches and they are such good fun to catch that a session is always a treat. The succulent fillets are always welcome on the plate and even the fussiest eater will enjoy them. Mackay beaches have good numbers of whiting and they come in sizes up to 500g. Believe me – six or eight at that size is a great feed for the average family. As always, take what you need for now and leave the rest for another day. The whiting are available all year round but the summer months are the best. Like whiting everywhere, ours prefer clean, clear water. If the spot you’re looking at has dirty water, look elsewhere.

Another familiar catch on our beaches is the snub-nosed dart and its close relatives the golden trevally and the spotted trevally. These three are often found in each other’s company and respond to the same baits and artificials. The smaller swallowtail dart is also often found roaming along our beaches, and they provide great sport on light gear. Treated well, by bleeding immediately and icing them down, they are quite tasty.

Flathead are also a very common catch off the beaches, and while ours don’t grow to the humungous southern sizes they do get quite respectable and are well worth chasing. They are often caught while whiting fishing and obviously find the same habitat to their liking. Look for small gutters and fish the shallow water on the incoming tide. Most of the flathead caught here are bar-tailed ones with a few duskies mixed in. Clear water over sandy areas seems to be their preference although they will lie up on muddy areas too. If there are a few rocks interspersed with sand, flathead will definitely be in the area.

The above species are fairly well available throughout most of Queensland’s beaches but we have a couple of odd bods here that rate a special mention.

Barra aren’t prolific along the beaches but those near creek or river mouths throw up enough each year to suggest that barra are far more common on our beaches than generally believed. I wouldn’t set out to deliberately chase barra on our beaches but it’s worth keeping in mind. Barra often scoff a yabby bait meant for whiting or a small livey set for a flathead and provide much sport on light gear. As there are virtually no snags on a beach, patience will wear down quite large fish on very light gear.

Threadfin salmon of both species are also caught along our beaches, usually on yabbies and when targeting other species. Again, they seem to be an incidental catch rather than a specific target. Another salmon, the so-called queenie salmon or steelback, is quite common along our beaches. Southerners sometimes think they’ve caught a chopper tailor or two as they are very similar in shape and size. Steelies are aggressive little fish that rarely grow much over 35-40cm and are beaut fun to catch. They leap out of the water and make fast darting runs on light gear. If you intend to eat any of these species, bleed them straight away and get them on ice.

There’s always the chance of running into a quuenfish or two along our beaches, particularly towards the top of the tide. Other occasional catches include ribbonfish, giant herring, tarpon and various sharks and rays. All are good fun to catch on light gear and provide a bit of variety. Throw in the odd bream and tarwhine, and you can see that there’s an abundance of species to be caught along our beaches.


Most of the gutters at low tide are towards the mouth of the river but that doesn’t mean there’s no productive water along the other sections. As a general rule, fishing from low tide up is the best bet for this area. Starting at low tide or thereabouts also means it’s easier to pump yabbies or to find worms or pipis to use for bait. We don’t get the large beachworms that are common further south, but there are smaller ones that can be caught by dragging a smelly bait along in the wave wash.

Our pipis are pretty small – most are about half the size of a 5c coin – but they are very good bait as most of the beach forager species will readily take them. They are easy to find and can be caught by using both feet to ‘puddle’ down into the sand at the water’s edge and then keep then in a bucket or yabby creel. Pipis are one of the main food sources in this area for the snub-nosed dart, or ‘oyster cracker’ as they are known locally. Perhaps ‘pipi cracker’ would be a more accurate description.

Beach worms are available but there’s a fair amount of work involved in finding them and extracting them from the sand. An easier way to go is to front up to the local tackle shops as most of them carry at least some fresh worms, mainly for the whiting anglers. A small packet of worms will easily last an outing and there’s no time wasted getting the bait. Obviously the availability depends on suppliers but for my money this is the simplest way to get some worms for bait. Ordinary garden worms will also work if you’re determined to get your own.

