Better late than never
  |  First Published: September 2003

HERVEY Bay’s bream season is starting later each year, according to my records from the last six years. Spawning bream used to be well and truly in residence at River Heads by the middle of May, and around the islands by early June. This year the first decent fish started to show up in most of their usual winter haunts just before the July full moon, and they’ve been going well ever since. I expect some good catches at least until this month’s full moon.

Anglers targeting bream at River Heads can also expect quite a few pikey bream. Pikeys are the common bream of the north and are close to the southern limit of their range in the Hervey Bay – Sandy Straits system. Here they have a later spawning season than yellowfin bream do, moving into the spawning areas from late August to October.

At the entrance to Hervey Bay’s Historical Museum, the huge sculpture of a whiting reminds us of the impact this fish has had on Hervey Bay. All three species – sand, golden-lined and diver – are caught here in significant numbers and, although catches are down on those of decades ago, whiting still attract family holidaymakers to Hervey Bay. When Hervey Bay was nothing more than a sleepy holiday town and visitors rented houses and flats along the seafront, it was just a matter of crossing the esplanade, tossing out worm- or yabby-baited lines and pulling in a good feed of sand whiting. It’s not quite as easy these days, but recent years have seen a resurgence of catches reminiscent of the past.

September and October are still are the top months for whiting along the city beaches from Scarness to Urangan. Mid-morning high tides usually produce the best results, fishing from dawn until about an hour after the top of the tide. Yabbies or worms are almost mandatory in the bait department.

The inner gutter at the Urangan Pier can also be expected to fish well during this period, with the best catches made by allowing baits to drift around the pylons. Golden-lined whiting are often encountered along with sand whiting, and this applies particularly to the beach between the Urangan boat harbour and Pulgul Creek.

This month should also see sand whiting well established along Fraser Island’s western beaches north of Moon Point. Here the class of fish is nothing to get too excited about, with quite a few undersize whiting. Night fishing here usually results in a larger proportion of whiting of legal size.

This year’s diver whiting season has just about finished. After a promising start it didn’t turn out to be one worth remembering. The quality of fish that made it down to the southern end of Woody Island and the Mangrove Gutters left much to be desired. Schools of better quality fish were located on the eastern side of Woody Island, beyond the fringing reef, but these were on the move and rarely stayed in the same area for more than a day or two. In Turkey Straits, south of River Heads, a much better class of fish was available, though not in huge numbers. This area, bounded by Walsh and Turkey Islands on the east and the mainland on the west, consists of a maze of small mangrove islands, banks and channels. It is not heavily fished, and at this time of the year it always produces good mixed catches of sand, golden-lined and diver whiting.

Late winter often sees a run of chopper tailor in southern parts of Hervey Bay. This season has been a good one, with above-average numbers and quality. We can expect these fish to be around at least until the end of the month. They have been taken on trolled and cast metals as well as on pilchards and cut baits. Some of the more reliable spots have been the northern end of Woody Island, Bun Bun Rocks, around Kingfisher Resort jetty, South Head (Mary River) and in the deep hole on the eastern side of Bookah Island.

This is certainly not the time of the year to fish Hervey Bay’s shallow reefs, that is, unless you want to be annoyed by lots of undersize squire, happy moments and butter bream. Low water temperatures have chased most of the more popular species into deeper water, although there’s always the chance of a few blackall. Don’t expect too much until late October or November.

On the other hand, many of the deeper reefs are performing well. There have been plenty of blackall and sand bass (reef barramundi) at Boges Hole, the Channel Hole and at Micky’s. Snapper have been taken at night at the Artificial Reef, but there are heaps of small squire as well. Further north, on many of the reefs off Wathumba Creek, snapper, trevally of many species, frying-pan snapper and a few scarlet sea perch have been reported. Frying-pan (long-spined) snapper are closely related to common snapper and are often plentiful on these reefs. These small fish appear like ‘compressed’ squire and have a very long first dorsal spine. They are not subject to the strict size or bag limit that applies to snapper.

Most of these reefs are in popular whale-watching territory, and boat anglers need to be aware that they must follow strict rules imposed for the protection of these beautiful creatures. This means keeping your distance – at least 300m.

This month should see Fraser Island’s tailor season reach its peak. At the end of July tailor were well established along the ocean beach, north from Happy Valley. Big catches were also made at Waddy Point, but since then this headland, as well as others south to Indian Head, have been closed to all fishing. At that stage the quality was good, with fish averaging about 40cm, but a much better class of fish should be available in September. The annual closure from 400m south of Indian Head to 400m north of Waddy Point continues until the end of this month.

Overall, beach fishing on the eastern side of Fraser Island is outstanding and, according to locals and regular visitors, the best it has been for years. As well as tailor, there are top quality sand whiting, bream, dart, tarwhine and flathead in abundance. The occasional bursts of strong southeasterly weather have just slowed things down temporarily. I see no reason why the great fishing shouldn’t continue throughout this month.

1&2) Wade Lineburg displays a 4.2kg snapper and a small frying-pan snapper, taken within minutes of each other on a shaley reef off Fraser Island’s Wathumba Creek.

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