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Fly Fishing

Chasing Golden Trevalley on the Magnetic Island flats.


Enjoying one of the many beautiful beaches of Magnetic Island.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Fishing Location - Weedbeds

The ‘weed beds’ form an extensive area inside Cape Cleveland. The bottom is mostly muddy, but covered with the dugong’s prime food, weed. At times of the year this area can be heavily populated with both turtles and dugong, so careful boating is required. Although the area is quite extensive, I have found the best areas tend to be off long beach, and around the mouths of the various small creeks. There are also many small ‘shoal’ areas that fish well, but these are hard to find. The weed beds are located in a marine park ‘yellow’ zone, so only one line per fisherman is allowed. The quality of the water can play a big part in a successful day’s mackerel fishing. When the water is a little turbid, try heading slightly wider and into deeper water.

To reach the weed beds off long beach, head south once clear of the harbor and point the boat slightly to starboard of the cape. If traveling in the dark, you will see the cape Cleveland lighthouse in the distance. Again, head to starboard of the lighthouse until the shore becomes clear. Long beach is, obviously, the long stretch of beach running inside the cape. I fish off the southern end of this beach in about 3-4m of water. There really isn’t a special 'mark' to fish on the weed beds, anywhere will do. For this reason it isn’t necessary to anchor up close to other boats, and definitely stay well clear of burly trails. It’s not unusual for a burly trail to extend several hundred meters from the back of a boat. I’m always surprised by boats anchoring up within casting distance, when the weed beds occupy an area of several km’s square! However, if unsure, anchor somewhere in the vicinity of the following GPS location. S19°13.215' E146°59.474'

Alternatively, people with access to Alligator creek can launch their boat there, and run just a few minutes out from the mouth. The Alligator creek boat ramp is located on private property, and a key is needed for access. However, this is an especially convenient access point in moderate SE winds, when the run across the bay is rather uncomfortable. Once inside the cape there is considerable protection from any southerly wind.

On calm mornings the weed beds are accessible in any sized boat, particularly from one of the creek mouths. The distance across the bay is about 8nm. Normally the run can be made in 20mins or so. However, 10-15knots can chop the water up pretty quickly, and make for a very uncomfortable trip if heading directly into the wind. The sea here is rarely to the point of being dangerous for boats above 4.5m, but definitely uncomfortable. And on a glass-out, there’s no better place to be!

The Fish

The weed beds are best fished during winter, when this area becomes a prime school mackerel spot. Best results occur when water temperatures fall below 22°C. Usually this is from May to about October. During the periods of warmer water temperature, large catfish are present in big numbers. Fish up to 10kg can have you thinking something substantial is on the line. Other quality fish I have encountered include Golden Trevalley, Queenfish, Cobia and Salmon. Small Cobia between 70-80cm are actually quite common at times. I have seen schools of Cobia come through, with every bait in the water being smashed! But mackerel are definitely the reason to go. Small Spanish mackerel, and the occasional spotted are caught, but schoolies are the frequent catch. When the schoolies are on, this is the one place in Townsville where you can actually reach your bag limit (even the old one!).


There is nowhere special to anchor. Just find a clean patch of water in around 3-4m, and drop anchor. It is possible to drift and locate fish, but a burly trail usually proves the better option. The burly trail should be light but consistent. Sometimes the fish will be there almost straight away, other times it can take up to 30mins for the trail to begin working. In either case, don’t stop the trail once fish arrive, keep them keen and in the area. Usually the first sign the trail is working will be small schools of sucker fish hanging around the back of the boat. To avoid catching these, throw the baits well out the back of the boat. Sometimes the fish will come and go in waves. For a period of 10mins baits will be smashed one after the other, and suddenly it all goes quiet. Again, keep the trail running, 20mins or so later they will be back!

Live baits can be fished on the weed beds, but collection is a little difficult as there really isn’t an easy place to collect on the way. Luckily, pilchards work brilliantly. I fish a half pilchard on a double gang of 4/0’s. A full pilchard tends to get hit with a lower hookup rate. Many people like to fish pilchards under floats of party balloons or foam, I don’t. It just complicates the rig and takes some of the fun out of the fight. It also restricts the bait to a particular depth. Instead, I fish the pilchard totally un-weighted. That way it sinks quite naturally and covers the full depth of the water. Contrary to popular belief, a mackerel will pick bait up off the bottom. If the bait has been out a few minutes, give it a slow wind to move it up off the bottom. Even slow wind it back in before casting it out again. It’s amazing how many mackerel will follow the bait all the way back to the boat, particularly if the water is extra still and very clear. Oh, and you don’t need wire when fishing with gangs! Yes, you will loose the odd fish, but the extra strikes will be well worth it.

The best tides are the bigger ones around the new and full moon. But it may be hard to fish during the peak of the run, mainly due to un-weighted baits being held close to the surface. And often fish will go off the bite during the change of tide. So the Last of the run in and first of the run out is prime. For best results fish early morning and later afternoon, with morning being the pick of the two. This may mean running out in the dark, so as to be there from first light. With a good burly trail running, it’s possible to keep the fish biting up to about 11am. But more often things go quiet around 9.30 or 10am. Occasionally schools of garfish will enter the burly trail. Later in the morning it may be worth catching a few to use as live bait. This can entice the mackerel at a time of day they would otherwise go quiet. Just remember the yellow zone rules. If you have a line in to catch garfish, you can’t have a line in for mackerel at the same time. Evening fishing can be good, but usually a good bite is pulled to a screaming halt by the fading light.

Most other fish tend to be a by catch of chasing mackerel. However, one fish worth targeting specifically is the wolf herring. These can be located morning and evening by trolling small metal slices or flies in shallower water closer to the cape and off the beach. While not much good for eating, Wolf herring are prime troll baits for big Spanish Mackerel.

Casting lures and flies can be very successful. But without a burly trail, it’s really blind casting. Fishing in a boat beside a fellow bait downer is the best way to go. Otherwise, when fish are hard to find, trolling medium sized diving lures such as the Flatz Rat can help in locating schools. And in a yellow zone you ARE allowed to troll more than one lure per person.