Feature article in Voyages De Peche

Said to be the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island off the southern Queensland coast in Australia is truly magnificent in many ways. So unique and diverse with ancient tropical rain forests, exotic fauna and crystal clear freshwater creeks and lagoons, it’s no wonder it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1992. Fraser Island joins Australia’s list of Heritage sites alongside the Great Barrier Reef, Lord Howe Island, Kakadu National Park and Uluru.

It’s really hard to believe an island made of sand could be so beautiful! The long, uninterrupted snow white beaches and gin clear fresh water lagoons attract untold thousands of tourists and locals every year. People hire or bring their own 4×4 wheel drive vehicles to explore around or over the island where they discover a world like no other! For us fishermen though, Fraser is heaven on earth as the waters around the island are a massive fish bowl. So many different species of fish can be caught here we would run out of space to print them all!

The miles of deep gutters along the beaches are popular areas for the family fishos to target tailer, bream, whiting, jewfish and flathead. Offshore the bottom fishing produces so many tropical to sub-tropical species from various emperors, coral trout and snapper. Trolling the inshore grounds with minnow lures anglers get bombarded with Spanish mackerel, black (cobia) kingfish and the tough dirty fighting great trevally’s (GT’s) ready to bust you up!

One of the most unusual and unique fisheries here at Fraser is catching juvenile black marlin in the crystal clear shallows close to the island. These small billfish often turn up here in big numbers every year during their migration down the east coast from the spawning grounds along the northern Great Barrier Reef. They often hold up here for months in Hervey Bay on the western edge of Fraser to feast on the immense schools of baitfish. Anglers chase these little blacks in small outboard powered boats and tinnies either launched off the beach or from the boat ramps on the mainland of the bay. Even kayaks are popular off the island because in many areas you don’t have to venture too far off the beach to find these little marlin.

The deeper channels along the edge of sand flats is where the action is found and ultra-light spinning tackle and light trolling outfits are mostly used. Because of the shallow terrain and often crystal clear conditions sight casting with small metal lures and even saltwater flies is popular. Anglers get blown away catching these little blacks as most times they are within sight the whole fight from hook-up to release! It’s very exciting fishing!

Hive of Activity

One part of the island that’s always a hive of activity is on the northern end around Waddy Point. This area is very popular for visitors and fishermen to camp and the protected beach from the ocean swells is good most of the time for launching small to medium size trailer boats. Naturally the area requires a sturdy 4×4 wheel drive vehicle to launch and retrieve any size vessel and there are always a few dramas with the odd vehicle getting completely bogged. Usually it’s not too much of a problem though as other fishermen always come to the rescue with another vehicle or even a winch.

The trolling and bottom fishing off the island is absolutely awesome and many, many species of surface and bottom fish get caught all the time. Those anglers keen on trolling mostly use minnow lures targeting the Spanish mackerel for their firm tasty white fillets or cutlets, which go well on the campfire barbeques. Some of these small boat fishermen are quite happy though to conserve their hard to get fuel supplies and just run offshore half a mile and drift around the many reefs for a feed of bottom fish.

A huge variety of reef species are prolific because these grounds are at the bottom end of the Great Barrier Reef and southern reaches of the Coral Sea. The area produces so many great eating species from coral trout to red emperor, snapper, pearl perch, wrasse and even teraglin, which look like our silver jewfish. The first day I ever fished Fraser for bottom fish the amount we caught in a very short time was amazing and the boat was visited by a huge, curious tiger shark. The tiger was nearly as long as our five metre boat and I guess with such a large number of fish in the area one can understand why so many sharks, particularly whalers are seen!

Marlin Magic

Another incredible feature of the Fraser Island region that we’ve known about for a long time now is the amount of large billfish that turn up on the deep grounds between Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island, 100 nautical miles to the north. Back in the 80’s the release of the Billfish Atlas of the Coral Sea Region, produced by the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, indicated the massive long-line catch rates in this area of the southern Coral Sea. Huge numbers of striped marlin and blue marlin are caught annually during our late spring and early summer months between August and December. Australian Fisheries have also indicated the area could even be a spawning ground for striped marlin!

