George Baumber with a large coral trout on his secret bait.

Good times fishing Fitzroy Reef

FIRST off, I owe you an apology for not providing an article last month. It was a very busy month working the boat and doing lots of bar crossing tuition (which is always a hoot) and there were even a couple of small caravan trips away when the weather was crap, but not much fishing that was worth talking about got done.

Rather than put together something not so meaningful, I opted to carry over to this month instead. The trouble is that when you are semi-retired there are so many fun lifestyle things to do with your time, be it on the water or on the land, that you really do wonder how you ever had time to hold down a real job for so many years.

Speaking of meaningful articles, hearty congratulations go to Jason Bird for that excellent piece on pearl perch in the April edition. It was a terrific read that he was obviously proud to deliver and it oozed the passion and enthusiasm Birdy has developed for chasing what is still my favourite eating fish.

A big highlight for me over the past month was a trip to Turkey Beach with a fun-loving bunch of blokes who aren’t afraid to make their own luck and share a bit of adventure. For me it was about enjoying good company, targeting a range of reef fish species we don’t catch at home and enjoying pushing a bit of new tackle to the limits.

An easy trip up the highway, Turkey Beach is a quiet but very tidy holiday village with access to an estuary that has excellent mud crabbing, reasonable fishing and of course a gross oversupply of sandflies. While some of the crew stayed in the estuary targeting muddies for the week, George Baumber, Frank Vayanos and I were happy to skip out around Fitzroy Reef on the days the weather permitted and proceeded to put together a feed of fish that we shared with the whole crew.

Having not fished Fitzroy previously, we accumulated numerous starter marks, and looking at the electronic chart it didn’t take long to work out several other options. The rest was easy as we used the sounder on my boat to its full potential to find plenty of low-profile reef and fish schools as we moved about.

In depths mostly between 20m and 40m-plus it was easy fishing compared to the deeper reefs of home, with only a 4-6oz sinker required on paternosters. As for me on the light outfit, I mostly used a 4 ball sinker running onto a gang of chemically sharpened hooks with large flesh baits and occasionally a 4oz sinker on the paternoster just for variety.

It was an interesting mix of fishing cultures on Reel Affair because Frank prefers fishing with mono line on a spin outfit, George goes heavy duty with his trusty broomstick and 925 Alvey loaded with 50lb braid and I was working over one of the new Wilson Live Fibre Venom spin sticks in the 10-20lb range, the RLFVS7.

This is a 7’ two-piece rod with a lightweight aluminium ATC Valiant 4000 spin reel spooled with 23lb Mustad braid. George is a regular old-school, no-nonsense fisherman I affectionately refer to as a fishing machine. He has loads of experience offshore and for several years from about 1980 successfully captained the deep sea group of the Moreton Bay Trailer Boat Club.

He acknowledges technology by fishing with braid for all the benefits it offers, rarely misses a good fish and was even seen working the handline for coral trout a few times during the week. The reality is, he just has the touch and not many people can consistently out-fish George when it comes to numbers in the icebox.

I have seen many people try, and occasionally they have succeeded, but regardless it is his attitude to keeping up the supply of bait while the skipper positions the boat, just baiting someone’s line if they are busy or giving out some good advice that is part of what makes him such good company on a boat. I am always amused at his favourite party trick of setting up in the rear starboard corner and freespooling that Alvey as soon as the sea anchor is shot away.

He mostly lands the first fish of the day on the broomstick. After a while you get so used to the sound of that Alvey being cranked up on yet another fish that you only turn around when George winds a bit slower and the reel starts to make a deeper growling noise.

A quality lipper boated by Frank Vayanos late in the day.
A quality lipper boated by Frank Vayanos late in the day.
The Venom two-piece 10-20lb rod easily toyed with good size quality trout.
The Venom two-piece 10-20lb rod easily toyed with good size quality trout.
Manny Vayanos landed a typical parrotfish from a small rubble patch.
Manny Vayanos landed a typical parrotfish from a small rubble patch.
Frank Vayanos was king of the redthroat double headers.
Frank Vayanos was king of the redthroat double headers.
A dark trout hooked by George around Lamont Reef.
A dark trout hooked by George around Lamont Reef.
The sunsets around Fitzroy Reef were amazing.
The sunsets around Fitzroy Reef were amazing.

At this stage the broomstick actually has a noticeable bend in it and instinct says you need to either reach for the gaff or the landing net fairly soon.

Anyhow, George was up to all his favourite tricks around Fitzroy and it was no big surprise that on the first few days he managed to land the biggest coral trout of the day on his secret bait. Let’s just say it is not rocket science what it is, but it is how he prepares it that provides such a consistent result.

If you want to know more about that, drop into Wynnum Marine for a chat and George may be kind enough to share the details with you. Fortunately for me, during a quiet period one day George prepared one of those secret baits, selflessly gave it to me to try and watched as I proceeded to hook and land the biggest trout of the trip. Thanks mate!

