IF THIS month’s front cover photo doesn’t get you inspired to fish the waters off Fraser Island, you’re hard to please. Reds like this can be a ‘once in a lifetime’ fish for many anglers, and I know of no better place to get a run or two on the board with such big fish than the Fraser Island waters.
The reds off Fraser average 8-12kg, and I’ve weighed a few 17kg specimens over the years at the Fraser Fishing Expo. These powerful fighters are stubborn and hard to turn. They really get your adrenalin rushing because you know they can easily bust you off on the bottom, even when you’re fishing lines of 50-70lb – and if you have trouble getting the fish up there’s a fair chance a shark will help itself. While a 5kg head might be impressive, it’s not much good on its own.
Red emperor are caught over a variety of grounds. I find waters from 40-60m are the most productive, and the less a spot has been fished the more likely you are to catch a red. Much of the ground on the Gardner Banks has returned red emperor but, like any spot that gets a bit of attention, the bigger fish (cod, trout and reds) are the first to go. You’ll need to look for a few locations that receive less fishing pressure.
A number of the spots I’ve fished on the North and South Gardners were ones we stumbled across by accident. A photo on this page shows me and my mate Max with reds we caught on a spot we ran over while travelling from the South Gardiner Banks out to the shelf.
When a decent sort of a bump catches your attention on the sounder, with a show of fish, you can stop and fish or quickly mark it and keep travelling. One of the spots we stopped at saw all four of us hooked up on the first drop. Two fish were lost and two were landed. On the next 10 drifts or so, all we caught were a few smaller mixed reefies – a common scenario. You need to make the most of the first few passes or risk catching only small fish.
Don’t fish with anything less than 15kg line – and this is pushing it once the fish get up to around 10kg. You really need to use a rod with a decent reel so you can put some hurt on the fish.
When travelling to any one of the three major reef areas – North Reef, North Gardners, and South Gardners – you’ll run across spots that hold red emperor. If you manage to work your way to the outer edges of these reefs, a good plan is to drop out a few trolling lures. One of the various metal heads or jet heads is your best bet, trolled at around 10 knots, to attract a Spanish mackerel or wahoo. While you’re trolling back and forth over the reef, watch the sounder for shows of fish and bottom structure. This way you’ll be covering ground looking for spots and trolling at the same time.
As you move over the reef, picking up the various structure, you can start to work out what sort of fish you’re going to catch. For example, the flatter areas of the South Gardners yield mixed bags of parrot, various cod, sweetlip and hussar, while the bumpy ground over the North Gardiner is a more productive area for quality red-throat emperor.
The beauty of some of these areas is that you can have a reasonable drift covering a few of the highs and lows of the reef. Like the shallow grounds, each time you repeat the drift you go back by arcing around rather than running over the grounds that you intend to fish on that drift.
On any of these areas, if you’re after the better size fish you’ll need to use bigger baits – whole squid or whole slabs of fish. You might miss many of the smaller fish, but do you really want small fish in the ice box? This is where having two rods comes in handy – one for pan-size fish and the other for bigger fish.
The Gardner Banks and much of the area around here is a little strange when it comes to snapper fishing. To the north, from Sandy Cape Shoals along the shelf, Spit Bommy and out past Lady Elliott and Lady Musgrave islands we’ve had some super sessions on quality snapper. The grounds well South of the Gardners have also produced good snapper, but the Gardner Banks area doesn’t produce many of these fish.
In the immediate area, North Reef is the pick of the spots for some nice squire as there are a couple of big lumps that produce the goods. Unfortunately, sharks are usually nearby. You can catch parrot and hussar and not be touched by sharks, but the moment you hook onto a snapper or green jobfish the sharks want it.
As a matter of interest, some of those higher peaks about the place hold some pretty nasty green jobfish better than 10kg. As well as hitting baits they go for lures towed around for mackerel.
These days it’s easy to bag out on the more popular species, so it’s nice to have a few options up your sleeve – and one of these is a trip out to the shelf when the weather permits. It’s around 12-15 miles out, depending on which part of the shelf you want to fish. The target species out here are rosy jobfish and pearl perch, which sometimes school up together.
Water depth varies from around 90m to 110m or so. Often you start in the shallow water (if you call 90m ‘shallow’) and then drift out into the deeper water or along the shelf, depending on wind, tide and current. Finding the fish is just a matter of putting in the time and working your way along the shelf looking for shows of fish. At times the schools are so obvious it’s beyond a joke, while at other times just a few specks show up.
On our last trip out to the shelf we had glorious conditions and little run, and we found some 3-5kg pearlies in 98m of water. Every drop was a fish – you couldn’t get your bait to the bottom without getting a hook-up, usually a double hook-up. If you think pearlies don’t fight, try pulling in two fish at a time, at 4kg each, with a big tiger shark following. If you find that you keep losing fish to sharks, don’t persist – it’s a waste to try to keep catching them. On this occasion we just moved and found another school, but on other trips we’ve had the trip out only to put a dint in the fuel supplies – but that’s fishing.
Rosy jobfish prefer slightly deeper water and a little more structure, such as a spur jutting out along the shelf or a second rise. I actually enjoy catching jobfish more than catching snapper. Jobbies pull hard, eat well and it’s a good recovery rate of flesh off the fish. These fish average around 4kg but they do get bigger, usually in more northern areas.
If the weather is good and the seas slight, a trip out to the shelf first often pays off. Like always, keep an eye on your sounder on the way out and mark any good looking spots. These can be fished on the way back, and on these out-of-the-way spots you stand a good chance of catching the better quality fish, especially the big reds.
You’ll catch Spaniards inside the reef but it’s generally the outside edge where you find the wahoo, and they get big. At this year’s Fraser Island Fishing Expo we weighed a wahoo at just over 29kg – a good effort when you consider how long it takes to get a fish like this to the boat with the number of sharks about. The fish was caught out along the shelf, and the angler who caught it told me he follows the contours of the shelf looking for these bigger fish. The shelf drop-off also yields yellowfin tuna, dolphinfish and marlin.
I hope I’ve inspired you to grab a few mates and try a little of what offshore Fraser has to offer. This has been just an overview of the fishing options available – there is unlimited potential here.
Next month it’s back to beach fishing, focusing on the area from Ngkala Rocks to the Sandy Cape lighthouse.
1) Fraser is best known for its red emperor, and this two are just average.
2) The more southern areas or out on the shelf are the better areas to look for a few snapper. These fish are fairly scarce in other areas.
3) That’s what I call fishing! A trip out to the shelf can be well worth it when you find a patch of pearl perch.
4) The other fish you come across out on the shelf is rosy jobfish. They usually found in depths of 100m-plus.
5) Chinaman fish may not be the best for the table due to ciguatera, but they pull like a freight train, especially at this size.
6) Waddy Point offers good protection for beach launching shielding from Southerly influences.
7) And why wouldn’t you smile with 13kg of red emperor?