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A bait guide to Hervey Bay
  |  First Published: July 2003



THIS MONTH I'll take a look at the opportunities for collecting bait in and around Hervey Bay, concentrating on the local foreshores. First, however, let’s see what we can expect in the way of fish this month.

The popular winter species, bream and diver whiting, should be reaching their peaks now. The bream season can be expected to go through at least to the middle of August, while the best of the divers will be seen by the end of this month.

We can’t expect too much from the shallow reefs at present, apart from a few blackall, as water temperatures are too low. However, the deeper ledges and holes will continue to produce blackall, coral bream and squire. On the Artificial Reef and at Moon Ledge, we can expect snapper. Squire, of course, are juvenile snapper, and with the legal minimum size of snapper now 35cm, lots of squire taken will be undersize.

Sand whiting of exceptional quality have been caught at night recently, particularly at the Picnic islands and at One Tree Point on Woody Island.

Fraser Island’s ocean beach continues to fish well for whiting, bream, dart and tarwhine. The much-awaited tailor season is showing promise as I write, and this month should see it come into top gear. Anglers planning to visit the island during the tailor season are reminded that the Indian Head to Waddy Point total closure will be during the months of August and September.

HERVEY BAY BAIT GUIDE

Soft plastics and other artificials are certainly working well in and around Hervey Bay, but more conventional bait continues to be effective on the majority of species. Condition and presentation are just as important to the bait angler as are colour and jighead weights to those using plastics. Most local bait and tackle shops carry a wide range of quality frozen baits, and some receive regular supplies of live worms. For the majority of anglers though, collecting their own bait is part of the total package of ‘going fishing’. Being able to control the time of collection and the method of keeping the bait are major advantages, not to mention the dollar savings. Also, there are some necessary baits that cannot be purchased at the local tackle outlet.

Yabbies

Yabbies are readily available along most of the city foreshores, with the most popular banks being off the beach immediately south of the Urangan boat harbour. In peak holiday seasons it's not unusual to see a dozen groups of anglers pumping them. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly this bank recovers. After the last Christmas holidays the banks were in a bad way, but by mid-March they were producing as well as ever. Yabbies pumped here are usually of small to medium quality – ideal for whiting fishing.

Some of the most reliable banks are just outside the mouth of Eli Creek, on the south-western side of Point Vernon. To get there, take the esplanade towards Point Vernon, turn off at Martin Street and then go onto the gravel road, which leads to the creek mouth. The better banks are just outside the creek mouth, and the yabbies are larger there than those at Urangan. The banks off other city foreshores also hold yabbies, but may not be as reliable as those I have already mentioned.

As well as being excellent for whiting and bream, yabbies make outstanding bait for blackall.

Soldier crabs

Soldier crabs are plentiful over most of the yabby flats, and usually march close to low water. Large blue soldier crabs make good baits on the reef, particularly for blackall and blue parrot. Soldier crabs do break up quickly when pickers are around though, and this is why the larger crabs are preferred. Small soldier crabs are next to useless on the reef and, acknowledging their effectiveness in other areas, I have not found them worth using on sand whiting in Hervey Bay.

With the abundance of soldier crabs as they march, sadly some anglers rush into a battalion, collecting a bucketful and trampling to death just as many. The majority of crabs in the bucket will probably finish up dead as well, as soldier crabs are difficult to keep for any length of time. For this reason, I recommend that you decide how many crabs you expect to use and then walk quietly amongst the burying crabs, selecting only the very largest sky-blue specimens.

Hardiheads

Dense schools of hardiheads are often seen along the city foreshores, but on most beaches they are strictly off-limits. Netting of any type is prohibited from the north wall of the Urangan boat harbour to Point Vernon, and that includes the Urangan pier and the small jetties at Torquay and Scarness.

South of the Urangan boat harbour where bait netting is permitted, good schools of hardiheads often come close to the beach on the high tide, particularly after prolonged northerly winds. Hardiheads are exceptional bait for large bream, javelin, coral bream and other reef species.

