If you’re anything like me, then I’m sure you would know that feeling of excitement before a fishing trip. You can’t sleep properly, you begin to watch the weather like a hawk and start to organise, prepare and plan over and over in your head to ensure you’re ready for action and success. The lead up to our last trip was no different and we were all very excited as we made our way out from Bundaberg to the western side of the Breaksea Spit. The plan was to spend a few days exploring ground on the western breasksea spit extending up towards Lady Elliot Island
It’s early afternoon, the conditions were magic but the fishing was slow, so I continued sounding around for a likely looking rock which could have potential on dark. Around 4.30pm I came across a small rock around 1.5mtrs high holding good amounts of bait and started a drift.
We all get smashed on the drop but foxy and I get bitten off instantly by something toothy while Dad stays connected to a solid fish. I also had a soft plastic sinking to the bottom on the light gear so I pick that rod up and wait for something to smash it. It didn’t get hit on the drop so I worked the plastic off the bottom a few mtrs and drop it back to the bottom. I flip the bail arm over and start to take up the slack line, bam I instantly feel something engulf the plastic so I sink the hook. It peeled plenty of line off and the big head shakes indicated it was a serious fish I had connected to but could I land this big fish on light gear? The odds were certainly stacked against me but in the meantime Dad gets his fish to the surface and surprise’s us all with a nice Snapper.
Now fast forward what seemed like an eternity and I’m still battling away and struggling to gain line. There’s not a lot you can do when you’re using 15lb line on what many class as a bream fishing outfit but I patiently fought the fish and hoped for the best. I had no idea what to call this fish as and we eagerly looked into the deep blue waiting to see some colour.
I almost squealed like a school kid when a big red glided his way to surface and made its way safely into the net. To say I was happy would be an understatement and although I had caught a similar size red on a plastic before it wasn’t on light tackle. For a couple years I have been telling the boys that I will catch a legal red on my light plastics outfit and they just kept laughing at me. Well forget a legal red one, I went all out and raised an absolute horse of 13.5kg. The boys just laughed and said it was an absolute fluke, talk about hard to please.
The next hour or so was pretty quiet but we managed to catch some moari cod, morwong, gold spot cod and another nice red around 10kg on bait.
With little wind and current I decided to drift fish a particular rock right on dark in hope the fish would bite. The reason for drift fishing instead of anchoring was because we were barley moving on the drift and I didn’t want the risk of anchoring incorrectly which could potentially ruin our chances of catching fish during the peak bite period.
Just as the sun started to disappear over the horizon the fish started to fire up and before long we had some nice reds, cod, morwong and grass sweetlip coming over the side in quick concession. We were all now using our 80lb outfits and I’m glad I was because I hooked a steam train that had the Wilson venom rod turned inside out and line peeled from the reel. Big headshakes and powerful runs had me hoping for another big red and I wasn’t disappointed when a 15kg red hit the surface. I had hooked it in the corner of the jaw and upon closer inspection noticed two of the ganged hooks had been crushed and one opened up. This shows the strength and crushing power these big fish have and how easy tackle failure can occur when you hook them in the particular part of the jaw/lips. With the fishing slowing up I decided to spend the next few hours sounding different areas out from Lady Elliot Island but with very little success we anchored up for some sleep.
The next morning we went and looked at a couple old spots in the area that had produced some good fish many years ago. The sounder lit up with good shows on most marks but the fishing was slow and the fish were very tentative. I decided to try the light plastics outfit again while the boys stuck to the heavier 80lb outfits with big baits. With a lot of these small isolated rocks it’s not uncommon for quality fish to be roaming around or away from the structure so we did a few drifts 50 or so mtrs away from a rock and patiently waited.
