Moreton Magic – Moreton Bay

Fantastic table and sportfishing is on offer right on Brisbane’s front doorstep, writes local angler KRIS SWERES.

SITUATED about 30kms out of the Brisbane CBD is the scenic paradise of Moreton Bay. Although close to a major population centre, the bay offers excellent fishing from basic bread & butter right up to hardcore sportfishing. You can target anything from bream and whiting to massive cobia, tuna, jewfish, snapper and even sailfish within Moreton Bay, making it definitely one of the better big city sportfisheries you’ll find anywhere.
The bay itself extends some 125km from its widest point at Caloundra in the north right down to its official southernmost point of the Gold Coast Seaway. On its eastern rim lie three sand islands that separate it from the Pacific Ocean: Moreton, North Stradbroke and South Stradbroke. The bay also contains hundreds of smaller islands with some of the larger ones including Peel, Mud, St. Helena and Green to name a few.

Moreton Bay itself is fairly shallow and sandy, however, stretches of rocky reef and deeper channels can provide exceptional angling. The bay’s mudflats and protected wetlands also support massive numbers of wading birds. It’s a real sight to see when thousands of these winged beauties simultaneously take to flight. The diversity of its marine species (apart from fish, you can expect to see dolphins, dugongs and turtles as well), birdlife and natural beauty make a day out in Moreton Bay a pretty special experience.

Seasonal Options

Like many areas around Australia’s vast coastline, Moreton Bay certainly has times of the year that fish better than others for specific species. Spring sees good numbers of big flathead arrive to take up residence in the shallow sand flats. Most of the locals will have targeted these bottom dwellers at one stage or another using soft plastics, blades or livebaits. Bigger lures and baits will increase your chance of catching (and carefully releasing!) one of the XOS sized females. Look for the usual haunts of weed beds over sandy bottoms dropping into deeper moving water. Most of the area between Macleay Island and Jumpinpin are about as good as it gets for flatties, be it pan-sized models or trophies. Being north of the NSW border, anglers can legally employ a cast net to obtain their livebaits – poddy mullet, prawns and herring usually are the gun choices. When the region is firing it’s not uncommon to encounter flathead of 70cm plus on a regular basis, so please remember to release the breeding females. Lures like the famous Squidgy Wriggler 120mm in Bloodworm colour are pretty hard to beat but hard-bodies like Jackall’s Chubby range, TT’s vibration blades and Prawnstars will claim some good fish too. Pinks and oranges are good in dirty water; when conditions are clear natural shades are usually a better option.

As summer kicks into gear, species like estuary cod, mangrove jacks and even threadfin salmon can be regular catches in and around Moreton Bay. These “tropical” fish are usually concentrated in and around canals, pontoons and particularly around the mouth of the Brisbane River before heading out into the bay proper. Focusing your efforts along the various island reef edges can also produce results.

I always upgrade my leader when I’m on the hunt for cod and jacks as they will run you down into snags, rocks and anything else they can find. Starting with at least 15-20 lb is a wise move and can be the difference between a fish in the net and tears. Being a chef for nearly two decades I can attest to estuary cod being one of the best table fish on the planet so don’t be put off by their looks, they’re simply delicious!

On the subject of delicious seafood, Moreton Bay has a very healthy population of squid on offer too. In the past couple of years “egiing” has really taken off in popularity in Australia and has seen many keen anglers using imported Japanese squid jigs with amazing results. The ever faithful Yo-Zuri and newer brands like Yamashita and Daiwa make the best jigs you can use. I reckon a lot of the time success comes down to colour. Some days the squid will only take a natural prawn hue and on other days they prefer a fluoro orange. Why this is can be a frustrating mystery but when you strike paydirt with a particular shade or colour they’ll be round in droves. Often when they are that thick you can see them in clear view trying to “steal” the jig from their hooked brethren!

