What to do in a northerly
  |  First Published: October 2004

THE LAST few months have seen some great weather conditions, with anglers venturing out to their favourite reefs in the central and northern parts of Hervey Bay. Among the hotspots have been the low reefs off Wathumba Creek in Platypus Bay, where snapper to 10kg and lots of golden trevally and school mackerel have been taken.

Weather conditions certainly have been great for offshore fishing, but now it’s time to face the reality that seasonal northerly winds are due. A strong wind out of the north or northwest is the number one enemy of Hervey Bay anglers, and if you look at a map of the coast and Fraser Island you’ll see why. There are few places that afford any protection, and as the winds funnel into the bay they render open waters dangerously rough and dump tonnes of weed onto island and mainland foreshores – as well as turning most popular offshore species right off the bite. Some anglers are resigned to giving their sport a miss during the latter months of the year, restricting themselves to just a few small windows of opportunity when the northerlies abate.

Fortunately, there are alternatives – you can still make use of sheltered creeks and the maze of channels that drain the extensive sand and mud banks of the inner bay.


River Heads is the ideal place to launch in northerly conditions. The ramp has room for a couple of rigs and, though it’s fairly steep, it’s in good condition. Better still, it’s on the river side of the heads and protected from the northerly wind.

From here you can access protected spots in the Susan and Mary systems. The Susan and its tributaries are not marked except for a few laterals leading from the mouth to a mooring area. At this time of the year, bream, javelin, whiting, flathead, blue salmon and the occasional barramundi are available. Other creeks running into Turkey Straits can also be reached from River Heads, even though it could be quite choppy rounding South Head.

Between the mainland and Woody Island there isn’t too much water at low tide [see map]. In fact, you could walk to Woody Island at the bottom of a spring tide in little more than ankle-deep water. The extensive banks are important feeding areas and as the tide drops, fish are concentrated into the small channels that remain. Working these areas doesn’t mean getting out of the wind, but they do provide the opportunity to fish in relatively calm water where fish are likely to be.

The northern parts of these banks drain into Hervey Bay at Urangan and through the Dog Leg gutter near the southern end of Woody Island. On the southern side, small channels run into the main waterway linking River Heads and Hervey Bay.

Working the northern areas, such as Booral Flats and Dog Leg Gutter, from Urangan is quite possible but you might have to put up with a bit of discomfort close to the harbour. My preference, in northerly conditions, is to launch at River Heads about three hours on the ebb tide, give or take half an hour depending on tide heights. By this time, exposing banks give reasonable protection from the northerly.

The first major channel is Shell Gutter, about 2km from River Heads. About 7km from River Heads towards the Picnic Islands, a shallow gutter marks the entrance to South Mangrove. Another shallow gutter forms a link to deep water near Woody Island. Again, depending upon tide height, it might be necessary to enter these gutters through their shallow entrances a couple of hours before the bottom of the tide, and then be prepared to stay put until the following flood tide provides enough water to move out again.

Some of the banks are soft and don’t lend themselves to walking, but on others it’s easy to move across, giving a much better opportunity to find fish. As soon as banks start to bare, action starts to hot up in the drains. Fish are often reluctant to move directly into the deeper parts of the gutters and they hang back in the shallower sections almost until they run dry. Only then will fish move into the deeper sections. I have found that there is usually a good burst of fish after the banks bare, followed by very little action right on the bottom of the tide. As the tide starts to flood into the very shallow drains, the action hots up again. Once the main flats start to cover, the fish spread out and it’s time to head back to the ramp.

Whiting, both sand and golden-lined, make up the bulk of the catch but the occasional bream is not a surprise. Flathead like to position themselves along the edges of the deeper gutters, waiting for their opportunities. Many anglers target flathead using soft plastics and small baitfish. Bait is seldom a problem on the banks, with yabby beds easy to locate. In recent weeks both Shell and South Mangrove gutters have been turning on a particularly good class of whiting and the next month should see more of the same.


This month should see the return of grass sweetlip (coral bream) to inshore waters of the bay. They will be more plentiful in the reefy channels rather than on the very shallow reefs. The shallows are often affected by weed and very turbid water during the periods of strong northerly winds. One of the best spots will be the channel right outside the Urangan Boat Harbour. Here numerous ledges make ideal coral bream habitat. I like to pick an early morning low tide, working the last of the ebb and the early flood. Whole herrings, hardiheads and half-pilchards are excellent baits here. Blackall to 5kg and silver cobbler (salmon catfish) to 10kg are also likely in this channel, particularly during the night. If fishing this area, please keep in mind that large passenger vessels, as well as small craft and trawlers, use this channel north and east of the harbour entrance. There is plenty of good water to the east and south of the courses used by the larger vessels.

As I write, I continue to be bewildered by the status of this year’s Fraser Island tailor season. I have had reports of some very big fish being taken but only in small numbers. There have also been a few reasonable schools of chopper class fish between Waddy Point and Ngkala Rocks, and around the Cathedrals. Keen observers have sighted big schools of fish well wide of the break, but there hasn’t been much incentive for them to come into the inshore gutters. Apart from tailor, usually reliable dart and whiting have not been playing their part to any extent either.

A number of parties have been visiting the western beach at Moon Point and at Woralie Creek. Catching a good feed of whiting hasn’t been difficult but so far the quality leaves something to be desired. Flathead have been caught around the coffee rocks near Bowarady Creek and around the mouths of Coongul and Moon Creeks, with bream and whiting inside Coongul Creek over the high tide. Catch you next month!


1) Look, a fish.

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