THE START of winter has yielded an unusually large number of grunter in the estuaries. The average fish is over legal size and there has been a regular flow of the tasty critters between 60 and 70cm. Fish of this size are normally associated with Cape Manifold and The Barge.
We didn’t receive the summer rain in big downpours but it rained in short bursts for a lot longer than years gone by, and this might have something to do with the increased numbers of grunter. Either way, June looks like topping previous years, and maybe those guys hampered by the run of windy weekends might smile again.
Coorooman Creek and Corio Bay are the places with a better than average chance to nail a big grunter. The small tinny brigade can take advantage of this opportunity without the risk of getting to the other big fish spots.
Prawns, dead or alive, make great grunter bait, and strips of mullet and tuna can change the tack of a slow morning. We have also tried lures in known grunter hotspots and have had very little success before trying rubber tails and Squidgies. Cast the lure out past where grunter may be holding or travelling, let it sink to the bottom and then use the ‘jig, jig, jig, wind slow’ method. Vary this approach to suit and the fish will eventually grab nearly anything. Plastics don’t beat baits as a rule, but they can put a different slant on things if you persist until you land one. Catches of grunter increase on the rising tide, on the rising moon.
The estuary fishing is reasonable, and right across the winter months there’s a variety of decent fish to cater for the land-based and the smaller boat owners. King salmon and blue salmon are growing in numbers in The Fitzroy River and many of the local creeks. Signs to look for when the salmon are about are the golf ball size dents in the mud along the banks of the river. These dents can cover a massive area and it’s hard to believe that just a few salmon can make such a mess.
Salmon hit prawns and small crabs in the shallows of the river, usually at night, and you can see them working a bank as the tide rises. In this case, a live prawn lightly weighted and tossed into the water’s edge can’t help but go off.
The same applies with blue salmon at Coorooman Creek and Corio Bay. You can watch blues hammering the yabby beds; they make a bit of noise as they chase small whiting and poddy mullet or yabbies. Simply throw a 2/0 loaded through the tail of a prawn, or a couple of yabbies, and the rest is history.
Another option is to lure the banks with either minnows or small chromies. The noted lure casters in the region swear they catch more salmon on lures than baits, but I’m not yet convinced.
You can get blue salmon in the river and you can get kings in the creeks, only not in the same quantities.
Another of the good signs to turn up in the bay is the schools of mack tuna and northern bluefin tuna. Both species follow the bait and can often grab a floating pillie or a troll bait as they pass. Trolling red and white feather jigs may attract their attention away from the bait schools.
One way we find that always works is to get ahead of the school so as not to scare them, munch up a few pillies and drop a couple of Flashas to the bottom. When the school comes through, wind like a madman. It certainly increases the heart and the take rate. Taipans, Crocks and Twisters also can snare tuna. When these fish are in full flight they really test your gear, and will reveal any flaws in rods, reels and terminal tackle.
We always keep one northern blue for the BBQ. When the fillets are marinated in a typical meat marinade they taste bloody good. (Some say it tastes like chicken, but then again, doesn’t everything?)
We also like to keep one mack tuna for strip baits. This is just about the best flesh bait to use and accounts for anything that eats fish flesh – everything from coral trout, sweetlip, red jew, cobia, black jew and snapper to estuary species such as flathead, grunter and bream.
Doggie mackerel have been on, everywhere you would expect, and will be for a while yet. The small mackerel species (spotties, dogs and greys) like the bay, probably because of the shelter and the bait schools that flow through on and off all year. Forty Acre and Conical are probably among the better places to start looking. Rita Mada, Iron Pot and Farnborough near Yeppoon and the islands off Emu Park are surprising, with fine catches regularly reported.
There are many spots in the area that can be fished without a boat, including the Rosslyn Bay Harbour wall and local headlands. You can fish all of the outside walls at the harbour, and on those calm glassy mornings the doggies and schoolies can often be nailed from the green markers on the northwest side of the entrance and from the point you see as you drive into the harbour on the southeast side. We call it ‘Porcupine Point’ because the guys fishing there make it look like a porcupine. It gets packed when the school mackerel are on. Spotties should have finished until about August.
Though Spanish mackerel were a highlight over the last few months, the bigger schools have nearly all passed and only the residents remain. We are lucky that some of the nearby reefs hold healthy populations of Spannos the whole year. Sunken Reef and Sweetlip City at Conical, Outer Rock, Flat and Perforated, Man and Wife and Barren and Child islands are within the home range of The Keppel resident fish. Don’t expect to score heaps; more often than not the catches number in the twos and threes during the off season. The general size is 6-10kg, with the odd big fella to keep anglers on their toes. The wider spots, such as Inaminka Shoals, can produce Spanish mackerel in bigger numbers and size at any time of the year.
Watson’s leaping bonito, bunnies or horsies – it doesn’t matter what you call them because as a Spanish mackerel bait they excel. June signals the coming of bonito to Keppel Bay, so it’s time to refresh the freezer with bait for the coming season. By now the stocks of ribbonfish from earlier in the year have run out or are very low. Small feather jigs or small chromies do the job, and it takes only a short time to fill a tray or two of quality bait.
1) Scott Larson with a regular Coorooman Creek grunter.
2) A Keppel red jew.
3) Roger McLennan landed this nice bream up the creek.Reads: 1603