The Coming Winter Fishing at its Best

winter-4 Shorter days and Arctic breezes make winter an uncomfortable time of year for many people. Obviously they are not fisherman because the cooler months are some of the most productive and with a blend of local and transient species moving in to spawn its go time . Everywhere you look bait fish are schooled up nervously gathered for safety in numbers from our local reefs to the beaches, creeks and jetties. Vast schools of herring, mullet, garfish, yakka’s and pike make up the bulk of bait fish and then there’s jelly prawns, squid, crabs and bay prawns all trying to feed without being fed upon. A walk along the flats on an incoming tide reveals the extent of food in the system with bait showers on the surface and jelly prawns flicking out of the water.

Keep a close eye on the shallows

Big bream can be lured in the shallows particularly during the cooler months when they come close to shore to feed.

Big bream can be lured in the shallows particularly during the cooler months when they come close to shore to feed.

You don’t have to walk too far to spook a few flathead, baby shovel nose break the surface in ultra shallow water as they feed and you can’t mistake the boofs of surface feeding bream. The amount of life around is staggering! It’s a stark contrast to summer when finding live bait on the reef can be a struggle, sometimes in winter it is necessary to move off the clouds of bait so the bigger fish can find your offering. Snapper are a prime target for many anglers and they move right in to the bay during spawning giving anyone with a boat regardless of size the opportunity to catch a few nobbies.
Set your boat up properly and you'll be ready to chase the fish wherever they may be.

Set your boat up properly and you’ll be ready to chase the fish wherever they may be, even Rooneys, Station Hill and the Gutters as described in the article.

The wider grounds like the Southern Gutters, 25 Fathom hole and Rooney’s Coral Patch provide the best chance of finding schooling fish from 3-6 kilos and for this reason I tend to concentrate my efforts at these places when I get the chance. Closer to home Station Hill, Wathumba, Arch Cliffs, Burrum 8 mile, Moon Ledge and the Artificial reef all produce snapper and many anglers have honed there skills on there local patch and catch plenty of fish. If your bait fishing the choice of baits for snapper is endless as there is not much they don’t eat. Many guys go for the traditional “block of pillies” when chasing snapper and there is no question that they work it’s just that they have a low mortality rate with all the pickers you find in the bay so I tend to only use pillies when floating baits down a berley trail.

Fresh squid can save the day

Decent snapper such as the fish pictured here are often available at night during the cooler months.

Decent snapper such as the fish pictured here are often available at night during the cooler months.

Freshly caught squid are hard to beat on any day and if not fresh, frozen local squid are the next best thing. Other frozen locally caught baits that are worth trying are yakka s, pike and whiting. Down south king george whiting heads were a favourite bait for snapper, in the bay our whiting don’t grow that big so I use the whole whiting frame and snapper love them. They tend to handle picker fish long enough for a snapper to find them. Plastics have revolutionised snapper fishing and give the angler the ability to cover a lot of ground quickly to find the fish. I usually bounce plastics in conjunction with bait fishing to cover all bases especially around a tide change when the plastic can spend the most time in the strike zone.
Another wonderful winter bonus is the quantity and quality of prawns around. Remember to always check local laws and guidelines prior to prawning.

Another wonderful winter bonus is the quantity and quality of prawns around. Remember to always check local laws and guidelines prior to prawning.

I fish all patterns and colours and they all work, I prefer prawn patterns on our local reefs to stand out from all the bait fish. Bream are a bread and butter species that are here year round but come winter the big breaders go in to overdrive feeding in order to spawn. Our local jetties, creeks, beaches and anywhere you find rocks are all worth a try on both bait and artificial. Prawns, worms, soldier crabs, mullet fillets and squid are worth a try if your bait fishing and plastics, hard bodies, blades, poppers and flies all work for luring bream. We have three species of bream in the bay, tarwhine, pikey and the most common black bream. We get a run of black bream in the 30-35cm range to start with and then the bigger 35 to 40cm fish a bit later.

Big bream & grunter time

Cod are not only a by catch during winter but not a bad eating fish as well !

Cod are not only a by catch during winter but not a bad eating fish as well !

I have heard of bream over 45cm but haven’t been lucky enough to pin one myself yet, maybe this is my year! Javelin fish or grunter as most locals call them are also a common catch in our rivers, creeks and estuaries that respond to breaming techniques. They hit baits and lures hard, fight well and are great on the plate making them a sort after species for many anglers. Like many estuarine species the bigger fish tend to move out on to the reef and by targeting them on plastics at places like the Burrum 8 mile and the channel markers fish up to 6kgs are commonly caught. The channel markers turn up all kinds of surprises in winter with catches as varied as tailor, mackerel, trevally, snapper and cobia all a possibility. Once again the markers are chock full of bait most times and predatory fish are never far away. Jigging plastics and working metals back to the boat will usually raise a few fish and of course live and dead baits work well too. Chopper tailor can be found throughout the Sandy Straits and right along Fraser Island, we don’t get the big fish they catch on the eastern beach of Fraser but I have found by up sizing lures when you are only catching smaller fish you can usually find the bigger fish amongst the school. Trolling along the inside of Fraser Island and its many creek mouths and looking for birds and bait bust ups will get you on to the fish and not only are tailor great eating when fresh their frames also make great snapper bait. Winter whiting are almost an institution in Hervey Bay attracting anglers from as far as Victoria to our waters. Many of our local retires only drag the boat out to catch a few whiting in the more comfortable winter weather. A drive along the Esplanade will usually reveal where they are biting sign posted by the little floating cities of boats following the school.

Hervey Bay’s winter options

Trevally are a popular winter time catch - they provide great sport on light tackle as well.

Trevally such as this gold spot are a popular winter time catch – they provide great sport on light tackle as well.

Anytime of the year is a great time to take the little ones fishing.

Anytime of the year is a great time to take the little ones fishing.

It’s not for the faint hearted with boats all positioning themselves close to the ones on the fish and I am amazed at how close some people will get in order to get amongst the action. Winter whiting’s table quality can be a bit dubious and can have an ammonia taste at times. They are not for me personally but many people love them, they must to bump and grind amongst the other boats for a feed. Another added bonus of the bay being full of cold gin clear water is the added clarity for trolling lures along the many shallow reefs in our bay. Hervey Bay has a lot of area that changes from coral bommies, rock mud, weed and sand and by trolling a spread of different coloured and sized lures running at different depths you are opening yourself up to a big list of species. It’s a great alternative when I take the family fishing you can find somewhere out of the wind and the kids have plenty to look at. Troll depths vary from 1-2 meters to 4-6meters depending on the area and we catch everything from flathead, tailor, trevally, sole, parrot, trout and cod. You also get plenty of undesirables like grinner, barracuda and the odd green toad which keeps the kids happy between the better fish. So there is just a few options for fishing the winter months in Hervey bay, we haven’t even touched on targeting squid or chasing prawns as they deserve more space than this article allows.
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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