I just can’t stay away from Little Susan. It may not be absolutely loaded with fish, but it is loaded with features and challenges, with a wide variety of available species. It’s also a great place to hide from the strong northerly winds that characterise Hervey Bay’s early summer.
You can reach the northern entrance to Little Susan by following the Susan River upstream from the River Heads ramp. The Susan is unmarked except for some laterals leading to the mooring areas, and there are some nasty rockbars that can cause problems when the tide is down. The better alternative is follow the laterals in the lower Mary, then steer northwest after passing the series of green buoys that fringe the middle banks (see map). You will then be able to pick out the entrance. Although there’s plenty of reasonably deep water in the final approach, you need to keep your eye on the sounder as banks on either side are often on the move.
Little Susan forms a connection between the Susan and Mary rivers, and in so doing isolates Kangaroo Island from the mainland. Ebb tide flow is generally from the Susan to the Mary and in reverse on the flood, but the situation becomes a little more complicated on some tides near its junction with the Susan River.
The map shows that Little Susan is an actively meandering stream with typical erosion faces, and the deepest water along its concave shorelines. Opposite convex shores tend to be shallower with small mud banks.
At the breakthrough (9), erosion faces of Little Susan and a small tributary of the Susan River have intersected and in so doing have produced an interesting feature. Healthy stands of mangroves line most of the shore and along the erosion faces. Undercut trees litter the shores, with older ones forming the bases of the snags that attract baitfish and the species we seek. At the end of the first reach (3) the river has cut into some of the higher ground and timbers of Kangaroo Island. There is evidence that a camp was set up here years ago. The remnants of some large trees lie in the deep water here.
I have also included the area just outside the mouth of Little Susan, between Power Island and the mainland. This is mostly very shallow, with deeper water along its northern bank and at the mouth of a small creek (12).
Local rivers making their way to the sea have had to cut through the sandstone that forms the backbone of the district. The result has been that there are ledges of more resistant rocks throughout the system. Those at the River Heads ramps are some of the more prominent examples. In Little Susan there is evidence of these in a number of places, with solid rock in some and gravely bases in others. At the southern entrance (2) a shallow ledge is almost continuous across the stream. This has caused big problems for boats that have not given heed to water depth. I seriously encourage anglers to keep monitoring their sounders throughout Little Susan, particularly over the lower part of the tide.
Now let’s look at the major species that can be taken here.
Javelinfish (also called trumpeter and grunter) are possibilities throughout the year, but my best results have been from January through to late May. The lower water temperatures that follow seem to slow them down.
Snags in 3-5m of water are always worth checking out. Between (5) and (6), along the mainland bank, the snaggy features that show up on the sounder are almost too good to be true, and many good javelin have been battled, and often lost, here. There are similar excellent features at (8), between two small drains that enter the waterway. At (3), (4) and (7) there are more snags worth checking out.
Javelin also like to feed over the rockbars, even those that are in fairly shallow water. You will find these rockbars at varying depths throughout Little Susan, but those at (2) and between (8) and (10) seem to be most productive. A variety of fresh baits can be used successfully. Live prawns, however, are without peer. These can be cast-netted along the shallower banks and in the mouths of the small drains. Yabbies also work well. A good place to pump these is on the banks on the southern side of the Mary River, opposite the green buoys (see map). When small fish are troublesome, fresh hardiheads are worth trying.
Yellowfin bream and pikey bream are likely throughout the year. However, during the spawning seasons (June to August for yellowfin and August and September for pikeys), most mature fish move to their spawning areas around the mouth of the Mary River.
Both species, but in particular the pikeys, like to forage amongst the snags right up to the bank, but they are also taken in company with javelin a little further offshore. My best bream catches have come from the steep banks (3), the snags at (5) and (8), the breakthrough (9), the shallows inside Power Island (11) and the creek mouth (12) and adjacent mainland shoreline. Pikeys are brutes of fish to catch around the snags. They like the odds on their side and put up a determined battle right to the boat. Prawns and yabbies are tops in the bait department but soft plastics work well too.
Three species of whiting can be caught in Little Susan: sand, golden-lined and northern.
Sand and golden-lined whiting can be distinguished by the presence of a black spot at the base of the pectoral fin in sand whiting, and by the orange-yellow fins and the prominent bright line of the golden-lined whiting. The northern whiting is a paler fish with a noticeably flattened nose. I don’t usually fish for them specifically but they have saved the day for me when my usual targets have been uncooperative.
Most whiting are taken in the shallower waters off the convex bends of Little Susan and over the banks, (11) and (13), close to Power Island. Whiting will always fall for yabbies here.
With the profusion of snags and other structure you would be inclined to think that Little Susan would be paradise for mangrove jack. For a reason that I cannot fathom, jacks are far from plentiful here. I don’t want to dissuade people from giving them a go, as there are good fish to be taken, but they do present a challenge. Occasionally I receive reliable reports of jacks being plentiful for short periods, but to date these periods have evaded me!
Blue (Cooktown) salmon are commonly taken throughout the Susan River system during the warmer months. They particularly like to gather in places where they can ambush baitfish. The breakthrough (9), the ledges at the southern entrance (2), the channel outside the entrance (1) and outside the creek mouth (12) are all worth trying. On the late ebb tide outside the creek mouth (12) frenzied surface feeding fish become easy targets for poppers skidded along the surface. We have also had great success using an unweighted chain of 5/0 Mustad 4200 with a large hardihead hanging from each hook, this rig then being used like a popper. When salmon are not actively feeding on the surface they can be targeted with live herrings or mullet, or diving lures.
The Hervey Bay – Sandy Straits system is recognized as the southern limit of the range of the barramundi, even though a few stragglers are taken a little further south. In our system they are taken in the Burrum and Mary river systems, from the Urangan Pier and from a number of areas throughout the straits. In early summer, resident Mary River fish make their way downstream to spawn and for the warmer months they are often taken by anglers. Unfortunately, most of the barra that I come in contact with are taken when targeting salmon during the barramundi closed season. By the time the closed season finishes the barra tend to become elusive. The southern mouth of Little Susan (1) and (2), the creek mouth (12) and the northern entrance (10) are spots that have recorded good captures.
Other species are often encountered in Little Susan. These include blubberlip bream (brown sweetlip), river perch, Moses perch, silver jewfish, mulloway, estuary cod, tailor and flathead. I should also mention that this is great mud crab country, so it’s always worth dropping a pot in a secluded nook while you are fishing. Cast-netting for prawns, particularly during February, March and April, is also worth a shot.
As I indicated in my introduction, this waterway is not a prolific source of fish. However, if you are in for a real challenge and if you are keen to test out and refine a variety of fishing skills, this could be the place for you.
1) Little Susan snags at mark (4) on the map.
2) Jamie Lineburg battled this Little Susan pikey bream out of a serious inshore snag.Reads: 3555