Unlocking Any Islands Secrets

Just like each and every angler has his or her favourite rod, reel or secret spot, many also have a favourite island destination to fish, .
Big saddle tail snapper or nannygai are the most predominant shoal target species due to their big numbers and excellent fighting and eating qualities.

Big saddle tail snapper or nannygai are the most predominant shoal target species due to their big numbers and excellent fighting and eating qualities.

A hugely popular choice for fisher-folk to wet a line, islands provide a diverse range of fishing options and, in essence, act as giant fish attracting devices. The isolated nature and abundant structure surrounding an island helps create the perfect habitat for healthy marine ecosystems to flourish. Anglers along the Queensland Coast are blessed with an abundance of such marine-rich Islands, and while they share some differences in terms of temperate and tropical locations they all provide excellent fishing if you know where to look. The fundamental rule of fishing an island is to identify the lee and current side of the one you’ve chosen to fish. Lee sides are easily identifiable as they are least likely to be effected by current and for the majority of the time offer refuge and shelter from the wind.
Grunter or javelin fish are a common middle shoal target fish species though they become more readily available on inshore shoals during winter.

Grunter or javelin fish are a common middle shoal target fish species though they become more readily available on inshore shoals during winter.

Calm water not necessarily the fishiest

While lee sides may provide calmer conditions for boat-based anglers, these still waters are often less productive due to lack of current meaning the absence of bait and therefore lack of predatory fish. Move around to the other side of the island, where there’s some current, and you’ll find far better fishing potential. It’s true this side might not be as comfortable to fish, but what you miss in comfort you should make up for in results. Current and ‘pressure points’ are the key factors in attracting bait and fish. You’ll soon discover how critical both locating and fishing these points can be to the overall success of a trip. Find where the tide is pushing onto island edges or submerged structure like coral ledges, bombies or big rocks and you are guaranteed to find the fish you are looking for. Whether its tropical bait species such as fusiliers or more temperate water yakkas, the presence of tidal current seems to have a schooling effect which concentrates bait into schools. When you find the bait you are sure to find healthy numbers of demersals such as coral trout, snapper and pelagics like Spanish mackerel. The ability to determine which side of an island is lee or current affected is a fundamental step in finding bait and ultimately producing fish. Once you have been able to determine this, it’s a good idea to start searching for likely bait holding structure. Obvious signs include bait on the surface or around large, semi-submerged structure such as rocks or island edges sticking out of the water.

Invest in a quality sounder

Less obvious submerged structure is harder to locate but with a quality sounder can be found. You can read a lot about what lies beneath the water surrounding islands by what lies on its shores. Areas with beaches covered in broken coral signals the close proximity of fringing reef. Sandy beaches signal areas dominated by sand patches while rocky foreshores point to a rocky bottom. This helps when making a reconnaissance mission around an island – it will help determine what’s below. Most tropical and some temperate islands are fringed by hard coral structure which slide from shallow coral flats into deep water creating a ledge. These ledges are often visible, especially at low tide. It’s these drop offs that attract bait and fish. They are excellent starting points to locate fish and bait holding structure. Just off these ledges it’s quite common to find patches of sand studded with isolated coral bombie structure. Isolated coral-encrusted rocks, when large enough, can sustain their own small ecosystem. It’s for this very reason that predatory fish like coral trout live around them. Finding bombies is as simple as drifting off the coral ledge and watching the sounder until the bottom begins to show isolated structure. Large bombies are not always the best, sometimes the smaller ones will hold better quality fish. Larger fish will generally hang on smaller isolated structure surrounding a larger bombie. This is because their presence will often scare the baitfish away from the main rock. Islands, particularly those in temperate waters, have no fringing reef or coral drop offs with the island face dropping away into what appears to be a featureless ocean. But don’t be deceived by these locations – especially if the current and tide is either sweeping hard around or right into it. These deep water areas are far from sparse. Often the lack of bottom structure means the current will create large sandy gutters or rubble patches caused by wave and tide attrition against the island rock face. Combine these gutters or rubble with deep water and you have the makings of the perfect environment for fish like scarlet sea perch, black jew, grunter, and golden snapper. These areas are dynamite for big, mid-water predators such as giant trevally – fish that regularly haunt deep-water current-sweeping corners. For this reason many surface fishermen will specifically target these areas. It is also why Island locations such as the Whitsundays are one of the best surface fishing spots along the east coast of Australia.   Even the smallest pieces of structure in these locations can be absolute gold mines and the more isolated the structure the better.
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Keep watch of your sounder – it’s easy to miss fast-moving bait or fish as seen on this screen.

