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Benny landed a juvenile maori wrasse on a Chasebait Flick Prawn.

Whitsundays sortie – Part 1

At the end of 2023, Shaun, Benny and I started planning a trip.

Our idea was to head north around the Whitsunday Islands for a couple of weeks.

When organising a sortie north, going at the beginning of the year is always a little risky.

Heavy rainfall and the threat of cyclones can put an end to any plans made in advance very quickly.

Luckily, we were all in the position of being able to cancel the excursion at the last minute and reschedule it for a few weeks later.

The plan for this trip was to fish the reefs and headlands rather the rivers for barramundi and mangrove jack.

We made sure it was going to be open barra season, just in case we scored bad weather and couldn’t get out to the reef.

In early February, about a week before our departure, a dirty big low-pressure system started to take shape in the Coral Sea.

It had a fifty-fifty chance of forming into a tropical cyclone, so we waited until a couple of days out before making the call to go ahead with the trip.

It didn’t turn into a cyclone, though it did push south towards New Caledonia.

A small-mouth nannygai taken from a wreck at Bowen.

 

This meant the start of our sortie was going to be a little windy.

We booked accommodation at Cannonvale (outside Airlie Beach) for five days.

This would give us plenty of time to have a look around before planning the second week of our trip.

I had only fished the Whitsundays region once before and that was just a quick stopover with limited gear and no access to a boat.

My wife Ash and I spent a few days at Palm Bay Resort on Long Island when on our honeymoon.

And while I took a couple of rods and few lures to the resort, access to spots wasn’t very easy.

I went out on a kayak in front of the resort a couple of times, targeting the first drop-off, and caught a stack of coral trout and honeycomb cod on Pro Lure Clone Prawn plastics, though none of the trout would have been legal.

But it did get me keen to go back for a look in my own boat.

We left Brisbane with the 4.5m Polycraft in tow at 10pm on a Tuesday night.

We weren’t roughing it on this jaunt, so we didn’t have a lot of gear onboard.

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Palm Bay Resort was a great spot to stop for lunch and a drink.

 

As always, we had way too many rods and lures, but that happens every trip.

We arrived in Proserpine at about 10am the following morning and put the boat in the Proserpine River to have a quick look.

If the wind didn’t allow us to get out to the islands, the Prossie was a good back-up plan for us.

It has plenty of barramundi and king threadfin, plus a very healthy population of crocodiles to watch for.

We had planned the outing to start during the bigger tides leading up to the new moon, so we weren’t sure how the river would be in these conditions.

We arrived close to high tide and it was terrible.

The current was roaring, the water was filthy, the wind was blowing and there were some sizeable waves pumping up the middle of the river.

While we had a quick look at a couple of edges anyway, the conditions were disgraceful, so we decided we were a lot more excited about lunch washed down with a few cold beverages.

We had a look around Airlie and, with the forecast of a 20-25 knot southeasterly wind, made the decision that for the next morning, we’d stay fairly close to the mainland.

Early the following day, we put the boat in around the corner from our accommodation at Cannonvale and the water was very flat.

The wind hadn’t started up yet and we also knew that, in close, the mountains gave protection from a southeasterly wind on this side of the bay.

Benny captured a nice coral trout off Bowen.

 

A little further out it got a bit lumpy, but our plan was to get around the corner, out of the wind, and fish some headlands for trout and other reef fish.

Benny didn’t muck around, hooking a solid fish on the first cast with a Chasebait Flick Prawn.

The fish almost took him into rocky country, though a little handy rod work had a beautiful maori wrasse next to the boat.

While it was only a juvenile at about 65cm, it was a fairly impressive way to kick the trip off.

They are a protected species so, after a quick photo, it was released to keep growing.

At that stage the wind started to crank up and the action was quite slow, with only a few grass sweetlip and spanish flag coming aboard.

We switched over to bait to see if the trout wanted to play, however we didn’t see one that morning.

Due to the wind picking up to an annoying 25 knots, we headed in early.

Once we got around the corner, we were smashed.

We were all soaked by the time we got back to calmer water.

Also, we were surprised at the lack of surface activity in the area.

We didn’t see any bust-ups or fish feeding anywhere.

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Shaun landed his first legal trout for the trip.

 

The forecast for the following day was slightly worse, so we decided to head to Shute Harbour and use Long Island as protection from the wind.

The trip over was a little rough, however once we were across the channel and close to the island, it was protected.

There is a lot of deep water in the channels between the islands.

Even where it drops off closer to the island is about 15-21m and some of the deeper sections are over 45m deep.

We fished plastics and vibes along the drop-offs for a few small cod before moving up to the edge in front of Palm Bay Resort.

This must be a trout honey hole.

We caught a stack of smaller models, with one just making legal at about 40cm.

Most fish were caught on a Pro Lure Clone Prawn.

The trout were definitely keen on a good prawn imitation, though I did manage a small one on a surface lure over the top of some coral bommies.

At one stage, a big queenfish came out from the depths next to the boat to check out what a trout was eating.

A change of scenery saw us hiding out of the wind on the northern end of Long Island.

There was some very good water here and we caught plenty of nice grassies and a variety of other fish when fishing with bait.

We hooked a few solid fish that were sharked halfway up, so we pulled the pin and went back to Shute Harbour with a howling southeasterly wind behind us.

To be continued next month.

About Keith Stratford

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