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Friday, 15 August 2014

Using Google Earth to find fishing spots

** Warning ** Large images are used in this article. Please allow time for these to download ** Warning **

Recently a comment was made on Facebook about the fact that 'with the advent of Google Earth, no fishing spot is secret'. I have been using Google Earth now for over 10 years to check out various fishing spots and to find ways into new locations. So I thought I would put together a small article that might help a few people get started.

Download Location

Firstly, Google Earth is available for download at https://www.google.com/earth/. The Google Earch application is available for both Windows and Mac platforms. I use a Mac, so screenshots shown here may differ slightly from the Windows version. The web based Google Maps can me used in a similar way, but the proper application offers more customisations and adjustments needed for this article.

Settings

After downloading and installing the software, you want to ensure the imagery being generated is the highest possible your computer and internet connection can handle. The highest settings are not selected by default. Enter the Preferences and tick all the boxes for the best possible settings. The settings I use are shown below. While here, ensure your Lat/Long units match your GPS as this will make entering marks much easier. My GPS is setup to use Degrees and Decimal Minutes (xxº xx.xxx'S xxº xx.xxx'E) so that is how Google Earth is setup.

Changing the date

Google Earth compiles its imagery from a series of scans made from satellite passes. Some of these images may date back as far as 2002 or even earlier. The newer scans will generally be at a higher resolution as new satellites and better technology is used. This will allow the user to zoom in further and still keep the detail needed to identify objects. But the latest scan is not always the best! And sometimes the 'default' image that loads is not the latest scan. In the Google Earth toolbar is a show historical imagery  button. With his enabled a timeline slider will appear in the top left of the screen. Small lines on the timeline indicate periods in time when images were taken. You can slide the slider, or press the forward and back arrows, to cycles through the various scans taken over time. Sometimes the default, or current, scan is taken on a bad tide or is obscured by cloud cover. In these cases an older scan will give more information that is useful to fishermen. Its always worth cycling through all the images for an area to identify the one most useful. Just keep in mind that creek mouthes and sandbars move over time, so images that date back almost 10 years may be very inaccurate for this purpose.


In the image below the default image for the mouth of Morriseys Creek is show. Compare this to the scan taken back in 2013 where the tide was low and the water was clear. Now sandbars and deeper channels can be clearly seen. Much more useful for fishermen.

Queensland Globe

Queensland Globe is a mapping and data application that can be implemented inside Google Earth. As an interactive online tool, Queensland Globe allows the ability to view and explore Queensland maps, imagery (including up-to-date satellite images) and other spatial data. The Queensland Globe is made available to the public as part of the Queensland Government's open data strategy.

To access Queensland Globe, download the kml file from this link. Open in Google Earth and the options shown to the right become available in the layers panel. Turn on the imagery option to see the Queensland Government high resolution satellite and aerial data. Not all of the images are better than Google Earth, but most are. Most imagery is at a 50cm per pixel resolution, but some of the aerial photography is as good as 10cm per pixel. Compare the examples below with the latest Google Earth image on the right and the Queensland Globe image on the left.



Other features include property boundaries that can assist in identifying places you can and cannot access, and contours that could be useful for hiking.

Extracting a GPS Position

One of the most useful features of Google Earth is the ability to extract GPS positions directly from the map. When you hover the mouse cursor over the map, the GPS position is shown in the bottom right corner. In the interest of accuracy, its best to zoom in nice and close for this.

You can also use the pin  icon from the toolbar to drop a pin onto the screen. Then this icon can be dragged around the map and given a specific name. These can be save into Google Earth for later use. The dialog box for the pin will show its current Lat/Long position.

Checking out Marks

Using the pin feature above, you can also manually add a GPS coordinate into the dialog box. This will move the pin to that position. So if you have been given a GPS coordinate that you want to see where is, you can enter it and then locate the pin on the map. In the example below, the GPS coordinate from Shark Shoal, provide on this website, has been entered and the approximate position show.

