Fishing on the Gold Coast

Fishing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when holidaying on the Gold Coast, but John Eichelsheim doesn’t miss many opportunities to get the line in the water. He passes on a few tips on how to make the most of a trip to Southern Queensland.

Whenever I travel, I try and squeeze in a bit of fishing, even if it’s no more than an hour or two on a local waterway with a light spinning rod in hand.

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With family connections on Australia’s Gold Coast, I’m a regular visitor. In recent years we’ve spent a few days there in early December, staying in the same high-rise Main Beach apartment building every year. Since most days’ activities leave an hour or two free before dinner, I’ve explored quite a bit of water within easy walking distance, as well as driving to some spots further afield.

South Queensland has endless water to explore: canals, tidal rivers, estuarine beaches, mangrove creeks, lakes and freshwater sections of the region’s many rivers. From Surfers Paradise, the high-current zone of the Southport Seaway and endless stretches of surf beach are close at hand.

Indeed, there’s so much diverse water and so many potential target species that it’s hard to know where to fish. That’s my excuse, anyway, for having enjoyed only modest fishing success over the years, but each time I go fishing, I learn a little more.

With the exception of tropical far north Queensland, I’ve found the fishing in Australia hard going for the most part. There are lots of exotic species to catch, along with plenty of familiar ones, but as an angler, you have to work hard for every bite.

Aussies love their fishing, so fish populations around built-up areas tend to have taken a hammering. And while the water may look great and feel warm, Australia’s low fertility aquatic environment’s ability to support large numbers of fish can’t match New Zealand’s. Species diversity is high, but the biomass tends to be modest.

This a roundabout way of saying that it pays to adjust your expectations when fishing in Australian waters, both for numbers of fish caught and their size. This is especially true as a casual tourist fisher without the benefit of local knowledge.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having a flick. I thoroughly enjoy those stolen hours on the Broadwater or up a creek somewhere, and most of the time, I manage to catch something. Usually, that something is a fish I can’t catch in New Zealand, which always gives me a buzz.

Queensland, unlike many other Australian states, doesn’t require a sport fishing licence, so it’s easy for tourists to wet a line. On my visits, I pack a light four-piece spinning rod and a small reel loaded with 4kg braid. A spool of 10-pound fluorocarbon trace, a small box of hard-bodied lures, some soft-plastics and a selection of jig heads completes my kit.

I usually squeeze in a visit to the local tackle store to stock up on a selection of locally popular soft-baits, mostly prawn patterns or small three and four-inch baitfish styles, and some jig heads to suit. I usually get sucked into buying hard-bodied lures as well, most of which I don’t really know how to use.

The banks of the many canals and rivers that feed into the expansive inland waterway system which makes up the Broadwater are the most accessible fishing locations for anglers on foot. Take care, though, when pushing through the undergrowth to get to the bank: on my last trip, I very nearly stepped out onto a venomous snake sunning itself on the sandy riverbank.

Landbased fishing is a great option in South Queensland, especially around structure like marinas and jetties.

Landbased fishing is a great option in South Queensland, especially around structure like marinas and jetties.

Natural structure, channel edges and drop-offs, and especially shaded areas are all worth fishing. Rock walls and manmade structure can also be rewarding, but many marinas and public jetties are off-limits to anglers. Private docks and jetties hold fish too, but they can be hard to fish without a boat.

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One of the more popular sportfish in South Queensland is the yellowfin bream, a close relative of our snapper but with a more estuarine lifestyle. Bream don’t get especially big, but they fight well, are good eating and will bite a variety of natural and artificial baits.

Bream tend to associate in schools that move from place to place. In places like the Gold Coast, they have seen a lot of lures and can be extremely fickle. I’ve struggled to catch them, though on my most recent trip I managed two, one taken on a topwater lure and the other on a soft-plastic prawn pattern. I was stoked, especially with the topwater fish, though I couldn’t replicate my success despite dozens of follows and ‘bites’ where bream sucked the little lure off the surface without hooking up. I suspect those fish were very small.

I’ve had more success on flathead, another popular table species. Flathead hide amongst the eelgrass beds or bury themselves in sand and mud along channel edges from where they ambush passing prey. Flathead bite all sorts and sizes of lures, but soft-plastics work very well, especially for the bank fisher. Locals call them ‘flathead lizards’ and really big ones are sometimes referred to as ‘crocodiles’.

