Gulf beach action
  |  First Published: April 2005

The run-off period at the end of the wet season in April and May is one of the tropics’ most anticipated events. Most fishers associate this time of the year with the flow of freshwater into the many rivers and creeks, and the stimulating effect this has on the fish population.

But there are other places where the inflow of fresh also pushes the piscatorial brigade into overdrive, particularly along the Gulf beaches. The sometimes discoloured water where the discharge from creeks and small beach springs provides protection for masses of baitfish and orange clouds of minute prawns are the place to be if you’re a hungry predator.

The jelly prawn explosion is one of the north’s most interesting phenomena, the proliferation of juvenile banana prawns attracting everything from whiting to barramundi. Along the beaches, the shore-hugging clouds are hammered by queenfish, golden trevally, barra, threadfin salmon, giant herring, tarpon, tripletail, swallowtail dart, snub-nosed dart, pikey bream and flathead.

It’s not uncommon to have to walk back up the beach so you don’t spook a school of goldens feeding right on the water’s edge. The same thing goes for barramundi. If you looking ahead as you move along the beach you’ll often identify old pink eyes lying in the shallows rather than in the deeper stuff.

Even small beach soaks can discharge enough water to attract a host of interested species. Again, be sure to closely investigate these features before you come up to them. It can make the difference between catching or spooking attendant fish.

Small to medium sized queenfish are probably the most common species encountered and they make great sport on light spin and fly tackle. Giant herring are arguably the most spectacular fish but they can be difficult to spot, even to the trained eye.

The flats around the river and creek mouths can provide hours of action, with the peak time being the early flood tide. Be careful not to wade out too far, particularly if the water is murky, as it’s easy to come off second best if a snappin’ handbag comes along.

Bait will also congregate around any rocky outcrops and around snags that have washed in during the monsoons. These places are always worth working over thoroughly, with fish often sitting under overhanging structure.

Washed up logs and trees are popular with tripletails so keep your eyes peeled for the characteristic dark shapes of these fish sheltering in the shady spots. Tripletails like a slow retrieve so don’t be afraid to slow that lure or fly down to a crawl if they follow behind and aren’t catching up.

Permit (snub-nosed dart) just love feeding on jelly prawn schools but they are often so focused on their task that they ignore any lures or flies that come their way. They are super finicky at the best of times but it can be supremely frustrating when you see them feeding so aggressively yet only want to eat 1cm long bait.

Another jelly prawn admirer is the tarpon, and some sizeable specimens can often be located within easy casting distance off the beach. Tarpon schools show up as a dark green patch, often with silver flashes as the fish turn while feeding. The fish are spectacular fighters, jumping often and high and accompanied by that characteristic gill rattle. Some of the Gulf specimens can go better than 3kg, which is about as large as tarpon get in Australian waters.

Weipa, Karumba and Seisia all offer access to some great beach action at the end of the wet. Around Weipa, a boat is not a necessity as some fantastic fishing can be found along Pennefather and Janie Creek beaches if you have a 4WD.

The run-off is a wonderful time to fish anywhere in the tropics. Taking advantage of the spectacular beach fishing is just one of the many options available.


The saga surrounding the ‘promised’ closure of Albatross Bay, Weipa to commercial net fishing has now reached the absurd stage. The answer is nowhere in sight, despite repeated calls from Weipa’s major organisations for the ‘promised’ date of 4 October, 2004 to be honoured. The fishing and business communities are outraged at Fisheries’ patronising attitude towards them.

What began back in 1998 as a petition from nearly 70% of Weipa’s voting population asking for the closure has dragged on for seven years without resolution. After being initially approved by the Queensland Fisheries Management Authority in 1999 and ready to enter legislation, the closure somehow got ‘lost’ during the name changeover to the Queensland Fisheries Service and, incredibly, negotiations had to start all over again when the dust settled.

GulfMAC reviewed the closure several times, and its instigation was eventually subject to a commercial inshore net license trigger point of 85, or October 2004, whichever came first. Owing to the complete failure of the 1999 Gulf Of Carpentaria Management Plan to remove the necessary licenses that were the basis for its success – 65 by 2003 – there are still nearly 90 still operating today. So, the October 2004 date became the one to watch.

In May 2004, a visiting senior Fisheries manager who addressed a Weipa public meeting was left in no doubt about the intent of the community to have the closure put in place. With tourism a major segment of the local economy, and the contribution by commercial fishing very small in comparison, the message about the communities overwhelming support for the October 2004 closure date was made loud and clear.

Yet, this event seemed to fall on deaf ears, as have numerous communications since then with MPs and senior public servants from several departments. It would appear that the Cape’s tourism industry, community wishes, a major economic contributor and a written ‘promise’ are being blatantly overruled by a department that is set on allowing an industry that is worth peanuts in the Albatross Bay area to continue.

When you only have to look a couple of hundreds of kilometres to the west to see the example that the Northern Territory has set for the tourism industry, it’s impossible to comprehend the abysmal treatment that recreational fishing tourism receives in this state.

The people of Weipa are not amused!

[Dave is anxious to locate an article he wrote for Australian Angler sometime in 1974/75/76 called ‘Flying Blues’, a story featuring the first tuna taken on saltwater fly in southern Queensland. If any reader has a copy of the magazine featuring that article, please contact Dave on (07) 4069 9064 or via e-mail on --e-mail address hidden-- – Ed]

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