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QLD: Fishing The Noosa River

The Noosa River is situated in South east Queensland approximately 2 hours north of Brisbane on the sunshine coast.  It starts deep in the Cooloola National park as a series of billabongs and swamps and trickles as a small pristine stream meandering its way some 60 odd Kilometers down to Laguna Bay, Noosa Heads. 6 shallow lakes adjoin this river and are a significant part of what make this system such a special and bio-diverse environment.

The upper noosa river 2

My first memories of the Noosa River date back to the late 1970’s when I coincidentally first started to take an interest in fishing. I remember buying my first rod and reel, a cheap & nasty combo with my pocket money and proclaiming to my stepfather that he now had to take me fishing. My first ever fish on that rod was a barely legal bream from the Noosa River shore line near T Boat hire on Gympie terrace. The success of this expedition progressed into put-put boat hire and became a regular holiday excursion to my delight. At a young age the Noosa River left me with some sensational memories catching bream in plague proportions, whiting by the dozens and hand lining bags of crabs. The seed was planted which has grown into what I am today, a fishing maniac.
Thirty years on and aged like a fine bourbon barrel I now find my self residing in Tewantin, fishing that very same river on a very regular basis. I’ve fished a lot of remote rivers in my testosterone driven days but can honestly say that the Noosa River is one of my favourites. Even though it doesn’t have the remarkable fishing some remote northern rivers boast it has everything the young family could dream of. I admire the way the rivers natural beauty blends in amongst civilization. In the lower reaches of the river after a dry spell the waters display exotic tropical blue tints of colour over the ever-shifting sand bars. The view from the groin on high tide back up the river on a sunny day is mistakable for a Pacific island get-away. As you head up river the everglades and shallow natural lakes are a contrasting world of their own.

Childhood memories lead me to believe it was a predictable river, however, on returning to South-East Queensland after spending many years angling in North-Queensland it took a while before I started regularly catching numbers of sizable fish. These days unless I’m working the snags for jacks I am always using a 6 wt or 2-3kg out fit. Fishing light has been the biggest key to success although some die hards do fish much lighter.

Fishing from the banks

For the core fisherman the main bread and butter species like bream, flathead and whiting are abundant, however these and many other piscatorial predators are also available for the modern day lure/fly fisherman to prey on.
The most frequently targeted and sought after sport species are mangrove jack, bass, tailor, jewfish, flathead, bream, trevally and whiting. Threadfin salmon and the odd barramundi are taken by a few lucky anglers and captures have steadily increased over the past few years.

From Top to Bottom

The upper Noosa River reaches or Noosa Everglades are a popular camping, fishing and canoeing destination. It holds good numbers of wild bass whilst healthy mangrove jack are also taken regularly from its brackish/fresh tea tree coloured waters often in the same stretch of river. Fishing with surface lures and flies in this part of the world is pretty hard to beat even on the days when the fish aren’t cooperating. Quite often I have the whole system to my self with no other boats to compete with, what more could a fisherman ask for than great fishing with peace and tranquillity?

There is a northern cut off point for powered vessels about ten kilometres up-river of the information centre at Kinaba Island at Camp site 3 on the Noosa river arm. Further north it is still fishable for another 22 kilometres or so by canoe or a solely electric powered vessel.  There are many maintained camping grounds along the river for extended trips, the most famous being Harry’s Hut. Permits are required for camping from the National Parks and do book ahead as there are limited number of campers allowed at one time.

Carter with  noosa Barra
Lake Como is brackish during the drier months and is generally quite hard to fish. The occasional big Jack haunts the area when the water warms and in fact one of the most memorable captures I’ve seen from the river has come from here. After the rain has desalinated the lake, bass, eel tail catfish and other fresh water species like spangled perch can be caught along the reedy edges and in the deep channel that adjoins the Noosa river arm to the lake entrance.

