Winter doesn’t mean putting away the fishing gear – Part 1

Double Trouble: Die-hard angler Scott Mitchell with a pair of top quality flathead - a classic cooler water species.

Double Trouble: Die-hard angler Scott Mitchell with a pair of top quality flathead – a classic cooler water species.

Summer is over, Autumn is upon us and winter is just around the corner. It’s almost time to pack away the boardies, singlets and flip flops for another year and start to rug up. Before you know it you’ll be motoring to your next fishing destination, water weeping from the corners of your eyes and with hands frozen to the steering wheel. All keen fishermen would understand what I’m talking about, welcome to fishing the cooler months…. Although the cold weather may slow us down, it certainly doesn’t have that same effect on many of our popular piscatorial species.

In my introductory article to Hervey Bay I touched on the diverse fishery we are lucky enough to have, due to our subtropical climate creating a distinct change in the range of species we have on offer as a result of the seasonal influences of summer and winter. Cooler weather does not mean putting the fishing gear away as there are still exceptional fishing opportunities to be had throughout these cooler months. As the water temperatures drop our more prominent winter species such as snapper, which I will feature in a later article, bread and butter staples trumpeter whiting, bream and flathead, estuarine species like jew fish, grunter, tailor and juvenile trevally species come to the fore throughout the Bay and Great Sandy Straits.

This time of year excites many anglers, not because of the cold weather, but the species on offer and the varied styles of fishing that can be used to target them. Hervey Bay’s inshore waters and the Great Sandy Straits have many small Islands, sand flats, creek and estuary systems and also inshore reefs that are abundant with life and the fishing is nothing short of fantastic. The Great Sandy Straits covers a large area stretching down the Western side of Fraser Island from Moon point to Inskip point and can only be described as a fishing haven. In this article I will outline what can be expected in a typical day’s fishing in the Northern part of the Straits, the area roughly from Wanggoolba creek north to Moon point.

The perfect day

Diamond trivially are a species to keep an eye out for when the water cools down.

Diamond trivially are a species to keep an eye out for when the water cools down.

Flats fishing during this time of year is exciting for many anglers, the visual aspect adds a pleasant element as your eyes scour the gin clear waters for any signs of life. This is where a good quality pair of polarised sun glasses is crucial for penetrating through the glare on the surface to enable the angler to notice the most subtle movements, like a puff of sand as a big dusky flathead is spooked or flashes of silver from a school of foraging bream. Tonic Eyewear offer a great range of sun glasses to suit different fishing conditions and I have enjoyed many successful trips as a result of the high quality lenses used in their products. Good quality polarised sun glasses also enable the angler to locate and identify any fish attracting structure in the area such as a tree stump, rocks, rubbly bottom, weed beds, mud and contours of the flats, that may go unnoticed to the naked eye.

There is a vast array of productive and fishable flats spread throughout the Straits, some of which I have not had the opportunity of exploring as yet, however the techniques used are generally the same.

Morning High Tides

Bream are a sensational year-round species and very popular target during the winter months.

Bream are a sensational year-round species and very popular target during the winter months.

I prefer a mid to late morning high tide when targeting the flats, thus the opportunity to fish more gentleman’s hours and I like to start fishing approximately half tide up. At this point in the tide species like whiting, bream and flathead tend to congregate in certain areas of a flat, often around structure and drop offs waiting for the tide to push into areas that a few hours ago were out of water, allowing them to search for tasty morsels to feed on. Whilst it always pays to be observant when fishing a flat hoping to sight feeding fish, it is also worthwhile fanning out long blind casts to reach water not disturbed by the slapping of the hull or the stop and start of the electric motor.

My preferred technique in this scenario is to fish a finesse soft plastic presentation, choosing a plastic that mimic’s the main food source in the area, match the hatch as they say. Worms, crustacean’s such as yabbies, prawns and small crabs as well as small baitfish form the main food source over the flats. A small to medium sized curly tail grub in the more natural based colours, like the popular ‘Bloodworm’ colour, has proven irresistible to most species when hopped or rolled slowly across the bottom. One very exciting soft plastic to hit the market is the Zman Crusteaz, resembling a combination between a yabby and a crab, when fished slowly has enticed and claimed many victims to its realistic action. To cast these lightly weighted soft plastics a graphite 1-3kg, 7 foot plus rod is ideal as the length helps with casting distance and matched to a 1000 to 2000 size spin reel, spooled with 4-8lb braid it makes for a very light combo that is comfortable to fish with all day.