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A brisk morning but the perfect time to target jewies like this.

Always keep track of the tide

Once you have located desired structure it’s important to think about the effect the tide will have on the fishing, particularly if you are fishing over coral flats, ledges and drop offs. If the tide is rising the fish will often move up from the deeper water bombies onto the ledges waiting for the smaller bait fish to make their way up onto the coral flats with the incoming tide. Pelagics like Queenies and mackerel and even big tusk fish are prime targets during this time of the tide as they love to move with the tide and hunt crabs and other prey amongst the reef. On the outgoing tide, fish tend to move off the shallows and mid water ledge areas and into deeper water as the tide recedes. In the deeper water isolated structure, tide movement also plays a crucial role especially when thinking about bait or lure presentation. It’s vital to remember that both bait fish and predatory fish, in particular coral trout, will always feed facing into the tidal flow or pressure points of the structure. If you are fishing your lures or bait away or even worse behind the pressure point of the structure then your chances of a hook up are significantly reduced. It’s best to anchor upwards of the structure and feed lures and baits in with the tide. Islands provide a huge array of fishing options and cater for both bait and lure fishermen. Bait fishing is best suited to fishing the deeper water areas and isolated bombies as these areas are best suited for bottom placed baits. In tropical waters, if you are in the right area you will commonly catch fish like stripeys (Spanish flag) which often reside with more premium target bottom species such as coral trout. Live baits are also a top option and a floated yakka or fusilier over the drop off into the deep is always a good idea for a cruising Spanish mackerel.
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The author with a pair of quality reefies caught after island secrets were unlocked.

The King of the shoals- The red emperor. Mature fish are typically found on middle and offshore shoal grounds.

The King of the shoals- The red emperor. Mature fish are typically found on middle and offshore shoal grounds.

Plastics are gold when fishing islands

Fisherman who prefer to use soft plastics have many fishing options around islands. One of my favourites is to work large jerk baits, paddle tails and grubs from the shallows over the ledges and into the drop off zone especially on the outgoing tide. This technique works a treat on both temperate Island species like snapper and tropical species like trout but are also deadly on sports fish like GT, red bass and Queenies.  These softies also work well when jigged in the deep water over isolated bombies and deep water edges. Islands are also a hot spot for those anglers keen to troll large hard bodied lures or metals. The fish attracting features of islands make them a hot spot for cruising pelagics which often hunt the deep water several metres away from the the drop off. Trolling lures just off the drop off can also attract bottom fish like snapper and trout, it is often just a matter of getting your lures to swim just above the tops of coral bombies and reef. For surface fishermen chasing giant trevally, deep water areas with plenty of current will hold the biggest fish whilst the smaller specimens are more commonly found either cruising over the coral flats or on the reef drop offs.
Big cod are always on offer fishing across all types of shoals.

Big cod are always on offer fishing across all types of shoals.

When it comes to fishing Islands there are both advantages and disadvantages to anchoring or drifting. Anchoring, especially when fishing baits, brings the advantage of creating a berley trail which will often draw target fish to the boat. Fishing island structure with bait is often a matter of working through the pickers until a larger fish comes along. Only about 10% of Island structure holds the better quality fish and with many islands being quite small in size it doesn’t take much for one hooked critter to draw others out. The disadvantage is that if you are a long way from the bite zone the fishing can be very slow. Drifting allows an angler to cover a lot more water and prospect for fish. This is a particularly effective technique when fishing soft plastics as you can drift with the tide – working all along the current side of the island. Fishing islands is a great experience and they offer an exciting array of fishing opportunities. You can fish three or four different techniques for multiple species for sport and the table. Islands can be very productive areas – particularly when you use some of the tips and techniques listed in this article. They provide a terrific family fishing outing with the bonus option of being able to step ashore and explore. Several islands offer tremendous camping sites as well as sensational anchorages, allowing boaties to spend the night and extend the fishing experience. Island fishing offers something for everyone, they are a truly fantastic fishing resource.
Dan Kaggelis

About Dan Kaggelis

Born in Tully, North Queensland, Dan cut his fishing teeth in the region’s freshwater rivers chasing the tropical triumvirate of sooty grunter, jungle perch and barramundi. With fishing running thick in the Kaggelis family, Dan was fortunate to experience many extended trips to the Western Cape and Gulf of Carpentaria from a young age. This instilled a deep affection for the sport. Living so close to Great Barrier Reef, offshore fishing was also very much included in recreational activities as was free diving and spearfishing.

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