Hot spots on the reefs
  |  First Published: May 2004

BUNDABERG has many offshore options. This month I’m going to tell you about some of my favourite techniques and locations for this time of year, and also what you can expect to catch.

Offshore Bundaberg is shallow water, rarely reaching over 40m deep for over 50 nautical miles. Fraser Island runs parallel with the coast from Burnett Heads in the north down to Tin Can Bay in the south. The currents that run between the island and the mainland create natural gutters that are like rivers running north and south. With each tide change the water ebbs to the north and floods to the south, and around the full and new moon can make holding the bottom very difficult.

To the northeast is Lady Elliot Island, which is the first island of the Bunker Group and is where the Barrier Reef begins. When the coral spawns, the eggs fix themselves to the sides of the gutters and form small reefs, which attract other marine life. When diving these gutters you can see large groups of fish hovering on the drop-offs and the sea grasses – coral trout, red emperor, parrot, sweetlip, hussar and many others.

These reefs also encourage large schools of bait, which attract large pelagic fish. The shallow water makes for great light tackle fishing but the clear water means fish are easily deterred from unnatural looking baits. In some areas, like the artificial reef off Elliot Heads, you can see large trout and parrot and other reef species freely swimming about and you very rarely hear of any of them being captured. I believe that during the day you have to fish in over 30m of water to catch large reef fish consistently.

In Bundaberg the fish are ‘educated’ on the closer reefs, so you have to outsmart them. This is best done by using solunar tables, working your tides, fishing early in the morning and late in the afternoon, presenting natural looking baits and so on. However, in spite of all this planning and preparation, some days are great and some days are not so great. If you have any other good ideas I’ve love to hear them!

We have two great artificial reefs in the Bundaberg area – one off Elliot Heads and one off Woodgate. These areas have loads of resident fish but they are very educated. One of the bycatches are the pelagics that come into these areas on shopping sprees for the large schools of bait hiding out on these reefs. A great example of how these fish are educated is, when on a dive at the Cochrane artificial one day I saw a bait land on the bottom beside the reef and a few of the smaller fish went out to inspect it and head-butted it but wouldn’t eat it, and when the berley floated down the smaller fish scurried to the surface to intercept the bait. The trout and larger fish lying in their holes on the bottom sped out and cleaned up what was left while the bait on the hook sat there the whole time, untouched. The lesson here is to make your bait look as natural as possible, and to remember that being on the bottom isn’t that important.

I have changed my tactics over the years. I used to think that the turn of the tide with no run was the only time to fish. I find now that I catch a lot of the bigger fish when the tide runs at its hardest. The best method is to use a light sinker and line – as light as you dare – and feed your bait down the current line to the larger fish sitting back from the boat, freespooling your reel and trying to not let the line impede the natural floating of the bait. The bigger fish will be sitting there, picking up the dregs coming down from your bait tray or berley pot and the offal from the smaller fish directly under the boat that aren’t hooking up. We often use a small pink squid over the bait, which creates a little action and visibility – especially when the line is set on the strike drag.

The Barjon

This sunken trawler, lying in 20m of water 10 nautical miles from Burnett Heads, is the place where you can catch your record-breaking fish on light tackle. Huge schools of trevally circle the wreck, with many other species intermingled including cobia, mackerel, barracuda, snapper and tuna. Along with the large schools of bait there’s seagrass surrounding the wreck, with big cobia laying in wait for anything that floats or swims down the current line. The members from the Bundaberg Sports Fishing Club usually come here to try to break records and score points on light line. One of the most common practices is to use 1kg line and catch some of the longtom, which grow to over 1.2m and frequent the surface. It’s also a great spot for flyfishing, with many people getting spooled by large golden trevally and GTs.

At this time of year you can catch big Spanish macks and large snapper, so give it a shot and let me know how you go.

The Evans Patch

This spot is a large natural rock structure in 20m of water. The bottom can some times be fished out by local spearfisherman who flog this reef, but it’s home to some large pelagic fish that generally window-shop through here for bait. This spot is famous with the divers as a great spot to see large manta rays. We often troll this area, catching some of our biggest Spanish mackerel. You don’t have to be right on the rock, as there are large bait schools to the north and the south.

At this time of year you can expect to catch some of the biggest Spanish macks, but watch out for the big barracuda. We caught some over1.8m long last year – not recommended for the faint hearted.

The Cochrane Artificial

This reef has been very successful, thanks to the efforts of many volunteers who have contributed with regular reef dumps over the years. It lies in 18m of water, two miles from the coastal village of Elliot Heads, and the diving is superb, with all the major reef fish inhabiting the area.

At this time of year you’ll catch all sizes and types of mackerel. The locals also love to catch snapper here in the cooler months, along with small red emperor, parrot and grass sweetlip.

The Woodgate Artificial

This reef has been fishing well lately. It used to be one of the best places to catch mackerel until the pros started netting all the fish as they came north around the point from Hervey Bay. Recent years have seen the number of pros diminish with the fish stocks and, with changes in the catch limits applied for mackerel, the fish should be in for a big year. This is a great place for family holidays, with a beautiful long beach with clean, safe water for the children to swim in.

At this time of year you can expect to catch all the species of mackerel, along with some of the best whiting in the area.

The reefs still deliver good fish here, and local knowledge is a must. The locals will be happy to show you some hotspots (my personal favourites are Taylor’s and Polman’s reefs). If you see any boats sitting around, go and check out their spots. There are little reefs everywhere.

