This month we head out of the harbour and explore some of the awesome offshore fishing destinations around the Capricorn Bunker group.

Twenty five years ago this area was my home, when I was working as the maintenance carpenter on the magnificent Heron island. Well I might as well have been in heaven, living, working and fishing in these pristine waters surrounding this coral cay.

The average fishing trip was usually something you would dream of, and looking back now I was pretty damn spoilt.

Finish work 3.30, pilfer a couple of pilchards from the boat shed, grab tractor, hookup boat, drive boat into the water, tractor and all, unhitch boat and park tractor. Maximum 5 minutes, no traffic and no queues at the boat ramp.

In those days only the very front edge of Heron island was green zone, which meant 5 minutes max and you were fishing 80km out to sea on the Great Barrier Reef.

The 2-3 pilchards were only to get you started. I’d catch a reef dweller first drop and rip his sides off and there was all the bait you needed. There was no fancy gear, sporting just a hand line, hook and sinker (Oh, and maybe a beer or two).

Coral trout and red throat emperor were the target, and they came very easy. The remaining 1-2 pilchards were kept for floating out the back in a burley of fish scales, which sometimes ended in being connected to a Spanish mackerel. Those sparkling fish scales drifting through the water column were like neon food signs to mackerel.

Two to three hours later you would head back, via one of the popular dive sites, feed your fish frames to the local 1m+ coral trout that inhabited the area. This alone was an awesome site watching these massive trout come up and engulf a whole red throat frame off the surface.

There was no winching the boat on the trailer. The whole trailer would be submerged underwater. The boat would be clipped to the trailer. Drive the tractor out and the boat would centre itself on the trailer. Pull the boat 100m and it was unhooked until the next day.

There were plenty of coral trout sangas for dinner, washed down with a few rums as well.
Fishing was great and didn’t come any easier than that.

Fast forward 25 years and things have changed quite a bit. I am now fishing with lures, the boat has side-scan sounders,GPS and electric motor. Seems like everyone has a boat and the fish are a bit scarcer.

Well, enough of the reminiscing and on to the good stuff, I want to share some info I’ve learnt from the past and the present. I’ll talk about spots to fish and techniques on hooking up.

Check your weather before heading out. The bonus in fishing the bunker group is that you can nearly always find a sheltered spot to fish around the back of a reef or island. The trouble lies in covering the open stretch of water between Facing Island and Polmaise Reef, and it can be quite a long slog in smaller boats.


This would be the closest stop for most reef fisherman coming out of Gladstone. However, with water depths ranging from 8-25m it doesn’t provide much shelter when the wind blows up.

Finding spots to fish out there, I usually sound around until I find structure. Looking at contours on your GPS charts that fall away quickly are my starting  points. Once I’ve picked a spot, I like to drift around hopping fairly large plastics or soft vibes around the bottom.

I constantly watch the sounder whilst fishing and mark large bommies, drop offs and where good fish are being caught. After a few drifts you start to see a pattern occurring and you can start making shorter more accurate drifts. The area holds the usual trout, sweet lip, cod and reef species, as well as the odd tuna and mackerel, for a bit of extra fun.

Be on the lookout for massive tiger squid cruising the area. Whether you want to catch them for  bait or the table, I suggest taking the largest squid jig you can find at your local tackle store. They will often follow your lure back up to the boat, or can be mistaken for small pelagics cruising around the boat.


Masthead is a beautiful island which can provide protection from the wind and even a good overnight anchorage. It is also a great National park you can camp in.

Having camped there a few times, usually for 2 weeks, it makes an ideal spot for family holidays and great fishing trips. With some organisation, you can pack the barge up in Gladstone and have your camping gear, food, water, boats and fuel dropped on the beach at high tide. Two weeks later they will pick you and your gear up and return you to Gladstone.

It makes a great base for fishing, and even smaller boats can fish safely around the island. Beach fishing is also an option. Fishing with the kids can be great fun off the beach and usually the catches are fairly modest, but on the odd occasion fish like giant  trevally  can be caught with a touch of luck.

There is good snorkelling and spear fishing off the beach and reef edges, and if you like your seafood then you can access crayfish, oysters and plenty of reef fish over the course of your holiday.

There are also some isolated shoals north of Masthead where you can catch red emperor, amongst the other reef fish. Most of the fishing around Masthead is around the reef edges, whether  flicking lures or dropping baits into the reefs. Several mackerel species can be encountered by trolling lures in the deeper waters adjacent to the reef edges.

I believe that in the warmer months, when the turtles hatch on these coral cays, the predators move in closer to the reef edge and wait for these tasty little morsels to swim over the edge.
I’ve seen them smashed off the surface right on the drop offs. In these months particularly, I like to fish in the shallows, whether running a surface lure or floating an unweighted pilchard over the reef edge. Coral trout can appear from nowhere and hit your offering in less than a metre of water.


Wistari is the next stop in this pristine chain of reefs, and being that little bit further out, it doesn’t get fish quite as much as the closer reefs. This makes  it one of my favourite fishing destinations in this area. Some of Wistari is green zone so make sure you know the boundaries.

The red throat emperor are fairly prolific here, but a few less coral trout than when I first fished here 25 years ago. Now it’s not too difficult to catch red throats and I use a similar technique to fishing rock cod shoals. They can be caught in all areas of the reef, from right on the reef drop offs to the deeper outer edges.

I like to fish the opposite side of the reef to the prevailing wind. For starters, it’s always calmer and it means you can drift from the reef edge into the deeper water. Ideally I like to fish the runout tide and look for spots where the water is draining off the reef edge noticeably. I think the predators hang out in these areas waiting for bait to exit the reef.