Locating Creek Channels

Using the feature described above, its possible to collect a series of marks to enter into a GPS unit to follow deep water through a creek mouth. Select an appropriate scan and use the Pin or Cursor to write down a series of GPS coordinates that follow the deep water into a creek. 10 or 15 points may be needed to get an accurate entry all the way through the flats. Enter these into the GPS unit of the boat and follow. This is great for a new creek you may not have entered before. Just be aware that the GPS coordinate may not be accurate and sandbars and flats change over time. Always proceed with care. In the diagram below an image of Sandfly Creek is being used to identify the deep water through the channel and into the creek mouth.

Locating Dirt Tracks

Google Earth is fantastic for finding tracks into places you would not otherwise be aware of. Dirt tracks are usually really easy to see from above. For the Land Based fisherman this is incredibly valuable information. It will get you into sections of a river or creek that are otherwise only accessible via boat. The one thing you need to be aware of, however, is gates, fences and private property are not identifiable from Google Earth. Often you will identify what looks like a great access point into a creek, only to find its behind a locked gate or on private property when you get there. In the example below, a dirt track from the water treatment plant into Sandfly creek is show. It was once possible to launch a small boat here, but this track is now behind a locked gate.

Inshore Shoals

Shallow water insure shoals are easily identified from clean, clear imagery of Google Earth. Its often necessary to scan through the history as shown above to get an appropriate image. But as shown below, inshore shoals like Virago and Middle Reef off Pallarenda are clearly visible in the clean shallow waters.

Locating Boat Ramps

Unfortunately many of the Boat ramps locate in Townsville and the majority or North Queensland are poorly signed for people new to the area. Google Earth can easily locate ramps on creeks and beach access. Tracking back through the roads in will identify how to locate these ramps. You have to zoom in nice and close and take a good look around to find a ramp. But once found they stand out nice and clear. The image below shows the distinctive parking area and ramp access through the beach at Pallarenda.


And in the image sequence below, the ramp onto the Haughton River at Cromatary Creek is clearly visible, even at low resolution. Zoom in and the ramp is plane as day.

Secret Spots

With Google Earth, those secret spots are thing of the past! If the scan from the satellite happened to be completed on a day with lots of boats on the water, its possible to locate good fishing marks by identifying congregations of boats. Without giving too much away, in the image below a couple of congregations of boats can be seen around Salamander reef and 4ft Rock. There are also 3 boats sitting on a mark somewhere between the two!

Green Zones & Reef Names

There are many kmz files available on the Internet that can be loaded into Google Earth to add additional information. The follow two are worth downloading.

This Green Zone kmz file can be downloaded and opened into Google Earth to display current GBRMPA Zoning locations. While this can be handy when checking out new locations, it will overlay all Google Earth imagery. So it will need to be turned on and off in the side-bar as needed.


This GBRMPA Reefs kmz file will overlay the location and name of every reef in the GBRMPA region. Even many of the smaller shoals are highlighted and named. This is incredibly handy if you are unfamiliar with the Reefs being discussed on the various Social Networking sites.

Distances

Google Earth has a built in tool for measuring the distance between locations. Select the ruler  icon from the toolbar and pick between line or path. Then click location on the map to generate distances. This can be done as either a straight line (useful over open water) or as a path along many points (useful in creeks). The distance can be displayed in any units. In the image below, the distance from the ramp to the mouth at Cocoa Creek is being estimated at 3.06km. Driving distances on land can just as easily be calculated.

Summary

Google Earth is a really powerful tool for locating new fishing grounds, especially for the land based angler. It is easy to spend hours looking around, zooming in and out and dropping pins all over the place to check out at a later date. Just keep in mind that conditions change over time. Always take care when navigating on the water as sandbars and creek often change from year to year with floods. Fishing Townsville takes no responsibility for grounding or damaged caused from using Google Earth to navigate on the water.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Townsville Boat Ramps - Cocoa Creek

Cocoa Creek is a small estuarine creek that empties into Cleveland Bay to the south of Townsville. It is relatively close, and provides easy access to, both Aligator and Crocodile Creeks. Please watch the video below for full details on the track condition and how to located the various turnoffs.



