Angling Extremes
  |  First Published: April 2010

May on Teewah Beach is usually a month of angling extremes.

The first two weeks often provides excellent angling with the arrival of the northbound tailor, bream being schooled up for their annual spawning and dart, whiting and tarwhine readily available from the gutters. Late season longtail and mackerel tuna can be more accessible from the beach in calmer, dry season conditions, as can school and spotted mackerel. Two large Spaniards leaping clear out of the water at the back of the gutter I was fishing today shows that they are still around also. These first weeks can be very exciting times.

Weather conditions by May have generally settled following the wet season and algae, fortunately, can no longer survive in the cooling seawater. It is five months since any intense netting of this beach has occurred and the fishing reflects that. It is simply a terrific time of year to be on the beach.

The last two weeks of May however can be an entirely different story and one that doesn't make for any happy reading.

Although the mullet netting season by K8 licensed professional netters commences on May 1, it is usually mid May that the first nets are shot. And it is no coincidence that this is when recreational catches from this beach usually dry up. On occasions, the effect of the first net shot can be noticed immediately, as was the case last year.

On that occasion, I had been finding schools of chopper tailor around coffee rock patches in gutters south of Teewah for several weeks. And on this particular day, I was driving down the beach in search of fish, when much to my consternation I passed a large group of professionals heading north.

Conditions were perfect with clear water, just a light north-easterly breeze, sunny skies and nearly every retrieve hooking up. With the tide coming in towards late afternoon, it looked like another long session was to be had when suddenly lures stated arriving back to the beach untouched. At the same time, schools of mullet that had previously been lazily holding in the gutters, began swimming at speed through the gutter in a southward direction. School after school went through the gutter while I unsuccessfully dragged lures through it for the tailor that had obviously gone.

I knew what was happening; I had seen it before in various locations. The fish were swimming away from nets that had been shot 10km to the north of me. And I also knew there wouldn't be any more tailor fishing for a while and that just about every angler would struggle to catch anything for a while.

The same thing will happen this May and nothing could be more certain. The pros will wrap nets around schools of mullet, bream, golden trevally, tailor and whiting, with by-catches of other species mixed in. Every fish in these nets will emit an alarm signal by drumming muscles against their swim bladder that warns other fish of the deadly threat. And every other fish of species vulnerable to this netting will swim away from the nets and stay away for one to two weeks.

Species not affected are the tunas, mackerels, baitfishes and flathead along with some juveniles of affected species. However, it wasn't many years ago that the mullet nets also spooked the tunas and mackerels. But it seems that the banning of their netting earlier in the decade has caused, over time, these species to not be affected any more. Flathead are rarely taken in mullet nets and must have the ability to go under them, and baitfishes are small enough to go through.

When the fish feel it is safe to return, the pros are waiting for them. They know that this is the behavioural response by the fish to their nets and the timing is predictable within a few days. So between watching for mullet schools exiting the mouth of the Noosa River to spawn and which are oblivious to previous nettings, the pros reconnoitre the beach in search of returning schools. Within 48 hours of schools returning, the nets are shot again and the process repeats itself.

To say that this scenario is a shame for recreational anglers would be a gross understatement. Many thousands of visitors to Cooloola each year invest a great deal of their time and money in anticipation of wetting a line in the surf of Teewah Beach. Before very long they will all have to purchase a vehicle access permit as well, which is of zero benefit to fish stocks or recreational angling. It is also a shame that there are now vastly less of the species that are caught in these nets and the situation deteriorates each year. I see it as shameful that Fisheries describe this fishery as sustainable when, in my opinion it clearly is not.

But the greatest shame of all is that there appears to be no end in sight and we can probably expect beach netting to continue for years to come before anything changes.

So if there is one piece of advice I can pass on to anglers wishing to fish Teewah Beach in May, it is to get in before the nets do. The first two weeks of the month are a recreational angler’s dream so pen them in and get on the beach for some spectacular fishing.

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