River Heads
  |  First Published: July 2017

In many of my recent reports I have mentioned River Heads and its prospects for the coming months. This month I have some advice for visiting anglers and what they might expect.

The map included is a point of reference for this article. It’s not intended to give any navigational advice or minute geographical detail. When I’m visiting somewhere new, my first port of call is Google Earth, and I encourage readers to try it. For some navigational information, Maritime Safety’s Beacon to Beacon Guide is helpful. This indicates that lateral marks and leads extend up the Mary River as far as Maryborough. In the Susan River, limited lateral marks extend from the mouth into the boat moorings off the eastern end of Kangaroo Island.

As well as referring to the narrow entrance that forms the mouth of both the Mary and Susan rivers, River Heads is a township in its own right and almost an outer suburb of the city of Hervey Bay. At some time in the distant past, the Mary River cut its way through the sandstone ledges between what are now River Heads and South Head. Today we see massive movements of water through this narrow gap. With a tidal range exceeding 4m, flood and ebb tides account for much of this movement. During floods, this is much more pronounced.

As well as providing access to boat and shore anglers, River Heads is a departure point for vehicle and passenger barges serving Kingfisher Bay Resort and Woongoolba Creek on Fraser Island. Apart from the barge landing, there are two boat launching ramps at River Heads. On the western side of the point, a two-lane ramp can be used comfortably in most conditions. A single lane ramp on the eastern side is a handy option particularly during strong westerly winds. Unfortunately, vehicle and trailer parking spaces are very limited. At busy times, it is often necessary to park along the approach road. Attempts have been made to provide additional safe parking.

Having dealt with all the necessary preliminaries, it’s time to take a tour around the waterways included in the map. Let’s start at the north head (point A on map). Here the rock ledges disappear quickly into the deep water of the main channel. As already mentioned, strong currents rush past here forming powerful eddies with quiet backwaters. Many local anglers know it as the Frying Pan.

This is the most prominent feature in the whole river mouth system. Many of our favourite species gather just out of the main flow, ready to feed on what might be carried by the currents, or what might also be taking refuge in the quieter waters. Both flood and ebb tides fish well on the appropriate side of the run.

Neap tides can turn on some good fishing. My preference is for an approaching spring tide leading up to a full moon. There is almost no limit to the number of species that might be expected here. On a flood tide, the quiet water that develops between the green beacon and the inner boat ramp has mulloway, threadfin, blue threadfin, and grunter.

Live mullet and herring appear to be responsible for most catches and artificials are gaining popularity as more effective ones continue to become available. During their spawning season from May through to September, bream can be prolific here, particularly between the green beacon and the eastern boat ramps on a falling tide. The rock ledges here are popular with shore-based anglers at night. Other likely catches around the point include flathead, school mackerel, tailor and trevally.

To the east and north of the river mouth, large banks of sand and mud extend towards the Picnic Islands, Woody Island and Urangan. These drain into a series of gutters and channels. Closest to the Heads, Prawn Gutter, as its name suggests, is popular with cast netters and is also good for whiting and flathead. A little further out, Shell Gutter fishes well for sand whiting through the late ebb and early flood tides. Yabbies are usually available on these banks.

Returning to the north head (A) and then heading southeast towards South Head, we first cross some of the system’s deepest water and associated deep ledges. These have always been good for anglers chasing the big estuary cod with heavy gear and live baits. It would be common to see a couple of boats anchored up over the short period of slack water. The big cod continue to be in residence, but they don’t seem to attract as many anglers these days.

Continuing towards South Head, it isn’t long before we are back in the shallows – the continuation of the ledges between north and South Head. Sections of this ledge, known as ‘Jeffrey Rock’, are bare at low tide, and can be a serious hazard. These same ledges reach dry land at South Head (B). The rocks and ledges here are top spots for spawning bream and flathead. School mulloway and grunter are also likely.

From here (B), a shallow muddy shoreline extends east to more series of rocks and ledges (C). Close to the remains of cattle yards there are two prominent rocky points separated by a shallow bay. Ledges also extend from here into deeper water, forming just the kind of structure that attracts baitfish and their predators. Further east more ledges and gravel beds extend to the entrance of a shallow bay (D). Spawning bream can be common here during the winter and there are always flathead lurking in the shallows. Barramundi are targeted by anglers trolling 3m diving hardbodies or working plastics or poppers through the shallows.

Continuing a little further into the shallow bay, we find ourselves in one of Sandy Strait’s top spots for big sand whiting. It’s best fished over the top of the tide, right up to edge of the mangroves. Heading upriver from South Head, along the Mary River’s south bank, we find extensive mud and sand banks. There are some interesting gutters draining these banks and their mouths are prime locations for threadfin on an ebbing tide. There are plenty of yabby banks throughout this system and these can be comfortably accessed from the main channel.

Returning briefly to our starting point, we will now head into the Susan River and its tributaries. This small system drains the Hervey Bay hinterland. When travelling into Hervey Bay by road, you will cross its upper reaches close to the Susan River Homestead. Back in the water and following a limited number of lateral marks into the mooring area, we first pass a high bank (E) extending from the eastern end of Kangaroo Island. I mention this here because it is a great place to catch bait by cast or haul net.

Further upstream there are three small islands separated by shallows. The rocky areas around the middle island are great spots to target bream, flathead, grunter and threadfin salmon. Before continuing further up this small river, I need to remind you that there are no navigation marks in this shallow, sometimes rocky or gravely estuary. Looking at the Google Earth close-up of this system you might be able to get some limited help on which way to go.

I suggest if you are going to fish the system regularly that you first work upstream with the help of your sounder and GPS. Determine the best saved track to use in the future. There may be some movement in the banks but in the short term they tend to be fairly stable. Throughout the Susan estuary, there are plenty of features to explore – sand and gravel flats, steep banks and deep holes.

Along the banks of Kangaroo Island (F), bream, grunter and blue threadfin can be expected. An interesting species of whiting is often encountered in this system. It resembles a sand whiting but without the characteristic black spot at the base of the pectoral fin. It also displays a somewhat flattened nose. This is the northern whiting and also needs to measure at least 23cm to be kept.

Bunya Creek is one of the Susan’s main tributaries. Well worth exploring over the higher parts of the tide, it has inviting snags and deep holes. Separating Kangaroo Island from the mainland, the Little Susan has just about everything to challenge the keen angler. Tidal flow in this waterway can be somewhat confusing, with water able to enter or leave from either the Mary River or the Susan River.

The current may change direction in the middle of a flood tide. Be cautious when exploring the Little Susan. Partly submerged snags, shallow gravel beds and rock ledges need to be identified. I could fill many pages trying to itemise every feature along this waterway, but the best holes are usually on the outsides of bends.

The Little Susan meets the Mary River close to Power Island. This stretch of water (G) with its gravel beds and creek mouths is highly favoured by live bait and lure fishers chasing threadies and barra. The sandbanks between here and River Heads are well known. Whiting and yabbies can be pumped here too.

The Mary and Susan River estuaries are worth checking out. I often hear comments from anglers who have just returned from the river, complaining about how dirty, even muddy, the water was. On big tides around full and new moons, there is enough run in the water to stir up the sand and mud substratum. This could be exacerbated during floods or by very rough conditions outside the river. Around neap tides in calm conditions, the water actually becomes quite clear. Prevailing water conditions must influence the choice of lures or live baits employed.

I also hear comments from anglers returning without as much as a scale. My is that you must return, apply your own fishing experiences learned in similar areas, be patient and allow the system time to show how you can be rewarded.

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