Story and photos courtesy Paul Taylor
Compromise; a word central to the efficient functioning of any modern family. The requirements were clear: safe swimming for the kids, close proximity to Brisbane, plenty of family activities, a smattering of local restaurants and the off chance of wetting a line. This formula would usually translate into me fishing off a jetty in the shadow of the bearded lady’s armpit. Not here though, not in Hervey Bay the gateway to Fraser Island.
Situated 300km north of Brisbane, beyond the Sunshine Coast, lies Fraser Island the largest sand island in the world. The western shoreline is protected from the prevailing south easterly and offers shelter and kilometres of fishable waters. This sub-tropical climate presents the fly fisherman shots at 4 classes of mackerel (Spanish, Grey, School & Spotted), 5 trevally options (Golden, Giant, Diamond, Bludger& Brassy) and 3 tuna species (Mac, Longtail & Yellowfin). Add to the mix juvenile Black Marlin and the potential for Cobia, Queenfish, Bonito, Permit, Threadfin and Milkfish and you have yourself a world class fishery within a 4 hour drive or 40 minute flight from Brisbane.
I’d been fishing with a local guide setup, Hervey Bay Fly and Sport Fishing Charters, for the past few seasons. Their prognosis was not encouraging. A cyclone was situated in the Gulf of Carpentaria making the weather patterns on the eastern seaboard unstable. The tuna schools were scarce but there were a fair few Spotted Mackerel in Platypus Bay. The first day saw my son and I chasing these schools with a few Mac Tuna in the 15lb range setting the heart racing.
Day two dawned warm and wind still. The early morning session on Spotties was fast paced but Chozza, my guide, and I were hoping for something more substantial. We continued travelling up the Island in search of the elusive Longtail Tuna. A small school started busting up a few hundred metres off the bough. They were travelling fast pushing the bait upwind and into the current. I’d only get one shot and Chozza expertly got me into position. Long cast into the action, double handed strip and an explosive surface strike followed. That first run was blistering. Although packed with 250 yards of 30lb backing I was under gunned. Worried about the taxman and being spooled we set after the fish, keeping it close to the surface and away from Noah being the priority. The immense power of the Longtail is something to behold. After an epic battle Chozza tailed a tuna over the metre mark. A few photos for the scrapbook later and back to the deep blue she went.
With no further signs of the tuna school we took the decision to explore the flats further up the island. Standing on the bough with a # 1 High-Tie Clouser Minnow, I was hoping to target Golden Trevally or possibly a Longtail cruising the flats.
Shadowing a large Ray was the target species. Frustratingly I couldn’t get fly down to the requisite depth as the fish wasn’t settling and continued to move. Frustrated at my lack of ability to entice the 15lb Goldie we took a breather.
Chozza spotted it first. Further up the flat, high in the water column was a large fish travelling ever so slowly away from us. Not a Longtail, too slender and not moving fast enough. “Black Marlin” came the call from Chozza. No time to switch to the 11 weight or to change the fly. The # 1 clouser would need to suffice. Expertly Chozza got us parallel and slightly ahead of the baby black.
Long cast 5 meters ahead of the target. Initially no response and then she turned and followed. Within a few meters of the boat it engulfed the fly. Pandemonium! Mimicking the cast of Circque de Solei the baby black took to the skies in a series of mesmerising aerial manoeuvres. Boat in full reverse and the fight was on. After 20 minutes we had the baby black boat side on the flats. I flopped overboard and after a few snaps I had the privilege of setting her on her way.
An epic day out in the Bay; one of many memorable experiences this location has to offer. Baitballs, whales, sharks, dugong, dolphin, turtles, dingos and a multitude of bird species are often encountered. By no means is this an easy fishery. Bread and butter species are targeted on conventional gear and a commercial fleet operates out of the marina. A few tips that may prove useful for those looking to explore the area:
A boat is essential for this fishery. Not only does one have to travel to get to the fishing grounds (40km to the top of Platypus Bay), the tuna schools are constantly moving. Generally the tuna tend to push the bait into the current and into the wind. They generally feed better when the tide starts to move (“no run no fun”). Approach the schools with stealth and try to ascertain in which direction they are moving with consideration for the wind direction. Position the boat slightly ahead of the school. Keep false casts to a minimum, certainly no more than 4 and watch your feet to ensure you don’t stand on the line before you cast as it will move on the deck as you travel between schools. An ability to fish off your back cast will improve opportunities. Consider utilising the boat to fight the larger tuna as sharks are a constant menace. If the tuna is dogging it out deep drive off the fish to get it to the surface away from the men in grey suits.
Although the fish are large (up to 15lb for Mac Tuna and 40lb for Longtails) the bait they feed on is generally rather small. Slender, transparent baitfish in the 5 to 7 cm range are my preferred fly for the Macs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I7wvCfAtQk. I generally tie these on # 1 Gamakatsu SC15s.Other favoured flies include small surf candies. For the Longtails I opt for a size 2/0 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEitEL3O1Pg
I substitute the craft fur with polar fibre in light pink. Other favourites for longtails are High Tie Clouser Minnows and slender EP style flies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqH2sFEk9Vk in 1/0 Gamakatsu SC12. Shrimp and pink are my preferred colour combos for the tuna. The key to enticing a take on the tuna schools is to get the fly moving as soon as it hits the water. For that purpose I utilise a double-handed retrieve. On the flats Avalon flies and larger shrimp patters that sink quickly are advisable to entice the Goldies.
A 9 weight will cover most situations although I do prefer the 11 for the Longtails and Marlin or if the sharks are prolific. Intermediate lines are the staple although a 300 grain sinking line is advisable if the wind is blowing the line around the boat. In terms of leader I would recommend 60lb, 40lb followed by 25lb fluorocarbon for the Macs. I’d do without the 25lb if the sharks are about or when chasing the Marlin and Longtails. Sun gear here is a must. Buffs, sunnies, hats, long sleeves and sunblock will make for a more pleasurable day. The season starts in September. Marlin are the most prolific through October/November, Goldies and Mackerel the summer months and the large Longtails prefer March through to May but can be targeted from September onwards.