MASTHEAD is a Mecca for Gladstone reef anglers. It has everything to send flutters of anticipation down an angler’s spine – pristine tropical environs and crystal white beaches surrounded by fish-holding fringing coral. It’s only 40km from Gladstone, putting it within reach of most fishers who have a rig bigger than 5m. At the right tide it’s possible to beach the boat and explore the island, and at the right time of the year you can camp on the crystal white beach.
Around Masthead and the neighbouring Polmaisse Reef there are monster coral trout, red emperor and huge red-throat. Polmaisse is one spectacular reef, fully submerged on most tides, with the makings of a piscatorial supermarket. The reef runs east-west and is easily seen by breaking waves and spectacular colour changes. Structures fan out from the main reef area. Masthead also runs east-west with the beach area on the north-western corner. It can be accessed only on the right tide. Beware of the coral!
My mates Al, Gordon, Ian and I had been planning our weekend trip to Masthead since the start of the year. Al and I were travelling from Auckland Creek on my boat and planned to meet up with Gordon and Ian, who were leaving from the Boyne River.
For safety we always carry twice as much fuel as we need, allowing for unplanned contingencies such as inclement weather and bigger than predicted seas. 1 litre per kilometre is a safe guide (we carried 160 litres for this 80km round trip). Knowing your boat is important.
Right up to a few days before our trip everything looked good. Then ‘they’ began predicting strong winds, big swell and the dreaded north-westerlies! We hoped conditions would improve.
At 4am on the morning of the trip, the Rundle Island weather station reported 18 knot north-westerly winds and it looked like increasing. I don’t normally head to the reef in these conditions but we decided to play it by ear this time, preparing to turn back if conditions turned nasty.
The harbour was great, and as we swung around Facing Island towards Masthead the waves were less than 1.2m. For the first part of the trip we were on the lee of Curtis Island so we gingerly picked our way through the waves. It wasn’t so bad; my boat is a 5.2m half cabin which gives pretty good protection from waves.
It’s important to keep the trim tight in when hitting waves so the bow sits low into the water. The reverse is true on a following sea. Trim the motor out to keep the bow higher in the water. There’s nothing scarier than a sliding bow when heading down a wave!
As soon as we were in open waters we bumped against the 1.5-1.8m waves and battled the 15-20 knot winds – but we were heading for Masthead, albeit slower than we hoped.
The plan was to meet at Polmaisse, work the southern face, beach the boats on Masthead and feast on coral trout at the camp-fire on the beach.
We anchored on the south eastern tip of Polmaisse (GPS 23S35.37 151E42.17) in 14m of water. There is so much structure you could spend months fishing here. We had a fabulous profile on the sounder with heaps of fish arches. It’s worth zooming the sounder on the bottom.
This whole area is a fantastic place to fish. Al and I swallowed a Kwell or three and bashed the bottom as well as into each other. Who would have thought that a floor of seawater, squid guts and pillie scales could be so slippery?
We attempted to berley up but in rough conditions a berley trail is difficult to establish. In these waves we had to work to get any berley down, with the ever-present seagulls swooping up scraps from the surface. I’m sure the birds’ silhouettes scare the blazes out of nearby fish.
In rough water it’s a good idea to cast away from the boat, as the noisy movement of the anchor chain and the banging of the hull tend to frighten timid fish. I used a paternoster rig and Al used a running sinker, and squid was the bait. Trying to keep the rigs off the bottom and away from snags was a challenge. Al’s rig snagged on the bottom more often than he would have liked, but he did catch fish. It just goes to show that you have to be on the bottom to be in the chase.
We managed to pull in some decent grassy sweetlip and red-throat emperor as well as a couple of half-decent stripeys. Small stripeys end up in the bait bucket but those of a decent size (30cm or more) are certainly no disgrace on the plate. Stripeys attack moving bait and prefer to come off the bottom. You’ll often catch these fish on the way down or the way up. It’s common for a shoal of stripeys to shelter up on coral ledges so you always catch more than one.
