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Cracking the Capricorn Coast

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Imagine sunset drinks on a sandy beach while eating fresh coral trout, lobster and calamari caught that day on a tropical coral reef. Now multiply that by seven days and throw in some glorious weather. Bart Mackenzie shares an amazing experience.

I was lucky enough to find myself on the Capricorn Coast recently, and of course, each day leading up to sunset drinks was equally amazing. Exploring new locations, catching great fish and snorkelling and spearfishing in crystal blue waters definitely made sure we kept busy in the best possible way.

The Capricorn Coast is a beautiful stretch of coastline on the east coast of Queensland near Rockhampton. There’s an overabundance of islands scattered off the coast, most of which are surrounded by a coral reef. Our trip was focused on the Keppel islands, but you could spend a lifetime exploring all the estuaries, islands and reefs in the area. The estuaries and reefs alike are littered with amazing fish and the angling is sensational. Just be mindful there are marine parks and other fishing regulations to be aware of. The Queensland government has recently released the QLD Fishing 2.0 app that has a ‘Can I Fish Here’ function. Using a clickable map you can work out where you are allowed to fish and what forms of recreational fishing can be undertaken.

Most of the reefs around the inshore islands are quite shallow at around 5m-20m.

The reefs usually only extend a short way out from shore before they meet the sand, and where the reefs meet the sand is a fantastic place to throw soft plastics or baits. The tides are quite big in these locations, which can actually work to your advantage if you’re drift fishing, as it allows you to set a drift along the edge of the reef and cover plenty of ground. We caught coral trout and other decent reef fish using this method.

There are also plenty of pelagic fish all around the Keppel islands. We caught stacks of Mac tuna and the odd mackerel by casting steel lures and stick baits into schools actively feeding on the surface. There’s something so exciting about throwing a lure over the top of a feeding school of fish and winding it back through the frothing mass. Then, when you see one of the fish break out of the school to smash your lure, your heart races faster. Thump, splash, zzzzzzzzzzz! You’re on!

We didn’t line fish for Giant Trevally, but I saw plenty when I was spearfishing in areas with lots of current. There are lots of good places to cast poppers around if that’s your thing.

Squid fishing is an excellent option on the shallow reefs and weed beds that surround the islands. We caught plenty throughout the week by throwing, drifting or slow trolling squid jigs. And man! The squid were huge! They had no problem pulling drag on the light spin outfits we were using.

The highlight of the trip for me this time would have to have been the rock lobsters.

There were crayfish everywhere I went. I reckon I pulled at least three crays within a stone’s throw of the beach in water less than two metres deep, and I got plenty more in water less than 10m deep. I also landed my personal-best ornate rock lobster, a beast that weighed in at 3.8kg – or 8lb 6oz if it were measured like a newborn baby.

The fellow campers on the island were always stoked when we rocked up to sunset drinks with lobster cooked in some way, shape or form. Whether it was boiled, mornay, deep-fried popcorn-sized pieces or garlic butter, it didn’t last long once it hit the table.

The spearfishing around the islands was pretty good. Usually it’s difficult to work out new spots, and it certainly took a little time to find the most productive areas. That said, if you were after a feed it wasn’t really all that hard to find one. There were plenty of coral trout, parrot fish and other tasty reef fish everywhere. My 10-year-old son, who admittedly is a bit of a gun spearo for his age, had no troubles shooting enough fish to feed pretty much all the campers on the island one night.

You do have to be a bit careful around the Keppel islands, though. There’s undeniably no shortage of inquisitive sharks. My son’s first encounter with some solid sharks wa there. On one of his free-dives, my mate had spied a solid gold-spot rock cod of about 8kg sitting on a coral bombie about 6m below us. He looked at me, showed me the palm of his hand that wasn’t holding his speargun as if to say, “Should I shoot this fish?” I pointed to my son, Fin, who was with us, as I knew he would be stoked to spear a big fish like that. My mate came back up to the surface and we prepared Fin for his dive with a bit of a pep talk.

Fin dived down and shot the cod right between the eyes, instantly killing the fish, but it started to spasm and kick up sand. Out of nowhere a solid bronze whaler and a bull shark came darting in, swimming between us and the cod. The sharks meant business and, unfortunately, we didn’t get to take that cod back to camp that time. I remember Fin squeezing my hand so tight, but outwardly he seemed cool as a cucumber.

We took Fin back to the boat while my mate and I dived that reef for a little while longer. We knew we wouldn’t shoot any more fish, but we wanted to show my son the sharks were only interested in the fish and not us. Much to his credit, Fin admitted he was shit scared in that moment but came out spearfishing again the next day.

There are a few different ways this trip could’ve been done I reckon.

We towed our trailerboat full of camping gear, fishing gear and supplies to Roslyn Bay harbour, just south of Yeppoon, then motored out to a nearby island and camped for the week.

This method was great because we could fish all day, cruise back to camp, have a few drinks and put a line out to fish again at night.

One night after a few margaritas I hooked and landed a massive white-spotted shovelnose ray. I had every camper on the island as a support crew following me as the fish took me up and down the beach. It was such a cool experience.

That said, it does get a bit stressful if the wind picks up and you can’t sleep worrying about your boat drifting away or crashing into a rocky headland or sinking in the big tides and waves.

Alternatively, you could stay on the mainland and motor out to the islands each day.

We had some friends up on the Capricorn Coast at the same time who stayed at a fantastic campground at Yeppoon and took their trailer boat out to a different island every day. Because it’s only a short trip out from the mainland they got to enjoy the idyllic islands of the Keppels while sleeping soundly each and every night of their stay. They also had all the benefits of campground hot showers, swimming pools, supermarkets and bottleshops. If you didn’t have your own boat with you there are plenty of charters that will take you out fishing or exploring from Rosslyn Bay harbour.

If you really wanted to splash out, there’s a resort on Great Keppel Island.

Great Keppel Island has fantastic land-based fishing and spearfishing spots, and if you’re willing to walk a bit, and put a bit of time in fishing, you would be rewarded for sure.

From our island camp we circumnavigated Great Keppel Island one day and it was absolutely magical. It had vast stretches of beautiful sandy beaches, rugged rocky headlands and a beautiful fringing coral reef in crystal blue waters. It also had a great bar and bistro we nestled into for a few beers and hot chips at lunch time.

Honestly, even if you could travel overseas freely, why would you want to?

Just joking! Of course I’d love to have the option to travel overseas again, but I must admit we’re pretty lucky to have so many mind-blowing options available to us right here in Australia. I cannot recommend the Capricorn Coast and the Keppel islands highly enough. The scenery and wildlife would be enough for me, but the fishing at this place was off the hook! It was without a doubt one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on!

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