Southern Wonderland: Coffin Bay, SA

DESTINATIONS: Coffin Bay, SA

SA’s Coffin Bay has forged a reputation for monster kingies but there’s much more than  big hoodlums on offer. JAMIE CRAWFORD reports.

ALTHOUGH the name Coffin Bay sounds far from inviting, this stunning body of water is one of SA’s true gems. Tucked away on the south-western tip of the Eyre Peninsula, Coffins is in fact several bodies of bay water culminating one massive tidal system. It’s a unique location with nearby surf beaches, a rugged national park to explore, and kilometres of protected bay water to discover.

The township itself is only small, and houses a permanent population of about 650 residents. This population swells significantly over school holidays and summer when the holiday shacks begin to fill. It wasn’t that long ago when Coffin Bay was almost entirely made up of little holiday humpies, but now the town has a slightly upmarket touch and offers a wider variety of accommodation styles.

On the fishing front, Coffin Bay is one of SA’s top fishing destinations. The bay has a famous reputation for an annual run of kingfish. However, this feature isn’t about kingfish, in fact I’ll try not to mention kingfish again. Coffin Bay offers so much more than just the kingies, however these other options are often overlooked or ignored.

The large bay system is a wonderland for a small boat owner with many sheltered bays and pockets of water to visit. The bay is shallow; averaging only three to seven metres in depth - although it does drop slightly deeper in some parts.

KG whiting are the No.1 target throughout the bay. Try to avoid the stronger flow of the main channel when targeting whiting instead fish close to shore in the sand holes around ribbon weed. Some good whiting are taken at the entrance to Kellidie Bay, in Mt Dutton Bay, Black Springs and around the Longnose oyster leases.

The most consistent whiting grounds, however, are out at Farm Beach, which lies at the entrance to Coffin Bay. To fish Farm Beach you will need to either launch at Coffins and make the 15-odd km run out the bay, or beach launch at Farm Beach if you have a small enough tub, and then it’s a short run to the whiting grounds.

If you don’t have a boat, don’t despair, KG whiting can be caught in surprisingly good numbers from a few landbased possies around town, especially when the bigger schools of fish move into the bay during winter. Try targeting whiting from the shore next to the boat ramp, from the ledge (directly opposite the township), and inside Mt Dutton Bay. You will need a measuring stick for these landbased fish though.

Other bread-and-butter bay targets include garfish and tommy ruff (peak Oct to Feb). Set up a berley trail away from the stronger tidal flow and try fishing baits of gents (maggots), either unweighted or under a float. There are also several little islands dotted throughout the bay system which fish well for salmon trout and snook. Try casting a small diving minnow or 15g metal slugs close to the island and retrieving back over the drop off.

Although the bay is shallow and clear, some surprisingly good snapper are caught not far from town. These fish can be fickle in the clear water, but they are generally good reds of 6kg+. Anchoring in the deeper pockets of the channel and setting a berley trail around the change of the tide is the preferred method. Squid heads or fresh fish fillets are the best baits, although the sand crabs and stingrays can drive you crazy at times.

Some good snapper are caught from the rocks at Seal Corner, the Ledge and Black Springs, although you need to keep your ear to the ground for these fish. We have caught some good landbased reds to 11kg at Coffins, although we’ve spent plenty of fishless nights sitting on the rocks.

The Coffin Bay peninsula is a rugged national park on the western side of town. It’s this long spit of land that buffers the Southern Ocean swells creating the calm water that is Coffin Bay. The peninsula stretches for about 40km, most of which is accessible by 4WD only. Conventional vehicles can access up to Yangi Bay, but from here on its 4WD only with a lot of rock tracks and sand driving.

There are some stunning surf beaches on the exposed western side of the national park. Gunyah and Almonta are the most popular stretches of sand, with Sensation Beach to a lesser extent. Gunyah is a classic salmon beach, and would have to be one of my favourite all-time surf beaches. You have to cross some clean, windswept dunes just to gain access onto the beach, and from here you have around 10km of beach to prospect. The sand on Gunyah can be notoriously soft, and more than a few 4WD’s run into strife here each year.

