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Chasing Golden Trevalley on the Magnetic Island flats.


Enjoying one of the many beautiful beaches of Magnetic Island.

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 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.


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'S xxº'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.


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.


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.