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How to Cross the South Passage Bar

AS many regulars would realise, I spend a lot of time around South Passage Bar, be it during crossing tuition or simply negotiating its many channels and observing its moods and changes as part of my regular fishing routine.

The entry point into the channel at the southern entrance has improved remarkably thanks to the recent large easterly swell that carved out a swathe of sand just up from the North Stradbroke Island beach around the corner from Amity Point.

The inside entrance to the bar was becoming very choked with sand thanks to the northerly wind, so the timing of the sand flush was excellent for the holiday break. However the southern channel still needs to be crossed with caution when the swell is a moderate size out of the east and in particular if the tide is ebbing strongly.

The surf breaks randomly right across the channel halfway out to sea where the shallow point is, so keep a good eye out with a view to taking early avoidance action, and think about logging on with the volunteer marine rescue and wearing lifejackets to avert a potential tragedy.

Up around the middle channel on the bar, pretty much opposite Reeders Point on Moreton Island, is a bloody big sand island slap bang in the middle of the bar that can be used as an excellent reference point. It juts out of the water at high tide, is clearly visible at low tide, has been there for a while and if anything is getting bigger. A lot of skippers are heading out just to the south of it and running a long way southeast to get around the bar’s outer banks before heading to their preferred fishing spot.

I call this one the false middle channel. It’s an OK choice if heading southeast for the day but be prepared to play dodgems further out when there is swell running, and it is the long way to anywhere if heading along Moreton Island to fish. You’ll find a better channel that gives quicker and safer access to deeper water if you head north of the sand island and turn east when past the sandbanks that extend north of the sand island.

Put good waypoints into your GPS because if you’re unfamiliar with the area it can be difficult to spot this entrance when heading back from offshore.

Right up at Short Point on Moreton Island, just off the beach, is a nice little channel that runs north and is a great shortcut on a small swell and run-out tide. Plan a long way in front when crossing here because waves randomly rearing up over the shallow outer edge can boost the heart rate a bit if just dawdling along and not paying attention.

The reef fishing has been fairly good lately, with most species quite active, though snapper numbers have really tapered off. I like to work the high tides for the best results at this time of year and depending on the moon phase will head out very early or come home after dark if that’s what it takes for a decent feed of fish.

Pearlies and parrot went really well during the day on the last full moon and snapper and teraglin were biting strongly up to dark in the days before the moon.

On one particular windless, slight-current day, micro jigging down deep was quite successful for pearl perch along the 100m line using the heaviest jigs available and a fairly aggressive rip and drop back approach. The micro jigs were smashed on the flutter back, with the bigger fish sitting a tad higher in the water column and consistently beating the smaller fish to the metal.

The new-moon period has been excellent for amberjack, teraglin and yellowtail kings. Working over small patches of reef with good fish shows has been very productive in anything from 60-100m of water. Live bait has helped enormously, and with fresh mullet fillets very hard to come by, incidental catches of mack tuna have been a welcome bait source.

However the squid and frozen octopus from Mossops at Cleveland have been fantastic baits of late. Jigging the steep pinnacles has produced solid fish but not many large kingies have been around. There has been no shortage of amberjack in a number of locations, and this has more than made up for the kings and given plenty of workouts to those with cardio fitness.

Patches of pearl perch and a bait school found on the Garmin 1kW CHIRP sounder using excess gain for highlighting while drifting the 100m line.
Patches of pearl perch and a bait school found on the Garmin 1kW CHIRP sounder using excess gain for highlighting while drifting the 100m line.
Glenn Han with a typical ambo jigged around a tightly packed bait school.
Glenn Han with a typical ambo jigged around a tightly packed bait school.
Passing traffic gets a bit close some days.
Passing traffic gets a bit close some days.
The first drop on a paternoster resulted in a double hook-up of teraglin for Glenn Han.
The first drop on a paternoster resulted in a double hook-up of teraglin for Glenn Han.
Alston Yap with an ambo taken during a hot jigging session.
Alston Yap with an ambo taken during a hot jigging session.
Glenn and Alston were stoked with their PB dolphinfish.
Glenn and Alston were stoked with their PB dolphinfish.
Glenn Han with his PB dolphinfish.
Glenn Han with his PB dolphinfish.
This large sand island in the middle of the bar has become a good reference point.
This large sand island in the middle of the bar has become a good reference point.
Allan Jarvis used his guile to nab pre-Christmas pearlies despite a less than favourable barometer and moon phase.
Allan Jarvis used his guile to nab pre-Christmas pearlies despite a less than favourable barometer and moon phase.
If you like the easier approach, just drop down a livie and hang on to the rod, waiting for the tip to drop sharply upon hook-up. When the trag are on, double hook-ups are very common, with some big fish among them. Live baits have been excellent, as have bonito, mack tuna and large squid and octopus.

