Marion Bay

Flathead fish caught off Marion Bay, Steve Cooper

Situated at the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula, Marion Bay is angler central and offers access to spectacular offshore and beach fishing. Southern beaches from Marion Bay east to Troubridge, such as Butlers, provide top fishing with mulloway up to 36 kg, and school and gummy sharks topping 20 kg.

Anglers wanting to catch big King George whiting should head to Foul Bay. Launch at Marion Bay and run east along the coast for 10–15 km. SA rules when it comes to whiting. Victorian researchers have carried out surveys in the hope of finding spawning grounds for King George whiting in Victoria, to no avail. They are in SA and Foul Bay is a hotspot. You will catch them to 60 cm or bigger in winter.

Greg Jenkins, researcher at Victoria’s Marine Science Laboratories at Queenscliff, says whiting spawn in SA in 20–40 m of water over limestone ground and, when they hatch, the 3 mm long larvae drift eastwards to Victoria. ‘For the first 3–5 months of their lives, whiting larvae are at the mercy of currents and winds, drifting from their open coastal spawning grounds west of Cape Otway into Victoria’s large central coast bays and inlets. Our research suggests that the wind cycle is influencing the number of very young whiting arriving to settle in Victoria’s central coast bays, which subsequently affects catches a few years later. Wind and weather affect larval drift, and in a given year, we are able to predict whiting seasons a couple of years ahead based on wind correlation.’

Foul Bay isn’t the only place in SA where you will consistently hook adult whiting, but it is as good a place as I have fished. The average size is what Victorians call ‘kidney slappers’ of 50 cm and about a kilogram. The average King George whiting caught in Port Phillip Bay is nearer to 33 cm. King George whiting can live for 15 years, reach a maximum length of 72 cm and weigh up to 2.5 kg.

While fishing here, I found myself in the middle of a seahorse migration. These small creatures were so dense that occasionally one would hook its curly tail on to a line.

West of Marion Bay on the southern shore, in Innes National Park, are Jollys Beach, Stenhouse Bay and Cable Bay. These are highly regarded, particularly Stenhouse Bay, which really turns on when the mullet are schooling. Australian salmon, King George whiting, Tommy ruff and mulloway are some of the popular species caught.

I fished off Marion Bay with local charter boat skipper, Herbie Glacken. Our target species was Samson fish.

Herbie didn’t want to give much away about his prime spots, as history has shown that as soon as a top Samson reef is publicised, the fishing doesn’t last. A well-known SA charter boat is reputed to have cleaned out at least one area of this species by anchoring up and taking huge catches.

We motored out of Marion Bay and the run down to the reefs where we started fishing took nearly two hours at 20 knots in Herbie’s 10 m long, tri-hull aluminium boat.

There were four anglers on board and this was a lure-jigging and bait- fishing trip. We dropped on several reefs and pulled nannygai (red snapper), groper, barracouta and other assorted species. But it wasn’t until late in the afternoon that we arrived at Herbie’s prime location, Schoolboy Rock. More like a small seamount, Schoolboy Rock rises from about 85 m of water to within 40 m of the surface. The sonar revealed a ledge at the northern end and a gradual slope at the southern edge.

As he watched the sonar screen, Herbie calculated our drift, allowing for the slight wind and slowing current. As with many areas, a change of tide is often the best time to be around.

We did a couple of drifts over the rock, dropping fresh squid baits or jigging 200 g lures. During those drifts, we pulled blue groper to 20 kg, blue morwong to 3 kg and nannygai to 4 kg. Two of our party were smoked by bigger, more powerful fish.

The first strike resulted in a $30, 200 g jig being lost when a snap swivel rated at 200 kg straightened. In the second incident, the fish took a squid head and peeled off about 50 m of 24 kg braid line, dragging it through the rocks until the line caught on a sharp object and parted. Both hook-ups lasted just a few seconds.

Our drift rate was a little fast and Herbie decided it was worth putting the anchor down and holding on the northern ledge where most of the fish were concentrated. He lost the next fish, and then Jim Harris somehow managed to stay connected and steer his fish away from the danger zone.

The fight wasn’t over though – another 20 mins passed before the Samson broached.

Looking similar to yellowtail kingfish except for a slightly blunter head and olive skin tones, Samsons are a highly prized sportfish in southern waters. At more than 1.55 m long and weighing 35 kg, this one was as big as I’d seen.

As if to show the fish had lost none of their fight, the next strike came on Jim’s rod and as far as we know, that fish is still running with about 100 m of 24 kg, multi- coloured braid hanging from a 11/0 hook in its jaw. If they were too easy to catch, there wouldn’t be any left.

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