Rockhampton – Fitzroy River – 22/3 November 2013

Friday

Friday saw me back in Rockhampton. I am enjoying fishing up here, whenever I can, but I am also missing the Bribie Island flathead fishing. I have completely missed the busy months of September and October. I hope to get this job finished and be back out there soon.

Rocky is warming up and by 3.00 pm, its usually over 35 degrees and extremely humid. There have been a few more storms and the Fitzroy River is looking murkier and murkier. I arrived in town just after lunch. I had a few meetings, dumped my kit in the motel and headed across the bridge to the north side of the river.

I wanted to see if I could find any more giant herring, grunter or tarpon. The locals insist the last few hours of the run out tide are the best time to fish here, especially when they coincide with dawn or dusk. Full moon had passed on Thursday, so their would be plenty of tidal flow. The sun was dropping, as was the tide and it was hot and sticky. I arrived at about 5.30pm and wandered out under the railway bridge, to the edge of the rocks. Low tide would be at about 9.00pm. It had rained the night before and there were rumbling grey clouds on the horizon with a few, far away lightning flashes. I could smell the rain but it was not falling yet.

There were a few prawns jumping, so I started with a GULP 4″ Shrimp in the Banana Prawn colour. I had rigged it on a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead and I was using 12lb fluorocarbon leader. I was using my new 6′ Shimano Catana rod and the 2500 size Shimano Stradic reel.I was casting along the edge of the rocks, so I did not need a long rod – the fish are usually close to the shore, lurking around the rock bars and overhangs.

As the sun dropped the surface activity picked up and there were small jelly prawns scattering, each time I pulled the soft plastic up close to the rocks. After about 15 minutes, I decided to let it drop down right next to the rocks. Once I was sure it was on the bottom, I paused for a good ten seconds. I then jigged the soft plastic shrimp up and down few times and paused again. It was third time lucky and something fairly powerful grabbed the plastic and headed off. It quickly surfaced – a barramundi, about 45 to 50 cm long. It tail walked on the surface a couple of times, trying to spit the lure. After a short fight, I lifted it out of the water. Although I was delighted to catch a decent Fitzroy barramundi, it is currently the closed season for barramundi, so after a quick picture, I released the fish unharmed and decided to moved round to the next set of rocks. You are not supposed to target these fish at this time of year and whilst you cannot decide which fish is going to eat your lure, it was a fair bet that there would be more than one barramundi lurking at the base of those rocks, so I moved on.

The jelly prawns were all over the place but there was nothing much feeding, close in. I lobbed the soft plastic a little further out, and let it sink again. As I lifted it off the bottom, I felt a tentative bite but did not hook up. I kept casting and put in some long pauses, close to the base of the rocks. The sun had set and the rain and thunder was close. At about 6.15 pm, something slammed my shrimp at the base of the rocks. I knew it was another barramundi straight away. It soon surfaced and made a couple of leaps. I let it settle and pulled it gently out of the water. It was a little bigger than the first. I photographed and released it.

I moved to another location, about 10 metres further south for a few more casts. It was now about 6.30 pm and pretty much dark. The rain was imminent and the wind was gusting in all directions. I continued with the soft plastic lure that was catching fish – GULP 4″ Shrimp. In a carbon copy of the two previous captures, a third barramundi grabbed the lure at the base of the rocks. It was also about 45cm long. I released just as the rain started spitting and decided it was time to go. By the time I reached the car I was soaked to the skin.

The session confirmed all the local advice I had been given – fish during a big falling tide, at dawn and dusk. I think the humidity and pending storm also helped. The next morning, I swapped sides to avoid the barramundi and found a few small fish, some of which I have never caught before. The rain seemed to have fired up the small grunter and tarpon and I caught a few of each, in the hour around dawn.

That was it for Rocky for a while – hopefully I will get back around March, when those barramundi will have grown big enough to keep.

Rockhampton – Fitzroy River – 11-13 November

Monday to Wednesday

I would be in Rockhampton for most of the week. I wanted to put in a few sessions fishing the town reaches of the Fitzroy River. It’s now closed season for barramundi, but I am told there are all sorts of other things to catch on lures and soft plastics. Monday evening was hot, still and humid – perfect fishing conditions. It looked like it was about to rain and the mosquitoes and midges were buzzing in my ears, as soon as I got out of the car.

I had chosen to fish on the north side of the river, close to the base of the railway bridge. The grass is head high here, but there are a few tracks through it. I think its best not to think too hard about what might be lurking in the long grass at dusk. I always wear boots and long sleeves and trousers in this kind of terrain.

By the time I reached the waters edge I was soaked in sweat. The water was fairly murky but the locals I spoke with said this was about as clean as the salty part of the river ever gets. Once the rain started it would get much murkier.

