GLADSTONE canines are wearing army boots at the moment because the wind would fair-dinkum blow the dog off its chain. I had pre-booked a four-day charter to Sykes Reef with 10 mates but the trip was cancelled because of prevailing 30-knot southeasterly winds and up to 3m seas – and it hasn’t let up much since.
Seeing as open waters were out of the question, Al and I decided to head up the Narrows and camp overnight on the beach at Sea Hill, on the northwestern tip of Curtis Island. We then planned to explore Pacific, Deception and Barker creeks on our way home – a round trip of about 120km.
The trip up the Narrows is tide dependent, with the goal being to get through Ramsay’s Crossing with plenty of water under the boat. It’s not a good idea to attempt the crossing before at least half tide, and a rising tide is better than a falling tide. Don’t force the issue because if the sand doesn’t get you, the rocks will (I’m repairing my prop at the moment because of a little impatience on my part). The route through the crossing is clearly marked by beacons and leads, and if you’re new to the Narrows you had better follow these.
When we arrived at Sea Hill we beached the boat on an afternoon high tide just north of lighthouse, right at the mouth of the small inlet. The boat sat safely on the soft sand during the night within sight of our tent and not susceptible to winds. Sea Hill offers good protection from the southeasterlies but is open to any wind from the north or west.
Sea Hill was once a settlement for pilots of ships entering Port Alma and Fitzroy River. In the area behind the beach dunes you’ll find the remains of the town that used to be there, including hotels, town houses and the cemetery. It’s worth a stroll into the bush just to have a look. Today Sea Hill is the location of an unmanned lighthouse and a few holiday houses.
High tide in the morning also allows camping on the beach. You need to be able to read the tide water marks on the beach and accurately predict the height of the next high before attempting beach camping here.
The beach from Sea Hill to Warner Point has ‘whiting’ written all over it. Whiting fishing is a specialist sport and I’m an amateur when compared to many of my mates who seem to pull bulk whiting from thin air. Anyone can catch whiting, but it takes finesse to be really successful.
First of all, rods need to be whippy with a sensitive tip. You need to feel the whiting tap and then the second tap-tap. I use an Alvey reel as I find it easy to feather the line with my finger and ‘become one with the fish’. I feed out line on the first touch and gently strike when I feel the fish swim away with the bait. Tension too early and you lose fish. Tension too late and you lose bait.
Sand whiting tend to hang in the small waves that wash on to the beach, unsettling sand as they roll in. The waves flick out the tucker and the whiting suck it down, and sometimes you can see schools of whiting in these waves. Fishing parallel to the beach and working along the waves keeps your bait in the strike zone longer. Pea sinkers are usually all that’s required. Small pieces of peeled prawn, rather than bulky prawn lumps, sometimes helps to entice strikes.
It’s a fine balance when fishing for whiting. To improve your whiting hook-up rate, know your rod and gear and practice often.
After breaking camp at Sea Hill we motored into Pacific Creek. Leads identify the route into this creek, and it’s advisable to keep north of the main channel. The Creek is wide and offers fabulous sheltered fishing. There is a deep 10m hole at the mouth of the first tributary. After dodging all the crab pots dropped along the river, we anchored up inside this small tributary and cast into the hole and into the mangrove banks.
We must have caught 20 river perch (or little jewfish) in the space of an hour. These fish are found in estuaries from Rockhampton to Brisbane but are susceptible to pollutants, so it’s a sign of good river health to see them in such prolific numbers.
River perch aren’t known as good sportfish; sometimes you don’t even know they’re on the line until you feel a small pressure. Sometimes they play dead and sometimes they will fight all the way to the boat. On light gear it’s all fun.
We then moved into Deception Creek. Deception Creek is over 1km wide in most parts and meanders for several kilometres. Gravel banks along the creek reportedly hold threadfin salmon, but not on this trip.
The tide was on the way out so many of the mud banks from the mangroves were exposed. We anchored near a small inlet, which was draining into the main creek and bringing with it all the small baitfish hiding upstream. This brought action at the creek edge, where a huge shark was working the baitfish into a frenzy.
We cast into the banks and also into the middle of the creek. Once again we brought plenty more river perch to the boat, along with one lazy wobbegong shark and the ever-present catfish.
We were using squid strips as bait. If you want to stop the strip from becoming a ball, leave a longer tag on your hook. Feed the eye of the hook and the tag through the top of the strip and tie the tag onto the main line. This keeps the strip along the hook and can be repeated as often as the tag length allows.
We headed into Barker Creek, again on the bottom of the tide, only to find huge 3m mud walls leading up to the mangroves. Even at this low tide the depth inside the creek was a comfortable 3-4m. We again looked for a small inlet that was draining into or about to fill from the main creek. This type of location always seems to be the focus of action for fishing these tributaries.
Again we hooked up to several river perch, and we discovered – by accident – that they’re great livebait for sharks and huge catfish. That brought a lot of action as Al and I both hooked up within seconds of each other and had to manoeuvre around each other at the back of the boat.
Now that it has started to cool off the winter species are starting to make their appearances around Gladstone. Bream species will be bulking up ready for the winter spawning season. If you can handle the cold (if you can call CQ nights ‘cold’) night fishing tends to be more productive.
The Anabranch creek system of the Calliope River has several bream haunts. Look for large trees overhanging a large hole or drop off; the upper reaches of the Anabranch have several sites such as these. Head north from Calliope River boat ramp and follow the Anabranch around to the main road bridge. There are plenty of land-based options along this small creek system – just remember that you need the freshest bait if you hope to pull in that big one.
Land-based options in the lower reaches of Auckland Creek are still viable. There are reports of some decent grunter being caught under the bridges along Auckland Creek.
You have to go a long way to beat Trees Inlet for consistency. A flathead is a worthy adversary on mangrove flats, and hard-bodied lures account for many of these fish. A prawn bouncing along the bottom also has a proven track record.
Trees Inlet is also a spot to lay a few crab pots. The freshest fish frames do the trick but I have been told a spud chucked in the crab pot also helps. The bucks are big and full at the moment.
Conditions will determine whether you can get out in June. The water can be crystal clear and as smooth as glass or it can be like soup in a dishwasher.
Rat Island is worth a look in June. Anchor up on the ocean side towards Curtis Island, as when the tide heads out it fairly whistles between Rat and Curtis Island. If you can sit in the lee of Rat and cast just to the edge of the flow, you’ll be rewarded with some huge silver bream. These big brutes tend to sit out of the current and they strike like lightning at anything that drifts past.
Farmer’s Reef, inside the northern tip of Facing, is reportedly fishing well. The reef and rock are exposed on the low tides but it’s close enough and protected for smaller boats. When you see tinnies anchoring up in droves for the flooding tide it’s a good indication that something is on the chew.
With the Boyne-Tannum Hookup on the Queen’s Birthday weekend, it will be a busy time on the water in Gladstone. Boat ramps will be extremely busy so you’ll need to be patient. Make sure all your safety gear is up to scratch before setting out. Good luck.
1) At the base of the Sea Hill lighthouse is a small inlet which dries at low tide but is a haven for bream as it floods.
2) A feed of Sea Hill sand whiting and bream caught with prawns on the afternoon high.
3) River perch only grow to 30cm, so you need a few for a meal, but they are a very acceptable tablefish. The flesh colour and texture is not unlike whiting.
4) Crabs are on the move in the Trees Inlet.Reads: 5036