Spoilt for choice at Gladstone
  |  First Published: April 2005

Gladstone comes alive at Easter with the Harbour Festival bringing thousands of visitors to the area. There are so many options during April that the difficulty is choosing where to go. After recent rains, the estuaries will be fishing supermarkets and the reef areas will be alive with opportunity.

On the reef

Rat Island is a good option during April, particularly on the neap tides middle of the month. The rock gutters close to Curtis Island hold good cod but the swells can sometimes make it uncomfortable. The rocky bottom is anchor grabbing so a coral pick with bendable tines is the best selection. It is worth keeping bait just off the bottom using paternoster rigs. The occasional sweetlip and parrot can also be pulled in here.

Rock Cod Shoals is fishing quite well but not as consistently as previous trips. The outer edges have not been going well however, some quality parrot, cod and bream are being caught from the shallow areas and coral gutters. Collared sea bream are in prolific numbers and while not the most treasured of reef fish, they battle fiercely for their size and make an acceptable pan fish if placed immediately in ice slurry.

On a recent trip to Rock Cod Shoals, my mate Adam was getting several double hook-ups, which on his light rod, made an enjoyable tussle. We were having more success on the central shelf areas with depths of about 8-12m. Fishing away from this area on the outer edges, from the 15-20m range was not firing as it usually does. Go figure!

Good parrot fish have been caught in numbers on the shoals with some trips producing only parrots. Not that there is anything wrong with parrot fish - they are excellent table fare and make thick juicy fillets.

Awoonga Dam

Another friend Paul and I spent a peaceful afternoon throwing lures at timber around Awoonga Dam. We targeted several of the gullies south of the dam wall. These are snag-lined fingers of water and relatively deep. My Explorer 500 isn’t really built for barra fishing but it was manoeuvrable enough to get in and out of these gullies.

We anchored up and peppered the edges. My friend decided to try a new location and flung his lure over the highest limb of the one of trees hanging over the water. An unusual location, I thought, but hey, what do I know about barra fishing? Needless to say the lure is still dangling from the bough enticing barra to jump the 15m to pull it down.

We targeted the clump of trees in the main southern gully. The wind drift was carrying us nicely around this clump while I used the motor as a rudder to steer along the edge. Something grabbed my lure (KMG Scorpion 125) and chased me around the boat. Right at the edge of the boat it just let go - no bust off or break loose. All I had to show for the battle was a mangled headed lure with one eye missing and scratches along the sides. It seems the fish had the lure from the head but did not disturb the hooks. Bugger!

Awoonga is a likely target again this month and will see this little black duck peppering the snags along the southern banks for that elusive barra.

Bustard Heads and Outer Rocks

I have written previously about a trip to Pancake Creek (QFM October 2004). This is one of the best beach camping locations in Central Queensland so a second trip was always going to be on my calendar. On this weekend, my friend Alan and I travelled from Gladstone meeting up with another couple of mates, Gordon and Macca, who left from Boyne. We met up at Gatcombe Heads and motored through the outside markers. At the last marker, we set the compass at 105° (or set your GPS on Clews Point at 151E46.344 23S29.754) It was clear water all the way to Pancake Creek, some 90 minutes away. If the weather is a little rougher, heading out through Rodd Harbour is a better option.

The first beach is the best camping location in Pancake Creek. It also has an excellent well just behind the beach amongst the palm trees. A large poly pipe sunk into the sand has a heavy stainless steel bucket attached. You simply lower the small bucket inside the poly pipe and the reward is sweet, clean water. I wouldn’t rely on it though and would recommend boiling it before drinking a lot.

The second beach has a clear sandy gutter along the northern ridge. It is accessible by boat but it is narrow with isolated rocks. Some unofficial posts mark hull piercing rocky outcrops but I wouldn’t count on them always being there.

The third beach has two sandy gutters, north and south of some large central rocks. The southern gutter is easier to access than the northern gutter. However, two large logs lie parallel to the beach just at the low water mark. Keep these in focus and you can set your boat on the sand. Lay out a bow and stern anchor to keep the boat in line with the gutter and avoid lateral movement.

Of course, beaching the boat is only one option when camping. Another is to beach, unload and then settle the boat to anchor afloat out of reach of all obstacles.

We arrived at Pancake Creek on an early morning high tide, which meant we were free to explore on a midday ebb tide, not usually a great fishing time anyway. On this weekend we were lucky to be the only campers on the first beach. We were also here to meet up with John, an old mate and colleague who in his retirement was caretaking at the Bustard Head lighthouse.

This lighthouse is a casual 2km stroll along a clearly marked walking track that meanders through the bush from the third beach. The lighthouse and the caretaker cottages have been painstakingly restored to immaculate condition, a tribute to a small group of dedicated workers.

Bustard Heads lighthouse, commissioned in 1869 and automated in 1986, features in a book by Stuart Buchanan titled ‘Lighthouse of Tragedy’. A trip to the small, well maintained cemetery puts the title into perspective and helps you appreciate this area’s tragic past.

The view from the lighthouse is nothing short of spectacular with panoramic views of Pancake Creek, Jenny Lind Creek and the three main fishing locations of Bustard Heads – Inner, Middle and Outer Rocks.

We tripped back to our campsite and fished the afternoon flood. This area is typical of most beaches of the Gladstone area, giving up flathead, whiting and bream. A trevally grabbed my light gear but it was far too big and was never going to be brought to the beach. It took off, with my small whiting hook never troubling it much.

In the morning, we broke camp and headed out to Middle Rocks. The bait was going off and there is not much worse than squid once it warms up. The bait would scare mongrel dogs away! I was using a paternoster rig with one huge snapper lead and two single 4/0 hooks while Alan was using a wire trace with a large ball sinker and a 5/0 hook.

Gordon and Macca had a few bust offs but couldn’t get anything into the boat. The new moon was a few days away and the big tides made getting to the bottom tougher than we had hoped. We tried anchoring and drifting but we still needed plenty of lead to bottom bash effectively.

Middle Rocks wasn’t helping us much so we moved a little further off shore to Outer Rocks. This is made up of one large central rock and a single small satellite rock. Structure fans out southward with some peaks to a depth of 8m, dropping off to 22m. The bottom is obviously rocky but coral outcrops and weed banks were picked up on the sounder.

We drifted with the current along a varied structure line and Alan snagged onto a honeycomb cod. These are not renowned as table fish as the fillets lack flavour. The honeycomb cod has signature black bands along the bottom edges of the tail and anal fins and grows to 45cm; what they lack in size, they make up for in struggle. Cod are not usually much as sport fish but this one put up a good fight.

Drifting with the current across this structure proved successful so we decided to head back, just past the southern edge of the satellite rock, and drift again. As we headed over one of the drop offs for a second time, a good-sized parrot took my line and ended up in the icebox.

Not a whole lot of fish to show for the trip, but camping at Pancake will still be on my calendar again and again.

1) A solid parrot from rock cod shoals on a slow day of glassy conditions.

2) Gordon tests out the well on the first beach at Pancake Creek.

3) Macca rests after a stroll from Pancake Creek campsite to the Bustard Head Lighthouse.

4) Al and his Outer Rocks honeycomb cod before returning to the waters of Bustard Head.

5) There should have been barra at this location on Awoonga Dam, but not this day.

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