It was about 5.30 pm and the sun was dropping fast. There was plenty of bait around and every now and then, a predator would send tiny fish flying in all directions. High tide would be just before 6.00 pm and the water was not moving very fast.

I was fishing with the Berkley IM6 Dropshot GEN IV 6’6″ Light spin rod. I had it rigged with 14lb fluorocarbon leader and had put on a 1/8th ounce, 1/0 jighead and a GULP 2″ Shrimp in the Banana Prawn colour. I felt a few nudges and as it got dark the plastic was grabbed by a fish which took for a short powerful run, then dropped it.

Fishing the Fitzroy River at dusk

Fishing the Fitzroy River at dusk

A couple of casts later it must have come back around and this time it did not hesitate. It took off with the soft plastic heading for mid-stream. Almost immediately the fish jumped clear of the water and initially I thought it was a large Tarpon. On the second jump I got a better look and realised it was not a Tarpon. On the third jump I got a really good look at it because it jumped out of the water and up on the bank next to me. It was a giant herring. It thrashed around while I took a few photos and then with one final jump spat the lure and landed back in the water – a very tidy catch and release.

Fitzroy River giant herring

Fitzroy River giant herring

It was now 6.30 pm and very dark, so I decided it was time to get out of the long grass and head for a cool shower. Over the next few nights, I swapped sides of the river and fished through dusk, under the bridges through the high tide. I caught a few grunter and a few tarpon. I connected with another giant herring but failed to land it. I also had a couple of bite offs which could have been anything. I found the natural coloured peppered prawn and banana prawn plastics worked best.

Grunter bream on a GULP Peppered Prawn Jerkshad

Grunter bream on a GULP Peppered Prawn Jerkshad

Rockhampton – Hedlow Creek – 29/30 October 2013

Tuesday / Wednesday – Hedlow Creek

More time stuck in Rockhampton – which is not necessarily a bad thing. I decided to go looking for a freshwater barramundi. It was just a few days before the barramundi closed season came into effect.

I had chosen to stay at Henderson Park Station – http://www.hendersonpark.com.au/, in one of their cabins. Henderson Park is a working cattle property which has a lodge and a couple of cabins which are situated right on Hedlow Creek. Hedlow Creek is a fairly narrow freshwater creek about 10 km long, just north of Rockhampton. It has been regularly stocked with barramundi fingerlings and also has sleepy cod and a few other species of native fish. The creek is spring fed from either end, so never runs dry. The Henderson Park cabins are located on the west bank for the creek, within casting distance of the water.

You need to start early

You need to start early

The scenery is spectacular and I think this is about the prettiest place in Queensland to chase a fresh water barramundi. The creek is accessible from the public dirt road on the east side, but if you stay at Henderson Park, you can access the water all along the west side, as well.

The owners said there were some big barramundi in the creek and that casting soft plastics at dusk or dawn, around the fallen timber, had been the most successful way to connect with them. I have to confess that I have been here before and only caught catfish but I have seen pictures of some great captures, so I was determined to have another try.

The fantastic thing about this waterway is the amount of structure. There are fallen trees and overhanging branches all along it and there are some nice deep holes. There are only a few places where the creek gets wider than about 20 metres, so for much of its length you can comfortably cast from one bank to the other.

There were a few pricky footballs in the undergrowth

There were a few pricky footballs in the undergrowth

On my last visit I had fished a couple of dusk sessions and only one morning. I had used lightly weighted soft plastics – GULP Shrimps, Minnow and Minnow Grubs and caught perhaps 10 small catfish. The main challenge was losing jigheads to the numerous sunken logs and other snags. All this structure would have made using hard bodies a pretty expensive business.

This time I decided to focus on the early morning sessions. That meant being awake at about 4.00 am and walking out along the banks of the creek, as the horizon started to glow at about 4.30 am. Instinctively, I felt the grub tail soft plastics might attract a strike. Loaded on a 1/12th or 1/8th ounce jighead, their fluttering tails sinking down next to a snag, might be tempting.

In hindsight, I realise I was fishing far too light. I had 8lb Fireline as mainline and 16lb fluorocarbon leader on the light Berkley Dropshot spin rod. I started with the GULP 3” jigging grub on a 1/8th 1/0 jighead, in the neutral looking “Smoke” colour. I moved along the bank to the north of Hedlow Lodge, stopping to cast at any likely looking snag or log. At about 5.45 am I stopped beside a fallen trunk that stretched out to a point well over half way across the creek. I cast my soft plastic just north of the trunk and let it slowly sink. I paused and retrieved the soft plastic in a slow and steady motion, along the line of where I thought the sunken tree must lie.

I have watched endless fishing shows and been told you have to be persistent with barramundi. They will ignore 20 casts and finally lose their temper on the 21st and strike. Well, I received a very personal lesson – and it all happened in the blink of an eye.

