Hervey Bay and Fraser Island are inseparably linked to each other and to fishing. Variety and quality of species is a true measure of a fishing destination and here you can catch longtails (northern bluefin tuna), mackerel tuna, giant trevally, queenfish, threadfin salmon, sailfish and marlin. Inshore reefs offer a fair selection of edible species, including coral trout and emperor, while the estuaries have mangrove jack and barramundi.
Hervey Bay is the name of the township and also the bay between Fraser Island and the mainland. A favourite land-based destination in town is Urangan Pier, which fishes well for whiting, particularly in the peak spring period. Baitfish – hardyheads, garfish and herring – school under the pier, attracting pelagic fish including mackerel and tuna. The outer end of the pier is in deep water and anglers bait up with live herring to fish for queenfish, school and Spanish mackerel, trevally and tuna. Whiting anglers use local bloodworms and nippers.
Land-based anglers can also catch whiting and bream from Shelly Beach, the Urangan Steps, just west of the Urangan Pier, and the Great Sandy Strait Marina walls.
Boating anglers are well catered for with protected boat-launching facilities in the Great Sandy Strait Marina, at the end of Boat Harbour Drive in Urangan. It is a boating angler’s paradise with large and small islands, tidal flats, mangrove creeks, reefs, sand flats and reefs. Care needs to be taken, especially at low tide, as the northern entrance to Great Sandy Strait has shallows, reefs and sandbanks. Strong winds can cause dangerous sea conditions, especially if the wind is against the strong tidal flow.
The first island out from the marina is tiny Round Island, between Urangan and Big Woody Island. The reef here produces parrotfish, snapper, squid and sweetlip. On the east side of the island, anglers catch whiting, bream and flathead.
Big Woody Island is popular and it has many reefs on the north- east side, including one called The Graves that can produce snapper, sweetlip, morwong, mulloway and parrotfish.
About 2 km to the east of The Graves is an artificial reef. Pelagic species including northern bluefin and mackerel tuna, mackerel and trevally are caught along and outside the reefs.
Between Big Woody Island and Fraser Island is Little Woody Island, with reefs on its western side, a rocky area at its northern tip and a long reef vein to the south. The eastern side, which is made up of mangrove and sandbanks, attracts flathead, trevally, whiting and bream. A number of holes and ledges around Little Woody Island are also worth exploring.
Little Woody offers exciting sight- fishing for anglers working lures or flies. On my first visit I waded with local fly-fishing guide Sid Boshammer on a broad sand flat at the northern end of the island. Our quarry was golden trevally. These fish can be seen on the flats with their tails protruding out of the water as they suck crabs and invertebrates from the sand.
The wind was gusting to 20 knots from the south-east, making sight- fishing and fly-casting difficult. Sid said I would have a maximum of two back casts to get a shot in. Anymore and the fish would move on.
When a trevally school came towards us, I fired away a cast to place the fly in front of the feeding fish, and then they were gone. One minute the school was 50 m in front and in seconds it reappeared 100 m behind. It was fast, frustrating and exhilarating.
My fly shot was lucky. The 300 m screaming run and 43 min fight that ensued was extraordinary. We ended up catching a few golden trevally to about 8 kg.
There are many sharks in these waters. We were about 300 m or so away from the boat when I saw a shark gliding through the water along the edge of the drop-off that marked the line between the shallow sand flats and the deeper channel. It was a dark, heavyset creature a bit more than 2 m long and it followed us as we moved along. Spooky.
There are also stingrays everywhere. They range from pancake size through to king-size blankets. As I walked I slid my feet on the bottom to scare them away. Touching a ray’s flap with a foot will make it take flight; stand on it and the barbs in its tail are likely to react.
At the northern end of Hervey Bay, past Fraser Island, is an area called the Breaksea Spit. On my first visit I went out with local guide Geoff Taylor on his 11.5 m fly-bridge catamaran. Geoff runs live-aboard charters, which is just as well as takes more than eight hours steaming from Urangan to get to Breaksea Spit. However, the sailing time is worth it. We sailed north past the Pelican Bank and Moon Point, across Platypus Bay to Rooney Point at the north-west end of Fraser Island, where we camped before taking the final leg.
The Breaksea Spit is a vast expanse of sandbars, reefs, gutters and seamounts. It is a junction for tropical and temperate currents. Combined with an undulating seabed and wind, these conditions create a recipe for turbulence, and a predator’s paradise.
The spit attracts such a variety of species that you never really know what you will catch. There are at least four species of trevally – giant, golden, white and turrum. It’s the same with tuna and mackerel, while marlin, sailfish and dolphinfish are also caught. On the bottom you can pull snapper and then hook something more exotic like a big mangrove jack, strawberry cod, coronation trout, Moses perch, blue and brown Maori cod, Venus tusk fish, gold spot wrasse, saddlebacks or jobfish. Other likely captures include bonefish, barracuda, amberjack and cobia, not to mention just about every shark known to inhabit east coast waters.
On calm sunny days, the water can be so clear it is like peering into an aquarium as you look through the water column and watch fish taking bait. Use a berley trail and drift and you will be amazed at the quantity of fish that rise to the feed.
On the downside is the fickle weather. Even a little wind can make Breaksea Spit dangerous. On a wild day it can be gut-wrenching. Those same sandbars, reefs and strong currents that are attractive to the fish create conditions that make the seas stand up dangerously.
When the weather cuts up rough, there are better options inside the bar, like the wreck of the 84 m Chin-Chow that sank near Fraser Island on her maiden voyage early last century. It’s a known GT (giant trevally), amberjack and cobia haunt that holds whaler sharks to about 2.5 m and attracts schools of mackerel tuna and bluefin. Or come back to Rooney Point, well known for producing marlin, sailfish, mackerel and tuna.
The style of fishing is anything from fly- and gamefishing to bottom bouncing. On one trip we caught turrum, giant trevally and Spanish mackerel to 20 kg on lure and fly, but it was the bottom bouncing that was the most exciting. We hooked a couple of dozen big fish, but only the large skull and lips of one solitary fish was landed. Sharks accounted for a few, but most of the fish were simply too big and they dragged our lines through reef and rock.