Fishing the Northern Bunker Group Reefs 1770 – Reds, Trout and more

The thought of driving 6 plus hours to your fishing destination for a weekend trip can put you off at times but when there’s 15 to 20 knot northerlies predicted at night then there’s no better place to go then the Bunker Group reefs as you can tuck in or behind the reefs at night to rest easy after a big days fishing.

With this in mind on a recent trip and the plan to fish the northern Bunker group region we decided to leave from Boyne Island/Tannum Sands. It’s around a 6 to 7 hour drive north from Brisbane and a great alternative to 1770 and the same distance as Turkey Beach. It’s less distance by water if you’re fishing the northern end of the Bunker Groups reefs and the ramp has a huge carpark, pontoon, 24 hour service station close by and a decent sized town that has everything you could ever want. The channel out of the river can be pretty shallow in spots but it’s well marked with beacons making navigation pretty easy.

We headed out in fantastic conditions and aimed for the area up past Innamincka shoals which is around a 65 nautical mile (120km) run. As we headed up the inside of the outer reefs I ran over a really good show of fish at 25 knots on the Furuno FCV295. I was pretty excited with what I was seeing on the sounder and quickly positioned the boat for our first drift.

All the crew dropped down baits while I dropped down a Zerek Flat shad plastic on a custom made 2oz jig head. Soon as my plastic touched the bottom it was inhaled and I quickly sunk the hook into a really solid fish. The venom 15-50lb spin rod was loaded up beautifully and seeing line peel from the reel on your first drop was a great way to start the trip. That feeling got even better when a beautiful red emperor hit the surface and although I’ve caught lots of reds over the years catching them with alternative methods like plastics is highly rewarding.

This trip I had my Dad Terry, mate Brett Seng and his son Brady come along and Brady was super keen to catch a red as he had never caught a legal one before. After several hussar and maori cod Brady finally nailed his first legal red which was not only satisfying for him but also myself when you see another red virgin with a smile from ear to ear. Brett soon followed with a red and cracking coral trout while Brady and I got into some nice trout as well using plastics and Zerek Fish trap vibes.

With the fishing the slowing up we continued our way up past Innamincka shoals where I would begin searching for new ground. After about 3 hours of searching I wasn’t finding small isolated rocks like I had hoped to find so I started making my way south checking on some older spots I had found in the past.

One large 10mtr high rock had a lot of fish life on it and it wasn’t long before rods were buckled over on a range of quality fish. Dad and Brett were using pilchards, mullet and hussar fillets while Brady and myself continued to use plastics and Zerek fish trap vibes which were getting smashed every drop by coral trout, coral cod, coronation trout, tomato cod, hussar and moari cod. Brady had one fish take him back into the reef and bust him off but three drifts later I nail a nice trout and to my surprise it had the plastic and a metre of leader hanging out of its gob that Brady had lost 20mins beforehand which was cool to see. 

Brett managed a nice gold band jobfish which was a first for him and not long after he was doing battle with another quality fish that was going hard with big jerking head shakes and pulling plenty of line. As it came up from the clear blue depths we were calling it for sorts of species but it surprised us all when a beautiful long-nosed emperor hit the surface and this was another first for Brett. The long-nosed have a big powerful tail and a long pointy head which are more commonly caught in north QLD waters but we have caught the odd nice one off Fraser and Breaksea Spit region over the years.

After some more quality Trout were caught the bite slowed up and with the northerly breeze kicking in we decided to make the run down to Broomfield reef to get out of the wind for a good night sleep. We managed some red throat emperor and squid in the shallows that night but got busted off by plenty of unstoppable fish that kept us on our toes.

The next morning we were blessed with glassed out conditions and went wide to an area I’ve caught some reds in the past. The type of red ground I look for at the bunker group region is the same as what I look for anywhere I chase reds and that’s small isolated rocks/reefs but I find the reds tend to move around a lot more on the bunker group so a rock that could hold reds one day may not the next.

I sounded various spots out and noticed that none on them were holding many quality fish but I was seeing the odd individual fish spread out all around the rocks so I knew we would have to be patient and drift baits around the vicinity of the rocks to get the results. We began drifting over various rocks and Brett managed a nice coronation trout and school sized red straight up. Dad followed with a cracking Coral Trout and a big pearl perch to start the morning while I continued to use a Zerek fish trap vibe and nailed maori cod after maori cod along with another nice coral cod but overall the fishing was slow. 

We persisted on a couple of spots that looked promising but the hussar were smashing baits quickly so this is where you really need to use large flesh baits or big squid to allow the reds time to find the bait if their around. Brett got baited one drop so dropped down one my rods that had a large squid head on it. Once again the hussar were smashing the bait and just when you think there couldn’t be any bait left Brett sinks the hooks into a cracking fish and the Venom rod loads right up. The fish gave him plenty of grief and after lots of powerful runs a beautiful black lipped red hit the surface and was safely netted.

Next drift we put another big squid on my rod and gave it to Brady to drop down. I explained to Brady the importance of not striking at the smaller fish biting at the bait and waiting until you feel several heavy like tugs before striking and sinking the hooks. It wasn’t long before he did exactly that and the venom rod was once again buckled over and the concentration took over as he battled with a nice fish. Looking over the side I could see a nice red coming to the surface and it was a good upgrade to his first ever one he had caught the day before.  Brady did a good job of allowing the red to eat the bait for a while before sinking the hooks as all 3 hooks (ganged hooks) were in its stomach.

After plenty of smiles and pics I decided to go chase some pearl perch on the 100mtr line as we were happy with the catch of reds, trout and other species we had on board. After a bit of sounding around I located some fish and had a few drifts which resulted in some beautiful 3 to 4kg pearl perch coming over the side with Brady getting a new PB. Happy with the results I went looking for new ground for a couple hours both in the deep and shallow waters when I came across one very small rock that had a few fish on it. This resulted in a couple more reds, trevally and tomato cod before deciding to start making out way in fishing various spots along the way.

Unfortunately the trip home in the car wasn’t so good when we broke a trailer spring on the highway not long after leaving Tannum Sands. I put a post on Facebook asking if anyone in the area could help with a new spring and the response completely blew me away as I received over a 100 messages and calls offering help in all different ways. A mate Shane Wolff called to tell me of a place in Gladstone that was open today (public holiday) and would have the spring I needed. I also had Gordon Triplett from Garmin get me contact with Darren from Curtis coast Marine who was going to open the shop for us to fix the problem if needed. It’s great to see the fishing community come together and help a fellow fisho in need and I can’t thank everyone enough for the support that was offered. After it took 4 hours to fix the broken spring we were back on the road but an hour later blew a tyre just to add to the drama for the day. They say bad things come in threes and 5 minutes from home I hit a wallaby which did a bit of damage but at least we got home safely after nearly a 13 hour trip home. Until next time, tight lines.