For years the professional game fishing charter boat fleet from NSW, the Gold Coast and Brisbane heading to and from Cairns for the annual springtime heavy tackle black marlin season have always hooked heaps of marlin through this area now known as the Marlin Highway. To conserve fuel these vessels always travel at a trolling speed of around 8 to 10 knots with a few lures out. Their journey up to Cairns is constantly interrupted with strikes from striped and blue marlin and on the return trip in late November there’s black marlin in the mix as well, and big ones!

Two years ago Gold Coast Captain Tim Richardson, who runs the beautiful 50′ Custom built Tradition got the surprise of his life when one of his lures was piled on by a grander black marlin. After spending a season in Cairns catching and releasing so many large blacks it was the last thing he was expecting down south. Luckily there was a mothership in the area also heading back to the Gold Coast from Cairns and they were able to weigh the giant black. Stretching the scales to 1,054lbs it’s the biggest black ever caught off Fraser Island!

Serious Players

Over the past few years the heavy tackle billfishing off Fraser has seen a few serious players from the Gold Coast and one from Cairns get involved. The GC vessel Mistress, run by father and son captains Barry and Brett Alty have been the main runners and three years ago they left the boat at Hervey Bay after the Cairns season and fished the area solidly for a couple of months. During that time they fished the popular Hervey Bay Game Fishing Clubs annual Billfish Tournament along with 44 other vessels. They won the tag & release section with eight solid blue marlin up to 600lbs in two and a half days!

Last year the Alty’s decided not to take the Mistress to Cairns and chose to fish Fraser as much as possible over the spring and early summer season (August to December) and didn’t they catch some billfish. In forty four days before last Christmas they tagged and released 87 blue marlin, 20 blacks and 7 striped marlin. They took the vessel back to the Gold Coast over Christmas to have some maintenance work carried out and they returned back to Hervey Bay this past February. As I put this story to bed they just tagged their 100th blue marlin and its still happening for the 2017/18 season. As the Alty’s said to me, “we really don’t know how long the red-hot season goes for?”

Another well-known fisherman from the Gold Coast, who has just retired from working the Cairns heavy tackle black marlin season after nearly 40 years, is Captain Bobby Jones. Jonesy decided to take his new 65-footer Merlin up to Fraser as well and spend some time there to see just how long the bite lasts for. I had a long chat to Jonesy and this is what he had to say about the place.
“It’s an incredibly fishy area that we have known about for a long time and there are stacks of billfish in the shallows and way out to the continental shelf. For those like me who love chasing the larger billfish, especially the wild speedy blues, these grounds out on the continental shelf are amazing. You don’t have too much trouble catching all three marlin species in one day either and maybe even a sailfish tossed in for a super slam as well,” said Jonesy.

“The only problem we all face here is the weather and if it’s lousy the long 60 mile run from the Hervey Bay Mariner to the wide grounds can take forever. When the weather is good we can stay overnight at the top of the island near Waddy Point and then it’s only a short 8 mile run to the billfish grounds. The nice thing about Fraser Island though, there are plenty of options if the weather does turns sour.

There are plenty of places to hide behind the island out of the wind and we put the small tender in for some light tackle fishing. If the time is right we’ll chase the juvenile black marlin or go sight-casting to the long tail tuna that tend to bust-up in the Hervey Bay all the time. Another positive move is to pump some fresh nippers (saltwater yabbies) for bait from the sand flats and fish for something for dinner. There’s plenty of bream, flathead and whiting to catch, which are all top shelf tucker for the table,” Jonesy reckons.

“Our top priority offcourse is chasing the big marlin though and it’s unbelievable out wide in the gorgeous, cobalt Coral Sea currents. We mostly troll a spread of 5 lures on heavy 130lb tackle as there are some awfully big blues and blacks here. We missed out on weighing Australia’s first grander blue marlin from these grounds which has now finally been caught over in Exmouth, Western Australia.

There’s been a grander black marlin taken here and the Mistress lost two big blues last year they said would have easily made the grander mark. The Alty captains both know what a grander marlin looks like as they have chartered their vessel for many years in Cairns and released stacks of huge blacks,” says Jonesy.

It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens here over the next couple of years as a few more vessels from the Gold Coast are predicted to start working these isolated grounds more seriously for big marlin. The size range of blue marlin in particular are perfect for those anglers who want to try for some line class records in the 12lb to 50lb sections. Catching an Australian record blue in those line classes is pretty much wide open now on these fishy grounds!


English translation from  Voyages De Peche which featured an article on Fraser Island.