Arno Bay Options

Cover Story: Arno Bay, SA

This tiny and remote township on SA’s Eyre Peninsula has become famous for its monster snapper. But there’s more to Arno than big reddies, as long-time local JAMIE CRAWFORD reports.

IF you were to drop the name of Arno Bay to a bunch of fishos a decade ago, chances are you’d be met with a blank look of confusion, followed by “sorry, never heard of it”. This was the common response I’d be met with, often followed by “is it near Whyalla?”

Well, times have definitely changed, and now there aren’t too many keen snapper fishos who haven’t heard of Arno. In fact, I reckon we’ve seen a fair percentage of these snapper anglers visiting Arno over the past couple of years, along with every TV fishing host you could imagine. The place has definitely climbed up the leader board of snapper hotspots, and would now rival nearby Whyalla for popularity and consistency in fishing.

Obviously this recognition has a negative spin-off as well as positive income for the local community. A big assembly of boating traffic descends on Arno Bay for the opening of the snapper season at the end of November each year. And while the fishing is freaking good when the season reopens, what most visiting anglers don’t realise is that the fishing is consistently good year round, and not just for big reds.

I’ve been an Arno resident for the past 12 years (not quite a “local”, but I’m approaching it). Overall, the fishing around this small seaside community is pretty darn good, and you don’t have to travel large distances to find some decent fish.

Local charter skipper Ash Smith operates Arno Bay Fishing Adventures out of this little Gulf location, with a 7.4m Clayton Gallant surveyed for seven passengers. We recently had Evinrude’s Riley Tolmay visit Arno Bay with a bunch of mates to fish with Ash and myself, and while snapper were high on their priority, the boys were keen to sample some other fruits of this productive coastline as well.

With pretty good conditions the first morning, we steamed out wide to tick the snapper box first up. The outer wrecks and reefs for snapper lie between 25 and 30km out into Gulf waters, and while the surrounding seafloor is fairly flat and featureless, the isolated regions of structure hold some pretty good fish.

We could ID some snapper on the sounder, but they were a little slow to fire up after the recent influx of boating traffic. After persisting with plastics and baits for an hour or so, and a liberal dose of berley from Ash, the fish started to feed and some good reds began to hit the deck. The first snapper, a neat 9.5kg fish, smashed a whole squid and left the Sydney-based fisho who caught it gob-smacked.

The fish came on the chew in half hour bursts of activity, and it was just a case of persisting until the next patch of fish moved through and began feeding. It was an equal mix of fish falling to baits and plastics, with the better plastics being 5” Jerk Shads and 145mm Squidgy Flick Baits fished on 14g and 21g heads. We finished the session with about 20 fish all over 6kg, the biggest fish going 12.5kg – darn good fishing. And while our east coast visitors were amazed, this is nothing out of the ordinary for Spencer Gulf.

Snapper are available on these wide grounds for most of the year, although they do taper off from March through until about September. Having said that, you can still experience some hot snapper fishing during this quieter period, with some of Ash’s biggest fish (15kg+!) coming in during late autumn and early winter. After we had finished our deep water session with Ash, we retired to the inshore waters to have a play with some smaller reds from tight water, and chase some tasty KG whiting.

The inshore reefs around Arno fish well for smaller snapper in the 1–3kg size range, and from shallow water they’re cool fun. There is a stack of limestone dotted along Arno Bay’s coastline, both north and south of the town, which produces some pretty good fish. We have recently pulled several reds of around 6-8kg from these shallow waters, with a fish of this calibre going a darn sight harder in tight water than out in the deeper stuff.

Most of these reefs are within a stone’s-throw from shore, and it’s a matter of watching your sounder to identify the ledges and nuggets of reef. Expect a lot more by-catch when you’re fishing these inshore grounds, including silver drummer, sweep, silver trevally, snook and big KG whiting.

The KG whiting fishing along Arno’s coastline is pretty good, and these fish are the mainstay target for local fishos. The Evinrude guys enjoyed some great whiting fishing during their stay, with a couple of hectic KG bites. The whiting begin to school up during autumn, with winter being the prime whiting time (for numbers), and provide a good option aside from snapper. Most of the Arno whiting slot in the 35-45cm size range and pull surprisingly above their weight.

