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Gladstone’s Seal Rocks
  |  First Published: September 2004



SEAL ROCKS sits just off the main Gladstone south shipping channel, a comfortable 25km run SSE of Gladstone or 12km SE from the mouth of the Boyne River. Here you share the waterways with the lifeblood of the Australian economy in the form of massive container ships, which frequent the Gladstone port. These ships don’t sneak up on you but you need to be alert. Sometimes a dozen or so can be lined up to enter the port.

Seal Rocks comprises one large rock formation that stands out of the water at low tide, with several smaller outcrops located around the larger rock. All are worthy of investigation. Some of these outer rocks are fully hidden and some are partly exposed at various tides.

These coral-encrusted rocks provide great fish-holding features, so sweetlip, coral cod and trout are all on the catch list.

Of course, you can’t have rocks without the omnipresent bream. Catches here tend to feature silver and yellowfin bream. I haven’t heard of any collared sea bream in this area, but they should be there. Threadfin salmon and trevally are occasional catches and even the odd whiting has been found foraging on the sand patches.

I decided to go for a solo run to Seal Rocks recently, as I hadn’t fished there for some time. The day I chose was one of those glorious Central Queensland days with sunny blue skies, crystal clear and glassy waters. I couldn’t have asked for better boating conditions.

Because I could see 10m to the bottom, anchoring was relatively easy; I plonked it right onto the sand patches. In choppy and windy conditions when you can’t see the bottom clearly, you can land right amongst the rocks and have a nasty time encouraging the anchor to let go at Seal Rocks. A coral pick with bendable tines is the best hardware, but sometimes even these are hard work to recover.

On this day, however, anchoring and retrieving was a pleasure – as much as it could be. I prefer to anchor at this location because drifting is murder on terminal tackle. Drifting also means you need to be constantly alert to depth and colour changes as well as telltale breaking waves, indicating the presence of rocks. Even if you set the depth alarm on your sounder you can go from zero to panic stations with little warning. Drifting here is definitely not a relaxing way to fish.

The coral at Seal Rocks is spectacular and equals many other renowned locations. The combination of rock and coral mean the fish fight dirty and head for the bottom on the slightest pressure. You have to turn heads quickly so I had 27kg Hercules braid on a paternoster rig with a 3 x 4/0 ganged hooks on my Penn 330GT overhead. It was probably a bit of overkill in this environment, but I wanted to turn heads quickly and keep the fish from lodging under rocks. The bait was small whole squid and fresh fish flesh.

My plan was to keep the bait wafting close to the bottom and the weight bouncing along the top of the rocks. With a blood bight loop at the bottom of my braid, it was easy to change my weight to suit the change in current flow. I started with a size 4 dropper lead and changed to a size 2 as the current eased.

On this trip I started by working the main rock, easing my way between two northern satellite rocks. There is a clear passage through on high tide but you still need to take care. I had an unweighted pillie sitting out the back and was using pillie and tuna oil soaked chicken pellets sparingly as berley. I have never used berley effectively here for some reason, but it’s a habit I find hard to break.

A few unsatisfying small bream came to the boat but my next six catches were wobbegong sharks, all taking some coaxing from the bottom even under my heavy braid. I always thought wobbegong were timid and sleepy creatures but the ones that came to the boat were ornery and eager to bite something. While their teeth are small, there are lots of them so I hurriedly returned them to the water.

I relocated to the northern ocean tip of the rocks and brought more small bream and a few undersized cod to the boat. On my setup they offered little challenge at all. When I changed to light gear I didn’t get another bite. Go figure!

Gladstone in September

The weather at this time is fabulous and a little more consistent. Afternoon storms and other blow-ups are less likely to occur, which is good when you want to make longer reef trips across open water.

On the reef

Masthead is a good option this time of the year as the weather conditions make the run possible for smaller craft around 5m. My son Adam and I decided to make the run to Masthead Island recently. I used to fish the nearby Polmaisse Reef en route but it’s now in a green zone so we need other options. The day we headed out was fabulous with barely a ripple on the water. It was a perfect opportunity to set new GPS marks and explore new fishing territory.

With the green zone running directly between Masthead and Polmaisse, GPS settings now play a big part in monitoring fishing activities. The separation line between these two places runs from 23S33.052 and 151E43.236 to 23S31.998 and 151E42.000. Fishing south of that line may put you inside the green zone.

Masthead is a fabulous location but the 45-50km run from Gladstone to Masthead is the fuel limit for my 5.2m boat, so the removal of Polmaisse is a blasted pain for my fishing options – as I’m sure it is for others. I’ll just have to put in an order for a four-stroke engine, a bigger boat, or both!

We stayed on the southern side of Masthead for this trip and drifted towards the island, throwing squid on a falling tide. With a 3.05m tide, we moved pretty swiftly so we grabbed the bottom more than we had hoped. We started at 14-16m and drifted to the island to a depth of about 6m before starting the process again.

The first catch was a pretty decent coral trout that wolfed down the bait and ran like blazes. The next fish to the boat was a fusilier, identified easily by its bright yellow forked tail. These are quite respectable fighters for their size and aren’t as common around Gladstone as they used to be. They are small, growing only to 45cm, but make an above average panfish. This one was returned to the water.

We then boated some respectable red-throat sweetlip, parrot and some decent collared sea bream. It was a shame to leave as we were having a fabulous time and have a few new marks on the GPS. Masthead is definitely worth a look in September.

In the estuaries

The Boyne River is a small waterway not known for huge fish. Bream and tarwhine will happily snatch at lures, both hard-bodied lures and soft plastics. Boyne is a heavy traffic area but the fish seem to be acclimatised and attack lures even with all the surrounding noise.

There are heaps of locations for both boating anglers and land-bound fishers. On foot I have had success at the old boat ramp across from the Environmental Education Centre. In the boat any of the bends offer good vantage points, and if you can drop a few crab pots near the mangroves you double your chances of a feed.

The Lilies area is producing some nice whiting. If you can get in on the low tide and pump a few yabbies you will be able to fish the incoming tide. The yabby bank is usually very productive, and while the weather is cooler the mossies and sandflies should leave you alone. Any of the beach areas will give up good whiting.

In the Harbour

If I were a bream or a tarwhine I would be hanging around the pylons of the main shipping jetties. The water always seems a little warmer under the jetties and this seems to attract the fish. Of course, the barnacle-encrusted pylons might also have something to do with it.

I have seen small tinnies actually anchor up under the jetty itself, although I wouldn’t recommend this strategy. This is the main shipping terminal of the one of the busiest ports in Australia.

Manning Reef, just off the southern tip of Facing Island and northwest of Gatcombe Heads, is worth a flick. It is not a big reef by any means and is affected by huge tidal runs. I have only had success 30 minutes either side of the turn. Anchor up on the harbour side of the marker and flick your baits towards the reef. As soon as the current runs hard you will have trouble getting your baits to the bottom without whacking a house brick on your line. You should be able to pull out some sweetlip here.

Good luck!

[CAPTIONS]

1) The major central rock (of Seal Rocks) is exposed on all tides but the smaller outer rocks are often hidden, even on low tide

2) It’s always a pleasure to bring a coral trout to the boat, as they are a prized reef catch.

3) A Masthead red-throat is a fisher’s delight.

4) It’s worth flicking a few lures around the pylons of the Gladstone jetties.

5) This 2kg monster muddie was pulled from the Boyne River in a small inlet behind the golf course. Just look at those claws!

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