The Copper Coast on South Australia¬ís northern Yorke Peninsula is a holiday Mecca for fishermen and tourists alike. Steve Hunt relates the attractions for the visiting fisho.
The weather here is fairly predictable, especially in the summer/ autumn months, with calm, warm mornings followed by a cooling 15-20-knot sea breeze in the afternoon. Spring can be a little windy with November commonly referred to as Blowvember in many coastal towns. The middle of winter can be nothing short of sensational if you get lucky, with millpond conditions all day long.
There is plenty of accommodation available year round with the exception of the Christmas holidays and Easter for which you may have to book well in advance. There are caravan parks in Port Hughes, Moonta Bay, Wallaroo and Kadina, with hotel and motel accommodation available in Moonta, Wallaroo and Kadina. But most importantly for the trailerboat fisherman, there are three excellent boat ramps available for use in the coastal towns of Wallaroo and Port Hughes.
Access All Snapper:
There are few drag-screaming pelagics swimming around the Copper Coast, which is better known for a huge variety of bread-and-butter species. But it does boast a wonderful, easily accessed snapper fishery. The offshore grounds attract huge schools of fish during the warmer months with some specimens reaching the magical 30-pound mark. A lot of the fishing is done 30 to 60 kilometers offshore in the deeper sections in the middle of the gulf.
Some of the legendary grounds to be found in waters up to 55 meters deep are Jurassic Park, The Steamer Channel, Middlebank Reef and the wreck of the Illusion. But large schools of fish, most of which range between legal size (38cm) up to 20 pounds, can be found anywhere in these offshore waters. The tidal race can be fairly bad out here at times, with huge amounts of water funneling out of the gulf, necessitating the use of a large snapper lead on a standard two-hook paternoster rig.
Snapper fishing is not all heavy sinkers, heavy braid, vicious tidal races and deep water drops around The Copper Coast, however. There are many inshore reef systems that hold good-sized snapper at the right times. Many of these are located in only 15 to 20 feet of water and therefore should be fished using the stealth approach. When the reef is located on the GPS and sounder, you should slowly motor into the tide and then quietly lower the anchor, positioning your boat 10 meters up-current of the reef.
Then you can begin a steady stream of fish-based berley (squid, fish frames, whiting heads and crab shells are excellent) so that the running tide washes the smell and tasty tidbits all over the reef system. A hungry snapper will soon pick up on the scent, leaving the fish looking for a larger morsel of food to appease the hunger pains. This is when you drift an unweighted pilchard back into the drifting berley trail. The pilchard will invariably get smashed as it drifts back into the strike zone, usually on the reef drop-off.
These shallow-water snapper really are great fun on light gear, with many of them around the 60cm mark. My mate Skinny just recently anchored on a similar reef cast in his bait and it got smashed before he could even introduce any berley into the system. The result was a magnificent 55cm snapper that was soon followed by two slightly smaller specimens. He was fishing at dawn, and dawn and dusk are the prime feeding times for inshore snapper.
Gummy sharks are caught on the same reefs using a bottom rig, and these tasty little sharks can really go like the clappers. In summer the odd bronze whaler and hammerhead shark are often seen cruising through the berley trail, and these also can be turned into some prime seafood cutlets. Of course, a length of wire trace is a prerequisite and whole fish, pilchard or squid are some of the better baits to be cast back into the berley trail.
The King Attraction:
Without doubt, the number one species that most trailerboat fishermen target along The Copper Coast is the King George whiting. They can be found everywhere along this section of the coast, from along the weedline on South Beach at Port Hughes all the way out to the deeper waters 50km offshore. They are mainly caught in close on the broken ground with thoughtful use of berley in the white holes. Again, leftover crab shells, squid and crushed cockles make up a dynamite berley combination.
Wallaroo has a great little spot for good whiting, just minutes away from the excellent boat ramp. Every morning the boats gather just 500m offshore of the craggy coastline on the reef and rubble which make up the bottom topography of the Magazine Ground just south of the jetty. They are not huge fish from here but they are very plentiful. Point Riley, The Ballast Ground, Bird Island, Coopers, Tiparra Reef and Cape Elizabeth are other reliable spots on The Copper Coast.
In the deeper waters out in the middle of Spencer Gulf some real thumpers above 50cm are on offer. These big whiting may be fewer in number but the girth of these magnificent fish has to be seen to be believed. Because of the size and power of these bigger fish, larger chemically sharpened hooks (size 2 to 1/0) are the norm. Bigger chunks of squid, three cockles on the one hook or a half pilchard are some of the better baits for these kidney slappers.