Good places to target squid in the bay include Manly Harbour (particularly at night), any of the shallow, clear bay islands (like Mud, Peel etc) and Rouse Channel. Depending on the depth I like to start with a 2.5-3 size squid jigs. If you’re fishing with a mate its a good idea to try one natural and one fluoro as this covers your bases. As soon as one angler cracks the colour code you can quickly copy the winning format. The retrieve I have found to work best in the bay is a simple long cast and pause. Let the jig sink down for 10 seconds then give it two or three quite violent flicks. This will see the jig dart underwater from side to side (almost like a walk the dog surface retrieve) then pause and let it glide back down. Hopefully the next flick will feel like you’ve jagged some weed until your rod tip slowly pulses – this will be a cephlapod using its water jet to try and propel itself homewards. At this stage it’s a fairly simple case of gently winding in, keeping the tension applied to the barbless spikes. Remember to fish a light drag as sometimes the bigger squid will actually take line! Fishing World’s online How-To video series has an awesome instructional video on this very technique.

Another visitor that Moreton attracts as the temp cools down is the mighty longtail or northern bluefin tuna. These tuna have a cult following with both lure and fly fishermen alike. Some days the tuna can be found feeding on tiny immature pilchards and will only be keyed in to hit lures or flies of equivalent size. Other days they’ll hit anything. Oversized soft plastics can also work surprisingly well on these “sushi trains” when they are being particularly fussy!
Be sure to use well-tied and well-tested knots and reliable brands of line and leader when focusing your attack on tuna as they will test your gear to the max. I usually start with 20lb braid and 20-30lb leader. Anyone that has experienced the initial run from a decent longy will attest to their ability to make you wonder if you’re going to have enough line! Stay calm and follow the fish (if need be) and if hooks and knots hold, you will eventually hit paydirt. The sight of a silver and cobalt blue lump circling deep beneath the boat is exciting stuff indeed. Something to consider when keeping a fish of this nature for the table is to quickly dispatch them with a brain spike (which in my case is a sharpened screwdriver). This will dramatically improve the eating qualities of this magic fish. An esky full of ice is also a must.

Last but not least is the winter favorite for so many South East Queensland locals: the mighty snapper. Moreton Bay can be an awesome snapper fishery and when temperatures fall the fish really seem to spark up and become a viable target for both shallow water and deep reef anglers alike. Artificial reefs like Harry’s can be like a diamond mine at times but a stealthy approach and light line is a must. Mud, Peel and Green islands are also superb snapper grounds with a few switched on anglers that brave the early (and very cold) mornings usually doing the best. Once some mixed reef and rubble bottom has been located on the sounder you can usually employ an electric motor to stealthily creep around the general area flicking lures or lightly weighted baits for best results. In recent seasons, anglers have been targeting drop offs and holes with deep diving crankbaits with surprisingly good results. As with most snapper grounds, getting there pre-dawn can make all the difference when hoping to crack the 70cm plus brutes. On the lure front, lightly weighted soft plastics (jig head size of 1/8 being a good starting point) like Damiki Rippers, Gulp Turtle Back Worms and Squidgy Flick baits are all proven winners.

Moreton Bay regs

THE Moreton Bay Marine Park has a number of restrictions on where you can fish. As with most marine parks, penalities apply if you are caught in a no-go zone. Make sure you check out before you head out to prevent any expensive fines for fishing in a “green zone”.

Ramps & Tackle

There are an array of public ramps around Brisbane and the standard is usually very good. The Port of Brisbane, Wellington Point and Manly Harbour are all good, safe and well appointed (fish cleaning tables) with plenty of parking and lighting for those venturing out early (or later, as the case may be.) There are ramps in most areas along the bay from Caloundra right down to The Spit on the Gold Coast (a Google search will reveal scores!)

Local knowledge is the only way to go and the guys at either Tackle Warehouse (07-3398 6500) or Fish Head Bait and Tackle (07-3206 7999) around Brisbane will always be helpful and tell you exactly what, when and how things are running in the bay. If you’re a diehard sport fisho (but boatless) and wanting a day out with the pros they will also point you in the right direction for local charter operators. Moreton Bay has something for everyone – awesome scenery and some of the best big city sportfishing fishing on offer. See you out there!

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