I’ve yet to catch a flathead of any real size, but I’ve spooked a few huge ones close to the bank. Flathead can grow in excess of 10kg, but anything over two kilos is considered a good fish. My biggest so far weighed no more than a kilo, but I’ll get a decent one eventually.

Far more common catches for me include pike, a small but very aggressive barracuda that loves small lures, hard-fighting scaly scad that really get the drag singing, small, acrobatic queenfish and on one winter trip, three tailor in consecutive casts.

A range of lures, both soft- and hard-bodied, can be utilised in the inshore waters of South Queensland.

A range of lures, both soft- and hard-bodied, can be utilised in the inshore waters of South Queensland.

On my wish list are GT and mangrove jacks, both of which are now quite common in South Queensland. I’ve hooked both during my casual fishing sessions, but they are tougher opposition than bream or flathead with a liking for heavy cover. To be successful, I’d have to get lucky with the light tackle I use.

On our last Gold Coast trip, I shouted myself a half-day charter with a local guide who mostly fishes inside the Broadwater. Engaging a guide is always a good way to learn about fishing in new waters.

Steve Wilkes from Fishing Smooth Water Sports Tuition met us at the boat ramp at 6:30 am, and we headed out onto the Broadwater aboard his well-founded centre-console aluminium boat, stopping along the way to lift a string of crab pots.

The first three pots each contained two or more legal-sized blue swimmer crabs and one also contained a mud crab, which he told us are more common further upstream where the water is brackish. The mullet bait had also attracted a couple of bream and a few small flathead, which were released. The last three pots contained nothing, but Steve reckoned they’d already been lifted since they were not where he’d left them. All six pots were re-set before we went on our way.

Steve’s operation is well set up with suitable tackle for light lure fishing or natural bait. He had a good supply of frozen squid, but I elected to fish with lures, mostly soft-plastics. Steve can accommodate various fishing styles, depending on what customers want to do, and fishes a variety of waters up and down the coast and inland as well. There is good barramundi fishing in the impoundment lakes of the Gold Coast hinterland.

On the Broadwater, trolling channel edges for flathead is quite popular, as is fishing with plastics for mixed species including bream, snapper (‘squire’ as Steve calls them – they only become snapper when they reach a couple of kilos), flathead and others. That’s what we wanted to do.

With an incoming tide, Steve headed into the Southport Seaway for our first drift of the morning. The water really races in through the narrow entrance, so the drifts are quite short, and jighead weight selection is super-important. Soft-bait fishing experience certainly helps with bait presentation and keeping in touch in the current.

I hooked a fish on my first cast, which turned out to be a 32cm snapper, which, with some assistance from the current, put up a decent fight on 4kg braid. Steve was very pleased since snapper are not that common inside the Broadwater. The legal limit for squire in Queensland is 35cm, so that fish went back.

My snapper turned out to be the first of several, including a couple Steve caught on bait. Most were undersized, but two were over the legal limit and went into the live-well to dispatch later.

I was enjoying catching ‘squire’, but I’m from Auckland where 35cm snapper are a dime a dozen, so I was much more excited to catch a legal-sized yellowfin bream later in the morning. It fought in a very similar fashion to the snapper but was slightly smaller (25cm is the legal size for bream), so it came to the boat more quickly. It and another two bream Steve caught joined the snapper in the live well.

After a couple of hours fishing, the tide slowed, along with the bite. My fishing companion, soft-bait newbie Robbie, was still waiting to get a fish on board, but a shift to a sheltered bay behind an island resulted in a small flathead for him, the only one we caught on a lure.

A tide change, and then a change in wind direction as well, made fishing particularly difficult, but I did manage to snare several squid which were destroying our Gulp soft-baits. A switch to a squid jig soon sorted them out, and we added several to our bag for the morning.

The writer with a squid that fell victim to his soft-bait.

The writer with a squid that fell victim to his soft-bait.

At midday, Steve dropped us back at the ramp with a bag full of fresh fish and squid, along with his apologies for the difficult bite, but it had been a fun morning’s fishing, and I’ll definitely do it again.

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Beats spending the day shopping at Australia Fair! 

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

March 2020 - John Eichelsheim
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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