WHEN most fishos talk about the Gulf or Cape, thoughts usually turn to barra, jacks, queenies, grunter and saratoga. While these species certainly head the northbound anglers’ wish lists, there are plenty of others that will grab your lure or fly if you head offshore.
The western coast of Cape York Peninsula runs north-south so its inshore waters remain fairly well protected in the southeast trade wind season, which generally runs from April to November. Much of the Queensland Gulf coast can be safely accessed by 4-5m craft during this period.
There is one situation when inshore waters during this period can become dangerous. This usually happens when the winds turn south ahead of a rapidly advancing high pressure system and push a swell from the southern Gulf almost perpendicular to the coastline. This swell may happen only three or four times a season, but it can generate waves over 2m that break heavily on the beaches for at least a couple of days. The situation abates once the winds turn to the southeast. Small craft should avoid heading into the Gulf in these conditions.
However, for most of the dry season the inshore waters of the Gulf are readily accessible and can turn on some superb fishing for a huge range of species. These include longtail and mackerel tuna; doggie, grey and Spanish mackerel; golden, brassy and giant trevally; queenfish, cobia and reef dwellers such as fingermark, cod, coral trout and tuskfish. My fishing clients have regularly been racking up over 35 species for a week’s fishing since the start of this season, which shows just how diverse the Gulf fishery can be.
Around Weipa, the most consistent offshore fishing takes place at opposite ends of Albatross Bay, from Boyd Bay to Pera Head in the south and north of Duyfken Point. The other hot area is the shipping channel, as the dredged channel and markers provide shelter for the baitfish schools that attract the predators.
On the pelagic front, the tuna schools generally turn up in numbers in April and run through to July before moving north towards the tip. Spanish mackerel numbers usually rise steadily from May until they peak in September and October. Queenfish favour the hotter months but can turn up in big numbers at any time.
Tackle for fishing offshore should be a little heavier than the standard estuary outfit. For versatility, forget the baitcasters and turn to a fast taper, medium/heavy spin rod coupled with a good quality eggbeater capable of holding 300m of 15kg braid. While such an outfit would double as a trolling/jigging outfit, an overhead combination of similar specifications would be advantageous as a back-up. High modulus barra baitcasters can be used but they have a habit of destructing on some of the fishy heavyweights that turn up from time to time.
Why a spin rod? Well, if the tuna are a bit skittish, the longer casts afforded by that combination can sometimes mean the difference between hooking a fish and missing out. The extra retrieve rate can also improve the strike ratio, particularly when there are big mackerel on the prowl.
For offshore casting, it’s hard to beat the metal slices and slug type lures weighing from 35-70g. They cast like a bullet and move through the water with little resistance.
My favourite is the 50g Laser in chrome prism colour. This lure also doubles as a bottom bouncing jig, sometimes accounting for reef species like fingermark and coral trout, or if let drop under a working tuna school, is attractive to trevally, mackerel and cobia.
Soft plastics also work well in an offshore situation and lend themselves to be fished more effectively on a spinning rod. Going a little lighter can provide plenty of fun but can mean the difference between winning and losing if grey suited visitors decide to crash the party.
The two most productive locations are baitfish schools and reef areas. If you find either of these, action may not be far away. A good pair of polarized sunnies is essential.
Bait being pushed up to the surface and packed tightly, the so-called ‘bait ball’, is the ideal scenario. When you’ve located a ball it’s usually a case of casting to its edge and hanging on!
A typical bait ball has sharks lying casually in the middle of the school, grabbing mouthfuls of fish by merely turning their heads, while tuna, mackerel and trevally slash at the edges. A fish hooked in this situation is rarely sharked – the brown suits are usually too busy feeding their faces with ‘jellybean’ bait to bother chasing larger fish that require more effort to catch. Every so often, however, sharks can be very problematic, sometimes grabbing every fish. When this happens your only option is to move on, unless you like losing lures and tackle.
Trolling can also be very productive around the reefs and bait schools, particularly when chopping fish are scattered and patchy. Pick a lure that will work the depth fished to best advantage. Use a 3-4m deep runner in water of 4-6m, for instance.
In the deeper stuff, the Halco 8m Crazy Deep Scorpions are hard to beat as an effective trolling lure. They swim straight out of the box and continue to swim after a couple of strikes, unlike some of the other high-profile deep runners. Even better, they get bit more than most!
Wire traces can be used, particularly when mackerel are about. I prefer to use single-strand stainless around the 35kg breaking strain – that’s around three times the strength of the line used. This precautionary move provides a buffer in case of abrasions or kinks.
The Gulf is still a fairly remote place so be sure to carry the necessary safety gear, including an EPIRB. Travelling with another boat is recommended, particularly if you are heading to the more secluded parts of the coast.
The 2004 season has seen some fabulous offshore action already this year and this is set to continue. Being aware of the offshore option and coming properly prepared has enhanced plenty of trips that would have been a little slow if the rivers had been the only locations visited.
Thursday 1 July, 2004 sees the controversial Representative Areas Program come into force along the Queensland coast. Anglers are about to experience first-hand the loss, possibly forever, of a huge slice of the Great Barrier Reef that has traditionally been their domain.
Some people have wondered what all the fuss has been about, but they’ll understand once reality sets in and they realise can’t fish some of their long-time favourite offshore areas.
Two areas fared worse than most. Political interference, instigated by a small band of commercial fishers, destroyed an otherwise amicable arrangement between local recreational fishers and GBRMPA planners in the Proserpine region, while Reef Tourism operators received the champagne treatment in Cairns in spite of protests from hundreds of people right up to the city’s mayor.
Minister Kemp has already vowed that these closures are only the start of a process designed to protect much more of the reef from fishers. Ultra-green interests have the Minister’s ear and are working hard to close the reef entirely to recreational fishers. People who feel that their local area achieved a reasonable outcome should not, therefore, become complacent. GBRMPA wants more and the politicians are already discussing behind-the-scenes how to increase the closures. Once any moves to ‘publicly consult’ about further closures are announced, you can bet that such closures are already a done deal!
But we now have a unique opportunity to send a protest to the federal government, a protest in the form of elected senate members. Recreational fishers in this state have one chance, be sure not to let it pass.
Why not make RAP Day the day you joined the Fishing Party? There’s a membership form in this issue of QFM. Your subscription will help fund the advertising necessary to fund an election campaign in Queensland. Above all, the Fishing Party on polling day needs the vote of every fisher who doesn’t want to lose any more of our reef.