The Four-Mile Reef

This is one of the famous mackerel spots for small boat owners in Bundaberg. It’s already fishing great for mackerel, and this should continue through to June.

The colder months also see good catches of snapper here. I like to fish the southern drop off of an afternoon with a little berley.

The Two-Mile Reef

This is the favourite mackerel fishing ground for Bargara Beach residents. A reef called Burkitt’s runs all the way out to the Two-Mile from the boat ramp and is a great place to troll for mackerel. Although speared heavily, this reef still produces good reef species and is one of the prettiest drift dives on the coast.

Ryan’s Rock

Another rock formation like the Two-Mile Reef, Ryan’s Rock has plenty of bait. Big mackerel can be caught from here to the leads at Burnett Heads, and you can also catch some great reef fish species here early in the morning.


Lures are great for catching mackerel off Bundaberg. Every week the guys at Salty’s fishing tackle have a new lure that’s working better than the last one, and they’re the blokes to talk to if you want an up-to-date report on what’s hot.

I’m foolish and love using the skirted lures, and because of this I’m always buying new lure skirts as the toothy critters maul them all the time. My favourite colours are the greens, lumo sprocket and blues. Take it from me – they work great.

Deep diving lures are great on the wreck site as they really get down. I find the ones with the bigger bibs, which get down from 10m to 15m, are the best. Don’t be afraid to buy big lures – they really seem to excite the big fish up here, especially the wahoo.

You can’t beat anything silver cast out wide or sunk to the bottom and jigged to the top. The jigging techniques really work well on the wrecks, and you can see why when you look at the sounder picture above the wrecks – there are fish everywhere.

Livebaits are the best you can get, and on their day they will out-fish anything. You can troll them, float them under a float or let them drift back in the current. My favourite is to troll them down 15m on the downrigger over the wrecks and reef.

The livebaits available in this area are yellowtail, slimy mackerel, herring or sprat and pike. If you can get some slimy mackerel you’ll catch fish, as slimeys are one of the favourite dishes of the pelagic species around here.

The best way to catch bait is to use a bait jig, which you can buy at your local tackle store. Drop the jig to the bottom with a lead weight on one end and jig it up and down just off the bottom. The baitfish hang on all the reefs and are best caught early in the morning.

When reef fishing, if you catch any fish smaller than 250mm use it as a livebait (so long as it’s of legal size). You’ll surprised at the results. If you have no livebaits it’s always best to float a dead bait out about 20m from the boat as the odd cobia or mackerel will pick them up.

These are just some general ideas. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and if it doesn’t work today it may work another time. Never say never!

Recent catches

With the cyclones or lows coming down the coast the chartering business has been a little slow, with rough weather beating us down since Christmas. On the days we have got out we have caught big sweeties, red emperor, cobia, Spanish mackerel and parrot. The macks have been getting over the 15kg mark in the last month and we’re hoping to break last year’s record of 35kg.


At the end of last month we went to Hervey Bay to fish in the Fraser Coast Game Fishing Club’s Tuna Challenge, and we had a great weekend. The FCGFC Tuna Challenge is the first round of the Australian Tuna on Fly circuit. The next event is at Bribie Island, and there’ll be two more at Mooloolaba. Thanks go to the boys at Salty’s, whose knowledge of lures and gear helped us win the Spin and Junior sections. The secret to catching tuna on spin is the size of the lure and the speed of the retrieve, so it’s important to have the right gear.

I must also say thanks to the guys at the FCGFC for running a great comp. The guys in Hervey Bay were great, and with a facility like the Hervey Bay Boat Club how could you go wrong? There’s nothing better then coming home from a day’s fishing, berthing your boat at the front of the club and going up and having a beer and lunch. (It was hard to find someone to drive the boat back to the marina but my wife did a great job.)

The 10 fly teams and six spin teams caught a total of 187 fish, including 11 longtails and 176 mack tuna. The winners are as follows: Champion Spin Angler – Tim Mullhall; Champion Fly Angler – Kim Streathern; Champion Fly Team – Frequent Flyer (Shaun Ryan and Aaron Concorde); Champion Spin Team – Team Salty’s (Robert Wood and Tim Mullhall); Champion Junior – David Borland.


The Burnett River has been fishing great, with large schools of bait coming into the sheltered bays and inlets. You can use these fish as weather predictors, as they turn up at the marina in droves whenever bad weather is coming.

While the water is brown and fresh the resident bream won’t bite well, but as soon as it turns green and clear they seem to charge at lures. It certainly makes for a quick fish fix when you’re not going offshore due to bad weather. Natural coloured soft plastics seem to be the answer to nailing fussy bream around the rocks.

If you’re thinking of heading to Bundaberg you don’t need to bring your boat or camping gear – we can set you up with a boat or a campertrailer from Johnno’s Camper Hire (ph. (07) 4154 2754).

If you’d like to go offshore on one of our charters, or if you’d like to hire a boat set up for estuary fishing, give ma a call at Bundaberg Fishing Charters and Hire Boats on 0427 590 995 or (07) 4159 0995. If you’re bringing your own boat I’m happy to give you the latest updates or fishing marks, and if you need a guide or freshwater river charter I can hook you up with the right person.

1) Fish ‘n’ 4 Wheels host Eddie Riddle with a good snapper caught on Kato.

2) Spencer Carr with a 25kg Spanish mackerel.

3) Thomas Wood caught this bream in the Burnett River on a soft plastic.

4) A tasty coral trout caught on Kato. The angler is Matt Ferris.

5) Robert Wood, Rob Paxevanos and Geoff Bayer with a longtail tuna caught on Kato.

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