How to

Capricorn Coast fishing

THE Tropic of Capricorn meets the Pacific Ocean near Rockhampton. This parallel of latitude defines the tropical zone to the north. Not surprisingly locals have taken advantage of this fact when naming regions, electorates and attractions in this area.

The “Capricorn Region” is centred on Rockhampton and extends south to Miriam Vale and west to the mining town of Moura. The Federal Division Capricornia partly overlays this area but extends from Rockhampton to Mackay and west for several hundred kilometres.  Boundaries vary but this vast section of Central Queensland has some great fishing opportunities.

Rockhampton is 620km north of Brisbane while Mackay is a further 400km. Airlines fly to Emerald, Rockhampton, and Mackay. Both Rocky and Mackay feature a wide range of accommodation, businesses, and retailers.   

This article provides an overview of “Capra Country” which is my term for that area that straddles the Tropic line in Central Queensland. It focuses on the coastal strip but those who travel inland or out to the reef will find plenty of country to explore too.


This section of Central Queensland’s coastline offers a diverse range of fishing opportunities including impoundments, rivers and estuaries, as well as inshore and offshore options. For travelling fishos with a trailer boat this part of Queensland is well worth a visit.

I have further divided this huge region into a series of sub-areas each worth considerable effort. It is easy to skim the surface and work the accessible or popular spots and this works fine. Anglers who have the time to explore further from the ramp and fish for an extended timeframe will find far better fishing in each area. 

To the north the Mackay region has many mangrove-lined estuaries and creeks as well as extensive offshore islands and reefs. As you head south small towns are dotted along the highway including Sarina, Clairview and Marlborough. Meanwhile, St Lawrence and Stanage located near the vast Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, are well off the beaten track.

The Wide Bay area is tidal, shallow and has the reputation for being remote. Those anglers who make the effort to explore must be self-sufficient. Stanage is a good place to access this vast region.

Rockhampton is at the southern end of this area with coastal towns nearby including Yeppoon. It has a selection of systems including Corio Bay and Port Alma as well as the massive Fitzroy River. Further south Curtis Island offers another extensive area to explore.  

Each of these areas has numerous creeks, tidal flats and inshore options. Popular northern species are plentiful here including barra, jacks, threadfin, grunter, golden snapper, trevally, coral trout, emperors, mackerel and nannygai to name a few. Southern favourites including flatties and whiting are also prolific in season.

Freshwater Lakes and Dams

In recent decades the freshwater impoundments of Central Queensland have caught many anglers’ attention. Stocked with species including barramundi, bass and sooty grunter, these dams offer year-round fishing for anglers who prefer semi-sheltered waters. 

Kinchant Dam, west of Mackay, is a popular and highly productive irrigation storage. It is stocked with barra and while it is a relatively small weedy impoundment the fish grow big.  Further west, both Eungella and Teemburra dams are also well worth a visit. They are stocked with barra and hard-pulling Sooty Grunter.

Local knowledge is, as always, a decided advantage. Some of these dams have guides working them and if you are uncertain about how to approach them booking a day out with a local expert is an excellent way to go.

Depending on which end of Capra Country you are located, dams are nearby. Awoonga, Peter Faust (Lake Proserpine), Callide, Cania and Monduran are all within a half-day’s drive of either Mackay or Rocky. These are stocked with barra except Cania which is a bass fishery. There are also quite a few less well-known impoundments that offer good fishing.  Anglers who prefer the freshwater impoundment scene are spoiled for choice.

Given these dams were built to ensure water security, crop irrigation or for other non-fishing needs, it is our good luck that they are well stocked and when fish mature offer great angling. They are a highly appealing aspect of this area. Apart from Awoonga you will need a Stocked Impoundment Permit (SIP) to fish most of these waters.

The best time to visit the dams is in spring and early summer when fish start to feed hard.  For barra, the lead up to the full moon is often a good time to be on the water and in recent years anglers have caught multiple fish to a metre or more. For the rest of the year, it is still possible to catch fish although the prevailing weather can be a factor. Local knowledge is, as always, a decided advantage. Some of these dams have guides working them and if you are uncertain about how to approach them booking a day out with a local expert is an excellent way to go.