Lake Cooloola is not usually accessible and is rumoured to hold Jurassic fish for that reason. Good luck if you’re the adventurous type, its one of those missions that I keep intending to embark on.

Kin Kin Creek is a run off creek that swells dramatically in flood and hence is ridden with big snags discarded by the seasonal currents.  It widens considerably and splits before flowing into Lake Cootharaba around Kinaba Island. Bream, jacks, bass and tarpon are most commonly caught. I have enjoyed many popper sessions in the upper reaches where the creek narrows and navigation becomes hazardous. After long, dry periods in summer, bream and jacks prey amongst the maze of snags under the overhanging trees whilst choirs of Cicadas resinate in your ear drums.   Fishing light is suicidal in this creek if a jack hits but sometimes essential to hook up to the more plentiful bass and bream.  Tarpon school in large numbers from spring to the end of summer and can usually be located by their tell tail rolling or bubble trails.
Lake Cootharaba is the largest lake in the Noosa river system; it is 12 kilomtres long, salty and averages a depth of less than a metre which makes it such a popular sailing and wind surfing destination. The tidal change at the southern entrance of the lake is approximately opposite of the tides at Noosa Heads. Mangrove jack, bream, flathead and trevally are common captures however many other species like grunter and threadfin salmon seem to find their way onto the flats.  Best fishing for me has been around the lakes southern entrance on the tide changes and in particular first of the run out tide. In the warmer months casting poppers and slow trolling hard bodies produces good numbers of quality mangrove jack with plenty of trevally to mix it up. Surface fishing the flats can be amazing at times with glassed out days and low light imperative for success. There are moored boats and isolated rocks around Booreen point which consistently produce decent bream and the odd pelagic predator.

Coolothin Creek flows into Lake Cootharaba and is quite small but heavily snag ridden. There is a boat ramp with limited car parks for small boats or yak launching. This little creek has produced some remarkable catches over the past few years including a single session in 2011 where we landed 6 barramundi.

Between the lakes

Approximately 6 kilometres of snag ridden river banks lay between Lake Cootharaba and Lake Cooroibah and a firm word of warning is to bring your bait caster not your bream gear! In the summer months the draw cards are thumping mangrove jack that reside amongst the natural snag ridden river banks. Jacks are best targeted on the tide changes casting hard bodies amongst the structure or trolling tight along the snag lines. Trevally can be prolific and are quite sizable at times, however they are always welcome by-catch whilst offering an artificial snack for a big red dog. This stretch of the river boasts some deep holes offering bream, estuary cod, threadfin salmon and jewfish. For best success work the holes that are holding bait schools with plastics or vibes. Trolling deep diver lures (20+) in the channels also produces great captures but you will need to take a little time to work out troll paths as the depth varies frequently.

Lake Cooroibah is like a smaller version of Lake Cootharaba. The Lakes shallow sandbanks hold good quantities of whiting, flathead and sand crabs.  The northern end of the Lake drops into a deep hole holding jew, jacks and trevally whilst the southern end has an uneven rocky bottom which holds bream throughout the year and jacks from spring to summer. The channel that runs through the lake produces tailor, whiting and bream and is also a productive place to troll for flathead during spring.

The lower half

A favourite part of the river to fish is the ski runs between Lakes Cooroibah and Doonella. When the bait congregates here the predators follow. The deep gutters to 6 metres mainly hold jew, trevally, tailor and bream. Working the bait schools with 3-4 inch plastics is a popular way to target these predators whilst working plastics along the weedy sand bank drop off’s produce good numbers of flathead in season. Trolling these areas can also produce a good mixed bag.

Lake Doonella is a shallow and relatively inaccessible lake that deservedly has earned the nick name “The Factory”. When the flathead are on here they usually school up in big numbers. Trolling shallow diving hard bodies behind a kayak on top of the tide or working the shallow gutters on the run out tide with plastics produce good numbers of quality fish from July to October. On the run out tide the hole at the lake entrance stretching under the bridge to the marina can hold flathead, tailor, jacks, and trevally.