Frank was going great guns on the mono when he found his mojo and it really doesn’t take a long time to put together a great feed of fish around this area, though it helps if you prepare lots of rigs beforehand. The variety of fish was very welcome, with coral trout, redthroat sweetlip, parrotfish and various emperors and cods making up the numbers and plenty of double hook-ups along the way.

Mostly it was drift fishing in light conditions and while we did anchor for a while, it wasn’t as much fun fishing with heavier sinkers. One tropical species I like tangling with is the chinaman fish. This fish pulls hard and sucks me into thinking I have hooked a decent red emperor every time.

It is annoying to have to throw them back but they are not permitted to be kept due to their high incidence of ciguatera poisoning. My first chinaman of the trip was my biggest yet and I caught it on that lightweight two-piece Venom spin stick with 23lb braid. The bend in the rod was impressive and the drag on the Valiant 4000 reel quite smooth, but what surprised during the week was how much hurt you could put on the fish without risking a bust-off or breaking the rod. This was totally new territory.As the trip went on I couldn’t put this little outfit down and actually ended up with some bruises under the arm from working it on good fish over and over again because it was putting all the fun back into fishing. What was so good was the unprecedented sensitivity and strength in such a light outfit.

Without a finger on the line it was a matter of letting the rig drop to the bottom and bringing it up a few turns to where the trout and redthroat were likely hanging in the water column and waiting for the rod tip to drop. When there was enough resistance, I simply leant back to sink the barb and began winding as the rod folded up on yet another cracker fish.

It would have been so potent on the snapper over in New Zealand before last Christmas because they just sucked on the bait, and this would have put me one more step in front of them. Annoyed at pesky reef sharks taking some good fish from me, I got the shits with the third shark one morning and really put the pressure on the rod and reel to bring colour alongside the boat and get my rig back.
Even though the rod was folded inside out at times, it didn’t falter under extreme strain.

I talked to Peter Stanley at Mossops Bait and Tackle in Cleveland after the trip, and while thanking him for the heads up on that Venom, he assured me he now sells plenty of this rod and reel combination and suggested I try the 15-40lb spin outfit, the RLFVS10, in the deeper water here at home.

I subsequently did so, mating it with my Daiwa Saltiga 5000, and it was so effective at hooking fish offshore that everyone who had a go using it wouldn’t share it with anyone else on the boat. Now I can’t wait for the snapper to come on hard because it is an absolute cracker of a rod suited to the deepwater pinnacles that hold the better fish during the spawning season. Drop in to see Pete if you want to put one of these outfits together.

I asked the manufacturer, Wilson Fishing in Brisbane, what makes the rods so good. In a nutshell, the folks at Wilson said the Venom series was the result of perfecting a recipe that delivers the highest modulus carbon blank from butt to tip that anyone has built that doesn’t snap under pressure.

The rods are sensitive and lightweight for performance and have withstood a very rigorous and extreme testing regime. The result of the justifiably secret Wilson family recipe is a better combination of strength and flexibility than has previously been delivered in commercially produced rods at affordable prices. Despite being a devout overhead rod and reel man I can personally attest to this new ‘normal’ level of performance.

Back around Fitzroy; the fishing predictably started to wane as we got further away from the new moon and we began looking further south for new ground to try for future trips. As luck had it, we happened across a patch of flat rubble reef in the middle of nowhere and proceeded to put together a feed of late-afternoon and after-dark fish as a good way to finish off a fairly successful trip to central Queensland.

What was good about fishing out from Turkey Beach was the comfortable ride out and back while running beam-on to the dominant southerly wind. Most days it was a light wind, though there were some lay days, and we did get caught out there in a genuine 25-knot southeasterly wind one afternoon and just toughed it out until we felt we really should head home.

That trip home and a couple of evenings where we left the grounds after dark with more than 50km to the shelter of the estuary made us appreciate the safety and good seakeeping capabilities of the 685 Cruise Craft. George and Frank particularly appreciated the benefits of the autopilot in the rough conditions, and having the radar cranked up for the long trip home after dark while negotiating the potential obstacles in the estuary at low tide on the dark of the moon provided excellent peace of mind.

Frank was the ultimate go-to man for taking care of the vehicle and trailer at both ends of the day, taking all the pressure off the skipper at the boat ramp. And how good was the pontoon at Turkey Beach?!

It was also great to get Frank’s brother Manny out with us on the last day as a reward for being such a good trip organiser, and seeing him catch some quality fish on an otherwise slow day was even better.

About Bill Corten

Bill has been spearfishing, fishing and surfing for all his adult life and now runs a business specialising in teaching people how to cross coastal bars and fish offshore. He also runs charters for people who fish for the right reasons and whose company Bill thinks he will enjoy. He’s been running his bar crossing business successfully since 1996 and hopes to continue doing so for years to come as he grows old disgracefully.

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