Ngkala Rocks to Sandy Cape Lighthouse
THE SANDY CAPE area is one of the more remote parts of Fraser Island, with limited access and a lack of facilities to draw any numbers of holiday makers. When it comes to the fishing, however, there are some good options for keen anglers.
Like the rest of Fraser Island, the beach conditions and the tides can give you a dream run along the beach on some days, and at other times it can be a nightmare.
The first hazard you face when getting up towards the Cape is passing Ngkala Rocks. This coffee rock outcrop is often impassable along the beach, forcing drivers to take the back track around both South and North Ngkala Rocks. Unlike many of the southern bypass tracks, this track is not boarded and sees next to no maintenance. A few of the sandy slopes on the bypass track are reasonably steep, and when it hasn’t rained for a while the sand gets very soft and powdery. It’s difficult to plough through in these conditions, especially with a loaded vehicle. My last trip over the track was in May of this year. It wasn’t too bad, apart from a deep washout at the start of the track that would see some low vehicles bottom out.
You can never be sure just how the beach will be, however, and you may well find that the sand around the rocks has built up enough so that you don’t even need to use the track for a few hours either side.
A few other factors that limit the number of visitors are the lack of good drinking water, not too many camp sites, limited camping and no facilities. For keen fishos, however, this isn’t much of a worry. You can carry the relevant supplies, and so long as everyone else smells like a fish in the camp you won’t get too many complaints.
Once you start up past the rocks you’ll notice that the general shape of the gutters starts to change. Up here there are fewer long narrow gutters and more short deep gutters, which move into the beach rather than along it. The beach itself tends to be narrower, and on many occasions you’ll be unable to drive along a certain section on the high tide due to the lack of beach against the dunes.
These short deep gutters are very good for fishing around the top half of the tide. Night is the best time to score a good mixed bag here. These gutters lend themselves very well for a night session as there is good deep water to fish without needing to cast a million miles or wade out chest-deep to get a line in. Just remember that the last thing you want to do after you’ve found a nice gutter is to shine the headlights on it. It’s a sure way to scare off any decent fish in there.
One method we have adapted for night fishing these gutters is to use a bit of berley to bring the fish in. It may sound strange to use berley in the surf, but it works quite well. Over the course of a fishing trip you usually end up with a few soggy pilchards and leftover bait, and it’s these bits and pieces that we mix up with a bit of sand, broken pipi shells and a few of those paddler crabs that run about in the wash – usually the ones that come up and grab your toes!
The idea of the berley is to draw the fish in and to get them feeding. The berley in the water also stirs up more food in the gutter. The paddler crabs madly race about, trying to pick up the bits of fish flesh in the berley, and the mix also stirs up a few surf worms. The active crabs and worms provide even more food for the fish you draw in.
When using berley in the surf, the trick is to not use too much or you’ll draw in the sharks. All you need are a few handfuls, thrown just in front of where you’re fishing. The natural wave action will spread the berley and draw the fish.
For this style of fishing, when calm conditions allow, I use a set of three no. 1 hooks ganged together with the first hook weighted. You can buy these ‘pillie rigs’ already made up or you can make your own. The smaller set accommodates a frogmouth pilchard or small sardine. For larger WA pilchards you can use a bigger set with a larger weight. By fishing with the smaller bait, however, I find that you broaden your prospects. The rig works very well on bream and tarwhine (our main targets), as well as dart and tailor – and you stand a chance of picking up the odd school jew as well. The smaller fish tend to leave it alone.
A couple of hours either side of the top of the tide are the best times to fish, and when you find the right gutter you hardly have to get your feet wet and the fish are in nice and close. Because these gutters are usually small, if you catch a dozen good bream and tarwhine for a few hours’ fishing you’ve done quite well.
Daytime surf fishing can be just as rewarding. There usually isn’t much beach traffic here so there’s some good fishing to be had for all the main beach species, and you can pick up a few others such as snub-nose dart, trevally and stargazers.
