SOUTH White Cliffs consistently produces the best class of javelin (grunter) in the Sandy Strait – Hervey Bay system. I have seen some good fish taken from the Rufus artificial reef, from the Susan River, and some even bigger ones well offshore at the Southern Gutter, but South White Cliffs is really the place to be for quality and quantity. I’ve caught javelin to 4.5kg here, with most fish running at 1-2kg.
You’re likely to find javelin anywhere between the Ungowa jetty and south of the waterfall, and they can be caught in depths ranging from 1m to 20m. Fresh bait accounts for most fish, but occasionally a javelin will take a lure intended for barra or jacks.
Many anglers use drifting to locate groups of feeding fish. This method is practical when winds are light and the tidal run isn’t too severe (and it also lets you know which areas to avoid, particularly those taken over by hordes of small Moses perch). Once you’ve located a few fish, take note of a prominent landmark on the shoreline, as well as the bottom features, so that you can make repeat drifts. Drifting can be very heavy on terminal tackle, particularly when working the snaggiest country close to the shoreline. A two-hook dropper rig baited with different likely morsels helps to determine the current preference of this oft-finicky fish.
If you prefer to fish more conventionally, be prepared to visit new likely features regularly.
Javelin are caught on a wide variety of baits, but sometimes take a particular liking to one and totally ignore the rest. I like to use large yabbies and fresh (preferably just netted) hardiheads.
You can take javelin here at any time of day or night, but I’ve experienced my best fishing on the young flood tide just on dusk. I’ve caught javelin throughout the year, but it is only in winter that you can expect much action during daylight hours. Hot summer days really turn them off, as they prefer to feed during the cooler evening conditions.
King salmon (Burnett salmon, king threadfin) and blue salmon make periodic visits to the Cliffs. I have given up trying to accurately predict when these fish are likely to be around, except that both species tend to show up in late summer – particularly if there’s a fresh in the Mary River or in local creeks. (Having said that, I recall a mid-winter session on kings that was totally unexpected.)
When the blues are about, you’ll see them scaring the daylights out of the hardiheads almost without breaking the surface themselves. King salmon seem to prefer the inshore snags. Both species respond well to a variety of lures, but I prefer small poppers when blues are annoying the hardiheads. Pilchards, herrings and hardiheads are excellent baits.
Until relatively recently, barramundi have been only an occasional catch here. I’m sure many of these fish have been responsible for spectacular bust-offs for anglers targeting jacks around the snags over the years.
However, since reliable deep-running lures have been used by a number of local anglers, catches of this prize fish have become more regular. The best catches are being made between the jetty and the Ceratodus and between Deep Creek and Buff Creek, by trolling lures across previously sounded country fairly close to the shoreline. This method has also been producing big flathead and the odd salmon.
Mulloway (jew) are a fairly common capture here. Most are in the ‘soapy’ or ‘schoolie’ category, however, and only a few are taken above 8kg. I often hear stories from the ‘good old days’ about 25kg jew being taken here and at River Heads at the mouth of the Mary River. Last year I was fortunate enough to see photos of some these big mulloway taken during the 1930s. The photos were good enough for me to be almost certain that the fish were black jew – a species well known further north.
Although mulloway are likely to be taken anywhere along the ledges, my favourite hot spot is just south of the Ungowa jetty in a depth of about 10m. Just order a full moon between April and August, an early evening flood tide and some top quality squid (you can jig squid around the inshore snags at this time of year), and you’re in business. It’s quite common for anglers to take a mixed bag of javelin and school jew at this location.
The snaggy shoreline in this region, particularly along the more active erosion face between the jetty and the Ceratodus, is classic mangrove jack country.
Most anglers visit here during winter when jacks are less active, so few visitors have caught a jack – or even seen one taken. If you’re serious about targeting jacks here, you have to fish during the summer months, particularly when the air is still and humid. How many times have we had that ‘one last cast’ before deciding the encroaching late afternoon summer storm was getting just a little too close?
While on the subject of mangrove jacks, there are a few island creeks either side of South White Cliffs that are well worth trying. Unfortunately, most can be accessed only at high tide as sandy bars almost entirely lock them off at low water. The best of these creeks are Rocky and Ungowa creeks (north of Ungowa) and Yankee Jack and Little Aldridge creeks (to the south). Yankee Jack has heaps of snags fallen into fairly deep water just inside its mouth.
Bream seldom attract attention from visiting anglers, who usually have the more glamorous species in mind. However, for most of the year there are plenty of bream hanging around the snags, and these fish are easy to target. There are always good numbers of bream close in to the mangroves inside the mouth of Deep Creek over high water.
