Spot with the lot: Whitsundays

Destinations: Whitsundays

When it comes to angling locations in Australia that have a bit of everything, the Whitsundays area of North Queensland has to be right up there. Local fishos CY & KERRIN TAYLOR spill the beans on a sportfishing paradise.

MANY anglers list the Whitsundays as one of their favourite spots, and it’s easy to see why. The quality fishing and striking natural scenery combine to create a truly special location. The region boasts 74 tropical islands, multiple saltwater creeks and rivers, and a freshwater impoundment (Peter Faust Dam). These varied habitats are home to a myriad of fish life from big bream in the estuaries all the way up to giant trevally in the deep blue.
We’ve lived in the Whitsundays area our whole lives and know a bit about where and how to catch a range of fish in these waters. Read on as we provide you with a guide to fishing the region. For starters, we’ll take a look at the big, fast sportfish of the islands – the pelagics.

Pelagic Magic
There’s no doubt that the islands play a significant role in the reputation of the Whitsundays as a premier fishing location. The sportfishing on offer, particularly with large pelagics, can often rival anywhere in Australia. When it’s good, it’s really good.
GTs are arguably the most common pelagic species found around the islands. They range in size from miniscule to mammoth. Surface luring is without a doubt the most exciting way to target these aggressive sportfish.

You can catch big giant trevally around any island or rocky feature. Productive spots include the rocky points just out to the left of Shute Harbour, the rocky edges near both the Daydream and Long Island resorts, Hook Passage, Nara Inlet, the northern tip of Haselwood Island, Fitzalan Island and Double Rocks, to name a few. Make sure you get a GBRMPA zoning map before you head out to check on where you can and can’t fish as the fines are hefty.

Large surface lures are often required to get the attention of bigger fish. Nomad Ulua stickbaits and Cubera poppers are proven on the biggest GTs. You’ll need a heavy outfit to lead big fish away from sharp, line cutting coral and rocks. We use a Shimano Stella SW 10000 and 15000 reels matched to Shimano GT Special and T-Curve Bluewater Spin 15–25kg rods when we target the trevally.

When it comes to actually catching the fish, make long, wind assisted casts and land your lure right on the edge of the structure you’re fishing, whether it be a large rocky headland, some broken reef or a patch of shallow bommies. Work the lure back with a mixture of sharp pulses, long draws as well as a few pauses. Keep repeating this and working new water until finally – crunch! – you find success!

Trolling lures is another fun technique and a great way to catch a range of pelagics around the islands. Queenfish, golden trevally, GTs, mackerel and various tuna species are all available. Fish attracting structure such as coral drop-offs, reefy headlands and isolated rocks are prime trolling areas.

Anywhere deep water, shallow structure and current flow combine should have pelagics in the vicinity. Simply towing a lure behind the boat past these areas at around five to eight knots will catch you fish. However, the more detailed you get, the better your catch rate becomes. Reading where the current flows into the structure, marking baitfish schools on your sounder and trolling over them will boost your results.

The Rapala X-Rap Magnum is one of the best lures around for saltwater trolling. Maybe it’s because of the strong action it has when swimming through the water, combined with the extremely realistic colour finishes? Whatever it is, it’s lethal on pelagics. The Stiffy Mackerel Mauler is another excellent trolling lure that will catch a host of different sportfish.

Reef Residents
The reef fishing available in the region is first class, whether it be around deep structure or shallow fringing reefs. Most of the islands have shallow flats that extend out from the edge and drop off into the deep. Solid coral bommies that provide shade and block the current flow often line these drop-offs. These are where you want to fish, especially with soft plastics. The key is to land your lure tight up against the bommies.

The best spots in the Whitsundays to do this style of fishing are around the edges of Hook Passage, the north eastern side of Hook Island, the shallow reefs around Bird Island, Double Cone Islands, the northern side of Haslewood Island and the fringing reefs in Apostle Bay as well as many others.

