Perfect Port Stephens
The great thing about Port Stephens is that it has something to offer every boat, from the tiller-steer tinny through to a huge cruiser. Boaties can explore upstream into secluded bays surrounded by national parks or head offshore to cruise around the islands.
Explorers will be rewarded with some amazing scenery. Mount Tomaree stands proudly at the southern entrance of Shoal Bay, overlooking a beautiful, white sandy beach. The scenery alone makes Shoal Bay a great place to seek out, and because the beach is protected, it’s also an ideal place to anchor, especially in a southerly.
The largest of several marinas is in the heart of Nelson Bay. It’s pricey, but it offers a number of services for boaties, plus a small sheltered beach protected by an extensive break wall, and access to many cafés and shops.
There are a number of boat ramps, but the best ones are located at Little Beach, Soldiers Point and up at Lemon Tree Passage. Though serviceable, each has its own limitations. Little Beach, just outside of town, is the most popular ramp. Located by the Coastal Patrol headquarters, the wide three-lane ramp offers deepwater access, but suffers terribly from sand build-up– even four-wheel drives get bogged. Nearby is a rickety old wharf, all but hopeless for boarding boats, so most boats just run into the beach. Parking with trailers is also limited. Soldiers Point has a decent two-lane ramp, but it also lacks a wharf. On the upside, there are adequate parking facilities. Finally, Lemon Tree Passage has a decent ramp (and an accompanying wharf), but it’s a long run across the bay to the entrance for anglers heading offshore.
For boaties, the miles of sheltered waterways and easy access to open water are the best things about Port Stephens. The Karuah River itself is shallow, but well marked, with navigation markers in the low reaches. Explorers can travel all the way up to Raymond Terrace – don’t forget your rod, there’s some great fishing along the way.
Port Stephens is renowned as one of Australia’s best fishing destinations. In fact, the first marlin ever caught with a rod and reel was landed here in 1913. (The skeleton is still on display at the Australian Museum in Sydney).
Today Port Stephens is still one of the country’s hottest game fishing destinations with black, blue and striped marlin as well as sailfish and even swordfish. Billfish aside, there is also some sensational fishing for yellow fin tuna, mahi and sharks.
Fishos should be careful around the marine park at Port Stephens. Fishing is banned and there’s not much by way of signage to make visiting anglers aware of that fact. Ask locals for advice and watch out – even if you’re just travelling through a sanctuary zone with a fishing rod, you can get fined.
Inshore, the fishing is good for species like snapper, jewfish and even pearl perch. There are literally miles of reef to bottom-fish or islands to troll around for bonito, tailor, kingfish and even cobia. Inside the system itself there is some great flathead spinning on the shallow flats and drop-offs or jewfishing in the deeper holes. Bream are prolific throughout the system and can be caught with lures or fresh bait.
Port Stephens remains an awesome year-round fishing and boating destination. Whether on a 40ft cruiser or a 10ft tinny, very few boaties leave Port Stephens disappointed.
Queensland’s expansive coastline is complemented by a string of inland impoundments running throughout its interior. Over the years, these catchments have been developed to supplement coastal communities and associated industries such as mining. Although many have been stocked with a variety of native fish, none are as legendary as Awoonga Dam.
Four hours trailering north of Brisbane will find you at the small town of Benaraby on the Bruce Highway. Take the turnoff there and head west about 8km to reach Awoonga Dam.
Benaraby is a small highway town (population 650) near the Boyne River. It’s a great place to take a break and replenish your supplies before tackling the big fish. The van park here has excellent cabin and camping facilities and plenty of room to leave your boat trailer hooked up. Heading along the Awoonga Dam Road, you will pass Awoonga Gateway Lodge, which provides accommodation only a few kilometres from the dam’s two-lane boat ramp.
Lake Awoonga is open for fishing all year round. While some 27 impoundments in Queensland require a ‘Stocked Impoundment Permit’ to allow anglers to fish, this is not the case with Awoonga Dam. Also, the closed season on barramundi, which applies to wild fish in other habitats, is not applicable here.
