The Whitsunday group of islands are a fisherman’s heaven and yet despite this they actually receive very little attention from our fraternity. The launching point for a whitsunday adventure starts at airlie beach. Airlie is only about two easy days drive from Sydney or one from Brisbane.The whole trip is on very good sealed roads and of course there’s always the fly in option for those of you short on time.
Once you get to Airlie facilities are first class. All levels of accommodation are available, from camping to five-star luxury.
There’s shops of every description , including a tackle shop , and plenty of facilities should you experience car or boat trouble. There are two first class launching ramps at Able point marina and Shute harbour and a couple of not so first class ones scattered around the place. Both the good ramps have an abundance of parking and the ramp at Shute harbour offers lock up security parking. Fuel is readily available at both Able pt marina and Shute harbour and of course, in town.
For those of you who like to throw a bit of night life in with your fishing trip, Airlie abounds with top quality restaurants, pubs and night clubs.
The Islands can only be described as paradise. The scenery is spectacular, the calm clear blue warm water abounds with fish and safe anchorages are numerous for any condition. There are a number of resorts that allow use of their facilities for day stop-overs plus offer fuel and supplies. VHF and 27meg reception is good, oceanic ground swell is nearly non-existent and there are enough other boats around to provide a sense of safety. Despite the area being very popular with yachties, bareboat charters and other recreational users, the sheer geographical magnitude of the area ensures that you never feel crowded.
Over the last twenty years I’ve visited this area on at least eight separate trips and the one thing that Ive found most outstanding is the apparent absence of serious fishermen. Sure the Yachties and bare boat charters wet a token line every now and then and the occasional tourist dangles a line off one of the many jetties. There’s a small fishing charter fleet for both reef and game fishing and very occasionally you might stumble across a serious local or tourist fishing from a trailer boat but over overall this area is remarkably underutilized by fair dinkum fishermen.
Part of the problem lies with the image portrayed by the people responsible with promotion of the area. When most of us think of the Whitsunday islands, images of calm powder blue water , sun bleached silica white beaches , palm trees yachts and bikinis spring to mind well before fishing. That’s the way its been promoted. But when you consider the ease of access, the superb facilities and the excellent fishing available, its hard to imagine why its taken so long to take off amongst serious fishos.
There’s another big bonus here often overlooked by fishermen. Many of this countries best fishing locations offer little else in the way of incentive to the family fisherman. If you are not sure what I mean here, just try mentioning to your wife and kids or girlfriend that you are planning a holiday to the Whitsunday Islands. The reaction is unanimously favorable. At least for that, we owe the marketing people.
There’s a number of options available to fish these waters mainly dependent on budget and preference. At the upper end of the scale there are two main options. You could book into one of the resorts on the outer islands and moore your boat at their marina. That option is comfortable gives immediate access to the best fishing and is costly.
Hiring a bare boat charter and towing your boat is a great way to go. This offers a relative degree of comfort, direct access to the best fishing, mobility and when split between 6 or 8 people, is remarkably cost effective. As an added bonus you get 24 hour fishing either from your trailer boat by day or off the charter boat at night. This is the option we took on our most recent trip and in my opinion is the ultimate way to experience the Whitsundays.
There are three main options at the budget end of the scale.
You can stay in your chosen level of accommodation at Airlie beach and then make day trips to the islands. The one downside to this is lengthy boat trips but is never the less quite achievable.
To cut down on boat travelling time the second option includes staying at one of the camping grounds on the islands. This is a great budget option assuming that camping is your cup of tea.
Another option is using airlie as home base and then doing overnight trips (usually two or three nights) to the islands using your own boat as accommodation.
This option will rely heavily on the suitability of your boat and your sense of adventure. As a guide line, Ive done it quite comfortably out of a 16ft open centre console. Both camping or staying on your
boat will require a bit of planing and preparation if it is to be successful.
Fishing options abound and include everything from game fishing for marlin maceral and tuna, reef fishing coastal formation fishing, flats and estuary.
The best game fishing occurs along the outer edge of the outer islands. We’ve caught marlin from a sixteen foot tinny only 100 meters from shore so long range trolling excursions are not always necessary. Bluefin and maceral tuna abound nearly all year round and are easily located by looking for the sea birds working the surface over the tuna and casting or trolling around the headlands or in the passages between the islands. Maceral are more solitary and are best taken trolling with baits or larger lures in the same areas as the tuna. Giant trevally are common in the warmer months and are very structure orientated. Casting poppers around the headlands and bombies is a great way to locate them. Queenfish are more common through the cooler months and are found working bait fish in giant surface slashing strikes in the open water in close proximity to the islands. If they cant be located visually try trolling lures around the island perimeters. A couple of hot spots for game fish include the waters around Hayman and off the southern end of Whitsunday island.
Reef fishing will provide top quality tucker in the form of Sweetlip Spangled Emperor, Coral trout and cod just to name a few. The fringing reef in close to the islands provides great fishing. You can clearly see where the reef drops onto the sand and this is the ideal spot to fish. Be carefull not to anchor on the reef itself as your anchor can do a lot of damage. There’s plenty of reef out wider in the deeper water but to locate and fish these successfully you will need a chart and a depth sounder. The effort to do this will be rewarded.
Alternatively good reef fish can be taken by fishing the pressure front where the current hits a bombie or headland.
There’s some awesome sandflats fishing around the mouth of Hill inlet on Whitsunday island. This spot is a mecca for lure or fly fishermen who are interested in doing some sight fishing. Species encountered include queenies, whiting, and a variety of trevally including Golderns.
There’s some excellent estuary fishing in Hill, Gulnare, Macona and Nara inlets Hill inlet is particularly good for delicious Estuary cod but nearly all estuary species are present including Barra. You must pay careful attention to tides in Hill inlet as a very low tide will leave you stranded in side.
Back closer to the main land Shute harbour offers very good fishing for estuary and bluewater species around the three closest islands. Pioneer rocks. Further north also has some very good fishing for pelagics.
About twenty minutes drive south of Airlie you will find the Proserpine river that offers excellent estuary fishing but is particularly renowned for threadfin salmon or kingies as they are known up this way. The proserpine is a good place to drop a couple of pots for mud crabs.
The enormous area covered by the Whitsunday islands is way to extensive to cover all the fishing spots in detail but the above rundown should give you a pretty good idea of the variety of species and options available.
There a number of Marine Parks scattered throughout the area all of which impose fishing restrictions to some degree. Make sure you familiarize your self with these as heave fines apply.
While the Whitsundays lie within the protected waters of the great barrier reef and the islands offer a good buffer from strong wind, there are certain conditions that can create uncomfortable, sometimes even dangerous, situations for small boats. The main channel crossing from the main land to the outer islands is one of the prime spots for this sort of trouble. Keep and eye on weather conditions and seek local advise and you wont have any hassles. In addition to this keep a close eye on your charts (AUS 252) and keep your speed down when you are in unfamiliar waters as there are a few bombies and reefs that rise up quickly from deep water without warning. A little bit of common sence and will planing will keep you out of trouble. Don’t let these concerns ruin your trip though, this area is generally very safe.
Once you are through the passage there are thousands of safe anchorage’s offering shelter from any wind directions.
You can get limited supplies from Hayman and Hook islands at exorbitant prices.
Alternatively, Hamilton Island offers fuel and extensive supplies at very reasonable prices.
By Craig McGill