On the downside, weather induced shut-downs are not unusual. Check if a recent flood event has caused the fish to “go over the wall”. These events “reset the clock” and fishing can be hard for several years until new stock grows out. On the plus side barra that survive the drop over the wall can provide several seasons of good fishing in the system below the dam.

Fortunately, in Capra Country, if one option is not working there are many others available.

Upper Rivers

The upper reaches of the region’s larger rivers hold saratoga, barra, jacks, sooty grunter and jungle perch. The Fitzroy River has many kilometres of freshwater above the barrage in Rockhampton. Unless a major “fresh” is pushing down this area provides some good sweet-water fishing. Streams below dams can also fish well particularly after a flood.

Lagoons and billabongs also offer freshwater options and even small ones can provide some interesting fishing. They rely on rainfall so in dry years may be unproductive or weedy.

Most waterways are narrow and some difficult to access. Agriculture has impacted some streams but those anglers who can read a map will find plenty of water to work over.  Crocodiles are present so wading and kayaking is potentially dangerous. A small boat is the best option. Locals I spoke to recommend you seek the owner’s permission before setting off along the banks.

Lower Rivers and Estuaries

The tidal variations in the northern part of this region are significantly bigger than southern tides. Near Mackey, on spring tides nearly six metres of water will move through these waterways. This can be a daunting prospect for those who are used to less run. Apart from the raging current and launching difficulties at some ramps, the big flow discolours water. Many prefer to visit on neap tides when flows are smaller and water quality is better.

The introduction of net free zones has improved fishing in particular systems within this region. The nets were removed in 2015 from the Fitzroy River and since then the fishing has improved markedly according to locals. This river has excellent all-tide launching facilities both in Rockhampton and down river. The town ramps have pontoons which keeps the family safe as you launch. For most of the year barra, grunter and threadfin are plentiful. Anglers can fish deep snags, rock bars or shallow banks and all will provide good fishing at some point in the tide cycle. 

The results posted from the recent 2021 Fitzroy River Barra Bash reveal just how good the fishing can be. Over a dozen “metrey” salty barra and a hundred metre plus threadies were caught and released. If you can time your visit to coincide with tides building from the neaps you will see cleaner water. 

Other net-free areas include St Helens Beach – Cape Hillsborough (north of Mackay) and the Capricorn Coast (Yeppoon, Keppel Bay, Fitzroy River and Rockhampton).

In shore – Land-based

Land based anglers can find some good fishing in this region. Mackay Harbour break wall is a popular venue and has excellent access. In calmer weather pelagic species can be spun up off the wall while a range of other varieties are also available. I saw cobia, school sharks, small mackerel and queenfish taken as well as mac and longtail tuna. Other rocky points are also worth a look at the top of the tide when the water is cleaner and pelagic species feed close to shore.

Those looking to soak a bait or cast a lure can find plenty of options along the town reach in Rockhampton. Many like to fish near the boat ramps and bridges. The Pioneer River and its branches in Mackay are also popular with shore-based anglers.

This region has many beaches which can produce good fishing when the tide is in. Areas such as Sarina and Clairview south of Mackay are popular with anglers chasing whiting and blue salmon.

Land based anglers can also explore the rocky coastline north of Mackay where islands can be reached at low tide. 

In shore – Boat

Coastal waters in this region have numerous reefs, islands and other fish attracting structure. Both southern and northern species can be found here albeit with seasonal variations. Anglers chase GTs, Spanish mackerel (mainly in the cooler months), coral trout and golden snapper. Headlands and rocky foreshores can hold big barra as summer approaches although there is a closed season for this species from midday 1 November until 1 February. Large schools of tuna, including mak and longtail species are common. Smaller mackerel including Qld School Mackerel (doggies) and Japanese Spotted Mackerel are also thick at times.

Trevally and Queenfish are also on the cards almost anywhere while fly anglers can work rocky and sandy flats for blue bone (“tuskies”), golden trevally and occasionally permit.