Lake Awoonga is a wildlife sanctuary – home and haven to a variety of birds and animals, including wallabies and turtles. The 3000ha of water surface provide for skiing-only areas, general fishing areas, restricted areas and a small no-go zone near the 650m-long, 54.4m-high dam wall. If you have any questions about the zones or the fishing, there are rangers at the recreation area.
There are quite a few species of fish in Lake Awoonga: snub-nosed gar, alligator gar, fork-tail catfish, eels, saratoga and, of course, that icon of the tropical north, barramundi. The barramundi of Lake Awoonga have become legendary to fishermen in the know. Feasting on the impoundment’s buffet of aquatic life, the barra grow to mammoth proportions. The official record for the largest barra caught in the lake is 29.8kg. With something like 200,000 barra fingerlings stocked into the dam per annum, the chances of anglers getting onto trophy fish is very high.
As well as a barramundi stocking program, the Gladstone Area Water Board and Gladstone Port Authority also stock 100,000 mullet into the dam per annum. Also, there are now 13,000 mangrove jacks that call Awoonga Dam home – those that haven’t been scoffed by big, fat barra, that is!
With these two authorities cranking up the mangrove jack population with a more intense stocking regime, the mind boggles as to what’s ahead for visiting anglers.
With impoundment fish growing rapidly relative to their wild counterparts, it could well be that mangrove jack might attain the dimensions and status of their distant relatives to the north of Australia – New Guinea’s spot tail and black bass.
Why not Whyalla?
When the snapper of Whyalla are on the bite, you’ll know about it. The water is pink with tonnes of reds migrating up the shallow gulf. And the fisheries measure their schools in tonnes, from the air, in light aircraft.
Whyalla is a trailer boat-friendly town. There are top-class ramps to entice boaties and artificial reefs to entice snapper and there is a large marine outlet with well-stocked spare parts. There are also tackle shops and charter boat operations that will put you through your paces before you put out to sea on your own. And every Easter, the local council promotes an annual snapper competition.
There are also a number of motels and hotels in town, and while some of the smaller motels are cramped for boat-parking space, the Westland Hotel at Norrie on the outskirts of town has a huge parking area where you can remain hitched up along with plenty of turn-around roads inside their boundaries.
Visitors will need to polish up on a few local rules by reading the signage at the main boat ramp in town. There are restrictions to boating near the gas-loading facility, which you pass on the way to the rip off the tip of Point Lowly. The water racing through this reefy area produces good snapper on the slack between the tide movements, but during most other times, the current makes Point Lowly unfishable.
You can launch at a ramp at Point Lowly. It is usually busy with the loading of food pellets onto large barges to feed the fish in the pens, so you might have to launch between their loading operations.
Fitzgerald Bay is dotted with fish pens where kingfish are commercially grown. There are exclusion zones around these pens, and if you’re unsure if you’ve breached them, you can count on a blast from the operators to set you straight.
While the waters off Whyalla are not deep by east-coast standards, you can expect 25m in parts. The waters off Fairway Bank are dotted with wrecks, some of which are low-profile as they have rotted down and sunk in the mud over the years.
While snapper seem to be the prime target for visiting boaties, some healthy king george whiting are abundant along the coast south of the city.
My advice is to use your depth sounder to locate weed areas near clear sand bottom. Also, I’ve found that king george go for tenderised squid and pippies (the locals call them cockles). You’ll find squid along these areas and in other areas, cuttlefish. While reading the rules at the boat ramp, take note of the closed season and exclusion zone on the cuttlefish breeding grounds along the coast.
Typical of shallow waters anywhere, when the wind pushes against the tide you will experience various degrees of chop, so it can become very rough out in the middle of the gulf. It may be easier to wait for the wind to run with the tide to make long treks to and from some of the distant drops.