Bait to Plate

Kev Collins

Well known Restauranter and co-owner of Fish D'vine & The Rum Bar in Airlie Beach. When Kev's not working he's out fishing in the amazing food bowl of the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park or in his tinnie in the estuaries crabbing! His blog imparts wisdom, tales and info on all things fishing and food.

Deep Water, Red Fish and having a whale of a time in the Whitsundays


There is something quite magical about fishing the deep shoals at this time of year. Typically dead calm days, crystal clear water and red hot bites as the “red fish” on the deep water shoals feed actively into mid-morning. Usually located a few miles off the main reef areas these shoals are easy to find on any good GPS and it is just a matter of reading the charts and looking closely at your sounder to pick up the schools of nannygai, Red Emperor and other deep water targets which inhabit these shoals. Aggressive feeders, hard fighter and always we look over the side, deep into the clear water to catch the first silver pink flash as the fish is pulled from the depths. Is it a “Nanny” or a “Red”. The nannygai, while they don’t have the glamour appeal or reputation of the mighty Red Emperor are just as good to eat and now marketed as “Ruby Emperor” it is a very popular addition to the menu when we get some in. A very versatile fish which can be grilled, crumbed, battered or curried it has a firm flaky texture, outstanding flavour and rates amongst the very best fish on the reef. There are 2 sorts of “Nanny’s”,  a small mouth nannygai (Ruby Emperor) and Large Mouth Nannygai (Crimson emperor), both members of the lutjanid species and by a whisker I think the small mouth is a better eating fish while the large mouth grows much bigger and pulls a far bit harder.

The images on the sounder photo are a school of small mouth nanny’s taken this morning. They are very distinctive on a sounder. If you ever find a “show” like this make sure you mark it. Even if you don’t get a bite, because at times they just don’t, fish this area on the last ¼ of a neap run out tide, ideally very early or at dusk and get ready to get your arms stretched. A “show” like this on your  sounder, in deep water will always be small mouth nannygai.

The other "secret" to catching these fish is "position". Often it can be a very large school of fish but located in a relatively small area and anchoring to get the right "hang" is problematic in such deep water and the drift often too quick. This whole problem has been solved and is, I think, the best single advance in fishing equipment since the GPS. The Minn Kota electric motor with I-pilot facility and "spot lock" allows you to hold a fixed position , based on GPS telemetry in an exact spot (i.e. right over a school of fish in very deep water) without ever having to put an anchor down.

The other great part of this time of the year is without doubt the whales. I must have seen close to 50 this morning, including the largest pod I have ever seen of some 15 whales all playing together.

I love that this is on our very doorstep and I get to enjoy it almost every day. The plus side is business is good, both the restaurant and our catering operation are going great guns and I also know my favourite professional fisherman is out there tonight, somewhere on the reef, catching fish for us to use this weekend.

To anyone going to “shaggers” this weekend, hope to see you there and drop in to “Rum..bling” for a cold one (or 2).