The creek is accessed be driving 25km south along the Bruce Highway. Take a left turn onto Cape Cleveland Road towards the AIMS facility. Not far short of AIMS is a dirt road to the left with a sign marked 'Cocoa Creek'. Its about 20mins on the dirt before the ramp is reached. There are several tracks that lead off the main dirt road, but keeping straight will get you to the ramp. The drive from Townsville to Cocoa Creek will take approximately 45mins.

The quality of the track varies greatly from freshly graded to washed out from wet season run-off. For the most part of the year the track is easily negotiated with a basic 4WD. Even a 2WD vehicle can manage the track most of the year, but clearance is sometimes an advantage. And launching a boat at this location should not be attempted with 2WD.


Cocoa Creek boat ramp is not really a ramp at all. Its very much a mud-slide into Cocoa Creek. Again, conditions for launching vary greatly. Over the years the bank has changed considerably, and different sections have become more and less useful. Currently there is a section with a reasonable gradient and some rubble for traction. But it is very muddy down low. Launching at Cocoa creek is very risky and should only be attempted with a 4wd. The smaller boats (3-4m) and experienced drivers can launch on tides as low as 1m. But I would recommend a minimum of 1.5m. Even 2m makes launching safer and easier for boats in the 4-5m range. On 3m tides larger boats can be launched with care. But most people would not subject larger boats to the torture of the track in.



There are no facilities at Cocoa Creek. This is a bush ramp and receives no maintenance or upkeep from Townsville City Council. There is enough parking at the top of the bank, but security is a real problem. Cars are frequently broken into, especially if left overnight. On weekends there are enough people around to keep things reasonably safe. If you are using the area for launching or fishing, it pays to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.


Cocoa Creek is positioned to give great access to Crocodile and Alligator Creeks. The ramp is less than 5min run from the mouth, and Crocodile creek is only another 5mins across the flats. Cape Cleveland provides great protection from SE winds, and small boats can make a safe run to the Weedbeds or the Cape with plenty of protection.


However, the channel at the mouth of Cocoa Creek is very narrow, difficult to negotiate and runs a long unpredictable path. The flats are exposed on low tide, and getting stuck here is a real possibility! The channel should be marked on a GPS during high tide to make navigation easier. The mouth can be traversed on 1m of tide or better, if you know where the channel is! In the photo below this boat is stuck on the flats almost 2km from the mouth of Cocoa Creek.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Flathead along the Beach

I really struggled last weekend to convince the family to get out of bed early and go for a fish from the boat! The cold weather and unpredictable winds didn't help. I was pretty sure Sunday was going to be ok, but convinced enough to drag everyone out of bed at 4.30am. So when I got up later that morning I was shattered to see dead calm conditions on the water. I had to do something to fill the fishing addiction for the weekend. It was a choice of either putting the boat in after lunch and hoping the weather held, or convince Tania to take the boys down the beach for a walk. I managed the beach option and kids were keen.

We left about lunchtime with the plan to fish the bottom of the tide and the first couple of hours of run in. I didn't want to drive to far, so we set Cungulla Beach as our destination. We arrived 45min later and tide was just starting to make its way back in. The water was beautiful and clear with lots of bait making its way back into the system.

We worked our way out along the deepest channel, casting soft plastic Squidgies along the way. Lachy and I were the only ones fishing, Tania and Sebastian hunted around on the sand. But after hundreds of casts with not a single bump, Lachy soon gave up. I kept on persisting with the soft plastic, convinced if I made enough casts eventually my lure would pass by a fishes mouth. Besides, all indicatios were that the Flathead were here!


