YOU mustn’t assume that there are only three serious angling species in Hervey Bay during winter. The various reef species are still available, and so too are school mackerel, sand whiting, flathead and tailor, but during these next few months it will be snapper, bream and diver whiting that attract the most attention.
With dropping water temperatures, spawning snapper enter the bay to perpetuate the species. If the numbers of juvenile fish in the bay throughout the entire year is any guide, they do a pretty good job. Various areas in Hervey Bay have just the right conditions for spawning and, just as importantly, have ideal conditions for the growth of young fish. Throughout the year, most local reefs, particularly the deeper ones, are teeming with undersize snapper (squire) – so much so that they attract some very colourful adjectives when other species are being targeted. Most of these small fish seem to leave the bay before reaching the minimum 35cm limit.
Winter spawning snapper take up residence on a number of the deeper reefs and ledges. The Rufus Artificial Reef, east of Woody Island, is closest to the Urangan boat harbour. Already there have been some encouraging catches made here this season. This artificial reef consists of a number of ‘drops’ of old barges, car bodies, tyres and other assorted bits and pieces. Snapper frequent the sandy and shaley bottom between the drops, rather than the heavy structure itself. Some anglers anchor on a solid structure, then let out a good length of rope so as to fish away from the structure. It isn’t always easy to anchor away from the structure, but this is the way to go if your anchoring equipment is good enough.
When conditions of tide and wind permit, other anglers drift a line that takes them through the maze of structure, hopefully without loss of gear. The bigger tides, particularly around the full moon, usually produce the best results. Many anglers work the night tides while others, myself included, like to fish the very early morning flood tide.
Snapper respond to a wide variety of baits at the artificial reef. These include live yakkas or pike, fillets of fresh sea-mullet (usually available at local seafood outlets at this time of the year), local squid and WA pilchards.
Other productive spots in the southern part of the bay are Moon Ledge and Sammy’s. A few snapper are also taken at the Outer Grounds and the Snapper Grounds. The latter was named for the big catches of reds that used to be made many years ago. However, there are still some devotees who visit each season and they rarely come home empty handed.
Other popular snapper spots are located offshore from the western beaches of Fraser Island, north of Moon Point. Approximately 30km from Urangan, the shaley reefs off Arch Cliff can really turn on some great fishing. Being very low, these reefs are sometimes covered with sand and can be difficult to find at the best of times. They are located approximately in a line between (25deg 4.03min S, 153deg 4.71min E) and (25deg 1.19min S, 153deg 6.43min E). Further north, 47km from Urangan, the similar reefs in the vicinity of the Wathumba One Mile (24deg 57.57min S, 153deg 11.86min E) also worth visiting during winter. There are usually plagues of yakkas swarming over the reefs and, when they’re presented live as a wounded fish, opportunistic snapper find them irresistible. Arch Cliff and Wathumba reefs tend to fish well much later into the winter, even well into October.
As I put this report together, bream are starting to settle into their winter spawning grounds. The minor flood in the Mary River earlier in the year led me to predict that this would be a bumper season, and that’s the way it’s shaping up already. Many of the popular bream grounds are reached by boat and I have written about many of these in earlier articles. Spots that can be reached on foot include the foreshores around Point Vernon, the Urangan Pier, the walls of the Urangan boat harbour and the north head of the Mary River at River Heads.
At River Heads, rock ledges protrude into the swift currents of the Mary River and are remnants of a rock bar extending across the river mouth. On the flood tide, water rushes along the outside of the rock ledges between the barge ramp and the green lateral beacon right on the point. On big tides, complex eddies and whirlpools of ‘The Frying Pan’ develop just off and inside the light. Between here and the inside public boat ramp, there is a gentle run of water on the flood tide.
The situation is reversed on the ebb tide, with a strong flow on the inside of the Heads and practically no run at all on the outside between the light and the barge ramp. There are two sets of conditions that I favour for bream fishing from the shore at River Heads. The first is to fish over a late afternoon or early morning low tide right at the green beacon. You need to be extra careful making your way out over the slippery and often oyster-encrusted rocks. Fishing into the eddies, particularly on the early flood, is usually very productive. In the bait department, large yabbies are hard to beat here.