¬†Fifteen kilometers due west of Port Hughes lies the fabulous Tiparra Reef, complete with a 15m wooden structure that holds the Tiparra Light. This is an amazing place to fish in crystal-clear, fish-rich waters. Garfish are often so thick here during the summer months they could almost be walked on as they line up at the back of the boat in your berley trail. Anchor in close to the reef over the ribbon weed beds and load the berley pots. A steady berley trail of bran and pollard, chicken pellets or some of the commercial berley pellets laced with tuna oil is the trick to getting the beaked mini marlin on the job.
In South Australia, gents or blowfly maggots are the number one bait on this succulent species. They are grown commercially there and are available in all leading local tackle shops. They even have tubs of long-life gents available, which will last over a month if kept in the fridge. Not that they need to last that long on a two-hook float rig placed into the berley trail near the Tiparra Reef. Competition from the brethren will see to that. A day on the gar is truly a memorable experience out here.
Once the garfish arrive in big numbers, the hordes of hungry snook will soon follow hungrily snapping at the nervous gars‚Äô tails. Tiparra reef is a real hot spot for this aggressive hunter and most are caught trolling in close to the reef with small diving minnows (Rapala CD 9s and CD 11s, Hawkins Fighting Whiting and Halco Laser pros) at around four to five knots. Metal baitfish lures like the Halco Twisty, SAFTA, All Rounder and Jensen Pirk can also be trolled at the same speed.
Tiparra Bay is filled with vast seagrass meadows, and trolling metal lures across these on a paravane is a great way of locating big schools of snook. Cape Elizabeth, Moonta Bay, Warburto Point, Bird Reef and point Riley are also very prolific trolling zones. Once a school of snook is located, press the ‚ÄėMark‚Äô button on the GPS and continually troll through the school. Alternatively, you can anchor up and begin a steady fish-based berley trail and cast unweighted pillies or small lures into the animated school. It can be light tackle fishing at its best.
Blue swimmer crabs invade this coastline in the warmer months, and one of the best spots to secure a great haul of these tasty crustaceans is one kilometer offshore from Bird Reef. This amazing little area holds big numbers during the season and many boaties spend their time between pulling the crab nets stocking up on the prodigious garfish population. At high tide at Bird Reef you can enter a reef-enclosed lagoon via a narrow channel and cast unweighted pillies and small lures to Australian salmon up to three kilos.
For the cephalopod lover, you will think you have died and gone to heaven. The seagrass grounds are the lifeblood of the southern calamari. The squid thrive here in massive numbers and we have had so many enjoyable days around here drifting for squid. There are many hot spots like Point Riley, Tiparra reef, Bird Reef, Moonta Bay and Cape Elizabeth, but really anywhere around here is pure dynamite when the water is clear. Drifting in two to four meters of water with four different squid lures out the back is just the ticket to calamari heaven.
The newly renamed Australian Herring (until recently the Tommy Rough) went missing for a few years on The Copper Coast as they did in many parts of SA. But they are back and back in good numbers with many excellent-sized specimens taken from the Wallaroo, Moonta Bay and Port Hughes jetties late last winter. They can be taken while employing the same tactics as for garfish and are a very tasty fish when eaten fresh. Some lovely flathead are also on offer around The Copper Coast with many fish being taken while fishing for whiting. They can also be taken around the deeper gutters on all of the beaches on soft plastic or hard-bodied lures.
Small kingfish sometimes congregate around the ends of the jetties and also at the entrance to the Wallaroo marina. These feisty little rat kings can be suckers for a small live bait or Squidgy slick rig cast into the fray. But living around the jetty educates the fish to be wary of human contact and they can be very frustrating to entice into striking. The odd big king is swimming around in these waters too. I remember being eyeballed by a couple of thumping big kingfish while anchored offshore from Cape Elizabeth one day.
It doesn‚Äôt end there ‚Äď other fish to be caught on The Copper Coast include yellowfin whiting, mullet, salmon trout, red mullet, pike, trevally and some ball-tearing bream near the Wallaroo jetty. It really is a wonderful all-round fishing location where you can head out to sea early, catch a bagful of quality eating species and be back in before lunch. You can then laze away the lazy, hazy days of summer on pure white beaches as a welcoming sea breeze does its best to cool things down. Or alternatively, you can fire up again and blast off toward the setting sun in the west because it‚Äôs snapper time!
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