A year in the life of a GC fisho
WATCHING blizzards sweep across North America and Europe makes you appreciate our Australian climate. While anglers in the northern hemisphere wait for warmer weather, our year-long season offers a variety of estuary, inshore and offshore fishing options. Here in south-east Queensland there is amazing diversity and always something on the bite. Over a typical year an angler may fish seriously for up to a dozen species each requiring a degree of knowledge, specific gear and skills. Let’s look at a typical year in the life of an angler living on the Gold Coast and see what fish feature strongly in the available catches.
Christmas to Easter
While warming weather in early November and word of impending waves of fish approaching from the north gets the juices flowing, often it isn’t until after Christmas that it is possible to tell how this part of the year will pan out. Cyclones with heavy rain and flooding can make things hard but so can very dry conditions.
In a typical year black marlin arrive in late spring. Word filters down from the north about numbers and progress so anglers can get a feel for the season ahead. Ranging in size from 15kg runts to fish up to 80kg or more, these voracious predators cruise the warm blue waters and feed on baitfish as they ride south. When the East Australian Current pushes in near the coast, it’s possible to catch fish only a few kilometres from shore.
These fish have a solid following in this part of the world and on days when the weather is good and the water is hot, bluewater anglers can achieve multiple captures. Keen anglers operating in boats ranging from 5m tinnies to 10m plus game boats troll small skirted lures when the fish are scattered. When bait forms dense schools, slow trolling live bait near them is a deadly method. It is predominantly a catch & release fishery and 10-15kg outfits are popular. Bycatch includes dolphin fish, tuna and wahoo so taking something for the table is always on the cards.
Bigger blacks are pursued on the wider grounds in 80-100m (45-50 fathoms) or so, especially when the bait schools up. Off the shelf, blue marlin are always a possibility but this is heavy gear territory and requires good weather and a much greater degree of commitment and effort. Determined skippers troll bigger lures (20-30cm) in waters 100m deep and beyond looking for birds, dolphins, current breaks and bait. Strikes are chaotic and fights can last for hours. Some real monsters are hooked each year.
The post-Christmas mackerel run is eagerly anticipated by many fishermen. When schools of Spanish and spotted mackerel arrive in late December or early January, word travels quickly. Scores of boats appear on the close in-shore reefs which are well known, easily accessible and popular. On good days boat ramps can be chaotic as anglers try to get out before sunrise, a prime bite time. Fish arrive in waves so reefs fire for a few days then may go quiet. In good years fish hang around until winter when some real monsters are sometimes taken.
Mackerel can be caught using a variety of methods. Ten kilo threadline or overhead outfits with good line capacity are a popular choice. The art of rigging bait (small tuna, tailor and slimies) both dead and alive is worth mastering but plenty of fish fall to pilchards floated behind the boat in a berley trail or on trolled minnows. High speed spinning is also effective, particularly when the mackerel hug the bottom. Find a patch of fish on the sounder, cast a 35-60g metal and let it sink, then wind as fast as you can. Mackerel grow large and fight strongly. You can keep three Spaniards and five spotted mackerel in Queensland. Fish over 15kg will make at least two long runs and take patience to get to the boat. On gaffing them it’s best to knock them out with a club to stop them thrashing about. Their teeth are literally razor sharp and can do serious damage. Bled and placed on ice, the fillets are good eating and last well in a freezer.
For those that prefer the calm waters of estuaries and rivers there are a variety of things to chase. The odd flathead will still respond to a lure or bait in the warmer months but it’s probably best to crab or prawn and focus on whiting and jacks on good tides. There are always bream in the canals, too.
Mud and sand crabs are plentiful and feed aggressively, particularly on early morning run in tides. Leaving pots out overnight is also a good strategy. We set four traps each and check them regularly. Bait with fresh fish or chicken frames and take care not to give any crabs a free meal by securing the bait in the centre of the trap. If heavy rain causes flooding then crabs will be flushed downstream. They can be caught in good numbers in the main channels as they wait for salty water to re-enter the rivers.
Whiting are traditionally fished for with worm and nipper baits. They are excellent food and can be taken in good numbers in the local rivers. We chase them between checking crab traps using small clear poppers and stickbaits retrieved over the flats. When in the mood, whiting will hit a surface lure with real aggression. Bycatch includes pike, small tailor, giant herring, tarpon, GTs, bream and flathead.