You’ll sometimes pick up flathead when trolling for barramundi, but if you want to actually target flatties they’re easy to locate lying along the edges of the inshore ledges and in the shallow water outside the mouth of Deep Creek. These shallows also host plenty of whiting, but the quality of these fish leaves much to be desired.
Pelagic species often visit the channel at South White Cliffs. Being very dependent on bait schools, it’s not easy to predict when different species will turn up. I don’t have any fishing buddies who make the trip down there to target pelagics specifically, but most of these anglers would be suitably equipped for any signs of action. School mackerel, tailor, mack tuna and longtail tuna are the most frequent visitors. Tailor are more common during late winter and spring, and the tuna species are most likely to be around during late summer.
Just across the main channel of Great Sandy Strait, and west of Ungowa and Deep Creek, there is an extensive system of sandbanks and narrow gutters extending across to Bookah and Turkey islands. These banks are a good source of yabbies, but the yabby beds aren’t permanently established so it’s sometimes necessary to look around to find the best quality baits. On my last visit there I pumped west of the Ceratodus, near a green lateral mark, and found yabbies of ideal quality for javelin.
This area also provides excellent whiting fishing, and you can pick up some quality fish while working from the bank along the edge of the channel. If you make a short walk across the bank you’ll find blind gutters and channels that are even better propositions for good whiting fishing.
Most visiting anglers come by and fish from their own boats, but it’s possible to fish a limited number of vantage points along the shoreline. Some Fraser Island ocean beach anglers, frustrated by strong southeasters, sometimes make the trip across the island to enjoy the sheltered conditions. Others come to camp and fish along this very scenic stretch of coastline.
From the ocean beach, there are two ways to go. The first is to turn off the ocean beach at Eurong and drive through to Central Station. From there, continue a short distance, taking the first turnoff veering to the left. Follow this road through to its junction with the Ungowa road, then turn left and follow it through to Ungowa.
The other way to go is to turn off the beach just north of Dilli Village, cross Second Creek and pass the Dilli Village camping ground. Pass the Toby’s Break airstrip turnoff and then follow Dillingham’s Road (the original mineral sands road) to Deep Creek and Buff Creek. There is also a road connecting Ungowa and Deep Creek.
For campers, there is a NPWS camping ground at Ungowa, a short stone’s throw from the water. The grounds are set up with eco toilets and a dingo-proof food cage. Unfortunately, the jetty here has been condemned and anglers can’t access it.
Ungowa is one of those ‘get away from it all’ campsites. You can fish, enjoy the great scenery and watch the passing parade of yachts as they make their way through Great Sandy Strait. I wouldn’t be too keen on swimming here though; I’ve seen too many grey-suited toothy critters here for my liking! Midges (sandflies) can be a problem – something you’ll find along most of Fraser’s west coast, so you need to be prepared for them.
When the tide is down there’s a short section of beach on the northern side of the jetty near the old boat ramp. At low tide at the bottom of the beach it’s almost possible to stand on the edge of the ledge. Fishing is possible from the beach or from a limited number of access points just north of the jetty.
Access to the shoreline between Ungowa and the Ceratodus is extremely difficult. However, although possibilities are limited, you can be reasonably confident of a feed of bream, javelin, Moses perch and maybe flathead and whiting along the shoreline north of the jetty. Quite a few school jew are taken by anglers fishing at night near the old jetty.
The mouth of Deep Creek is about 1.5km south of Ungowa by road. There are no camping facilities here but there are some good spots to camp on the high ground overlooking the mouth of the creek and Great Sandy Strait. Access to the shoreline is limited but the creek and old logging ramp are easy to get to. Over the higher part of the tide, anglers fishing near the logging ramp take bream, whiting, flathead and the odd javelin.
A little further south, the old barge ramp and cutting can be reached by road. This is one of the best spots to access the rocky foreshore, and here you’ll find deep water complete with eddies and backwaters. Fishing here during the day can be disappointing, but from late afternoon and through the night you can run into javelin, jew, bream and mangrove jack.
In all, the South White Cliffs section of Great Sandy Strait is certainly worth visiting. Expect each visit to be different, and expect each visit to be a challenge. After all, without the challenge, where is the enjoyment?
1) South White Cliffs is the place to be for quality javelin fish (grunter).
2) The wreck of the Ceratodus, looking towards Deep Creek and Buff Creek.
3) Jacks lurk in the snags of Yankee Jack Creek, but you need to fish over the top of the tide.
4) The beach, old launching ramp and jetty at Ungowa.
5) The logging loading ramps at Deep Creek.Reads: 3005