I was working the plastic along the bottom with several small twitches which would raise the plastic about two to three mtrs off the bottom and then drop it back to the bottom for 5 seconds or so before repeating the process. I had caught well over 20 fish the day before using this technique and all of them had taken the plastic when it hit the bottom not when I worked the plastic off the bottom. The next hook up was the opposite scenario when I was smashed on the 5th or 6th twitch of the plastic and line screamed off the reel. I was well away from any structure so I could play the fish without the worry of being rubbed off. It was another big powerful fish with massive head shakes and long powerful runs but it felt different to the red I had caught the day before. This fish felt more like a big cod which is a species that love artificial baits like plastics. Cod often suffer from barotrauma and become a dead weight half to three quarters of the way up but this fish was still fighting all the way up so my hopes were starting to shift to another species. I saw a glimpse of colour down deep and yelled out “it’s a red fish”. I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was another red and not just any red but another cracker which turned out bigger than the one I had caught the day before on plastics. This fish weighed closer to 14kg and I was quick to give the boys some cheek that the first big red was certainly no fluke.
Although the fishing in the next view hours was pretty slow the plastics continued to catch fish. Pearl perch, morwong and many various types of cod were being pulled over the side. Unfortunately I ran out of plastics that the fish seemed interested in so it was back to the baits with the boys. We continued fishing any little rocks we came across and foxy chipped in with a couple beautiful large mouth nannygai to keep us interested.
By now the conditions were magic and the sea glassed out so I headed north around Lady Musgrave Island for a look. We found an area that was relatively flat but holding lots of life over a vast area. After several drifts of the area Dad hooks a good fish which really put in a solid fight. He might have just turned 69 but he can still go toe to toe with big fish and before long a cracking red was laying on the deck of the boat. Foxy soon followed with a nice school sized red as well but the sharks started giving us grief so I moved on.
I spent the next 4 hours sounding around various areas looking for new ground but once again found very little for our efforts. Before dark I decided to go and fish some small isolated rocks I had found earlier as they were holding good amounts of bait and I could see quality fish on the sounder that just weren’t biting. Soon as the sun disappeared the fish went nuts with big large mouth nannygai to 12kg coming over the side followed by some big awesome reef jacks. Each rock would produce 3 or 4 fish before going quiet so we kept moving around and continued to pull big large mouth nannygai, red emperor, cod and morwong. As quick as the switched flicked on, it switched off but we were happy with the results and anchored up for a well earn rest.
The next morning we made our way down along the shelf between Lady Elliot Island and the western breaksea spit looking for new ground. Once again very little was found so we started making our way in and fished any little spot we could find. We managed a couple more big large mouth nannygai and cod before pulling the pin and heading back to Burnett Heads, Bundaberg.
You may wonder why I was using soft plastics and how did I get away with using such light tackle. Well firstly the area we were fishing has very little structure so the chances of being rubbed off have been greatly reduced compared to other areas. Secondly these areas are a lot less likely to have sharks present as they prefer large reef country where food sources are more prevalent. This means you can take your time and not worry about the sharks picking up the vibrations of a distressed fish being pulled up which will soon turn into a free meal for them.
The reason for using plastics is pretty simple. When fish don’t want to feed or become finicky the last thing they are interested in is a dead bait sitting in front of them. This won’t exactly get them excited so this is where plastics come into play and shine. The effective swimming action of many plastics can look a lot more natural than dead baits and you may wonder how the hell some of these crazy plastic colours catch fish considering they look nothing like a bait fish they commonly feed on. In a lot of cases the fish bite artificial baits for one reason. It’s simply a reaction bite. Even when fish aren’t feeding or become tentative the temptation of an artificial bait working in front of them is to good to resist and they will have a go at it. Now I believe a combination of this and matching the bait size in this area was the key to the plastics working so well during the slow fishing periods. The plastic I used was 4 inch Zman swimmerZ in Blue Back Herring colour and the jig head was a custom made 2oz by Barry Day. You might think 2oz sounds pretty heavy but when your chasing bottom dwelling reef fish you need to work that plastic on or very close to the bottom where these fish feed.
Until next time, tight lines.