A stargazer is a very odd looking fish that looks a bit like a stonefish. Stargazers spend most of their time buried in the sand, and all that shows is their eyes and the top of their large, upward-pointing mouth. When a bit of food happens along, the stargazer quickly nails it and buries itself again. The next time you think you’re snagged but can’t see anything that could have snagged you, there may well be a stargazer on the other end.
If you fish the surf a reasonable amount you’ll probably catch a few of these fish in your lifetime. The average size is 2-4kg, and while they are reasonable eating you don’t get a lot of flesh off one as they are all head. Most anglers just let them go.
As you move up to the Cape itself, the last couple of gutters are quite long and they often experience a lot of run and sweep due to the water moving around the top of the island. You can never be sure just how the sand banks and gutters will be as they change all the time. The good news is there is quite a variety of fish to be had here. Along with the usual whiting, dart, bream and tarwhine, it is one of the betters areas to fish for tailor, trevally, flathead and queenfish.
As well as using baits, try casting a few lures – not just your standard metal tailor lures but various minnows and larger soft plastic lures.
From the Cape, the sand spit known as Breaksea Spit extends for other 20 or so miles north and is quite a remarkable feature. Once you move from the surf side of the spit to the inside of the spit, which is only a few dozen metres, you are confronted with quite a different fishery which has a lot of untapped potential.
The fast-flowing waters that move around the point quite often carry schools and schools of baitfish, especially on the outgoing tide. They are usually hardiheads, joined at times by gar and herring.
Big queenfish and mackerel sometimes come right in close chasing these baitfish in waters that look for all the world as though they’d be good only for is a few whiting. There are a couple of holes just inside the spit where the bait does hold up and is frequently attacked by all sorts of predators.
The queenfish and trevally I’ve caught in this area have never been more than a few kilos, but I’ve seen other anglers catch queenies or leatherskin up to 10kg here, and there’s a photo of one of these captures on this page. This fish and a few others were taken throwing poppers, a surface lure that queenfish respond well to.
As you move around into the calm waters of Hervey Bay you’ll encounter similar country. It’s mostly shallow ground with not a lot of features, aside from the schools of baitfish that move through. These schools, and the fact that this is the top end of the bay flowing out over Breaksea Spit, all add up to fishy country.
This calm inside corner produces queenfish and trevally, which are caught to a few kilos regularly by those who fish for them. The water is shallow and clear so you can often spot the odd better quality fish cruising here and there. This attracts a few flyfishers to the area as well.
I remember one August when my Dad and I were up here chasing a few whiting right at the tip. We were watching the dark clouds of baitfish move past us when a heap of spotted mackerel moved in. Our whiting rods were quickly disposed of and, along with a dozen or so other anglers fishing there, the tailor rods came out. There was all sorts of fun and games as we got into the mackerel, along with a few bruised knuckles as the old Alveys spun in reverse.
It’s not the first time this has happened, and many other anglers have experienced some action on big fish that have come into these waters. Don’t be fooled into thinking there are only little fish to be had here, as it really is one of those spots where you never quite know what to expect.
These days, travelling down the western side of the Cape is restricted as far as the lighthouse, where you’ll find a big heavy rope stretched down the beach and into the water. In the old days you could plan the trip with the right tides and drive all the way down to Rooneys Point around Platypus Bay to the northern track of Wathumba Creek, back across the Island and come out at Orchid Beach back on the surf side. Nowadays this western stretch is restricted to foot power.
The rules and regulations regarding closed areas, and where you can camp, change fairly regularly on Fraser Island so it pays to check what’s happening in this area before you make the effort. It is well worth a visit, even if it’s only a quick day trip, and if you work the tides right you can be off with an early low tide start, fish all day and then head back on the late afternoon low tide.
This has been the last instalment of my 10-part series on fishing Fraser Island’s surf side. Writing these articles has been very enjoyable for me, bringing back many memories from childhood days and more recent trips. I hope you’ve picked up some useful information and that Fraser Island will become as big a part of your life as it is of mine. It truly is a magnificent island.
Down the track I’ll take you though a few of the options fishing the western side of the island, both from a boat and from the shore. Good fishing!Reads: 9872