Secondly, I like to pick an ebb tide running off a spring high tide and fish along the ledges between the green beacon and the barge ramp. These high tides occur in the early evenings, so good fishing can be expected through the ebb until the early hours of the morning. With very little run in the tide here it’s possible to fish with little or no lead. I like to use self-berleying baits such as half-pilchards. I’m told that mullet gut and chook gut work well here, too.
Snapper fishing has its devotees, and many anglers are hooked on bream, but it is the humble diver whiting that draws the greatest crowd. There’s no better way to spend a sunny winter’s day than to be out on a calm bay reeling in this superb little fighter – not to mention the quality of its fillets.
Hervey Bay is without peer when it comes to diver whiting. Those who frequent Moreton Bay might dispute that, but they would need to look closely at the overall quality of fish coming out of each system. Hervey Bay’s diver whiting make their first appearance around early to mid-April, offshore from Dundowran and Gatakers Bay. When a school of fish is located, it doesn’t take long for the word to spread and you’ll see tight clusters of boats over the feeding whiting. As the season progresses the fish move south along the shipping channel before spreading out into feeding areas throughout the bay. Some of these locations hold fish year after year while others seem only to be visited occasionally. The more reliable spots include the north cardinal mark almost due north of the Urangan Pier, south of Round Island, off the south-western shores of Woody Island, Bun Bun Rocks, Turkey Straits, near Walsh Island, and later in the season, Christies Gutter.
I have heard the claim that the type of bait doesn’t matter with diver whiting. Certainly there are days when they’ll eat just about anything on offer, but there are just as many days when they are quite fussy. I wouldn’t consider chasing winteries without, at least, some fresh yabbies, for two very good reasons. Firstly, yabbies are right at the top of the diver whiting preference list. Secondly, they break up when being attacked and more and more fish are attracted into the area and brought into a feeding frenzy. When this happens you can start using another bait like worm or squid. I often hear of anglers’ disbelief that one boat can be nailing fish while others nearby are catching nothing. It’s a safe bet that those who are catching fish are using yabbies and keeping a tight school of fish right under the boat.
As I write, the winter whiting season is going well after a fairly slow start. We can expect them to be around at least until the end of July. There is currently no size or bag limit on winter whiting. However remember that it is not unusual for sand and golden lined whiting to turn up in diver whiting catches and both species need to reach 23cm to be taken legally. If a fish lacks the dark blotches over its body, it is not a diver whiting. While on the subject of limits, snapper need to be 35cm and have a bag limit in possession of five and bream have a legal minimum length of 23cm with no bag limit.
The latest reports from Fraser Island’s ocean beach have been very encouraging. Whiting, bream, tarwhine and dart have been mentioned most in reports from right along the beach. Whiting have been particularly plentiful in the many low water gutters from Dilli Village to Happy Valley. Near the Maheno wreck, bream and dart have been going well in the deeper gutters on the flood tide. Coffee rock exposures at Poyungan and Yidney are producing some excellent tarwhine on worms and pipis while bream of better than usual quality have been falling for half WA pilchards and small whole blue pilchards. Since the weather settled down the major headlands of Indian Head and Waddy Point have been fishing well for dart, bream and different kinds of trevally.
A few reports of tailor are starting to filter through. Although most are of chopper quality, there are enough better fish to indicate that the start of the annual season is not far off.
Finally, anglers visiting the island need to be aware that the mouth of Eli Creek has totally changed. Rather than meandering north behind the beach for some distance before entering the sea, it now runs directly out to sea from where it reaches the beach. The level of water in the creek has dropped and some serious wash-out faces have developed where the creek now crosses the beach. Also, the heavy weather of a few months ago has exposed large outcrops of coffee rocks and these can be particularly hazardous when travelling in poor light conditions. Have a great month and drive carefully!
1) River Heads is a great location for top winter bream fishing.
2) A brace of snapper from Wathumba One Mile – both taken on live yakkas.Reads: 8665