words - Rick Huckstepp
South Australia's steel city of Whyalla is legendary for its Snapper fishing and one place an angler should experience once in their lifetime. Rick Huckstepp says it's also an agreeable place for the intrepid trailerboater

Whyalla big reds

Whyalla is nestled on the western side of Spencer Gulf, the larger of the two gulfs in South Australia. It is also part of the iron triangle which encompasses huge mineral ore deposits at Iron Knob, Iron Baron and other excavation sites in the area, and home to Australia's first large production steelworks.

Whyalla's economy has gone through its ups and downs over the years, but the recent installation of the railway line from Alice Springs to Darwin has seen the return to boom times with the manufacture of the rail line and steel sleepers in its foundries.

What Whyalla is also famous for is snapper. Not your average pinky, rugger or squire, but big snapper the size many of us keen anglers only dream of.

There are plenty of them when they are on the bite. Fisheries measure their schools in the tonnes from the air in light aircraft and it is not unusual to have the water pink with 50 tonnes of reds migrating up the gulf.

So, how do so many big snapper inhabit what is a relatively barren gulf, void of any large natural reef structure?

Bodies, car bodies that is and lots of them.

Over the past 60 years while the steelworks were churning out raw metal materials for the manufacturing industry in this country, the workers there were getting the remnants of the product they no doubt had a hand in as far as initial manufacture, and sinking it into the gulf.

This has resulted in masses of car bodies but also caravans, truck cabs, old boats small and large, fridges, freezers, washing machines and anything else of substantial structure, being committed to the depths, and in water not overly deep in some cases. I have fished a neap tide where in 20 odd feet of water I could count eight brown lumps on the bottom which are part of the 30 car bodies on that particular drop.

Yep, its illegal but without this artificial structure the snapper would no doubt bypass the gulf. Over the years, successive governments have allowed prawn trawlers to tear down natural reefs and corals. This is where the schools of fish held up as they travelled up the gulf each year to spawn in the warm shallows.

Whyalla is also home to an annual snapper competition run by the local council. It is an ideal venue for such a big event which attracts more than 1000 competitors over the Easter weekend from as far afield as WA.

The logistical backup in this town is trailerboat friendly as well. There is a large marine outlet with well stocked spare parts, a couple of tackle shops, as well as charter boat operations that can put you through the paces with some local knowledge if you need it before putting to sea yourself.

There are a number of motels and hotels in town, and while some of the smaller motels are cramped for boat parking space, the Westland Hotel at Norrie on the outskirts of town has large parking areas where you can remained hitched up, along with plenty of turnaround roads inside its boundaries. They have budget and up-market accommodation, a takeaway chicken and burger shop as well as robust meals making it tough not to call this pub home when travelling to this part of the world. I have stayed there for the last five years.

The Whyalla council is user friendly to the visiting trailerboater, and has designed and constructed large asphalt car parks and a cracker four-lane boat ramp usable at all phases of the tide.

On arrival at the ramp, some important signage will show the no-go areas of exclusion around the Port Bonython gas loading facility. This is on the side of Point Lowly, which is marked by a land based lighthouse.

You pass this facility on the way to The Rip off the tip of Point Lowly.

The water races through this reefy area and produces good snapper on the slack between the tide movements. The rest of the tide phases will see it as a raging torrent of water which is rough to ride out and impossible to get a sinker to the bottom.

Farther around the Point, a tyre reef is situated and a number of these are located out from the city.

Fitzgerald Bay is dotted with fish pens where commercial growing of kingfish is undertaken. There are exclusion zones around these pens and you will be abruptly moved on should you anchor inside these areas marked by yellow buoys.

If not wanting to boat your way around from Whyalla, you can launch at a ramp at Pt. Lowly. This ramp is often busy with the loading of food pellets onto large barges to feed the fish in the pens, so you might have to juggle around them. I launched here at Easter this year and could not retrieve the boat at low tide. This was because of damage done to the bottom of the ramp caused by the cranes in use there. On that occasion, we had to drive the boat back to Whyalla, and meet the truck and trailer there.

While the waters off Whyalla are not deep by East Coast standards, you can expect 25 metres in parts and off the Fairway Bank which is dotted with wrecks. Some of these are low profile, having rotted down and sunk into the mud over the years.

While snapper seem to be the prime target for visiting boaters, some healthy King George whiting are abundant along the coast south of the city.

Diligent use of the sounder will show you the weed areas near clear sand bottoms, and tenderized squid and pippis (locals call them cockles) are the prime tucker for this top table fare.

There are also squid in these areas and cuttlefish in others. At the ramp, take note of the closed season and exclusion zone on the cuttlefish breeding grounds.

And typical of shallow waters anywhere, you will experience various degrees of chop when the wind is pushing against the tide.

The trick with fishing off Whyalla is to work out the destination, check the tides, and travel when the wind is running with the tide, whether you are against it or not. This ensures a level of comfort for all and sundry as some of the good drops are 30km south, and one that I fish in the middle of the gulf is 50km away as the crow flies.

Petrol is not overpriced compared to Adelaide, but some service stations have driveways that will require manoeuvring to traverse, so check the height of their awnings if you have a big boat.

Some contacts in Whyalla are as follows:

North's Bait and Tackle at 126 Norrie Road,
Whyalla Playford, 5600;
phone (08) 8645 4887,
or email: northstackle@centralonline.com.au

This tackle shop also offers a charter fishing service.

Westland Hotel at 100 McDouall Stuart Avenue,
Whyalla Norrie, 5608;
phone (08) 8645 0066,
or email darren.beare@westlandhotel.com.au




Published : Thursday, 20 September 2007

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