When Gordon and Ian arrived about 20 minutes later we had nearly had enough. The conditions got the better of us so we pried loose our coral picks and headed homeward.
We changed plan and decided to head for the safety of The Oaks on Facing Island instead of sleeping on Masthead. The Oaks is so named because of the large oak trees that stand as sentinels on the beach. This is a million dollar beach with a fabulous camping site.
The best way to access the entry is at the point where the two entrance leads intersect. Align this point and Curtis Island boat ramp and head to the beach before turning north. The water here is deep enough at the lowest tide, but you have to take care.
Even the safe anchorage of The Oaks couldn’t protect us from the north-westerlies on this trip. I anchored stern-in but the bow anchor didn’t hold and the boat washed up higher on the beach than I had hoped. The stern anchor up the beach held tight though. We headed home when enough water floated the boats.
With the full moon on May 5, the first weekend in May is looking good, weather permitting. The new moon is on May 19 so it’s probably worth having a go on May 22 and 23.
I also find the inshore reefs fish a little better immediately after a big blow. The increased wave action seems to bring the reef alive.
The 12-Mile Reef is one of the current hot spots. This small reef structure is known for some big fish and it can boil up quickly and go off just as fast. This reef is fully open to the elements, so good weather makes it more comfortable. It’s really only a couple of bommies but when it’s on fire you really know you are fishing. Red emperor, grunter and spangled emperor are common catches here.
For a shorter trip, Seal Rocks is worth a look. Seal Rocks has one major rock but is surrounded by numerous smaller outcrops of rock and coral. The main rock is exposed most of the time but others can only been seen at low water. It’s worth being there on a making tide in the afternoon and anchor up on the lee side. Cod, parrot, sweetlip and the occasional trout can be coaxed to the boat.
If you are land bound, the bridges on the Calliope River are pulling in a good feed on a rising tide. Bream and cod congregate around the pylons, and peeled prawns can often entice fussy pickers. Keep your gear light and tackle small, and work the bait as close as you can and let it drift down the side. The tide rushes through here so you need to work just before and after the turn. You might have to put up with lots of tiddlers before you bag the snodger bream, but on light gear it’s just as much fun.
If you’re in your boat, the sand and gravel bar just up from the pylons at Beecher Bar is a good spot to have a go for whiting and flathead. If you venture farther down to Devil’s Elbow try the gravel bar on the northern bank for whiting and salmon.
With the cooler weather in May, threadfin salmon are coming on the bite. The harbour islands with pronounced drops offer good chances. Picnic and Garden islands are well worth a look. These are only small but are surprisingly active. Use live prawns and work close to mangrove banks.
There’s also a good chance you’ll pull in a pike eel, which seem to frequent these islands as the weather starts to cool down. I once made the mistake of netting one of these ornery critters. The ensuing tangled mess made the net worthless.
Over 2500 entries are expected for the 2004 Boyne Tannum Hookup held on the Queen’s Birthday Weekend from June 11-13. This is a major fishing competition for the Gladstone area, drawing visitors from all over Australia and raising thousands of dollars for local organisations.
This year the Hook Up boasts over $120,000 in cash and prizes. There are prizes for most categories of fish, including many catch-and-release categories. There are five boats to be won, one of which is a Cruisecraft Explorer 575. You can check the details at www.boynetannumhookup.com.au. [If you don’t have internet access there’s contact info in the Tournament Calendar in this issue – Ed.]
The Hook Up allows Gladstone to showcase what is on offer to the fishing community – brilliant estuary, beach, inshore and offshore reef fishing.
See you on the water.
1) Al with a Polmaisse red-throat. Polmaisse is a large reef area unequalled for fishing capacity in the Gladstone area, and if the weather permits it’s well worth a trip.
2) The Oaks in Gladstone is popular with day trippers and campers. Whiting, trevally and flathead can be caught in the gutters along the beach.
3) Brad Smith holds up a huge spangled emperor from 12-Mile Reef off Gladstone. The best fishing here is after dark, and you need to be prepared to pull in some big fish.Reads: 5605