Early rewards in the estuaries
  |  First Published: December 2004

December sees the water temperature in the estuaries heat up to around 25 degrees and there are quite a few afternoon storms. The fishing is at its best at dusk and early in the morning, and although relatively few anglers make 4am starts it’s actually the best time to chase a wide range of species. At this time of day, boat traffic is at a minimum and the fish are generally very active.

Mangrove jacks should be on the chew this month, and all through spring quite a few jacks were caught in all the usual haunts. Try casting a popper around marina berths and rocky banks after dark, and work deeper rockbars with trolled hard-bodied lures like the ever-reliable Mann’s Stretch 20. Live herrings and mullet also work well. The Nerang and south arm of the Coomera are often the most productive rivers.

Whiting will increase in numbers throughout the month as the water warms up. Soldier crabs, bloodworms and shrimp are good baits, and the best place to catch a feed of these tasty fish is in the Nerang on a quiet weekday morning. Whiting are probably the best eating fish in the entire estuary system, and some of the biggest specimens come from the Nerang River around the Council Chambers. Fish a long trace and ultra-light mono. 2kg fluorocarbon leader is a good way to maximise bites. Shrimp are a very effective bait and can be collected around canals, rock walls and mangrove banks with a fine mesh net. They are best fished three to a hook on a size 6 Aberdeen. A run-in tide is generally the most productive.

Flathead thin out over the flats but can still be caught in the deeper water. Try jigging a Prawnstar around the deeper sections of the channels or bridge pylons. There are still quite a few lizards about, and through December the same techniques also catch great trevally and estuary cod.

Both mudcrabs and sandcrabs will be active this month, and there should be plenty of activity if there are a few early summer rains. The Pimpama River is a good spot for crabs in December.

The Seaway often has a run of chopper tailor in December and a few school jew. If there is a bit of swell the wash around the north wall of the Seaway is well worth throwing a lure or livebait into. The last half of the run-in is usually the best tidal period. A few bonito, mack tuna and frigates are occasionally mixed with the tailor.

Jumpinpin holds plenty of whiting at this time of year and there will still be flathead around the bar area and Kalinga Bank. There may also be a few jewies in the mouth of Swan Bay. This area in December seems to have less boat traffic than the Seaway, but the whole estuary is a pretty crazy piece of water during the holiday season.


At the time of writing there are good signs that there are plenty of juvenile black marlin heading south for the summer. There are plenty of small blacks on the inshore reefs off the central Queensland coast, and by December these fish should be in numbers off the Gold coast. Point Lookout and the 20-fathom line off Jumpinpin are good spots to chase small black marlin in December.

There should also be a few sails about. Cook Island and the Tweed nine Mile Reef are another couple of excellent early-season spots that fish well in southeasterly winds.

I think we will see plenty of small marlin between 10kg and 30kg this season. This seems to be a cyclical thing, and these juveniles are fantastic sport on light tackle. We haven’t seen a boom season on baby blacks for around six years but, by recent reports from 1770 and surrounds, these are the fish heading south this season.

Lure trolling is a good standby searching technique early in the season, but if you encounter a big school of bait it pays to slowly troll a live slimy mackerel.

As well as small black marlin, there should be quite a few dolphinfish around as well. Some big ones up to 18kg turned up in December 2003, so let’s hope they make a repeat visit this year. Last year we caught plenty of good fish on Meridian lures.

Spotted mackerel turn up on Palm Beach reef in late December, and there are also generally a few school-sized cobia of around 5-15kg around at this time. Anchoring up on the reef and fishing livebaits or pilchards in a berley trail is often very effective. Trolling small skirts early in the morning is also worth a look.

On the wider grounds the current is generally running hard, bringing a blanket of warm purple current from the north. While this is great for pelagic fishing, it makes bottom fishing difficult. Current permitting, the 36- and 50-fathom lines will still produce a few amberjack, rosy jobfish and pigfish. Dolphinfish are commonly encountered on the surface while drifting and it’s always a good idea to have a floating pilchard out the back.

Trolling this month on the wider grounds can produce black marlin, dolphinfish, yellowfin tuna and the odd striped marlin. A few early season wahoo are also encountered.

Overall, December is a busy month on the water, and Christmas time is often a very crowded period on Gold Coast waterways. Be patient and take care, and don’t forget that without daylight saving there are great early morning fishing opportunities devoid of jetski noise.

Merry Christmas and tight lines.


1) December – crab time!

2) This year there’ll be plenty of these!

3) There will still be a few flatties around in December.

4) Nice bream! A Berkley Dropshot Minnow was the undoing of this fish.

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