Pinpointing your target

Dane with yet another Hervey Bay flathead.

Dane with yet another Hervey Bay flathead.

As the tide builds to its peak the fish tend to spread out over the flats making it harder to find concentrations of fish and this is when I like to escape up into one of the many creek systems on the western side of Fraser Island. Many fish move into these creeks on the flood tide in search of food and protection from much larger species such as sharks that also scour the flats in search of prey. This change of scenery not only keeps the day interesting but helps me mentally as I now have new structure in the form of mangroves, rock bars, drains and holes that I can target. These creeks lead me to discover a species that is generally not often encountered by many anglers, the diamond trevally, once an occasional welcomed bycatch whilst targeting bream and flathead. After many hours devoted to targeting this species I have been able to identify the locations they prefer to inhabit and the methods required to catch them more consistently. The incredible power they are able to generate and the mirror like finish of their bodies makes them an ultimate light tackle winter sportfish and one I very much enjoy catching.

Releasing a solid flattie to live another day.

Releasing a solid flattie to live another day.

The very last of the flood tide is when I have experienced some of my best results, targeting two kinds of structure points, either site casting to the shallow flats within the entrance to the creek, or fishing the deeper holes generally situated on the corners or bends of the creek. Soft plastics like the ones described above have produced great results in the past, but any well-presented baitfish pattern will draw a strike also. Whilst fishing in these areas using this method you can expect to encounter good numbers of whiting, bream, flathead, grunter and the occasional jew fish. The bite period during the top of the tide generally slows down until the change of tide and the water starts to run out. As the tide recedes exposing the entanglement of mangrove roots the baitfish are forced back into the main channels where the larger predatory fish will be waiting. This is an ideal time to target grunter and jew fish, which when hooked on light tackle can really test a person’s angling ability.

Big Flathead Waiting

When fishing these areas it is very important to be mindful of the influence the tide has on the access to the creek, as the tide can recede very quickly over the shallow flats at the entrance, making it land locked and trapping you in until the next tide. Intentionally trapping yourself in a creek system over the ebb tide can be very rewarding, targeting the deep holes will quite often produce quality fish as they search for shelter until the next high tide. I usually allow myself enough time to just make it out of the creek, to the point of sometimes having to get out and push the boat in some areas. This stage of the tide is ideal for targeting those XOS dusky flathead waiting for the baitfish to exit the flats with the last of the run out tide.

As the water drains from the flats into the many channels and gutters, flathead become much easier to locate and target, often fishing in areas no more than half a meter to a meter deep. When selecting a channel or gutter a few important features to pay close attention to is the bait supply in the area and essentially structure such as weed beds, coffee rock or drain mouths running off the flats are ideal places to start. If in search of that kicker fish a change of plastic presentation to a 3-4 inch paddle tail pattern can be advantageous, eliminating many of the smaller fish often encountered when using a smaller curly tail grub. In saying that however, some of my biggest fish have been caught whilst using these smaller styles of plastic. I believe at the end of the day if you have confidence in the lure you are using and presenting it correctly in the right area, that ‘croc’ won’t be too far away.

Don’t forget the squid jig

By this stage it would be mid to late afternoon and tidal movement almost unnoticeable, this is the perfect time to go in search of squid. Squid prefer minimal run and very clear water. The Islands with fringing rocky outcrops and shallow reefs will usually reward anglers with good results and keep in mind the loss of a squid can sometimes spook a partner or even a school. A squid jig around the 2 to 2.5 size in a vibrant pink/white or orange/white pattern are the two colours that have consistently performed well. The way in which you retrieve the jig will depend on its action, the most popular retrieval method being a simple slow roll, however if your jig allows a burn and kill or short hopping retrieve this can draw their attention. Like targeting any fish species it always pays to mix it up until you crack a pattern.

Every seasonal change brings a variation in the species we have on offer here in Hervey Bay and the way in which we target these species, by adapting to these conditions and making adjustments to gear, locations and techniques you can have success all year round, especially in the cooler months. So dust off the winter woollies and get out there and give it a shot.



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