by Darren Shields
I am standing on the back of Guy Woods’ boat. A Kiwi expat who has set up a building business in Brisbane, Australia, and was my guide for a week’s diving at Morton and Stradbroke Islands; reefs off the Sunshine Coast and south of the Gold Coast at Tweed Head.
Staring into green murky water at Hutchinson Reef listening to comments about last week and a big tiger shark that inhabits this reef had me wondering what I was doing here. I suited up, jumped in and discovered four metres visibility which wasn’t nice but diveable. The first good fish I saw was a Spanish mackerel about 15 kgs. It would be a great way to start the trip by nailing this but I had forgotten about the safety catch on my new gun and yes it was on ‘bugger’. The mackerel bolted unharmed after fumbling with the safety then let fly with a nasty shot that went nowhere near the target. However, later I nailed a 14kg giant trevally after a good battle due to the tide running strong.
We moved on to a sandy bottomed reef at 20-22 metres. It was really dirty but quite fishy. I dived hard, spotting some good fish but by the end of the dive Guy had shot a gold spot wrasse and everyone else only had stories to tell.
The next day it was to the wahoo spot at the southern end of Morton Island. First we had to meander through the labyrinth of sandy channels that make up the inner harbour of Brisbane then across the bar that separates Morton and Stradbroke Islands. This is a nasty bar and I was glad to be going across with someone with local knowledge.
Once at the wahoo spot we were disappointed to discover even dirtier water than the previous day. We decided to head to a FAD that was south east of Stradbroke Island – out enough to avoid the bad water. It was a long hard ride, head on into a one and a half metre sea but on arrival the water was a really nice blue. I got in first with Guy’s mate Ben. We drifted with the current down onto the FAD. I dived as we got there hoping for a wahoo, Ben stayed on the surface and was schooled by 50- odd mahi mahi. A big bull zeroed right in on him. He lined up and stoned it with his Riffe euro 130 cm gun a beautiful fish that later pulled the scales to 16kgs. For another two hours the mahi mahi were our constant companions.
We headed back to dive a couple of reefs close to Stradbroke. The water again was dirty but we dived anyway. Ted, my Brazilian dive mate, speared a big tusk fish only to have it taken off his spear by a big whaler – unnerving considering the viz.
On day three we headed up the Sunshine Coast, launching from Mooloolaba. At the Gneering Shoal, the visibility was great and on top of the reef at 15 metres you could see the bottom from the boat. A few spearos’ floats could be seen nearby and we would have to be wary of boat traffic as it was a very popular spot.
Ben showed his skill by nailing a 17kg Spanish mackerel while I rolled the camera. We moved to deeper water and found many other species including purple cod and small coral trout which were too small to shoot. Later we dived a couple of other reefs further north called Hancock and Arkwright, where we took some nice sized coral trout and a purple cod, then a good sized golden trevally and tusk fish at Mudjimba Island off the northern part of Mooloolaba beach.
Day four saw us back off the top end of Morton Island, the water had come good and was around 18 metres. Our first spot was a wreck sitting on the sand at 20 metres to look for a cobia – something that looks like a cross between a shark and a kingfish. A beautiful dive that saw us spear nothing but I took photos and video as the spot was alive with fish and the wreck made interesting viewing.
At Roberts Reef we worked an area from 20-26 metres deep with Ted shooting a blue groper. This fish looked more like a wrasse than a grouper and can be red out of the water rather than blue. They are protected in NSW but in Queensland you are able to take them and they are a quality eating fish.
Our last day saw us launching at Tweed Head and once over this very dangerous bar headed north to Palm Beach within sight of the Gold Coast. We stopped within 250 metres of Palm Beach and Guy said they’d got wahoo here. I found this hard to believe as we were within sight of people surfing and sunning themselves. On entering the water the visibility was average and uninspiring but the next minute someone yelled wahoo. I looked around but all I could see was dirty water. I dived 16 metres to the bottom and had a school of mackerel tuna zoom past.
I surfaced but all was quiet. Turning to my right two big wahoo swam past only metres away. Wow! Now I was on full alert as the wahoo were here. Guy yelled he had one on, I saw his float skipping across the surface heading towards the anchor rope. I swam flat out to catch up just as Guy dived to grab his wahoo tangled in the anchor rope. A nice fish of 23kgs. We clambered on board as a 737 plane swooped in low to land at the nearby Coolangatta Airport. Unbelievable -gamefish of this quality so close to shore.
We dived next at a water desalination plant anchored off Coolangatta Beach, a structure not dissimilar to an oil rig. This was a fantastic dive with the bottom at 20 metres but fish a little scarce. Guy said a spearo had swum from the shore to this spot a few months previously and shot a 30kg and 35kg cobia on consecutive days.
We headed for Nine mile reef, a famous spot for one of the first black marlin ever speared off Australia, I was really excited. We decided on a drift with some bait as the tide was strong. It seemed really quiet and before long we had all drifted apart. I found myself over a spot with a school of surgeon fish hovering above a 20 metre bottom. I breathed up and swam slowly to the bottom, settled and lay dead still. I always check behind me and sure enough a small job fish had snuck up on me, I swung my gun slowly and nailed it as it swam away.
Back at the boat I was the only one to have had any luck, this was the finish of an amazing week’s diving in a truly world class area that I never really knew existed.