A mixed bag of fish caught at Yeppoon, Steve Cooper

Yeppoon, about 30 mins drive north-east of Rockhampton, is the main port for visitors wanting to go to the Keppel Islands. In the harbour at Rosslyn Bay I met up with fourth-generation cattle producer Richard Wilson and boarded the Keppeluna, a 12 m twin-hulled fly- bridge cruiser that seemed almost as wide as it was long. Richard had invested more than $40 million on the marina and infrastructure and used the Keppeluna for fishing charters, including live-aboard trips and social days. Today was a social day and Richard had a few friends on board, including local fishing specialist Graham Scott. It was 4.30am with a light nor-easterly as we headed out of the marina. Several hours and 88 km later we made our first drop on a patch of reef about 50 m below.

The first fish to come aboard was a giant estuary cod of 20 kg. The weight rather than the fight in the fish made for a difficult landing. The cod had a swollen stomach and bulging eyes, a result of the expansion of gases in the swim bladder as it was pulled up from the bottom. Not all deep-water species are affected this way. This was soon followed by good numbers of hussar, some of which were despatched and used for bait.

Queenslanders working offshore reefs have a thing about red fish, and red emperor is at the top of the list when it comes to eating. It didn’t take long before the first red emperor was caught. Queensland regulations put a minimum 55 cm on red emperor and we averaged about one legal fish in three. All fish kept for the table must have one pectoral fin clipped, and brought back to port as whole fish.

Other species caught included red-throated sweetlip and frying pan snapper. The frying pan snapper has the head of a snapper, the tail of a bream and the first dorsal spine is more like a long whisker that extends most of the way along its back.

As soon as this reef system slowed, we moved to another mark, and then another. Sometimes we motored for more than 30 mins to get to the next small rock jutting above the ocean floor.

That is how the fishing went for most of the day, interspersed with sightings of olive sea snakes, whales and dolphins, and feeds of Moreton Bay bugs and prawns.

On our return journey, our deckie Don, who has spent much of his working life on charter boats working offshore reefs, wanted to try an old shipwreck where birds were working baitfish. Some anglers dropped baits, but a few of us started jigging with large, chrome lures. The first fish on a lure was a white trevally, followed by amberjack to about 10 kg and mackerel tuna. Meanwhile, the bait anglers were hooking emperor, sweetlip, hussar, coral trout and a shark of about 1.2 m that tangled several lines.

Anyone deciding to head to Queensland should experience reef-fishing. Offshore reef-fishing charters are available in most ports from the Gold Coast to Cairns. The species vary as you go north. In southern Queensland, you are likely to hook snapper and pearl perch, but as the water warms further up the coast, the species change to tropical varieties.

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