Meandering to Marion

Shane Mensforth | VOLUME 31, ISSUE 6
Stenhouse Bay, just south of Marion Bay, is another attraction for boaters exploring Yorke Peninsula.
Looking for a trailerboat destination away from the madding crowd? Then follow the signs to South Australia’s Marion Bay.

While it’s generally the regional ports around South Australia’s two gulfs that grab much of the holiday fishing and boating limelight, we do have plenty of alternative locations that provide appealing short-term options. I’m rarely keen on towing a decent boat for more than three hours to go fishing for a couple of days, and just lately I’ve settled on Marion Bay as my favourite weekend get-away.

Situated at the foot of Yorke Peninsula, and approximately 280km by road from Adelaide, Marion Bay is a small, quaint holiday settlement that relies heavily on fishing-based tourism. Its history dates back to the late 1880s, when the jetty and associated infrastructure was installed to facilitate the loading of locally mined gypsum. This all changed in the 1930s, however, when the bulk-loading operation was moved to nearby Stenhouse Bay and Marion Bay settled back to become a fishing village and occasional tourist destination.

One of Marion’s most appealing features has always been its surprisingly small permanent population, with only around 120 living there today. Without a vast number of service outlets and associated employment, it’s unlikely that the coastal village will ever get much bigger – a factor held dearly by those who choose to call Marion Bay home. Having said that, however, the number of weekenders and upmarket holiday homes is growing steadily, extending the ‘city limits’ both north and southward. A new residential development has recently been opened, with holiday houses dominating real-estate sales and offering still more short-term rental options.

Getting to Marion Bay from Adelaide is straightforward and, apart from high-season periods, relatively hassle-free. It’s dual-lane carriageway from Adelaide to Port Wakefield, then single-lane as you turn onto the Yorke Highway and head southward. As I own a holiday house at Port Julia, just off the Yorke Highway and a little over halfway to Marion Bay, I will often break the trip with an overnight stay. From there, it’s just a 90-minute tow the next morning and straight into the fishing.

Road surfaces along the Yorke Highway aren’t exactly first class, so I generally restrict towing speed to around 90km/h with a heavy trailerboat on the back. This ‘highway’ isn’t especially wide in some stretches either, particularly considering the volume of heavy traffic it carries during the holiday periods. I would rarely contemplate a trip to anywhere on Yorke Peninsula over the Easter break or between Christmas and New Year, as the generally sub-standard roads are simply too busy.

PLENTY TO OFFER

Despite its diminutive size and relative lack of upmarket facilities, Marion Bay still offers plenty for the weekend trailerboating family. Short-term rental options are many and varied, starting with budget seaside shacks through to high-end two-storey houses and a small, but nicely appointed motel. Alternatively, the Marion Bay Caravan Park is a particularly nice place to spend a couple of days, as it offers modern, well-equipped cabins and plenty of secure parking for big trailerboats.

The Marion Bay Tavern, situated adjacent to the motel and close to the base of the jetty, has developed a reputation for being one of the best eateries on Yorke Peninsula. Its fresh local seafood is truly first class, and the gourmet wood-oven pizzas attract both locals and visitors in their droves during the warmer months.

Another of Marion Bay’s appealing features is its proximity to some of South Australia’s most spectacular coastal scenery. Driving westward from the township, you enter the beautiful Innes National Park, which abounds in native fauna and takes you on a wonderful coastal tour. If it’s too rough to launch the boat, spending an afternoon on a leisurely drive around the south-western tip of Yorke Peninsula is a great alternative.

NOT PERFECT

It will probably come as a surprise to learn that Marion Bay’s boat launching facilities are a long way from perfect. In fact, for a town that relies so heavily on the dollars spent by visiting anglers, the ramp leaves a lot to be desired. When the outside ocean swell is down, the tide is up and winds are light, launching and retrieving are rarely a problem. A decent 4WD drive vehicle, such as Ford’s brilliant Ranger, will do the job easily. However, when one or more of these variables goes awry, the job can become quite difficult.

