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.

Things that go bump in the night

Another patch of dead calm weather and perfect reef tides resulted in an all-nighter after work on Saturday. I enjoy night time fishing and all it entails. More care with navigation and travelling and having a well thought out plan can result in some spectacular fishing opportunities for species not as common during daylight.

Heading out at 11.30 for the hour and a half run to the first of my marks I was delighted to see the sounder light up and enjoyed a few solid hours of night fishing before moving on to my Coral Trout haunts after sunrise.

For those not experienced with the fish of the Great Barrier Reef, Coral trout do not feed at night. This is instead the haunt of nannygai, red emperor and mangrove jacks. It is also the time the spangled emperor feed and while all of these species can be caught by day, it is by night when they are far more active. It is also a time when the sharks are not so active. Sharks have become the absolute enemy of reef fisherman.

Seemingly far more abundant, aggressive and brazen in recent years it is now commonplace to have sharks turn up and cruise around your boat almost as soon as you drop anchor.  This seems to be a “learned response” and may make an interesting case study for a marine biology student but as an experienced fisho there is no doubt that sharks have become conditioned to identifying small boats as food sources. They will regularly just park themselves under a fishing boat and just wait till a fish is being brought boat side to pounce.

 I fish Weipa every year and started to see this phenomenon happening about 8 years ago. As soon as you stop a boat near a school of feeding tuna, 2 or 3 big sharks would turn up and start circling under the boat and cruise around until a tuna was fought to the boat and then it became an almost impossible task to get the tuna past them. Awe inspiring and at times a little frightening to some having sharks as large as the boast launching themselves as tuna within meters of the boat, sometimes even bumping the boat out of the way to get at a fish.

On to our area this has become more and more an issue here as well. Fishing around the reef drop-offs has become almost impossible, the deep shoals, which were usually pretty shark free, are now also getting hit and at plenty of common mackerel spots large sharks are now following boats around as they troll just waiting for an easy feed.

I don’t know if the shark issue is about more sharks, better “trained” sharks or some combination. It is certainly not a lack of feed because the reef fishing in general seems in very good shape. Plenty of fish getting hooked but often only 1 in 5 making it to the boat.

I know a general acceptance of “save the sharks” and “sharks are endangered” is the norm but wonder if this position is actually science backed. It may be the case that as we have continued to take fish and shark fishing and other shark control mechanisms have been phased out that numbers may well be out of whack. These creatures have evolved unchanged for many many eons and clearly have an ability to adapt to opportunity. Whether this is some form of what we would describe as intelligence, or learned response I don’t know. I would love some research done to find out. I get a bit sick of seeing great fish end up as shark food.

I managed to get a few past them during the night session but as soon as it came light it became impossible in any water depth over 4 meters. I did end up pulling a few nice trout right up in the reef shallows but even then had a few lost to sharks clearly cruising around the boat, even in the shallows. Still a good day (night) out enjoying the beautiful weather in what is supposed to be our wet season and still lots of tourists in town.