Eventually, while in a bord daze, my plastic was bumped hard! A short pause and the fish was suddenly peeling braid off the Stella 1000. This was a sold Flathead, and she put up a cracking fight. As the fish came into sight over the shallow water I could see this was easily in the 60's. But a few more spurts of energy saw the fish back into deep water, leaving behind a puff of sand in the water column. Eventually I had the fish into a position to drag it up onto the sand. I just had to hope the leader and light gauge hook held! Yes, finally Cungulla yields a decent fish for me.


With Tania and the boys all wanting fish for dinner, this one was quickly cleaned and set aside. Now the pressure was on to get another one, as we would need two fish to feed us all. And it didn't take long. Just a handful of casts back into a similar area and a twin of the fish fish hit the lure. A very similar fight and this fish was soon on the beach lying beside the first.


This was plenty for dinner and with no eski it was time to pack up and head home. I have no doubt there would have been more fish to catch, but I had by fill and was happy enough for an early mark. Today I used my all time favourite flathead lure, the 70mm Squidgie Fish in Poddy colour. I use this with a 1/8th ounce jig head. The Stella 1000fe and TK3G 662 is a great outfit for walking the beach. It is light and nimble while being more than capable of handling these fish. Just watch out for the sand!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Celebrating 2000 Facebook Likes

Fishing Townsville is currently celebrating 2000 Facebook likes with a great give-away competition. All you have to do to enter is like the Facebook Page, like and comment on the competition post. Winners will be announced on Sunday 20th July.

We would like to thank Shimano, Townsville Marine, The Fishing Warehouse, Railblaza, Wiked Fishing, Jelly Prawn Lures and Threadybuster Lures for donating an awesome set of prizes for the competition. Please support those that support us.


Thursday not so good

Following our successes with the Doggie Mackerel on Wednesday, we figured a run back there the next day should see us straight back into them. The weather was going to be very different, with a change due to come through about 10.30am. But it was supposed to be calm again in the morning, and the change should have only been 10-15knots. Easy as!

But it didn't turn out that way. As soon as we poked the nose of the boat out the front of Ross River the wind stated. A nice 10knots straight up. So we decided to stick closer to home and headed to the Alligator Creek Weedbed area, rather than Long Beach where we were the day before. It was ok, bit of wind chop, but good enough to get fishing. So we put out the burley and baits. But an hour later and the same baits were still on the end of the line and still looking good. The wind slowly picked up and started nudging 15knots. So we decided to run in closer and fish over the flats while the tide was still high. But the wind just got stronger, so we took off for home while the tide was still high enough to make the run back to Ross River in close along the shore.


As we got back to the Ross the wind seemed to drop off. It actually looked pretty good inside the island. So we headed out into the channel for a look around the pylons. Big mistake! The run over was good, and we fished for a few minutes in reasonable water. But then it really came in. All of a sudden it was more like 20-25knots and we had to punch into in all the way back. Lucky that 485sf can eat up the at wind chop!

So I'd say thats it for me for the school holidays. Maybe the wind will be back down next weekend?

Friday, 11 July 2014

Mid Week Fishing

Oh yeah, I love it when the weather is down mid-week during the school holidays! It doesn't happen very often, but when it does I get very excited. And Wednesday was just that day! Winds were predicted to be light all day, and I had big plans! Whenever I write a report for this website, I like to talk a little about how and why I plan the day I do. It often revolves around the wind and tide, and where I think I will find a fish AND be able to comfortably fish at that time. So for Wednesday my plan was to run the boat directly to the Mackerel Patches off Cape Cleavelend to chase some Spanish Mackerel at first light, and then head wide to the Norther Marlin Grounds and troll for a Billfish for the remainder of the day. This should fit with the lighter winds early, and then dropping for the remainder of the day. It would hopefully let us put a few fish in the eski early before looking for that elusive Billie. We also had a kids dental appointment at 3.15pm so had to be back at the ramp early.