The sounder comes in handy here and monitoring what you catch and the location in relation to your drift is very important. With each new drift I go back to a similar spot to where I started, but maybe 20m further to the left or right. This way I can cover a fair area on each drift and eventually you can see a pattern emerging.

Every patch of reef is different and can fish differently. You can start a drift off the reef edge in 4m of water with a sandy bottom and catch red throat, then drift 30m and catch pickers. You can then drift over some reef, catch small cod, tuskies, etc, then drop into 10m and start catching red throat again and maybe the odd coral trout. Drift another 30m and it drops to 15m deep and the fish stop biting.

Using this drift technique and marking a waypoint on your sounder when you land good fish, you can establish a hot zone on your chart. As this pattern develops you can cut out the unproductive areas and concentrate on the productive spots instead.

The more you practice this technique the better an understanding you get of the different types of reef structure. Always take mental notes of what is happening and your mates’ techniques as well.
Sometimes they might be doing something a little bit different to you and it works a treat.

We have sometimes been fishing with 2 guys fishing plastics and 1guy fishing bait. Plastics are smashing the fish for 2 hours, then all goes quiet. Meanwhile the bait fisherman, who has been struggling, starts catching the fish. We switch to bait and bang, we are back in business.

I probably tend to fish a little on the light side these days, opting for 20-30lb spin or baitcast outfits. These combos provide a lot more sensitivity and control, and will normally stop the average fish in these waters. Occasionally you end up connected to a bigger model and inevitably they find their way back to the reef.


Heron is situated approx 80km from Gladstone and is largely green zone these days. There is a small section at the very end near Sykes Reef that is still open to fishing. Sykes Reef is the last stop and the outer reef in these parts. Approx 120km from Gladstone, it is totally wild. Massive swells come to a thundering end with huge wave crashing into the exposed reef edge.

In surfing circles, Sykes is a well known, and dangerous, destination. The sound is deafening when the swell is pumping and fishing close by can be quite intimidating at first.

On my latest trip,  I was lucky enough take a 36ft Riviera out,  towing a Haines Hunter 485sf as the tender. This could almost be the perfect set up. With a few days of good weather forecast we left Gladstone, cruising around 8kn to conserve fuel.

We arrived just on dark and with the wind and swell up we parked up in the sheltered waters behind Masthead Island. The owner of the mothership had little experience out here and was relying on me as a guide. I must admit I felt a little apprehensive, with the responsibility of looking after 2 boats. I slept lightly that night, constantly waking to check the tender and how we were positioned.

The next morning we awoke to a much better day, the winds had dropped and the sea was calmer.
Bacon and eggs out of the way, we set off for Wistari Reef. Eight knots is a little painful when your itching for a fish, but knowing you have a luxurious boat with hot showers, kitchen, aircon, ice maker, real beds, etc, eases the pain a little.

With Wistari Reef in sight, we cruised the edge in awe of its beauty. With prevailing wind from the north, a decision was made to anchor on the protected southern side. Dropping anchor on a large patch of reef gave us the option to fish from the back of the mothership, morning and evening.

We didn’t waste much time getting in the Haines and fishing Wistari for the afternoon. Drifting the edges of Wistari, hopping plastics, we easily reached our bag limit of red throats, but missing from  the list was coral trout. With the sun dropping, we headed back to the mothership to devise a plan to catch trout.

Sitting out the back with a couple of drinks we decided to have a few red throat sangas for dinner. Every time we devoured one, another rod was deployed and the bag limit was restored. A plan was hatched to fish Sykes in the morning, and it was early to bed.

The owner decided to stay with his Riviera for the day, and my mate and I headed towards Sykes.
We made a quick stop before the green zone to have a little fun on some Mac tuna. A couple each and away we went, traversing the green zone between Wistari and Heron.

Arriving at the back end of Heron Reef it was a little windier than expected, so we fished the southern end of Sykes. Red throats were the only thing coming over the side. Talk about frustrating!  All were released. Deciding to brave the sloppy waters, we poked our head out the front.

A hundred and twenty kilometres out to sea, on the outer reef, in a 4.8m boat! Thankfully, the weather gods smiled and the wind dropped out right on queue. We received a few strange looks from some bigger boats, they obviously thought we were crazy.

We headed right to the front of Sykes, which would normally be copping a pounding from the open ocean swells. Sounding up some good structure, My mate decided to tie on a Samaki soft vibe, and it wasn’t long before the trout were coming over the side.

You would think that this lure with 2 trebles would get snagged on the bottom. Well, it did, but my mate and his lure had 9 lives that day. Every time we thought it was snagged for good it would miraculously return. I wasted no time tying on a soft vibe and trout started coming over the side. That’s all we caught, coral trout. Filling the esky with these perfect sized trout, in glassed out conditions, took me back to my island days. The smiles and high fives flowed until it was time to head back to the Riviera.

One last roll of the dice, time for a quick troll. The lures were out no more than 5 minutes, and bang!  The rods were bent and the drags were screaming. Minutes later and a clean gaff shot, Spanish mackerel to finish the trip.

We cranked that big Suzuki motor up full noise, hugging the reef edge in perfectly flat conditions. Smiles beaming the whole way back, it wasn’t long before the Riviera was in sight. Fish and gear were stowed, and a few beverages sunk while we reminisced about the days fishing.

Leaving Wistari for Gladstone, the next morning was a little bittersweet, it was like leaving a close friend you only see occasionally. I know next time we meet we will pick up right where we left off.
Anybody lucky enough to spend time here will certainly agree, it is a very special place!

All the best chasing those reefies!