JUST about every area has its own Rat Island. I remember a certain muddy Rat Island at the end of Short Island at Jumpinpin. It was, in those days, a winter bream and blackfish hotspot, but it washed away many years ago.
Not so Gladstone’s Rat Island; it’s made of sterner stuff. It is a significant rock monolith that stands guard over the North Entrance channel and the township of South End on the southern end of Curtis Island.
You have to work out what you want to target here because there is much on offer and many different ways to catch a feed. In the Rat Island/North Entrance area, estuary and harbour meets sea and it’s a melting pot of all sorts of species. Here, depending on seasons and other conditions, you can catch anything from coral trout to salmon, and mackerel to whiting. There are some real oddities too up here, and this area is famous for its big ‘bluebone’ (venus tuskfish) which can grow up to 10kg.
One recent Sunday my mate Schnitzo and I decided to tow around a couple of RMG minnows to dig out a mackerel or coral trout, which turn up here fairly regularly. We worked the reefs just inside the Oaks for an hour or so, and found that conditions weren’t right. The water was still a bit murky from the recent rain, which was a bit of a surprise. We expected clean water, given the neap tides and smaller run.
A bit about the tides, and accessing the fish here. This area is famous for the speed of its tidal flow, especially on the bigger tidal ranges, and its afternoon chop when the tide tuns out into a northerly wind is a shocker. Many a skipper has been caught by surprise here after enjoying a nice run back from the reef, or north Curtis Island, to be ambushed by a one to two metre short sharp breaking chop. Many craft have found the chop so steep that the nose buries into the wave in front while a ‘greeny’ threatens to swamp the motor at the rear. Watch it – it can be dangerous.
With the tide nearing its peak, John and I decided to change our approach. Upping anchor after unsuccessfully fishing the reefs close in to South End’s ocean beach, we started exploring. Very gingerly we planned to motor right up to Rat Island and have a bit of a look. The coral reef that rings Rat Island is very treacherous, but it’s also very interesting as it has many deeper holes mixed in, along with weed beds and tidal rips. Watching the sounder was good fun as bommie after bommie gave way to gutters and holes. This is definitely a high tide caper – you’d be right on top of this lot at low tide.
Between Rat Island and South End, we selected what appeared to be a weed-lined hole surrounded by coral reef on one side and a tidal flow on the other. The tide had just peaked and we had a bit of slack water fishing to look forward to before the run meant we wouldn’t keep a bait near the fish.
Our technique was to throw very lightly weighted king prawns up into the current and bounce them back along the bottom in a lifelike fashion. Prawn baits are always susceptible to ‘pickers’, and we hoped to avoid them and attract a reefie of some sort. These prawns were of such choice quality they were going home to the pot if they were fishing failures!
After a few minutes my Penn Spinfisher buckled over and the line started coursing up against the flow – a solid fish had scoffed the first prawn even before it had swung around with the flow. After a good tussle a kilo of grassy sweetlip (spangled emperor) hit the surface, flashing its iridescent blue spots.
I baited up and cast out again. I like to keep a humble handline out as a surprise sleeper to pull a bit of action when all else is quiet and, sure enough, the big handline suddenly rattled in the bucket as something bolted off. Handline fishing is up close and personal – you can feel every tug and tussle of the fish, and don’t let anyone tell you there’s no art to it. Your arm becomes the rod and it’s much more sensitive and reactive to a last minute lunge by a good fish near the boat – and this wasn’t a bad fish. Eventually another good inshore grassy popped to the top after testing out a couple of gloveless fingers.
By this stage it was getting a bit difficult to stay near the bottom with the light weights, and a change to heavier weights brought snags, so we decided to head home.
Other reefies commonly caught around Rat Island include bluebone, trout, cod and parrot. Rat Island in winter is also famous for its run of big sea bream on the moon and dark nights in June, July and August. Myself and a mate, who knows this event better than I, plan to have a look at this annual run in 2003. In winter you can also get salmon early on the flats inside Rat Island before the nets carve them up.
1) The waters around Rat Island turn up all sorts of reefies, including grassy sweetlip like these.Reads: 2123