DECEMBER in Yeppoon is when the big grunter get into stride. The rocky reefy patches up the coast switch on as the weather gets warmer and the fish stay for a few months in numbers that make a bit of a travel worthwhile.
Grunter (barred javelin) do come into the estuaries and the river and reach 2-3kg, but the real fish stay out at some of the deeper spots just outside Keppel Bay. These fish eat most offshore baits, from squid to fresh cut strip baits, and they favour prawns and poddy mullet in the creeks and rivers. Grunter don’t mind a bit of colour in the water, and fresh pushes them further downstream in the creeks. These fish can be nailed on various rod and reel combos, providing they can lift a solid fish. In the estuaries a 4-6kg outfit fits the bill nicely. Combinations outside go from 8-10kg to Alvey snapper reels 20-30kg (mainly for the bycatch).
The Fitzroy River, Coorooman Creek, Waterpark Creek and Corio Bay are great places to find grunter, either from the bank or from a small tinny. Mud banks and channels dropping into deeper parts of the systems and holes work well. In The River a popular practice on the slower tides is to drift a wide stretch with a very undulating bottom and drag a live prawn on a 3/0 with a pea sinker. When the tide is running the grunter stay low in the undulations to avoid the main current. Many Rockhampton locals rave about the catches they make and, with the help of advice from the two main tackle shops (Barra Jacks and Bluefin), you’ll find that the fish aren’t hard to locate.
The serious grunter hunters go to The Barge, The Pinnacles and Cape Manifold. The first two are easy to reach from Corio Bay on a calm day. Cape Manifold is a trip in a decent sized rig. Many top fishermen prefer to go after grunter overnight, so you really have to be sure of the weather when you stay out. The winds hardly ever stay away, there and back.
Grunter like the same areas that black jew and big trevally haunt, and often the welcome bycatch at the Pinnacles or Barge is a jew or a trev. At Manifold you may score snapper, lippers, and the odd red. When the grunter appear in numbers many anglers will pass an opportunity at other fish and travel further to land a prize grunter.
As a tablefish the grunter is first class the flesh is soft, white, clean and fine, and the flavour is not too strong. Our family reckons that baked grunter stuffed with bacon, peeled prawns, capsicum, eschalots, tomato and fresh breadcrumbs beats almost anything!
Fingermark and mangrove jack are also worth a shot over summer. These guys are hard to find (except in The Causeway), but once found you seem to pick more spots each time you look. Both species are ambush feeders so concentrate your efforts around substantial snags and rock bars with plenty of cover. Down the bottom end of the river is a good starting point. Port Alma and surrounds have an amazing amount of structures and each one needs a lure or more thrown at it. The only problem with fishing for fingermark and jacks in this area is the likelihood of an out-of-season barramundi but I can live with that if it means a jack or a fingery isn’t far behind.
The other notable spot is Shoalwater Bay. Some of the creeks in the army country are mind blowing and can be compared with the Gulf waters in more ways than one. The remoteness is helped by the difficulty in getting there, and this accounts for the amount of fish available. Some of the local charters head that way either from Yeppoon or Stanage Bay. The first time you go it’s advisable to go with someone who knows Shoalwater. The fishing will make you want to come back every chance you get.
School holidays mean one thing: finding something for your kids to do. More often than not it involves their friends as well, and one solution is to is take them beach worming. The time of year doesn’t matter much and if the day is a good one that’s a bonus. It took a long time for people to realize that Yeppoon and the surrounding beaches have a healthy population of beachworms. In fact, it’s rare to find a better spot within a 15-minutes drive of a town anywhere in Queensland. Having spent years at The Goldy and Sunny coasts, Moreton and both of the Stradbrokes and having seen top wormers in action, I can judge.
The last couple of years the worms close to town were small, but now the only ones we catch are a metre or longer. Beachworms are taken from just north of The Fitzroy River mouth south of Yeppoon right up into Shoalwater Bay army country in the north. Beaches such as Long Beach and Farnborough are the best close to town, and the further you travel north past Nine Mile, Five Rocks and Three Rivers and Port Clinton the better. I saw a local fellow (Pat Clair) score several worms that were so long he had to pull the middle of each worm to get it out of the hole. These worms were over 1.8m and some were over 2.1m. These are huge worms, and lots of baits come from one worm.
The best time to catch beachworms is the last half of the tide running out, generally in about 10cm of water. Dragging a bag of fish scraps in the wash brings the worms out until you bait them individually on capture. Dig your fingers (thumb and forefinger) into the sand carefully, as close as possible either side of the worm but trying not to touch it. Try to draw it out with your bait, a small piece in your off hand (I find a piece of fish works well but different blokes reckon that cheese is the go). As the worm arches upwards, pinch it between your fingers and pull it out of the hole in one quick motion. Don’t be afraid to pinch very hard – you won’t squash it.
Wherever you find worms on the beach there’s always a predator to eat them as the tide covers the beach with enough water. Worms as bait can account for a wide variety of top quality fish. Whiting, dart, bream, trevally, shovelnose shark, jew, flathead and salmon all comb worm beds, waiting till they see a head come up for a feed. When using worms for bait break the worms into pieces about 5cm long and thread two or three onto a hook, leaving some ends flapping in the current to attract the next victim. While we’re worming we always put out a line with a worm on it and nearly always land a big whiting or better.
Prawns and crabs are another option in December. Teach the kids how to throw a cast net and bait a crab pot – you won’t be sorry.
1) Ingrid Fleming boated this grunter at the Pinnacles 20min at 20kn north of Yeppoon.
2) Kev with a red emperor caught out from Yeppoon.
3) A pair of fingermark from Coorooman,15min south of Yeppoon.Reads: 3613