It is worth studying the Queensland Fisheries website to determine the size and bag limits that apply to fish and crustacea in these waters. There are also zones that limit fishing in Marine Parks. Anglers should be aware of zone boundaries and what is permissible in each.  Maps can be downloaded to a phone or tablet.

Many anglers work these waters in medium sized open boats poking around the islands and up local estuaries. Crab pots, jig and spin outfits, barra, jack and GT popping gear can all get a run at some stage in day’s trip. It is possible to work in shore reefs and local creeks as the tide allows and the well-equipped all-rounder will find the choices almost endless.

Great Barrier Reef

While this area is outside the scope of this article, anglers with larger craft make the run to the GBR when the weather is good. It is nearly a 100 km offshore, but reefs are found in closer. Here the fishing can be excellent with both bottom dwellers and pelagic species prolific. Off Rockhampton, the Capricorn Group is accessible as are the many islands that dot the coast up to Mackay. Marine Parks are extensive so check before fishing or landing.

Gear to bring

A 4-6m boat will get anglers into a wide range of scenarios. For those who want to work the larger dams or in shore, these waters can cut up rough, so a seaworthy craft and good judgement based on weather reports is essential. We have experienced some pretty scary conditions on lakes after a blow arrives.

A bow mounted electric motor will assist in creek, impoundment and estuary work. Modern electronics will also help the visitor find fish in the creeks and estuaries as well as offshore.

Barra in this area grow big, so powerful bait caster and spin outfits loaded with 15kg braid and 30-40kg trace are a must. Lures including soft plastic and hardbodies are useful in the creeks as well as the impoundments. A swimbait outfit capable of throwing larger plastics and heavier lures will be useful in the impoundments particularly after dark.

A lighter spin outfit for jacks and threadfin will be useful. Jigging outfits along with a variety of jigs in 30-100gm range as well as soft plastics and vibes will catch many species including coral trout, emperors and nannygai. Medium spin gear with a metal can be used to target tuna and mackerel when they feed on the surface.

Live bait anglers should bring a cast net and a yabbie pump. Prawns, herring, mullet and other bait species can be gathered and most species in this area will readily take a livey or fresh cut bait. Keep a squid jig handy when inshore as these can pop up anytime and provide a great meal.

For those looking for something bigger, GTs and Spanish mackerel are available as well as the normal range of medium weight trevallies. We drove away from them on several occasions after non-stop action on every drop. Poppers, stick baits and metals work well near islands reefs and current breaks. Queenfish are often encountered and love surface lures.  Trolling with minnows or dead baits is also productive.

Bug and sandfly repellent is essential. Sunscreen and plenty of hydration are also required particularly in the warmer months. Stingers are present in the hotter times, so wading is not advised. A bottle of vinegar, to help reduce pain if stung, is a wise addition to the first aid kit.  We saw crocodiles in the Fitzroy and although they are shy and quickly dive away no one should ignore the threat.

Info and Advice

I found the tackle stores in Rockhampton and Mackay to be very helpful and well-stocked.  They cater to a hard-core group of local anglers that chase jacks, barra, coral trout, GTs and many other species. A visit to these shops can be a good way to get info on what’s biting as well as sample local lures and techniques.

Visitors Centres offer general info about accommodation and sites to see while group pages on social media provide both general and fishing specific info.


Although this area is on the edge of the tropics it can still get cold in mid-winter. We watched a Queensland Cup match in Mackey in August and the combination of light rain and chilly wind was freezing. Conversely the hotter months can produce humid conditions and prolonged heat waves. Cyclones may form between November and April and while they may not impact this area directly, will deliver massive rainfall and strong winds.

Apart from these extremes autumn and spring can produce beautiful weather and stable conditions. We spent nearly a week in spring fishing all-nighters on a barra dam and rarely needed a coat.


This region has made significant efforts to attract the travelling angler. You can stay in tourist-oriented towns like Yeppoon or enjoy a laid-back pace at places like Seaforth. Modern facilities are available in the major towns while the smaller settlements may not even have a shop. This vast area rewards those that get off the beaten track and are prepared to be flexible. 

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