Gympie Terrace stretch is where most of the live-aboard boats are moored.  These boats hold resident bream which are great fun to target on small surface lures and light line. There are a few holes and deeper channels that produce jewfish, tailor and bream. Good numbers of bream and jacks can be found around the jetties and rocky structure on the southern banks. Whiting and flathead school on the northern sand banks on high tide.

Flathead are a dominant species
The “Frying Pan” is well know for its whiting and is a popular place to target them with small poppers using a quick walk the dog style. Anglers dedicated to catching whiting on poppers regularly produce good quality and numbers.  The Pan has many ambush drop offs and is always worth a flick with a lightly weighted plastic for flathead that congregate around the yabby banks. Bream school up in the winter months and can be in plague proportions at times. Trevally and tailor tend to haunt the deeper channels and current lines with plastics and poppers being the popular choice of attack.

Lake Weyba is the second largest lake within the river system that holds flathead and good schools of whiting and bream.  The shallow sand banks leading into the lake can be difficult to navigate and it is an easy place to get stranded at low tide, definitely more suited to anglers in a small tinnie. I have heard many stories of komotos (monster flathead) engulfing large whiting and bream that were being fought to the boat. Jacks are also caught at the lake entrance and in Eenie creek that flows into the lake.

Weyba Creek meanders northbound from the Lake Weyba and flows into Noosa Sound. It has artificial structure, sand flats and deep mangrove lined channels. It has many options and bank fishing access for land based anglers. Bream, estuary cod, jacks, trevally, flathead and whiting are seasonally prolific.

Noosa Sound is a man made canal estate boasting some very expensive properties. The private jetties form a network of structure that fish congregate to feed around. Many of the local residents feed bread to bream from their back yards hence using a bread fly and a little burley can be great fun although not too sporting. Mangrove jack are taken from under the bridges and amongst the jetties. I’ve caught jew fish from the deeper holes after heavy rain and on many occasions I have seen trevally school up thick around Munna Point Bridge feeding on bait schools. Some of the frenzied feeding sessions I’ve seen here remind of the fishing on the western side of the cape. Don’t be deluded in thinking they will be an easy target, these fish have had every lure and fly on the shelf thrown at them over the years so they are very intelligent and quite a challenge and frustration at times. Lately barra have been on the hit list in this area.

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Woods Bay is probably the best know angling location in the river where just about anything could end upon your line. Along with the usual suspect’s juvenile mackerel, tuna, giant herring and even cobia have been caught in Woods Bay over the years. Pelagic species including many types of trevally and big tailor are a draw card. Woods is heavily fished as it i consistently produces fish with almost always something on offer. Generally I prefer to fish this area during the week early in the morning or late evening but saying that I have had a few cracker session’s midday. Poppers, sinking hard bodies, plastics and fly are generally the popular methods of attacking this area.

The river mouth was fixed by a single rock groin in 1978 to address the beach erosion that threatened to take Hasting street development. It is now a popular land based destination for anglers. Luderick are a popular target species fished for from the groin between June and September. Big flathead, tailor, bream and jewfish are also taken from the rock wall hole.

The River bar is shallow at times and can be very treacherous in the wrong conditions. It should be avoided by inexperienced skippers two hours either side of the low tide; particularly if there is or has been a big easterly swell. Just last December I witnessed a 6.5 meter boat come unstuck and sink as I was watching and waiting to make the crossing.

Boat ramps are situated along Gympie terrace, Noosa marina, north shore barge crossing, Coolothin creek, and Boreen point.

The Noosa River is relatively small in comparison to the Brisbane River or the Mary River and I have certainly fished better producers, but from a family fisherman’s point of view it certainly has something for everyone to enjoy. It’s a big part of what makes Noosa and its surrounds the holiday mecca that it is.

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