WINTER is a productive time in the harbours and estuaries around Port Curtis. During July, warm sunny days and cool nights are the norm, the summer crowds have thinned and the salmon and sea bream are well distributed throughout the harbour in all their usual haunts. A fishing year in Gladstone wouldn’t be complete without a couple of memorable salmon battles and the satisfaction of plotting against the schooling sea bream and ‘winning’ – that is, actually finding them when and where you predicted.
One of the top places to seek these tasty and great fighting winter species is Toolooa Bends, particularly the Lily’s area. The diversity of locations and possibilities in this region (and the fact that you can still reliably get a feed here) always draws people back. It’s a great grunter spot in summer, and elbow-slapping whiting are available out the front areas of the beaches of the Lily’s all year round. Barra, jack and queenfish still pop up often enough not to cause great surprise.
At this time of year the main targets are salmon and bream. These two species are often caught together because they are both chasing the same bait – the large schools of herring that move into the estuaries with the cooler water. The Lily’s is one of the first spots in the harbour to get a winter run of salmon and bream due to its proximity to the harbour, and indeed the open sea itself; Gatcombe Heads is opposite its harbour mouth.
At this time of year a favoured ploy is to pick a lead-up phase to the moon, or a dark night, and fish on the gravel that’s so easily found by boat props here at half tide between the Lily’s beach and the Lily’s bridge. A must, is some fresh herring, mullet or gar, which are relatively easy to drag off the Lily’s beach (see map).
There are several places here to try, all of them a bit different. The map shows the spots that have produced best over the years. The stage of the tide will probably determine in which order to attack these. Bear in mind that this area is best fished about half tide and up simply because there is not much water here at other times. Even so, as one who has spent a full tide high and dry on the gravel, low tide is a great time to fish the ‘melon holes’ and explore. The gravel banks don’t start to flood with water until toward half tide, but when it does start to run, look out! On the bigger tides, it fairly rips through here. This is just what the salmon like.
The vast schools of salmon tearing over the flats performing massive ‘hit and run’ raids have been relegated to folklore in Gladstone, thanks to netting. These predictable schooling fish and get smashed on the outer banks of the harbour well before they get inside and up the estuaries. However, smaller groups of up to a dozen fish at a time do zoom past.
You can tell when salmon are coming because the water takes on that ‘electric’ feel – baitfish are in panic and surface around the boat and at times you can hear the school of salmon moving closer and closer, chopping on the surface. When the fish reach your baits it’s nothing for every rod in the boat to take a hit. Usually a couple of misses and a couple of hook-ups result, and mayhem rules in the boat as the fish cross over each other, wrap around the motor and are eventually netted – maybe. Just as quickly the run is over. At this point you have a choice: sit and wait and hope that this will be repeated (and it can be, often for several times in one incoming tide), or to assume that, with the tide now up a fair way, the fish will now be in some of the deeper channels, or around the mangrove and rocks further in the Lily’s and Toolooa system.
Besides, there are now bream to be found as well, and these commonly school around the Lily’s bridge. A move to here will often result in not only some horse winter bream, but you may pick up the salmon school again, just when you least expect it. Getting these fish out of the bridge pylons can be interesting.
The Lily’s is accessible from the Toolooa Bends boat ramp, but this ramp is hopelessly provisioned and remote for night escapades, with the hoons and ‘beagle boys’ frequenting the area. I find it just as easy, and quick, to run from the Auckland Creek ramp in town, do the fishing thing, and return up the main channel – sometimes next day and at other times that night. You do have all-tide access to a ramp this way.
You can launch a car-top dingy off the Lily’s beach, as 4WD access is available to this area from behind the council sewerage plant near the Boyne Island smelter. Permits are required here, so check with the Calliope Shire Council first.
1) Decent salmon that happen along while you’re breamin’ take some landing on light gear. This fish popped the line in the landing net.
2) This stud bream took a live herring aimed at a salmon at Toolooa Bends near the Lily’s Bridge.Reads: 2459