I had put in perhaps 25 casts using various retrieves – slow vs fast, regular hops vs a steady wind. I lobbed out another cast and let it sink around where I thought the end of the sunken log might be. I let the lure sink and paused for perhaps 10 seconds. When I lifted the rod tip the soft plastic stopped dead and then after less than two seconds the reel was literally spinning and a huge wake was moving towards the bank on the far side. The fish then broke the surface, close to the other bank and I could see it was a very big barramundi. This had all happened in about 5 seconds and it was only now that I realised that the fish had taken the lure under the fallen log. I could feel the line rubbing as it lunged and pulled. After about 15 seconds there was a great tail slap and the line went slack.

The contrast of the incredibly violent and powerful attack with the peaceful dawn scene of a few moments before, was total. My hands were still trembling and my heart pumping, as I slowly wound the line back on to the reel. Miraculously the mainline had held as had the knot attaching it to the leader. The bite off or break, had been a long way down the leader close to the jighead. The line from “Jaws” sprang to mind: “We are gonna need a bigger boat” (substitute rod, line, leader, jighead for ’boat’).

I waited for my hands to stop shaking and re-rigged with 25lb leader (the toughest in my chest pack). I moved gradually north along the bank and caught a couple more catfish but by about 10.00 am, I had not had any more interactions with the barramundi, and the wind had picked up, so I gave up for the day.

Next morning, it was more or less the same drill, up at 4.00 am and fishing by 4.30 am. This time I swapped up to a bigger 4” Jigging Grub in the Peppered Prawn colour, on a tougher 1/8th ounce, 3/0 jighead and the 25lb fluorocarbon leader. I moved much further north along the creek, to a large bend where the west bank is lined with a couple of fallen trees. I cast around them, losing a couple of jigheads to the sunken branches.

It was a case of methodically covering the area with casts and again, persistence paid off. I was casting at the far bank and slowly hopping the lure back along the sides of submerged tree branches, which were on my side of the creek. About ten casts into the process a huge, green shouldered, silver scaled shape, launched itself up, from under a tree branch and dived down over the soft plastic, as it was suspended, about 30cm from the bank.

This looked like a smaller fish than the one from the day before, but I would estimate it was still over 80 cm long. It took off for the far bank with amazing speed and power. It was heading for some timber on the other side and by virtually locking up my drag, I pulled it clear. Then it came back towards me and torpedoed across the surface, shaking its wide open mouth trying to spit out the jighead. I really had no more stopping power in the rod and reel, so I was at its mercy. It paused briefly and I thought I might have a chance and then it took off again and there was the sickening feeling of the line rubbing against timber. I loosened the drag a little to see if it would swim free but it just kept tearing around until the line snapped at the main line to leader knot.

Fantastic spot to have a look for some barramundi - Hedlow Creek

Fantastic spot to have a look for some barramundi – Hedlow Creek

I carried on fishing around that area and tempted a couple more catfish, but no more barramundi. It looked like I would not be getting a big freshwater model until next season. I had only had a couple of encounters but it was enough to bring me back – and next time I will be properly equipped.

Rockhampton – Fitzroy River – 27 October 2013

Sunday PM

First stop was the tackle shop in Rockhampton, to find an emergency replacement for my broken light spin rod. The G.Loomis GL2 range has moved on since I bought mine. I found all the available G.Loomis ‘fast’ action rods a little too stiff for my liking. I think this is because the new, higher quality graphite has less give. I decided to look at something cheaper with a little more give. I settled on a 6’6″ Berkley Dropshot, rated 2-4 kg, two piece. It would do, until I could look into a more refined replacement.

With the Barramundi closed season fast approaching I felt I should try another session, land-based fishing in the Fitzroy River, at dusk. The boats were thick and there where plenty of land-based anglers wandering the banks. Everyone was keen to tempt a Barramundi. The tide was running out and had been high at about 4.00 pm. The wind was north-easterly but its was dropping off.

The folks in Barra Jacks (http://www.barrajacks.com.au) had loaded me up with traditional hard bodied suspending minnows and 45 lb leader but the reports from the Barra Bounty competition (a few weeks earlier) had suggested many anglers had been successful using small soft plastics. Obviously, I had a few packets of these as well.

Fitzroy Flathead

Fitzroy Flathead

Rocky seasnake

Fitzroy River seasnake

Fitzroy River seasnake

Lures will catch anything

Lures will catch anything

Nasty

Nasty


I started fishing at about 5.30 pm behind the bowls club on the north side of the river, with a locally made, timber hard bodied suspending minnow lure in a silver colour. There were a few surface slurps and I could see decent bait schools swimming around. As the sun dropped on the horizon I felt some resistance and wound in. I had something but I could not see what. As I pulled it clear of the water I realised it was a sea snake. Is there no end to the predator list up here!