Probably the most universal bait used here for beach fishing and creek fishing is the humble yabby. There are good yabby beds along most of our beaches and they can be readily pumped at low tide. If you want to fish the harbour to river mouth beach you can pump yabbies inside the harbour and next to the old boat ramp at low tide. These beds are small so only take the bare minimum so there’ll be plenty left for later. If you’re in doubt about yabby supplies at any of our local beaches just call into any of our local tackle stores and have a yarn to the staff. They’ll be happy to help, especially if you fork over a few bucks for some gear.

Prawns can also be used along our beaches but fresh yabbies are a far better proposition than frozen or even fresh prawns. The yabby is a natural food source for the beach roaming fish and will be taken without hesitation.


Almost all of the species I’ve mentioned will take an artificial, be it a fly, minnow, soft plastic or a metal lure. Probably the most versatile lure for the beach is the soft plastic type with a small jighead and a single-tail grub. The hook size and head size varies according to what you’re chasing; there’s not much point in using a 2/0 hook on a very heavy head to catch whiting. The smaller species obviously need fine hooks and small bodies, while the larger fish like trevally can easily scoff a large lure.

Thousands of flathead have been caught over the last 30 to 40 years on Mister Twister double tails, and while they still work I think you’re better off using a single tail or small shad to appeal to more varieties of fish. Check out some of the new Tsunami range and other similar types. Colours aren’t a big factor when beach fishing but remember that you’re fishing very clear, shallow water so more natural colours are the best bet. Don’t forget that small whiting and suchlike are almost transparent so the small shads in almost clear colours will mimic small fish very well.

Hard-bodied lures aren’t often used off our beaches, but small shallow diving minnows up to around 100mm or so will work on many of the common species found on the beaches. Refer to the species list and use natural bait colours and you’ll have success. There’s no need for any depth as most of the fishing is done in less than 2m of water. The biggest factor is the wind resistance of the lure.

This brings us onto the next category of lure, the metal slug types. These lures, like the old Pegrons and the later Flasha spoons, are very versatile and will catch all the above species except whiting. They offer good casting in a small lure and can be worked slowly and bounced along the bottom or faster to attract the attention of queenies, trevallies and so forth. The hook-up rate is good and wind doesn’t worry them too much. They are a sadly neglected tool in North Queensland.

Flyfishing along our beaches is very wind dependant, but all the mentioned fish can be caught on flies. My son Lachlan loves beach flyfishing and uses a lovely little 7wt outfit whenever wind and time permits. His favourite flies are Surf Candies, small Clousers and Deceivers. Flathead are suckers for the Surf Candies and Lachlan has caught small pike, bream and Moses perch on them. Because of the shallow water use either floating or intermediate lines and keep the flies small.


Down south, long casts are the norm on the beaches and the Alvey and long sloppy rod are king. Here a small light spinning rod and a reel that will hold, say, 150-200m of 6kg braid will handle just about any fish you’re likely to come across. This light gear is great for whiting and so forth and with patience can be used to wear down quite impressively large fish.

For lure fishing I suggest a short double and a leader of 10kg breaking strain or lighter if you’re chasing whiting. For bait fishing, keep the rig to a minimum by using a 50cm or so leader and a light sinker above a swivel or the leader knot. Light, no-fuss rigging is the go here. As always, make sure your hooks are super sharp.

Many locals don’t do beach fishing and I wonder why it’s not more popular. The environment is clean and the water clear. The trip can be arranged at short notice, there’s no boat to wash down afterwards and the catch is invariably of high quality fish. Give it a go!

1) A typical beach formation near the mouth of the Pioneer River.

2) Various plastics and small Flasha spoons are suitable for beach fishing. The 30mm nail gives an idea of size.

3) Small Clousers, Surf Candies and so forth are all good for beach fishing.

4) Lachlan Day with a typical size flathead from the beach.

5) A tasty six-pack of whiting from a Mackay beach.

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