Knowing that mid-week half of the Coast Guard ramp would be full of single cars going on the ferry (trailer parking only applies on weekends), and the fact that more than a few sickies would be called in, we headed to the Ross River ramp to launch at about 5am. This is a little earlier than I would normally put in, but I wanted to be on location at the Mackerel Patches when the sun came up. We ran across the bay comfortably with a slight 5knots breeze over our shoulder. We cleared the cape and slight wind chop soon slowed us down a little. But knowing the wind was predicted to drop out we continued comfortably to our destination. On arrival at the Mack Patches it has almost glassed out. At least 8 other boats were already in the vicinity trolling and it didn't take long for us to sound up a good patch of fish. The fish were so thick we could see them in their thousands over the side of the boat.




But within minutes of arriving, the wind that had hampered us on the way out reached us and began chopping up the water. But we persisted and sent down some metal slices. Unfortunately the school of fish showing so well on the sounder was only Trevally. And we could have caught them one after the other! Tania and the kids had a bit of fun, but it was not what we had come this far for.


As the morning progressed the wind just built more and more. Eventually we were taking the odd wave over the bow of the boat as the Minn Kota iPilot worked to keep us over the school of fish. It was just to uncomfortable. By about 8.30am we decided enough was enough. It just wasn't worth smashing ourselves about in this swell when we were not even getting the Mackerel we had came for. So we decided to make the very uncomfortable run back to the Cape and protection form the Southerly breeze.

Fortunately the hull of the Haines 485sf is incredible through wind chop. And despite extremely sloppy conditions and a very wet ride for my passengers, we were able to maintain 15-17knots all the way back. Once inside the Cape the water completely glassed out. Opening the throttle to 30knots we raced to a Weedbed mark off long beach.

Conditions were stunning. A beautiful runout tide, cold clean water and glass conditions. Perfect for Doggie Mackerel. Normally when fishing the Weedbeds I would anchor up and get a burley trail going. But stuff that!!! Down when the iPilot electric and I hit 'spotlock' to hold us in place. Luckily I had picked up a block of Pillies the day before from The Fishing Warehouse. I normally wouldn't have bait on board, but Tania wanted some to fish for Nannygai if we got out wider. So we started a burley trail and sent out a couple of pillies on gang hooks. By the time we got all set up it was almost 10am. And despite the good water conditions, I wasn't holding out to much hope for fish this late in the morning. But it didn't take long and one of the rods sitting in the rod holder gave an almighty bounce. Pulled it in and the bait was gone. Mackerel.... Out it went again and it didn't take long and we were hooking up in the Mackerel one after the other. And they were good solid Doggies to. Just one wend under size and the rest were in the mid to high 60's. Fish that go straight in the eski, not on the tape!


The technique we used was very simple. The boat is 'anchored' in position and a steady burley trail sent out the back. Two rods are set up with gang hooks to float pilchards. The gang hooks are completely un-weighted and have no wire. They are not under floats either. Just braid, mono leader and gang hooks. The pillies are cast a good distance at 90 degrees out the sides of the boat. The tide carries these down the side of the boat and out the back where the burley trail is. When the baits reach the back of the boat they are VERY slowly wound back in. Tania and the boys were using these rods, and at the same time I was throwing a Threadybuster directly out the back of the boat between the other two lines, and work it back through the burley trail. I would not normally work a lure like this against the tide, but in this situation it was always going to work. The Threadybuster had a short length of single strand wire, maybe 2in in length. This just prevents the bite off of a very expensive lure should it be completely inhaled. More strikes would come if no wire was used, but thats a big risk. I don't mind loosing the odd gang hook, but not a $25 lure!


I lost count of how many we caught for the morning. But it was at lease 10 and more likely a dozen. I had forgotten Ice at the servo that morning, so the fish were filleted and put into the car fridge. So I never did a proper count.

By lunchtime the tide and bite had well and truly died. We switched to a troll of some lures to see if we could locate a patch of feeding fish, but it was all over for the day. We headed home and back to the ramp.