When the trag are hungry they have just been smashing everything presented and giving the rods a really good workout. A great trag session puts a big feed in the box in short time, meaning you can avoid the afternoon wind or have plenty of time for other activities on the day.

While working the deeper reefs it pays to keep an eye out for dolphinfish swimming by and to have a live bait rig connected to a spin outfit to cast to these opportunistic feeders. We landed a pair of absolute crackers recently, though I was not really prepared for it too well and reverted to an impromptu plan B. The sinkers were quickly removed from a pair of paternosters and livies were placed on Mustad circle hooks and cast in the direction of the dolphinfish. Instant hook-ups resulted in one large female and an exceptional bull dolphinfish as PBs for the lucky anglers.

Interestingly, some very large dollies have been landed out wide by the trolling brigade as incidental catches while chasing blue marlin, so if keen to snare a big dollie, try working up and down the 100m line as a starting point. In doing so you’ll avoid the crowds and the smaller juvenile fish at places such as the wave rider buoy.

 

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About Bill Corten

Bill Corten
Bill has been spearfishing, fishing and surfing for all his adult life and now runs a business specialising in teaching people how to cross coastal bars and fish offshore. He also runs charters for people who fish for the right reasons and whose company Bill thinks he will enjoy. He’s been running his bar crossing business successfully since 1996 and hopes to continue doing so for years to come as he grows old disgracefully.

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8 comments

  1. Avatar

    Hi Bill, great article… I’m looking to head out Monday next week with a window in the morning of less than 10knots North westerly tending North Easterly later in the day. I’ve been boating for over 12 years on east coast and have a reasonable amount of experience… However I’ve only crossed the bar twice in last 6 months, each time South of Rufus King in good conditions with no issues… I usually fish South East as I have a few marks in that region… Definitely can’t go past local knowledge which is why I’m contacting you on this occasion… Would you suggest to cross “conditions pending” South of Rufus King… I have a 5.3 stacer bowrider with 90 Mercury…

    Anyone advice greatly appreciated.

    Kind Regards
    Dan

  2. Avatar

    Hi Dan
    Thanks for your question. Sadly for you the timing of it was not good. Apologies for the late reply, but I was on holidays in Fiji at the time, celebrating my wife’s birthday and did not access social or other media during that time, so doing all my catch up’s today. By now you would have been on that fishing trip you mentioned and I hope you nailed some good fish on the day.
    In a general sense, you want really good conditions on that southern channel if attempting to head out in a 17′ pressed aluminum bow rider as the middle section of that entrance is where the swells stand up and break, especially when the swell is out of the south east and east. Read into that, you cannot afford to risk taking a wave over your open bow on the way out, pick a small swell day with preferably an incoming tide when heading out. Tide is not as critical for you on the return leg though. There is more I would like to explain for you that is specific to a small open boat, so why not give me a ring on 0447 233 247.
    Cheers
    Bill Corten
    Bill Corten

    • Avatar

      hello Bill, I have been fishing outside for years now always going north around the cape, would love to talk to you about crossing the bar coming from the south from Scarborough mariner, I am very interested to fish around north straddy etc….. Mick

  3. Avatar

    Hi Mick
    Happy to talk with you. Just give me a ring on 0447233247

    Cheers
    Bill

  4. Avatar

    thanks Bill I will give you a call saturday afternoon about 5pm 3rd september talk then

  5. Avatar

    Gday bill. Enjoy reading you articles on the south passage. I haven’t been through for about 6 months. How is the Amity end looking lately? Which channel would you recommend? Appreciate your advice. Boat is a 650 patriot. Cheers, Blake Rasmussen

  6. Avatar

    Gday bill. Enjoy reading your articles on the south passage. I haven’t been through for about 6 months. How is the Amity end looking lately? Which channel would you recommend? Appreciate your advice. Boat is a 650 patriot. Cheers, Blake Rasmussen

    • Bush 'n Beach Fishing mag

      Hi Blake,
      The bar has changed a bit lately. Bill does have an update on the South Passage Bar in the current (January) edition of BNB Fishing which is in shops today. You may also be able to get hold of him via email or mobile.
      Cheers,
      BNB Fishing Team

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