You’ll often catch an assortment of reef species when fishing shallow structure. Coral trout, grassy sweetlip, emperor and tuskfish are often found in these spots, as well as pelagics. The general sizes are often not as large as what you’d expect to catch in deep water but it can be a fun and scenic style of fishing.

The best soft plastics to use are baitfish and crustacean imitations from 60 to 150mm in size. A jighead-rigged plastic can work deadly when slowly hopped through the reef. As far as jigheads go, the Tackle Tactics range is perfect – they have a massive variety of weights and hook sizes for any type of fishing situation. Soft plastics such as the 65mm, 100mm and 130mm Slick Rigs work well, as do the 170mm Squidgy Flickbaits and 130mm Wrigglers.

You can also use little poppers, diving hard-bodies and metal chrome lures to good effect. A new type of lure that has had good success is the TT Switchblade HD. This metal vibration lure has a great pulse through the water which attracts some very big fish.

Into The Estuaries
The Whitsundays also offers some excellent estuary fishing. Many of the popular tropical species can be found in this area. Whether you’re into bait or lure fishing, fishing from the shore or from a boat, the Whitsunday estuaries have options for you. The best-known area to try this style of fishing would have to be the Proserpine River. As this is by far the most popular place to try estuary fishing in the Whitsundays, we’ll focus on this area.

However, there are plenty of other estuaries in the region to apply this information to including the Repulse, Thompson and O’Connell rivers. The Proserpine River is a large system extending about 30kms inland towards the town of Proserpine and can be accessed by a boat ramp along Conway Road, which is situated just 30 minutes’ drive from Airlie Beach.

Salmon and barramundi are the most common species in the Proserpine River, although others such as grunter, flathead, fingermark, queenfish and bream also reside here. A simple and common method to get some interest from Proserpine River fish is by using freshly caught bait (small baitfish can be readily caught in a cast net). Casting and trolling lures is also effective.

Once you’ve caught some bait, or your chosen lures are rigged and ready, it’s time to decide where to start fishing. Deep bends in the river, submerged drop-offs and timber structure are good spots to start trying your luck as they offer shade, deeper water as security and some structure for fish to hang near. Combine areas like this with some tide flow, whether running in or out, and you generally have the right spot at the right time.

Peter Faust Dam
The Whitsunday area is also home to a large freshwater lake situated 20km north-west of Proserpine. Peter Faust Dam is well known for its impoundment barramundi; a style of fishing that has become quite popular in recent years (see our article in the March issue for more on dam barra).

The fishing in these lakes can often be challenging. Combine that with the fact that most anglers release these fish because of the poor eating quality, some would think why bother? But once you’ve gone out and caught a few, you’ll know what the attraction is and why the effort is worthwhile. 

Lay-down trees and branches, drop-offs, shallow flats and weeded shallows can all be productive spots to fish in the dam. Most often an area with a combination of these features will hold more fish. It’s often a good idea to fish these places thoroughly. A lot of anglers make the mistake of moving on to fish another area too fast. The fish are likely to be there, you just need to try different lures and retrieve styles to get them to bite.
The barramundi predominantly feed on bony bream and barred grunter, as well as redclaw crayfish. All these baits average around 70mm to 150mm in length. Therefore, lures around this size range often work the best.

The three main lure types we use in the dam are soft plastics, hard-body divers and topwaters.

One type of proven soft plastic is the Squidgy Slick Rig in 110mm and 130mm sizes. For hard-body lures, the Rapala X-Rap in the floating or suspending version works well. Rapala X-Rap Walks and Skitter Pops are great topwater lures and work well fished around the shallows on dusk or dawn.

Trolling is also effective in Peter Faust, especially in the main basin, with a range of lures being effective.

Whitsundays Worthwhile
The plethora of fishing options available is probably the main reason why the Whitsundays is such a top angling destination. With the all those tropical islands, estuaries and Peter Faust Dam close by, it really is a versatile fishing hotspot. Check it out for yourself!

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