At low tide, the slab of concrete that is loosely called a boat ramp gives way to soft sand, making 4WD absolute minimum equipment and a tractor the preferred vehicle for the job. Add some swell and an onshore wind and launching at Marion Bay can be a bit of a task. Compounding the launching issues is the necessity to collect the tow vehicle driver from the seaward end of the Marion Bay jetty after parking. Rarely is it viable to board the driver from the beach, and it’s often a bit dicey picking him or her up from the pier, especially if there’s some swell about and the bow of the boat is pitching as you motor in. The ultimate in care is needed in such situations.

Precisely why Marion Bay’s boat ramp has been so poor for such a long time is open to conjecture. Most of Yorke Peninsula’s other popular fishing towns are served by first-class facilities, including multi-lane ramps, protective breakwalls, sealed carparks and wash-down bays. I’ve often heard it said that many of the Marion Bay locals aren’t keen on seeing their boat ramp upgraded for fear of increased traffic and a subsequent increase in fishing pressure. Whether this is fact or folklore I’m not certain, but there is no doubt the area needs a decent launching facility to keep pace with visitor demand and general development.

FOR THE FISHING

So, why then would anyone want to tow a trailerboat nearly 300km from Adelaide to face such a potentially difficult launch and retrieve? The fishing, of course!

Few other locations in SA offer such a diversity of angling options, beginning with fabulous light tackle King George whiting action and culminating with bluewater heavyweights like samson fish, yellowtail kings, sharks and bluefin tuna. Then, for those without a boat there is sensational surf fishing for big mulloway and Aussie salmon, as well as plenty of southern calamari from the jetties. Marion Bay really is a ‘something for everyone’ type of angling destination.

Due to Marion’s proximity to ocean water and also the need to make long runs to some of the better offshore reefs, a large, capable trailerboat is necessary to cover all bases. Northbank’s 650 Hard Top is pretty well ideal for this area, as its big-water capabilities are well documented and it has the fuel range to tackle long days on the tuna or the run across Investigator Strait to Kangaroo Island. It’s possible to get away with a 4.5m half cab for chasing the whiting in shallower water within comfortable reach of the ramp, but once you start heading out into Investigator Strait or the ocean waters beyond, something 6m or larger is a virtual prerequisite.

Summer usually sees the start of the annual bluefin influx, with fish generally running between 12 and 20kg. Most are caught at the eastern end of Investigator Strait, which, in reasonable weather, is usually a 30 to 40-minute run from the Marion Bay ramp.

TUNA ON THE BITE

We’ve had some fabulous tuna sessions, particularly when the fish are feeding strongly at the surface and can be taken by casting stickbaits. Trolling is undoubtedly the most popular way of locating the bluefin schools, but there’s simply nothing like the surface explosion when a decent tuna crash tackles your stickbait within a few metres of the boat – exciting stuff, indeed!

Whiting are available year-round at Marion Bay, but the biggest fish seem to come from October through until March. Up to 50cm and beyond specimens are relatively common, especially east of the boat ramp towards Foul Bay or out in the deeper water along the north coast of Kangaroo Island. It’s most KG specialists’ dream to bust through the magic 1kg barrier, and there are few locations around southern Australia that offer that opportunity on such a consistent basis.

Both samson fish and yellowtail kings are regular customers on the deeper reefs wide of Marion, and enough are caught annually to make this one of the better sportfishing areas in SA. Samsons are generally at their best from July through to October, but odd ones pop up year-round, with many pushing beyond 30kg. These are tough fish that demand equally tough tackle, as well as a boat that will get you out to them and back again without risk.

Snapper of mixed sizes are another of Marion’s iconic species, and it’s not often that an offshore reef expedition fails to turn up a decent feed of reds. Most snapper pulled from deeper water vary from 2-5kg, but at times there are much bigger fish available. I’ve boated quite a few of 8-10kg in this area, many of which have come from the shallower reefs east of the boat ramp toward both Foul and Sturt Bays. The best of these was a fish of just over 10kg that grabbed a small squid bait on whiting tackle and gave me the run-around for close to half an hour before succumbing to the landing net.

So, with positives outweighing the single boat ramp negative by a considerable margin, it’s little wonder that more and more South Aussies (and quite a few Victorian ‘invaders’ as well) are discovering Marion Bay. I can’t think of another location within comfortable reach of Adelaide that provides so much in such a compact package.


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Fishing
Runabout
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