Shallow reef time!
  |  First Published: August 2005

When the southeast trade winds blow on the eastern Queensland coast, most anglers forget about heading offshore and find a sheltered spot in the estuaries. On the western coast of Cape York Peninsula, however, the wind direction is offshore and this has two major advantages – the inshore waters are both calm and clear!

The clear waters along the beaches are great for those who like walking the sand and sight fishing. As a general rule, the beaches tend to fish better when the tides are high but action can sometimes be found all through the tide range.

Albatross Bay, the 30-mile wide stretch of water extending from Duyfken Point in the north to Pera Head in the south, is bordered in many places by shallow reef areas, both along the shoreline and extending offshore. Most of these reefs are rocky bauxite outcrops, the mineral which Weipa is the world’s largest supplier of.

These reefs range from the shore out to many kilometres offshore, but most of them can be found in depths of 2-7m. They can hold good numbers of black and gold-spot estuary cod, fingermark, mangrove jack, tuskfish, sweetlip, stripeys, coral trout, golden trevally, queenfish, barracuda and mackerel of all sizes.

Techniques required to successfully fish these reefs vary from casting soft plastics and jigs right through to trolling and baitfishing. To cover the areas efficiently, it’s hard to go past trolling, provided you follow some simple rules.

A good quality depth sounder is the first requirement for this type of fishing as it will help you identify likely reef areas and provide lure depth information. The clear water sometimes allows reef areas to show up as darker patches, particularly if you use good quality polarised sunnies.

Once you have found a likely area and established the depth, tie on lures that will travel just above the reef top, or even bump it at times. Most good quality lures have their operating depth marked on the packet or plastic bib.

Tackle should be along the lines of a medium to heavy actioned rod around 1.7-2m long fitted with a spinning or overhead reel loaded with 15kg braided line. A leader of 30kg monofilament around 1.5m long is recommended and should be joined to the lure with a loop knot so that the lure swims freely.

Trolling speeds will vary but avoid travelling too fast – around 3 knots is usually sufficient. The reef edges are generally the most productive, but targeting prominent high points or bommies can also be fruitful.

My favourite lures for this type of fishing are the Halco Scorpions: the 95cm and 120cm models with 3m and 4m depth bibs are excellent for the shallower areas. Out in the deeper stuff, the 8m Crazy Deeps come into their own.

Other lures worth a try include the Reidy’s Daly Devil and Judge, Lead’s Tropical Rogue, Mad Mullet and Strike Zone Intruder. Make sure the hooks are strong and sharp as the fight is usually a bit of a brawl.

Tight drags and a ‘take no prisoners’ fighting technique is the way to get results in this type of fishing. Some of the cod and fingermark in these areas can reach XOS sizes and they’ll make short work of wimpy drag settings and poor technique.

Be prepared to lose some lures as some of the fish hooked are just too strong! Don’t run too much line out behind the boat because this gives the bigger fish more opportunity to reach the rocks.

The action can be fast and furious – and who would have it any other way! Not a bad alternative when the cooler winter water quietens the rivers from July to mid-September.


There are just so many fish to catch in Weipa sometimes that the tried and proven methods get a little boring! Being surrounded by hungry denizens ready to eat anything that moves happens quite regularly and sometimes I get to have a rod in my hand about that time.

While my clients are happy to hook all manner of fast running beasties on whatever lure I tell them to put on, I can afford to experiment. After all, if I hook up it’s another lesson learned, a bonus if you like! So I’m always dropping something over the side that gets funny looks from my crew – until my rod bows, that is!

Even with the number of articles that soft plastics have spawned, they still get funny looks from many anglers in the Tropics. Softies are a gimmick to many, and are not always seen as the extremely effective fishing tool that they are.

Sometimes, if the action has slowed a bit, I’ll drop a rigged softie just to see if the fish are being finicky. Murphy often rewards such interference with a strike on another rod, just to keep me in my place.

So the scenario goes something like this: my client brings a tuna close to the boat ready to be tailed; I put my rod in a holder with the soft plastic still somewhere near the bottom; I reach over to grab tuna’s tail; the rod in the holder bows to a big strike!

That’s exactly what happened recently. My Snapback was grabbed by a very argumentative creature that stubbornly refused to budge for a number of minutes. But I had the last laugh when 15kg of cobia came aboard. Suddenly, everybody on board wanted to try a plastic!

During a recent tackle testing visit with lure maker Tim Staudinger and Slider/Saltwater Assassin agent Steve Bain, we came across feeding schools of longtail and mackerel tuna and spent a wonderful couple of hours constantly hooked up on just about any lure we threw their way. Steve had promised to leave me a couple of his latest acquisitions from the USA, the Scum Frog, a neat little item that would obviously appeal to species like bass, barra and saratoga.

We’d caught the tuna on plastics, on metals, even on poppers. My interest was waning, so I said “Hey, you wouldn’t have one of those Scum Frogs on board would you Steve?”

Somewhere, at the bottom of the tackle pack, a stray Frog appeared. I was hooked up to a tuna on the first cast. Tuna on a Scum Frog proved to be no problem. In fact, I managed one of each species just for good measure.

When you come to think about it (but not too hard!), trying something a little left of fishing’s accepted playing field can sometimes lead to a whole new technique. And even if it doesn’t, it can still be a lot of fun in the process!

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