Fraser Island Gardner Banks big 14 & 15kg Red Emperor. Furuno DFF3D and FCV-295 finding the goods. 2019

With a fantastic looking forecast recently i decided to head north of the wide bay bar up around the southern Gardner Banks region off Fraser Island. I like to head up to this area once a year if the weather allows and then fish my way south over a few days down off Double Island Point.

We made our way out the Wide Bay bar very early morning and set the Furuno autopilot for a long run north. We fished varies spots along the way with limited success other than getting bricked back into the reef using Zerek fish trap vibes.

We started fishing some rough country around the southern Gardner Banks and pulled some venus tusk fish, moses perch, amberjack and green job fish but overall the fishing was extremely slow. I headed to an area I’ve caught some big reds from in the past and although we don’t normally get many, the size usually makes up for it. This area has some smaller rocks spread out over fairly large area of live bottom which you need to adapt a slightly different technique to successfully find the reds.

What I mean by live bottom is where you identify many forms of coral growth on the seabed floor which a well set up sounder will identify on the bottom. Although this growth is more commonly found on rocks/reefs itself it can also inhabit a flat seabed floor which doesn’t stand out easily on the sounder and will often be over looked. The problem with fishing these areas it that fish such as red emperor tend to spread out and roam around looking for food. This is often what we refer to as “grazing” and this makes it hard to locate those loan reds on the sounder and drop a bait in front of them like we do on small rocks. The best technique to adopt here is to do long drifts over these areas to cover more ground and give enough time for the reds to find the baits. To further increase your chances it’s important to keep your baits on the bottom at all times so I would recommend using a paternoster rig with enough weight to hold bottom during windy days or strong current situations. I also back up in reverse with the current or into the wind so that our lines are up and down under the boat. This gives you the best chance of ensuring your baits are on the bottom at all times where the red emperor feed.

We arrived at our location and found the current running hard around 2 knots which meant more time for me on the wheel backing the boat up in and out of reverse trying to keep the baits in the strike zone. The only plus side to the strong current was that our drifts were much faster and we would cover these large live bottom areas a lot faster. The drifts were about 300 to 400 metres long and right at the end of the second drift Dad gets smashed and line screams from his reel. It was putting up a solid fight with big head shakes and some more big runs that had us very hopeful. We were all looking over the side with anticipation and soon enough we got to see that red glow down deep get bigger and bigger as it reached the surface. It was a beautiful 15.1kg red and I was so happy to see Dad catch it as he’d been through some health issues after being diagnosed with Bladder cancer and having the tumour removed. Due to some complications and infection, he spent a couple long stays in hospital so it had been a rough 3 or 4 months for him. As I write this article he goes back in for more surgery tomorrow to remove more of his bladder so fingers crossed we can get this hurdle out of the way and he can continue to keep fishing for many years to come.

After taking some pics of the red we went back for another drift and patiently waited to see if we could find another one. This style of fishing can be slow and after another couple hours and many drifts we had dropped another 2 really big fish which was super frustrating. The fish were shy and biting really lightly which made them hard to hook and when we did, the hooks were pulling easily out which meant we were only hooking them lightly in the lips or side of the face. We noticed on the 15.1kg fish that it had been hooked in the side of the cheek so this confirmed they were being very finicky with the baits.

With time getting away we decided to move to another area not far away which held lots of bigger rocks and reefs. We started catching a range of reefies but I was hoping for a big red throat emperor that this area has produced many times before. We kept fishing from rock to rock before I finally hooked a decent fish. It pulled some line and was very jerky so I had a fair idea it was a red throat but how big was the question. It turned out to be a beautiful one at 64cm and although we’ve caught them just shy of 70cm I find any over 60cm is a pretty rare catch for a red throat.

We persisted in the area for a few hours and caught some nice reefies but all the reds we hooked were sharked which was extremely frustrating.

The afternoon was getting on so I went in closer off Fraser to try get out of the current so we could anchor up for the afternoon and night. We did a drift over a likely looking spot and hooked what felt like two good reds but the mongrel sharks smashed both fish midway up. We went back for another drift and once again good fish were hooked and soon sharked so I went searching for another spot instead of wasting good fish to sharks. We anchored up for the night and the current was roaring which made it extremely hard to fish but we managed to catch some hussar, moses perch and one red for our efforts.

The next morning I headed back to the area we had caught the big red the day before and started sounding my way south in new areas that I hadn’t found any ground before. The weather was unreal with a total glass out which makes it easy for sounding around at 20 plus knots and finding even the smallest of rocks. After 5 plus hours of zig zagging my way south over a large area I finally come across a small rock. It didn’t look all that special but we had drop and pulled some hussar and venus tusk fish before I continued looking around. I soon found another rock close by and decided to keep searching around that area as it’s very common to find many rocks in one area. After about an hour searching I had marked out 12 new rocks within one square kilometre. One rock in particular showed up 40mtrs out to the starboard side on the new Furuno DFF3D. By simply touching the location of the rock on the Furuno TZ2 touch screen it marks its location on the other Furuno TZ2 touch plotter and I can pin point it straight away. The beam on the DFF3D is 120 degrees wide so in 50mtrs of water the beam is covering a total width of around 100mtrs which can be very handy in finding new ground.

After fishing a lot of the new rocks we had found without much success I went to the one I had found on the 3D. After checking it out with furuno 295 and narrow beam transducer it had the best looking show of them all with good fish close to the rock and also up above it. The current was now 2.8knots so I stayed on the wheel putting the outboard in and out of reverse to keep everyone’s lines up and down and baits on the bottom. As we drifted over the rock Macca sunk the hooks into a good fish and line screamed from his Stella reel. After losing some good fish the day before due to sharks and pulling hooks there was no doubt the confidence was down and he was extremely nervous pulling this good fish up. All that doubt was soon gone when a cracking red of 14.3kg hit the surface and was safely netted. Reds over that 14kg mark are a truly special fish and not only was Macca happy but I was stoked as well. I’ve been lucky to catch some great reds over the years and while I love catching them I get a huge thrill out of finding new ground and reaping the rewards with trophy fish.

We went back for a 2nd drift and it wasn’t long before all the crew were hooked up and battling good fish. Unfortunately Maccas fish was sharked pretty quickly but Dad managed to pull a nice red around 8kg while foxy struggled to get his moving off the bottom. After a fair battle he pulled a huge black spot cod to the surface so I quickly released the air from its swim bladder by making small incision a couple inches behind the pectoral fin. Once majority of the air was gone it made some kicks and swam back towards the bottom.

 A couple more drifts over this rock resulted in very little so I moved onto another rock I had marked close by. Unfortunately foxy nailed another monster black cod but we had a lot more trouble releasing this fish and had to make up a release weight which allowed us to lower the fish down enough so it could swim its way back to the bottom. 

After searching the area some more with little success I continued our way south fishing various marks along the way. By now it was late afternoon and we were around 80km south of where we started searching that morning. After some more sounding I come across a nice show of fish sitting off the back of an older spot I had. First drift resulted in a double hook up of nice reds with foxy pulling a nice one around 12kg. We pulled 5 nice reds from this spot before it went quiet and with the sun starting to disappear I started heading in a little closer towards Double Island point while fishing various older marks along the way which accounted for one more red.

The next morning we fished 30 to 40km off Double Island Point and the Wide bay bar which produced some moses perch, venus tuskfish, pearl perch, amberjack, snapper and one of the biggest frying pan snapper I’ve ever seen. It turned out a great trip with some great quality fish caught and many smiles and laughs along the way. The fishing certainly wasn’t action packed but we made the most of the great weather covering a massive 507km to get the results. Until next time, tight lines.