Rewarding sessions offshore
  |  First Published: December 2004

By mid-December the Sunshine Coast will be very busy, and prime camping spots right on the water will be gone until next time around. These prized locations are often booked out well in advance and you’ve got to be lucky to get one if you just lob up.

The Noosa Council camp ground at Munna Point is a prime example. The last time I camped there I was jammed up the back between a pack of hippies in a convoy of Combis on one side and what appeared to be some kind of portable child-minding centre on the other. At least there was plenty of encouragement to spend a lot of time on the water!

Other accommodation options range from basic bush camps to top-of-the-range 5-star luxury. Just make sure you book well in advance.

Most silly seasons in southeast Queensland see plenty of storm activity up and down the coast. With average temperatures in the 200 to 280 range and occasional bursts of more intense heat, things are generally quite comfortable. At this time of year the rainfall is nearing its peak, with December having an average of 10 wet days. January has 12, February 13 and March wins with 15 wet days.


Bluewater fishing off the Sunshine Coast during the warmer months can be very rewarding. Squire, snapper and pearl perch dominate catch lists, but there are plenty of other species on offer. Sunshine Reef is famous for its coral trout and sweetlip. In fact, I doubt that any reef in Southeast Queensland within easy reach of the coast would be more reliable than Sunshine for these top-shelf table species.

North Reef, easily accessed from the Noosa River mouth, delivers most bottom-dwellers available in this part of the world. It has a propensity for rewarding some anglers with red emperor and the magnificent scarlet sea perch, two of the best bluewater tablefish found anywhere.

Chardons Reef is worth a look for most bottom-dwelling fish as well as mahi mahi (dolphinfish). These exceptional fish are great fun to catch, particularly on medium weight spin gear. If they are well cared for and dropped into an ice slurry immediately after bleeding they are definitely good tucker.

For those who are slightly more adventurous, and who have larger boats appropriately fitted out for lengthy journeys, the Barwon Banks and beyond can deliver almost any species imaginable. Top class knobby snapper, rosy jobfish six feet long, un-landable amberjacks, brutish yellowtail kings and a better than even chance of car door sized red emperor and pearlies to write home about are all very real possibilities.

The pelagic season starts to get underway during December. Laguna Bay and the close water off Mooloolaba and Caloundra often contain big schools of spotted mackerel, school mackerel, mackerel tuna and the very beginning of the Spanish mackerel run. The Spaniards tend to come in at an average of 7-8kg during December. The tuna are sporadic catches until later in summer, but a few northern blues and yellowfin are caught this month.


Last season was very good for those who chased the ubiquitous but retiring mangrove jack. Most Sunshine Coast estuaries and creeks hold fair numbers of these fabulous sportfish. Unfortunately, they aren’t present in plague proportions so it makes a lot of sense to release them. Handle the fish with care so they are not unnecessarily injured. Use an Environet to land the fish and place it on a wet cloth. Be careful not to allow the fish an opportunity to bite you, because it will – and it will hurt! Jacks have teeth more like a dog than a fish and they have surprising jaw strength. When a big jack is latched onto a finger it can inflict plenty of pain, so be wary.

This season has started well, with good jacks caught right through October and into November. The snag-ridden run in between the lakes in the Noosa River has been reasonably reliable, as has the Maroochy River downstream from Bli Bli and in feeder creeks, and the rock walls in the lower Mooloolah River. Casting bibbed minnow lures around the snags is a good way to tangle with these ferocious beasts. Slow retrieves work the best, particularly if you can employ a stop/start/swim/rise type action. Prawn imitation lures have also been working very well and large soft plastics have also brought some very good specimens undone. A livebait drifted into a likely-looking snag is also a very good way to find mangrove jack.

Flathead are a year-round proposition along the South Queensland coast. Numbers tend to wane a little during the hotter months, but they are still a viable target. Trolling small minnow lures is a very good way to catch a feed of flatties. Local tackle stores can offer good advice on which lures and colour combinations are working best. Once you’ve located a fish or two it can pay to cast the area well, with one angler working the lure that caught the fish and the other using a soft plastic or prawn type lure.

Drifting baits such as live herring, live prawns, whitebait or frogmouth pilchards is also a good way to secure a feed. Strips of fresh flesh can also work very well, particularly if worked along the drop-offs. Pink nippers are another good option and I’ve seen two or three live nippers on a long shank hook out-fish all other baits by a significant margin.

Naturally, these tactics will attract the attention of other species. Estuary cod, bream, Moses perch and tailor are common along the Sunshine Coast and are often caught while targeting other species.

For those who enjoy a bit of surface action, tarpon and trevally can generally satisfy. Early and late is the key to success with these species. If you arrive at the boat ramp at 7am with high hopes of a hot popper session, you’ll probably be disappointed.

To Guide or not to Guide?

Those who struggle out on the water can often be cheered up enormously by a competent local fishing guide. It makes a lot of sense to seek the services of a guide to give yourself the best possible chance of angling triumph.

Many visitors make the mistake of trying all their home turf tactics, and they often miss out. The fish and chip shops love these guys! As a last resort, these visitors fish with a guide for a session or two and then begin to learn the system they are fishing in, and what works and where. Had they started their holiday with a guide and then put their new skills into practice, the holiday happy snaps would be much more interesting back at the office.

Guided trips are many and varied on the Sunshine Coast. There’s a multitude of offshore operators who offer all sorts of packages, but I recommend full-day trips rather than the supposedly more economical shorter versions. On a full-day charter you can fish wider grounds that see far less pressure than the easily accessed areas. Good days out on the Barwon Banks can be mind blowing, particularly for the uninitiated.

Guides that specialise on the estuaries are what many holiday makers towing small boats will need to use. Once again, there are plenty on offer so hunt around. There is a large list of guides and offshore operators in the Charter section of this magazine. It has been included to assist with your holiday plans, so check it out. Whether you’re after bream, bass or barra, there will be someone to make your dreams come true!

Safety is very important when the waterways are crowded. Be courteous, keep a good lookout and please show some common sense and patience at the boat ramps.

Lastly, thankyou to all those anglers who send me reports and photographs, and Merry Christmas!


1) This quality northern bluefin tuna took a Headmaster lure trolled behind a surf ski.

2) Fishing Monthly’s Simon Goldsmith looks pretty happy with this Rainbow Villas barra.

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