Fraser Flats: Popper Heaven
  |  First Published: May 2010

As summer loomed on the calendar the level of excitement and anticipation grew; it was nearly time to load up Penrhyn, Luxury Afloat House Boats’ flagship at Tin Can Bay, and head off on our yearly sojourn up the Great Sandy Straits.

The crew hadn’t changed much from last year: Linda my wife, our daughter, Kate, and Jill and Paul Tedman. With the galley brimming with food and the eskies full of ice and beverages we were ready to head off.

The weather had been hot with persistent northerlies, not what we really wanted, but the forecast later in the week was for the winds to swing around to the south.

Leaving Snapper Creek around lunchtime we headed off out into Tin Can Bay inlet running with the tide but pushing into the northerly. By late afternoon we had made it up to Garrys Anchorage where we decided to moor overnight, mainly to conserve fuel as the northerly halted any good progress, and head off early the next day to Yanky Jack Creek.

With Penrhyn safely resting at anchor behind Dream Island, Paul and I set off in our boats to set a few pots and see if we could raise a fish or two before the midges got the best of us.

Paul had set his pots and was walking the bank trying to entice a whiting or flathead to attack his little popper. Walking his way back to the boat he noticed a distinctive swirl and tail in the discoloured water. Having spent considerable time in ‘croc active’ waters, Paul didn’t hang around.

There had been a few reports of crocs in the Straits but nothing definitive. This encounter would serve to enhance our precautions and remind us that anything can live in the maze of mangrove and isolated creeks. So be prepared and don’t be over confident.

The next morning it didn’t take us long before we were dropping anchor near Yanky Jack Creek. With the possibility of a southeasterly change coming through, we decided to stay here for the night and then head of up to North White Cliffs the next morning.

We spent the day setting pots, collecting a few yabbies and generally enjoying the solitude of Sheridan Flats. We were now in full holiday mode, sitting on the top deck of Penrhyn sipping a cold beer watching the orange glow of sunset disappearing over the distant Gunalda range.

The next morning, the pots yielded a few good sandies, so it was crab sandwiches for lunch.

With the tide now making, it was time to head off to North White Cliffs. It wasn’t long before we cruised past the entrance to Wanggoolba Creek, another half hour saw us dropping anchor just north of McKenzies Jetty and in sight of Kingfisher Bay Resort.

We headed up to Kingfisher for a swim and to get some fresh bread for the crabs. Luxury Afloat has an agreement with Kingfisher Resort for their clients to be able to go ashore and use the resort facilities.

Paul and Jill headed down to McKenzies Jetty with some live herring to try their luck. Kate and I decided to go north to Dundonga Creek. Kate fished with yabbies while I used lures.

The water depth was only calf deep and I was confident that a flathead or two would be lurking around the mouth of the creek waiting to ambush the small baitfish heading back up into the sanctuary of the mangroves.

My first couple of casts didn’t arouse too much interest; a few small whiting followed the Berkley Frenzy FS6S minnow. My next cast hit a good flathead but unfortunately it wasn’t a good hook-up and the flathead drifted slowly away from the boat. A quick cast out in front of the flathead again drew an immediate strike, the powerful runs confirming a solid hook-up and yielded an impressive 60cm flathead.

As more water was now flooding the creek Kate and I decided we would go around the front and fish the edges of the mangroves where we thought we might find a few stud whiting.

We had been fishing only a short while when we noticed a golden ‘tailing’ about 50m away. We had a favourable drift so we waited to see if we could drift up close without spooking it. We had covered half the distance when three big goldens streamed past the boat heading in the direction of Kate’s yabby.

The yabby got hit and went off into a blistering run that stripped line off Kate’s whiting outfit. Another two more runs and Kate started to retrieve line, but then a big cow tail ray came into view – very disappointing.

Paul and Jill had a good time at Mckenzies; they didn’t get many big fish but caught an abundance of species.

That night Paul and I managed a few squid off the back of Penrhyn, so salt and pepper squid was on the menu for dinner.

The next morning Paul and I went north again up past the jetty. We walked the flats fishing the deeper gutters and it wasn’t long before Paul’s popper was engulfed by a whiting just as my Frenzy lure disappeared with a flathead. With a rye smile Paul reminded me about using leaders!

By the time the tide had swelled over the banks and filled the flats behind us we had caught and released several flathead, only keeping enough for dinner.

The next day’s weather report showed the wind going back to the north. In good conditions Kingfisher is a great anchorage but when the wind turns conditions are pretty rough.

We headed up to Poyungan Creek; a good creek with a deep hole and rock wall – prime jack country. I fired one of my Salinka lures in against the rock wall getting the deep diver down quick. A solid hook-up but with no leader and a jacks fury, my lure had no chance.

The wind turned north so we headed back to Yanky Jack. The wind picked up to 25 knots so we decided to hit the sand flats.

With the wind getting stronger long casts were the order of the day. Paul’s opaque popper soon disappeared in a shower of spray when a cracker whiting attacked it. Not long after my popper was taken by a small flathead.

The aggressiveness of the strikes on these poppers is remarkable; while standing discussing tactics Paul’s popper was floating in the water not far from where we were when yet another whiting devoured it – easy! This is a most relaxing but exciting way to fish, as you just don’t know what you will catch.

Over the last three days we caught a variety of fish and Paul managed five different species in one afternoon using the same SureCatch popper: bream, whiting, flathead, trevally and alligator gar. And they were all good quality specimens.

We only pumped yabbies once on this trip, which did provide a hectic 30 minute session off the back of Penrhyn when the we pulled in 19 quality whiting, but otherwise all the fish were taken on small lures and poppers.

Soon our week was over and it was time to head back home to Tin Can Bay. But Paul and I are now converted to using poppers on the flats as you don’t need a lot of expensive gear. You might walk miles and get a little wet at times but you won’t believe just how much fun you can have until you try it!

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