The downside to this area (and there’s always a “but”) is that Arno is pretty darn windy. The prevailing wind is from the south-east and hence onshore, which chops the Gulf water to no end. Ash still punches out in breezy conditions, and his boat is comfortable enough to allow this. For the visiting angler who tows their own trailerboat to Arno, however, the day or even whole week can easily be written off due to wind.

There are a few back-up options to consider if you do get blown-out during a stay at Arno Bay. Franklin Harbour at Cowell is a half-hour drive north of Arno Bay, and from October to around April the blue swimmer crabs invade the shallow bay water. Drop netting is a popular activity at Cowell for these succulent crustaceans, and in the sheltered bay system the water is consistently flat.

Back at Arno itself, the town jetty fishes quite well for squid when the water is clear and during summer and autumn snook can be targeted from the end of the structure. Just on dusk and into the evening is the prime time for these landbased snook, with 15-20g metal slugs, 90-110mm soft plastics or small strips of bait retrieved slowly under the lights being effective on these fish. Also during this time of year, garfish and herring can be caught from the jetty, especially with the aid of some surface berley and oil. The breakwater groyne in the bay returns some tasty calamari (with the heads doubling as snapper bait when the wind subsides!).

Also during summer and autumn, many of the local beaches turn on good fishing for yellowfin whiting. Using nippers, beach worms or green prawns, the fish can be caught from the shallower corners from many of the local beaches. On calm days with the sun high overhead, schools of fish can be sighted “flickering” over the shallows as they use their noses to feed into the sand. These fish can be flighty, so it pays to keep your distance and cast from afar.

During winter and spring, the whiting numbers disperse off these beaches, but are replaced with salmon. The salmon along the Arno beaches aren’t the large surf-roaming fish like the ones encountered further south, but instead are smaller models in the 25-35cm size range. It is our lack of consistent swell which restricts the larger fish, although we do pull the occasional good fish to 3kg when targeting school mulloway off these beaches.

The mulloway around Arno Bay are an enigma for local beach fishos. We don’t get many mulloway along our Gulf beaches, and they aren’t large fish either. We just get a smattering of 4-12kg fish at certain times of the year. There are, however, a few beaches and rock possies along the Arno coastline, both to the north and south of town, which produce these silver shadows.

They are a fickle fish along these shallow beaches, but by waiting for the right conditions and putting in the time, you have a fair chance of hooking a nice school mulloway. Periods of bigger swell combined with a large afternoon high tide and onshore wind are the preferred conditions, admittedly not the most comfortable conditions to be standing on a beach, though.

These fish prefer fresh fillet baits from salmon, snook, trevally or mullet, with live baits another gun option. We have still caught some good fish on quality IQF pilchards, so these baits shouldn’t be disregarded as a viable option either. The mulloway sporadically visit this coastline from October to December, and then again from March to May.

The rocky coastline to the north of town, between Red Banks and Poverty Bay, produce a few snapper for the landbased fisho. These aren’t large fish from these rocks, but we get a few 40-50cm “pan-sized” fish. These fish come on the chew after a blow when the inshore water is stirred-up. Unfortunately there are a lot of Port Jackson sharks to contend with when chasing these reds from the rocks.

The township of Arno Bay itself is only a small seaside community of around 250 residents. We have a caravan park
in the town, a hotel, two general stores and a post office. Unfortunately, fuel is not available at Arno Bay any more, with the nearest roadhouse around 25km inland at nearby Cleve. Remember to fill up before you arrive!

As you can see, although Arno Bay is famed for its snapper fishing, there are plenty of other options to consider should you visit this small South Oz destination. One thing is for sure, if you do decide to visit – book a day with Ash to get your snapper fix!

Catch & release is vital if Arno’s magnificent reds are going to continue to thrill local and visiting anglers.

Handy Arno Contacts

Arno Bay Fishing Adventures
Ash Smith   Ph: 0427 282 000

Arno Bay Hotel
Publican Trevor and Jenny Grenfell
Ph: (08) 8628 0001

Arno Bay Caravan Park
Belinda and Steven Dunn
Ph: (08) 8628 0157

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