I managed to shake it loose from the line and it slithered off, back to the water. I decided to swap to soft plastic and put on a GULP 3″ Minnow in the Peppered Prawn colour, on a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead. It was now almost completely dark. I walked along the bank casting wherever there was an opening in the tall grasses.

Just before seven I felt a fish grab the plastic and I was hopeful. After a couple of small runs I realised it was a flathead. It came to the surface angrily shaking its head. It was about 45cm long. I released it and gave up for the day.

Rockhampton – Fitzroy River – 25 October 2013

Friday

I arrived in Rockhampton late in the afternoon and decided to go fishing on the banks of the Fitzroy River, right in town. I drove over to the Bowls Club and worked my way down to the shoreline just as the sun was dropping, at about 5.00pm. Low tide would be a few hours later. This area, below the ‘new’ bridge, across the river, has lots of rocky channels and drains with muddy/sandy bottom in between.

I could see the fish rising to slurp up bait or perhaps small prawns. The locals prefer to fish this area with large hard bodied minnows. I had no idea what the pattern of the rocks beneath the water, so I started with soft plastics. I decided to initially fish with a 3” Gulp Minnow in the Peppered Prawn colour with a 1/8th ounce, 1/0 jighead.

I had a few touches and as the tide receded and the sun fell, I got a better view of the terrain. This far up the river is obvious fish territory. About 800 metres further upriver, the salt water is stopped when it meets the Fitzroy River Barrage. Presumably the fish follow their natural impulse to swim upriver to spawn and then get stuck in this area (unless they work out how to climb a fish ladder – which seems unlikely!). I concentrated on casting next to the rock bars and into the channels and lost a bit of tackle in the process.

Dusk on the Fitzroy River at Rockhampton

Dusk on the Fitzroy River at Rockhampton

Caught just after sunset on a run out tide

Caught just after sunset on a run out tide

A baby - but still a barra

A baby – but still a barra

At about 6.30 pm, when it was almost too dark to fish, I felt something grab the soft plastic and drop it. I had now swapped to a 2” GULP Shrimp in the Banana Prawn colour on the same light , 1/8th ounce, 1/0 jighead. I carried on peppering the area with casts and a few minutes later I connected again. It was a very small saltwater barramundi, I photographed and released it.

It was now too dark to fish and so I retraced my steps back to the car. Only a baby – but I had found a Fitzroy River barramundi.

Walilly Creek nr Lake Monduran – 25 October 2013

Friday

After a week at home with no time to fish it was time to get back to work. Apologies to my regular Bribie Island readers, but I have not had a chance to fish on my home territory for a while. Whilst I am missing the best time for flathead fishing in the Pumicestone Passage, I am sure there are plenty of people out there catching good fish.

I was headed from Brisbane to Rockhampton again on Friday and decided to break the journey at a suitable looking creek to have a quick fish. I chose Walilly Creek just to the west of Lake Monduran. The Bruce Highway crosses the creek via a small bridge. I parked up to stretch my legs after a few hours driving and decided the sunken timber on the western side of the bridge looked promising. It was overcast but hot and it was about 11.00am.

I rigged up the light spin outfit and loaded it with an 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook, jighead on a 2.5 inch GULP Crabbie in the Peppered Prawn colour. I was fishing with 10lb fluorocarbon leader and 8lb original fused Fireline.

I cast the soft plastic at some fallen trees and immediately got snagged. People often ask why I used the softer, light wire TT jighead series (they come in the green backed packet). I like them because, as in this case, they give and bend when you apply pressure. This has a downside if you hook a monster fish but it means that you can often bend the hook slightly and pull it out of a snag, then bend it back into shape. This means you lose a few fish but you lose a lot less gear, while you are working out what is going on under the water. The problem with fishing soft plastics in the freshwater is that the fish are always buried deep in the structure, so you have to put your casts right into the middle of it.

I straightened the hook on the jighead, pulled it free and then reshaped it with my pliers. Don’t do it with your teeth – I learned the consequence of putting a hook in your mouth fairly early on – not good! I straightened the soft plastic lure so that it was sitting right and cast a few feet to the left of the fallen tree. As soon as I lifted my rod something took the plastic into the timber. I felt the leader pulling against the branches so I loosened the drag and waited for perhaps twenty seconds. I retightened and pulled the fish free. I saw the slime covered leader and realised it was a catfish. I think I can safely say I now know how to catch catfish.

I moved further away from the bridge and caught a catfish. I moved closer to the bridge and caught two more catfish. In fact, I caught about 8 in the next 30 minutes. I change soft plastics and tried some small hard bodies. The different soft plastics caught more catfish and the hard bodies did not get a hit.
I looked at my watch. It was time to get going. I had found another creek full of fish; the only problem was they were catfish. Still it was better than sitting at the service station with a bad cup of coffee!