If you want to freeze your hardiheads for future use, you must do it as soon after capture as possible. After netting hardies, put them in an ice slurry immediately and keep them there until they can be frozen.

Herring

Herrings are by far the most important bait used on the Urangan pier. Most are used live by anglers targeting various species, including mackerels, great trevally, golden trevally, queenfish, flathead and barramundi. These specialist anglers jig herrings from around the jetty pylons and then keep them alive in aerated buckets until they are needed.

At times herrings are packed into tight schools that extend almost the entire length of the pier. Although they can sometimes be uncooperative, working any one of the pre-packaged bait jigs usually results in a plentiful supply. When the herrings are in the mood for jigs, it's not difficult to obtain a good supply at the pier or at the boat harbour. Yellowtail pike can also be jigged or taken on bait from the pier and from the harbour walls.

Apart from their use as live bait, fresh herrings make outstanding bait on the reef. They can be used whole, in cutlets or filleted. My preference is for cutting them diagonally to produce two firm baits of size ideal for quality coral bream. Herrings also freeze well, and there should be little delay in getting them into the freezer.

Worms

Mud worms, or 'Cribb Island worms' as they are known in Brisbane, are available on some of the flats south of Urangan. There has been much concern about the disturbance of seagrass flats by worm digging, and anglers intending to dig are advised to check out where locals are digging and be sure that worming doesn't take place in environmentally sensitive areas. Worms make excellent whiting bait, but in most cases yabbies do just as well.

Crabs

One of Hervey Bay’s greatest challenges on the reef is the 'bluey' (blue parrot or black-spot tuskfish). Serious bluey fishermen would not even consider targeting this species without a supply of crabs.

Soldier crabs will account for blueys but are generally too soft and are quickly broken up by small fish. Paddler crabs are tougher and make effective bluey baits on some of the local reefs, but not on others. My theory is that paddlers are better on reefs that are close to sandy beaches, where the crabs form part of the blueys' natural diet. In my experience, paddlers work well on the Scarness and Pialba reefs and at Moon Ledge and Sammy’s, just off Fraser Island’s western beach. Whole paddlers work well for big fish, but on the shallow reefs where smaller fish are expected, it might be necessary to cut them in half. An effective way to obtain a good supply of paddlers is to stake out half a dozen or so fish heads in the wash along the beach, about 15 metres apart. It doesn’t take long for paddlers to gather around to be easily picked up.

A variety of crab species inhabit the rocky foreshores of the bay, between Pialba and Gatakers Bay. All make excellent bluey bait on all reefs. Black runners, sleepies and the larger blue-claw are easily collected. Most anglers prefer to collect their crabs at night, as torchlight tends to stun the runners and make them easy to pick up. Sleepies, as their name suggests, are easily collected from their hiding places under the rocks. Blue-claw crabs also hide under the rocks and become very aggressive when confronted.

Many anglers collect crabs from the walls of the Urangan harbour on the ebb tide while the rocks are still wet and the crabs are feeding. They simply dangle a piece of fish from a short rod onto a wet rock. The crabs scamper away at first but soon return to attack the bait. Then it’s just a matter of lifting and dropping them into a waiting bucket.

Other bluey fishermen collect black crabs from the roots of red mangroves, but you need to be rather agile for this activity. Although it's always preferable to use live bait, black crabs freeze quite well and seem to be just as effective as live ones.

Other areas

So far I have dealt with collecting bait around the foreshores of Hervey Bay, but boat anglers venturing out into the bay have plenty of further choices. Yabby banks are abundant, and these include the Mangrove Island system, south of Urangan, inside the mouths of Coongul and Moon creeks on Fraser Island, Bun Bun Rocks and on the upstream from River Heads on the southern side of the Mary River. Hardiheads can be netted along the western shores of Fraser Island and at Little Woody Island, while herrings and yakkas can be jigged over the reefs. Paddler crabs are almost in plague proportions along the western beaches of Fraser Island, and there's no shortage of black crabs on the rocky foreshores of the bay’s islands.

Catch you again in August!

1) After collecting their yabbies at Urangan, these lads will be well prepared for their whiting expedition.

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