Red throat sweetlip on pillies
  |  First Published: September 2005

Give me these cold September mornings anytime because they usually turn into glorious sun-filled days. This is my favourite month of the year as far as weather goes. Days are often calmer for longer and more stability in the weather patterns makes fishing trips more predictable.

In the estuaries

The Narrows are great salmon grounds with most of the gravel bed estuaries excellent places to target this species. The area around Black Swan Island offers good opportunities. Black Swan Creek is a picturesque fishing location with mountains in the background and mangrove-lined waterways. Bream school up in the gutters and around the island.

The incoming tide is the best time to fish this area but most of the smaller estuaries dry on the low. Mud banks are prevalent towards the further reaches of Black Swan Creek and berley in this area encourages all sorts of vermin including sharks, snakes and stingrays, so I generally give it a miss. Peeled prawns are effective bait along the mangroves but pilchard tails on two ganged 4/0 hooks cast into the centre of the creek will often pick up some good flathead.

Black Swan Creek features some excellent drains on high tide and these drains set up eddies. Look for the swirls and target the locations sheltered from the tidal flow. These areas might be very small but trust me when I say that there are bream there! The front of the drain is generally the location of these eddies but any structure here can cause swirls that come and go quickly. The window of opportunity is often small but if you cast into these locations, targeting the still water behind the eddies (as shown in diagram), it can be very productive.

River perch are also common around the banks of this island. These fish only grow to 30cm but make tasty morsels on the plate if you can get enough of them. They fight when hooked but give up quickly. Sometimes you are not even aware they are still on the line until you feel weight. River perch are very susceptible to pollutants so their presence is a good indicator of water quality.

The rocky spur at the eastern point of Black Swan Island is a good vantage point to flick for salmon and grunter.

This is also the time to target the gravel banks along the Calliope River. The Beecher Bar and the gravel bank along Devil’s elbow are good salmon grounds and there are good-sized bream available as spawning fish move into the larger estuaries. The best locations in the Calliope for bream are the mangrove edges of the Anabranch and the rocky ledges near the bridges.

My mate Greenie reported some solid salmon coming from the hot water inlet during a night trip. This is a great location for land-bound fishers as excellent facilities, including seating and tables, have been provided.

On the Reef

Rock Cod Shoals is an active location for Gladstone’s boaters during the cooler months. Radio chatter indicates that when the calm weather matches up with weekends, these shoals are the preferred location in Gladstone. It is not unusual to be on the shoals with 20 or more boats within visible range and many more you can’t even see.

Catches have not been consistent lately with some reports coming in of a fishless trip from the shoals – something that is completely unheard of! Luckily, I have not suffered that indignity yet, although sometimes the esky is not as full as I would have liked.

The central shelf of the shoals is the starting point for most of my summer fishing trips to the Rock Cod Shoals and usually brings success. This seems to be a summer location for grassy sweetlip, parrot, red throat and coral trout.

However, during the cooler months I have been frustrated at this location by the nibblers and strippers, such as small iodine bream, grinners and stripies. It seems these are in plague proportions in the shallower areas of these shoals during winter so I head to the deeper edges at this time.

Brian Green invited me to be his deckie on a recent trip to the shoals in his Cruisecraft 500 Explorer, which happens to be the same boat that I own. It was a great opportunity to fish with a mate and check out how he has accessorized his boat – just in case he has a gadget that I don’t have!

We headed around Gatcombe Heads and turned northeast, aiming for the eastern edges of the shoals some 24 nautical miles away. On this trip the water was so smooth we could have walked to the shoals. It was one of those rare weekends when seas were less than 0.3m and winds were less than 5 knots all day. My idea of heaven!

This southeast corner of these shoals is a little deeper than other areas, ranging from 14-22m. We drifted on this particular trip. Not only does it reduce fishing pressure on one area of the shoals, it enables us to work baits over a wider area.

Drifting also tends to reduce the impact of the pickers as the bait moves across the bottom. I have found that pickers work furiously at stationary bait but pick and run at moving bait. The pick-and-run action often incites the more desirable fish into action.

Squid was our bottom bait but we left a couple of pillies floating from the back of the boat. Our bottom baits were being chewed on occasionally but our floaters were being hit time and again. We had several big bust-offs until Brian honed in on a very respectable Spanish mackerel which, being the deckie, was my duty to net.

This mack didn’t quite fit into the net and during the melee of bringing the thrashing Spanish aboard, teeth or hooks (we are not sure which) raked across Brian’s leg, creating an even bloodier mess in the boat. Of course, the most important thing was the fish was safely aboard and after we slipped it into the icebox we were able to deal with the bloody leg – which really wasn’t as bad as it first appeared.

We threw out some more floaters while keeping up with the bottom bashing. Again one of the floaters went off with a zing. This time we were surprised to bring a quality red throat sweetlip to the boat. I have not known red throat to hit floaters but it wasn’t long before we were on again. Another pair of red throat.

This was unusual but we certainly weren’t complaining. We had another couple of hits, bringing six very respectable fish aboard, all on floating pillies and ganged 5/0 trebles. Go figure!

I prefer to let red throat run a little with the line and lean back on the drag rather than hit them hard. Their mouths are pretty hard so it is important to make certain the hook is embedded. I find fishing with trebles makes it easier to get the initial hook-up and easier to retrieve the hooks later. Sometimes small single hooks are swallowed and these need to be sacrificed if an undersized fish is to be saved.

Once hooked, red throat will invariably run to the bottom and look for structure. Even turning their head does not always do the trick and quite often, red throat will run towards the boat, get to the bottom and lodge themselves under structure.

Now comes the tricky part. If you can maintain the pressure, the fish will tire, and you should be able to pull it free from the structure. Other times though the line will also become snagged.

Free spooling reduces the tension and can sometimes encourage the hooked fish to run free from the bottom and the battle starts again. However, if your line is snagged and can’t stand up to the abrasive action of the rocks or reef, then you won’t have much chance. These struggles often become a battle of wits and quite often the fish wins.


Reef Closures

Three nine-day periods have been implemented again as closed seasons to the taking of all coral reef fish. The closure dates coincide with the new moon period and are designed to protect spawning aggregations of most coral reef fish species.

The closures for 2005 will be:

 27 September to 5 October

 27 October to 4 November

 25 November to 3 December

Check www.dpi.qld.gov.au/fishweb/11416.html for details.

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