Catching Pelagics on Spin Gear

Scott Bradley shares his experience with catching pelagic fish in the waters around Fraser Island off the Queensland coast.

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Chasing Pelagics is one of my favourite things to do. Charging across the ocean looking for any signs of surface feeding fish and diving birds, then the anticipation of the strike when you get a cast right in amongst the action. It’s hard not to get excited when your in the thick of it. My love affair with this style of fishing began many years ago from reading about high speed spinning in Moreton Bay for mack tuna, longtails and mackerel. From my home in Victoria it seemed another world away but I promised myself I’d get there one day.

Moving to Hervey Bay at age 15 put me closer to my dream than I had ever been, I practically lived on the Urangan Pier and often caught the barge to Moon Pt on Fraser Island in pursuit of glory. I caught plenty of spotted mackerel and bonito in the early years and watched painfully as tuna would carve up bait always out of casting range to the land based angler.

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At 19 years of age I purchased a boat and the first thing on my hit list was to catch a tuna and the old 17 ft Manta Craft centre console was the perfect platform for casting to pelagics. My first tuna came from a school that busted up near the boat near Fraser Island. There was a mad dash to re rig and get a cast in before they disappeared and as luck would have it, I came up tight on my first cast. After a few blistering runs I had 6kgs of mack tuna beside the boat and for the next six months all I did was cast slugs at surface feeding fish in Platypus Bay.

Most common species caught was the ever present mack tuna and it took a long time to get sick of catching them. I’d grab a mate and we would take a box full of baitfish profiles, a packet of chips, a couple of litres of water and a few casting rods and we would be gone all day. Some days we would catch over 30 mack tuna just to let them go unless we needed them for bait. Then we got our first longtail and that was a game changer. Not only do they pull harder and fight longer than mack tuna, they are delicious to eat so they became the main focus from then on.

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Amongst all the tuna action we also caught spotted and school mackerel, golden and tea leaf trevally, bonito, spanish mackerel, sharks and even a few long tom about a meter long. The amount of life found feeding around the bait was amazing and you never knew what you were going to see on any given day. I’ve had spanish mackerel eat spotties just as your about to net them beside the boat, I’ve had the water turn yellow with a large school of golden trevally under the boat after the tuna had moved on, I’ve had a couple of bull sharks at least 3 meters long sitting under the boat feeding on the fish we were fighting as soon as they got close to the boat. Like I say it’s exciting stuff!

The basic requirements for chasing pelagics in Hervey Bay start with the right outfit. Back in the day it was a 7ft ugly stik rod with a soft tip and a shimano TSS 4 loaded with 6kg mono. We caught plenty of fish on them but it was only when graphite composite rods, braided lines and reels to handle fishing braid became available that we realised there was a better way. Being able to cast further with heavier line and be able to stick it to the fish with a light but immensely strong rod makes subduing high speed pelagics so much easier and even more fun.

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My current weapon of choice is a shimano stradic 5000 matched to a 15-30 pound 7’2” medium heavy, fast action Terez rod and 20 pound fins braid. I went for the 5000 stradic because it has a higher gear ratio than the 4000 or the 6000 and makes high speed spinning a breeze. Connection to the lure is made by a short double in the braid with 30-50 pound leader tied to the double. Snap swivels are great for being able to quickly select the right profile of lure to match the baitfish but they have a tendency to open up if lodged in the mouth of the tuna. I lost a few good fish in the early days from them biting down an opening the snap so I now tend to go with a loop knot instead. If you still want a swivel to help eliminate line twist you can attach a barrel swivel via a split ring to the front of the lure then tie that to your leader.

I try not to travel anywhere without a spin stick rigged and ready to go because you never know when a school of fish will break the surface. Carrying a good selection of baitfish profiles or “lead slugs” and soft plastics in varying lengths is a must in order to replicate the baitfish being eaten. Some days if your lure is 10 mm too long you wont get a touch, other times they will eat whatever you throw at them. On the tuff days when the fish are locked in on tiny baitfish and wont eat anything you offer, a move to another bait ball can make all the difference. In Hervey Bay we often have a variety of bait in the area so you can keep moving until you find fish that will respond to your lures.

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How you approach a school of surface feeding fish is important. Get it wrong and you will send the fish down deeper. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched boats tear straight into the middle of the school at speed spooking the fish before they even get a cast in. Pelagics usually feed into the wind so what I do is approach within casting distance from the side. Speed is a tricky one, obviously you need to get there before they disappear but I find if your up and down on the throttle too much they will go deep. A constant speed on approach works best so when I’m close I just keep the boat on the plane and reduce revs slowly when in position. Once you’ve got the cast in give it a few seconds to sink and then wind as fast as you can. Hook ups can be a very visual thing and nothing beats watching a tuna inhale you lure in front of you. The first run can nearly rip the rod clean out of your hands especially when fishing braided lines.

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I am yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like catching pelagics on spin gear and it’s easy enough to do if your set up with the right gear. Even in boats with cabins if you get someone on the wheel and an angler ready to cast you can still get amongst the action. It’s just another option that is a hell of a lot of fun and might just be the saving grace on the days when nothing else is working.

Scott Bradley

About Scott Bradley

Scott Bradley was born in Hastings Victoria and grew up fishing for King George whiting, snapper, sharks, Australian salmon and flathead. At 15 years of age his family moved to what he calls ‘God’s own country’ for the fishing and lifestyle that Queensland’s Hervey Bay is famous for. At 19 he bought his first boat and started to properly explore the fish-rich waters adjacent to world-renowned Fraser Island. “I carved my teeth chasing pelagics and to this day find it hard to go past a boiling bait school without firing a slug or popper into the action,” said Scott. “Longtails and spotted mackerel were all I chased until age 20 when I caught my first marlin trolling in 10 meters of water, 500 meters off Fraser Island and I was hooked.” From then on Scott has spent years chasing marlin inside Fraser Island. On the good days he says 5 to 10 shots at marlin are not uncommon. Now 37-years-old, Scott maintains that game fishing is his passion. “But I'd also fish in a bucket of water,” he said. “September to March is when I chase Marlin leaving the rest of the year to stalk the flats for flathead and bream. I also hit the reefs for snapper, reds, cod and coralies plus also throw the net for a feed of prawns or shoot up a creek if the wind is up.”

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