With consistent swell from the south-west, Gunyah boasts some good pockets of deeper water close to shore. The salmon fishing can be first class, but by-catch is minimal along here. Winter is the classic bait-fishing window with big tides and generally larger swell. The salmon fishing during winter is consistently good, provided the beach isn’t washed-out with big swells. During summer the fishing can be hit and miss, and often revolves around sight casting to visible schools when the swell is low. The latter is definitely more visually appealing.

The average size of these surf-roaming salmon is in the  2-3kg range, but each year we see a few 5kg fish – awesome salmon from the surf. We try to coincide our beach fishing efforts around the afternoon high tide.

As we push further into the national park, we arrive on the protected eastern side of the peninsula. There are plenty of little beaches and small rocky points which fish well for bread-and-butter species such as KG whiting, garfish, silver trevally and salmon trout. Throw a bit of berley into the mix and the fishing can be very entertaining. There are some good landbased possies around Black Springs, Seasick Bay and Point Sir Issacs. This is out towards the tip of the peninsula so it’s either a full-day visit or an overnight camping trip. There are several designated campgrounds out in the national park. In a couple of the camping areas you will find long-drop dunnies, but that’s the extent of the amenities out here.

The stretch of coastline between Point Sir Isaacs and Point Whidbey is reserved for the adventurous hiker as a fair portion of this coast is not accessible by vehicle. There are a lot of rocky ledges and little bays tucked our here, but they are difficult to access and are affected by swell. We have spent a few days out here hiking and exploring the rocks in the past. A very cool stretch of land, but it is harsh terrain.

Out on these rocks big KG whiting, salmon, silver trevally, sweep, nannygai, swallowtail, blue groper and snapper are available. During February to April, schools of bluefin tuna are occasionally sighted feeding out around Point Whidbey, but it’s a super-long hike out to here; especially with heavier tackle in tow. This area is earmarked to become a sanctuary zone under the proposed Marine Park boundaries released recently. We are all forwarding our opinions and holding our breath on this one.

If you have a seaworthy boat of 6+m, the waters wide of Coffin Bay are well-known amongst serious blue-water fishos. Once you exit the bay system and round Point Sir Isaacs the depth begins to taper away and the seagrass meadows give way to shoaly reef, and eventually to substantial reef systems.

Nannygai, blue morwong and snapper are the main targets on the deeper reefs near to Sir Isaacs and up to Coles Point, with a few thumping 50cm+ KG whiting as well. Most of the snapper found around these deeper reefs are small to medium sized fish up to about 7kg but averaging closer to 2-3kg. The larger “knobbers” are fairly rare on these open-water reefs. Most of these reefs are in the 25 to 35m depth range.

As we push further out to sea, we eventually pass Point Whidbey, the western-most tip of the Coffin Bay Peninsula. Rounding this point denotes true open ocean water, so you really need to pick your window of weather to tackle these outer grounds.

From late January until around late April, southern bluefin tuna frequent these open waters. The schools reliably start from around Point Whidbey onwards, with the main tuna grounds around the Four Hummocks, Greenly Island and Rocky Island, although the schools can surface anywhere in between. The average size of these schooling fish is in the 12 to 16kg bracket; very cool fun on light gear.

There are some big reef systems out around Greenly and Rocky Islands (the latter of which is also earmarked as a sanctuary zone), but it’s a fair trek offshore to access these reefs. All the usual southern reef suspects can be found around these reefs, with the added bonus of kingfish and samson fish thrown in. Pink snapper are fairly rare on these deep reefs, though. These reefs are set in fairly deep water of around 80m, rising up to about 40 to 60m from the surface.

Well, that’s a brief wrap of Coffin Bay. As you can see, the variety around this part of SA is vast. I’m sure you’ll be able to find some fishing that suits you around Coffin Bay!

Fact Box: Coffin Bay Contacts
USE the contacts below if you plan on visiting Coffin Bay to sample some of the excellent sportfishing on offer:

Accommodation
* Coffin Bay Caravan Park
Ph: (08) 8685 4170
* Almonta Apartments
Ph: (08) 8685 4076          
Email: holiday@almonta.com

Charters
*Coffin Bay Fishing Charters
Ph: 08 86854355
Email: coffinbayfishingcharters@bigpond.com

General info
* Visitor Information Centre (Port Lincoln)
Ph: (08) 8683 3544
Email: info@visitportlincoln.net

Beer
* Coffin Bay Pub
Ph: (08) 8685 4111

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