AT THIS time of year in Port Douglas some lucky people are catching quality fish from their back door – especially those anglers who reside on the Reef Park ponds in suburban Port Douglas.
The Reef Park ponds are an upper catchment of the Dickson Inlet, and the water is contained by a causeway which flows after a big wet or drains from a 3m-plus tide when the water spills into it. The ponds were created 15 years ago from a cane field which became part of the Sheraton Mirage golf course.
The water’s edge is inaccessible along the golf course and also where residential properties back down to the water. However, most of the ponds are accessible to the public where the public road, St Crispin's Avenue, runs right along the edge. It’s one of the few places I know where you can actually pull your car right onto the water’s edge, wet a line and possibly land an exceptional fish. It’s user friendly and easy fishing.
Some fish come and go with the big tides over the causeways, and others decide to stay. The ponds are a nurseries full of baitfish and prawns, and many people collect bait from here. At these locations I’ve caught bream, trevally, queenfish, giant herring, tarpon, small fingermark, flathead, barracuda, mangrove jack and barramundi.
Reef Park fishes best during December. The water system is mostly only 2m deep, and the hot steamy days building up to the Wet Season send the water temperatures above 35 degrees. You’d think this would nearly cook the fish, but it makes them very active. A hot day normally means a good late afternoon session, and the best time to fish is as the sun sinks behind the surrounding mountains. It’s a picturesque spot to unwind.
Live baiting is the most productive method (remember that barra must be released during this time of year). Lures sometimes work, but I've only ever caught one fish on fly after numerous hours in this department.
A cast net is the most efficient way to get bait such as mullet, sardines, herring, bony bream and prawns, and you can keep them alive in an oxygenated bucket. A standard outfit is a 6kg combo with a one-metre 30-40lb leader on a light running sinker rig. You can also try throwing out a big herring without any weight. After a bit of fluttering around the herring often finds itself swimming straight down the throat of a big predator.
There are no snags to come unstuck with here. A couple of us ran a sounder over the ponds a few years ago to discover it offered no deep sections or stand out features except for a small man-made island which gradually sloped down to the 2m mark underwater. The food supply is the only thing attracting the bigger predators, including a few crocodiles up to 8ft. There are warning signs, and anyone who fishes the ponds should be aware of this hazard - especially kids and parents.
Some of the bigger species to come out of this body of water over the past couple of years include a 120cm barra (normally between 50-85cm), 85cm queenfish, 50cm mangrove jack, 100cm barracuda, 4kg giant trevally, 70cm giant herring and 35cm bream - just to name a few. These are great fish in any location.
As well as fishing the late afternoon, a good time to fish is during the build-up to a storm. No matter what the time of day, when the barometric pressure suddenly drops this triggers the fish into action and many great catches are made at this time. After rain it can take a few days for the system to recover, and during extended rainy periods it’s pointless to fish; there’s too much fresh. It may take until the next big tide to push some salt into the ponds before it fires again.
There’s no particular spot that fishes better than the others, but I've found that when the sun is high you should cast your baits further out. As the sun drops behind the hills, gradually present your baits closer to the bank where most of the action occurs closer to sunset. Fishing after dark is a viable option, but be sure to consider the sneaky crocodile factor.
Reef Park has gradually built a reputation as a fishing mecca in Port Douglas, thanks to its easy accessibility and ripper fish. It is has a real community feel about it where anglers of all ages converge at various times. You can fish there no matter what the wind is doing, and catching good fish has never been easier!
1) Shane Bretz with a nice little barra before releasing it.Reads: 950