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South White Cliffs
  |  First Published: May 2003



THE UNGOWA-DEEP Creek section of Fraser Island’s west coast is an area that can’t make up its mind whether it belongs to the Hervey Bay system of reefs and ledges, or whether it has its place at the mouth of a large estuarine system. Read on and you’ll understand what I’m on about.

To visiting yachties, this concave stretch of coastline is known as South White Cliffs (North White Cliffs, a little further up the island’s west coast, is close to Kingfisher Bay resort). The cliffs are mostly made up of dark coffee rock with wind-blown white sand cascading over their edges in many places. When local anglers refer to ‘Ungowa’ or to ‘Deep Creek’, they probably mean this stretch of shoreline extending from just north of Ungowa to the extremity of the cliffs south of Buff Creek.

Strong currents hugging the Fraser Island shoreline have developed active erosion faces, and these are particularly evident in those sections where you can see trees being undermined. Other trees, having already met their fate, form an entanglement of underwater features in various stages of decay. Undermining of the soft coffee rocks which make up the cliffs also causes great chunks to fall into the sea, enhancing the features of this coastline.

The most active erosion face lies between the Ungowa jetty and the wreck of the Ceratodus. The sketch shows a fairly typical profile of this active shore. Between the Ceratodus and Deep Creek the shoreline is made up of shallow banks of soft sand, totally infested with yabbies. South of Deep Creek, the steep drop-offs resume as far as the southern limit of the cliffs.

HISTORY

Visitors to this stretch of the island’s west coast can see evidence of the fascinating history of the island. For many years Ungowa was the jumping-off point for Fraser Island residents and tourists. As recently as the 1970s, before regular barge services, the motor vessel Philanderer made regular runs from Urangan to Ungowa. From there, tourists would be taken by 4WD buses to the island’s lakes and to the ocean beach (the jetty at Ungowa still stands but is now condemned and barricaded). Ungowa was also an important forestry station while the timber industry was still in operation. Next to the jetty, a boatshed and ramp are other reminders of this era. Forestry residences and other buildings are now used by the NPWS service.

A little further south the hulk of the Ceratodus protrudes from the shoreline at the mouth of a small creek that bears its name. During the 1940s the Ceratodus carried fine white sand from Deep Creek and Bun Bun Creek to Maryborough where it was used as an excellent moulding sand in iron casting. Another hulk, the Palmer, can be seen a few hundred metres up Deep Creek. In its heyday, the Palmer was a coastal sugar steamer. A third wreck, that of the Swordfish – or what’s left of it – lies in deep water south of Buff Creek. This was one of the many logging vessels used during the forestry era.

Deep Creek may have lived up to its name a long time ago, but today it is a shallow mangrove-lined estuary that soon becomes a small freshwater creek. This was one of the island’s important points for shipping logs to the mainland, and just inside the mouth the timber ramps and pylons remain standing in good condition.

At the mouth of Buff Creek, a cutting through the coffee rock leads to a ramp that was used by vehicular barges before the development of the currently used facility at Woongoolbver Creek. A little further south near prominent navigational leads, a galvanized steel wharf used to serve as a loading point for mineral sands, trucked across the island from Dillingham’s operations at what is now Dilli Village. This wharf used to be a great land-based fishing spot, but it was removed after the mining stopped.

Close to the wreck of the Swordfish, a small waterfall provides a permanent source of excellent drinking water. Over the years the crews of many passing vessels have topped up their water reserves here.

GETTING THERE

Most anglers visiting South White Cliffs come by boat and rarely go ashore. Some visitors in larger vessels stay for several days, taking advantage of the excellent anchorage and the protection from southeast winds. Others come in smaller boats and fish for just a short time. The smartest fishers know exactly what conditions are most likely to produce fish and stay for just that short period.

The most reliable way to reach the area is to launch at River Heads and follow the beacons out of the Mary River and then south into Great Sandy Strait [see map]. A number of anglers, mostly Maryborough locals, launch further south in Great Sandy Strait at Maroom, and track through the islands of the Straits. This is a tricky way to come and very much depends on the height of the tide. The area can also be reached from the ocean beach of Fraser Island. More on that later.

THE FISHING

This is the most frustrating fishing area I’ve experienced, but it just adds to the challenge! The water along here looks good enough to produce a fish on every cast, no matter what the conditions… not true! The only really successful anglers are those who keep good records and are able to draw upon this bank of experience. This is true of just about any worthwhile spot, but is particularly applicable to South White Cliffs. Hopefully what I have to share will give you a start in finding out what turns on the action.

The area has two characters – an extension of typical Hervey Bay ledges and also as a deep snaggy hole near the mouth of an estuary. An approach to fishing the area is to decide whether you’re going think ‘reefy ledges’ or whether you’re going to think ‘deep snaggy hole’.

Reefies

If you treat the area as you would typical Hervey Bay ledges further north, and fish in the appropriate conditions, you’ll probably find a good feed of reefies like coral bream, blackall, Moses perch and cod. However, blue parrot and coral trout – common on the reefs further north – are not plentiful here.

If I am serious about scoring a few reefies, I like to pick a late afternoon low tide with a reasonable run of flood tide over dusk and into the early evening, then work along the ledge south of the Ungowa jetty. Here sand and mud flats separate the ledge from the island, but it’s easy to locate the prominent drop-off with a sounder. South of the jetty as far as the Ceratodus, reef fish are reasonably plentiful.

Tidal range at South White Cliffs is about as high as it gets in the Hervey Bay system, so tides that are either too big or too small may not be very productive. In determining current flow, the height of the tide determines whether it’s feasible to fish the deeper country or whether fishing the inshore eddies and backwaters is a better option.

There isn’t always a single ledge or drop-off, rather a series of broken ledges or steps going down to about 20m in places. Sounding these ledges is likely to locate reefies in any of the rough country from a couple of metres down to at least 20m. A good selection of pilchards, squid, hardiheads and large yabbies should put you in business.

Estuary

There’s nothing wrong with a good session on some Hervey Bay reef fish, but it’s the estuary fishing that attracts the most anglers. Great Sandy Strait is really a big estuary with its feeder streams, mangrove islands, rock bars and sandbanks. Our chosen area is at its northern end, close to its confluence with the more open waters of Hervey Bay. Here you can hook up to trumpeter (javelin fish), blue salmon, king salmon (Burnett salmon, king threadfin), barramundi, mulloway and mangrove jack. Skin divers tell me that there are more fish lurking around the snags and along the ledges than catches indicate.

At times, a particular set of snags hosts a great congregation of javelin, mulloway around the next, then perhaps almost nothing for another hundred metres. A little further on a ledge there could be more mulloway, then a recently fallen tree with two or three barra and half a dozen jacks claiming it as home. One of the factors that makes fishing here so challenging and sometimes downright frustrating is that there doesn’t seem to be any pattern as to where the different species hang out. For this reason, successful anglers keep on the move to check out every snag and ledge.

Next month: how to catch a host of the local estuarine species and pelagics, as well as land-based fishing hotspots and tips.

1) King salmon taken from snags near the Ceratodus.

2) This cliff face south of Ungowa Jetty is typical of the profiles at White Cliffs [see illustration].

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