Then there are jacks and jewies for those who prefer fewer fish but perhaps greater rewards. Fishing livebaits and soft plastics in the deeper holes is a proven method for jewies. Working lures around pontoons, bridges and other structure is popular and effective for jacks, as is live baiting after dark. In both cases getting one good fish a session means you are doing well.
Late autumn to spring
In the cooler months, striped marlin join the blues out wide. As the last mackerel leave the inshore reefs snapper become the main focus for many anglers. Fish range from just legal squire up to knobby-headed reddies of six kilos or more. While they are a year-long possibility, winter and spring is a better time to catch them because the current slows. This makes fishing deeper reefs easier. Snapper also move around over the season and in the cooler months come closer in shore and even into the bays.
Reddies are an excellent food fish. They fight hard, particularly on lighter gear. In days gone by anglers used heavy rods and mono to winch them up quickly but now many prefer a lighter rod and reel in the 2500-4000 size with 5-10kg braid and 10-15kg flourocarbon trace.
Well known snapper reefs range from in close to well out toward the shelf. Many of these reefs are flogged heavily but still provide good catches for those who work the dawn and dusk into dark period. In addition, anglers can find small pinnacles and bumps on their sounder that hold fish and can be worked without competition. Bycatch includes pearl perch, pigfish, amberjacks and a number of other good eating species.
These days anglers chase snapper with bait, hard-bodies and on soft plastics. Many have tried the soft plastic approach and this provides some great action as the lure is smashed on the drop. Equally, the deep sinking hard-body in bibless and jointed versions as well as “occy” style jigs and micro jigs have all earned a place. The quest for a 20lb fish can be a long one but those who target this particular species develop excellent fishing skills that include finesse, attention to detail and persistence.
In the estuaries flathead have a solid following. Good numbers of fish can be found starting as early as May. Dusky flathead range up to a metre long but the average would be nearer 50cm. They are good to eat and we take some for the table without hesitation. In Queensland, the bag limit (five) and size restrictions (min 40cm, max 75cm) means the fish have a very good chance of spawning and the really big females can go on repopulating.
Small boats in the 4-5m class are ideal to access the miles of waterways along the Goldie, southern Moreton Bay area and the Tweed. In the past few decades lure fishing has become very popular and many anglers have become adept at using artificials to catch these fish. That’s not to say bait anglers aren’t still taking good bags, too.
Good flattie fishermen use several rods loaded with different lures which they interchange until a preference is found. Two metre rods, 2500 size reels loaded with 2-3 kilo braid with 4-6kg trace is a good start. Lures including soft plastics, blades, bibless shads and small hard-bodies are all effective. While just one outfit is very workable, the ability to try different things quickly using two or more rods is going to assist in finding what the fish want on a particular day.
Flatties bite on different parts of the tidal cycle so an area that seems lifeless can turn on good action several hours later. Look for cleaner water and concentrate on drains and gutters coming off shallow flats and areas where the incoming tide pushes current up against a bank. Trolling edges and working bait schools is also highly effective.
Dedicated jewie anglers fish for this iconic sportfish in the strong tidal waters of the Seaway, the Tweed and at Jumpinpin all year long. The QLD bag limit is two fish and they must be 75cm or above. Most jewie specialists use live bait or flick soft plastics and focus on tide changes. Others work the inshore reefs with live bait and take some great fish as the sun sets over the Gold Coast skyline. Others fish the beaches with big flesh or beach worm baits. In winter a small band of hard-core anglers swim big live mullet on circle hooks in the deep back eddies of the local estuaries, particularly over late night tide changes.
Gear selection will depend on the location. Medium threadline outfits work well in many cases with a slightly heavier rig ideal for offshore work. A 5-9kg rod with 3000-4000 reel loaded with 10-15kg braid or mono is a good start for estuary fish. Something a little heavier for the winter run is going to stop the bigger fish which can top 20kg. Mulloway are delicious to eat and the fillets can be prepared in a number of ways.
As if that isn’t enough, jigging for amberjacks in deeper water is worth a look when weather permits. And a few deep drops out wide can result in a cod, blue eye or other tasty deep water ooglies. Cobia can be found near wrecks and reefs and some over 30kg are caught every year. In the lower freshwater reaches and local dams bass are also a target as water starts to warm.
As you can see, fishing in south-east Queensland is a 24/7/365 days proposition!