June 20, 2024

Hardcore Game Fishing

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Great Barrier Reef: The Complete Guide

Reading Time: 11 minutes

When it comes to iconic angling destinations, fishing the Great Barrier Reef stands head and shoulders above many others. This natural wonder isn’t just a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s largest coral reef system. It’s also home to a vast variety of wonderful marine creatures, making it a prime choice for enthusiastic fishers from all over the world.

Stretching over 344,000 square kilometres (just over 13,800 square miles) along the Queensland coast, the Great Barrier Reef consists of nearly 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands. It’s so big, it’s even visible from space!

And no matter if you’re casting a line from the sandy shores of a secluded island or trolling the deep blue aboard a charter, the area promises a unique blend of beauty and bounty.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through the most sought-after species, the best fishing spots, techniques tailored to the reef, and the optimal seasons to plan your trip. So, gear up and get ready to cast away. Oh, and don’t forget to keep reading for some insider tips and tricks!

What to Target When Fishing Great Barrier Reef

Dubbed the “Marlin Mecca” of the southern hemisphere, the Great Barrier Reef is synonymous with big game fishing. The inner reefs are home to anything from Trevally to Coral Trout and Red Emperor. The Outer Barrier Reef – or Ribbon Reef – on the other hand, is perfect for Marlin, Tuna, and Mahi Mahi as a bonus.

Let’s cover the angler’s “must-catch” list when fishing in the Great Barrier Reef:


A man in a blue shirt and matching baseball cap, standing on a fishing charter inshore in Queensland and holding a Trevally on a day with sunny intervals
Photo courtesy of Reefinity Fishing Charters and Adventures

Trevally, particularly the Golden and Giant varieties, are a quintessential catch in the Great Barrier Reef. Known for their powerful runs and relentless fights, these species are a thrill for every angler. Golden Trevally are easily recognised by their radiant golden hues and typically weigh between 3 and 10 kilograms (7–22 pounds). Giant Trevally, meanwhile – or GT for short – boast a more silvery appearance and can grow up to an impressive 80 kilograms (177 pounds)!

When it comes to technique, these species require robust tackle, given their strength and tenacity. Popping, which involves casting a large lure and retrieving it with swift jerks, works especially well for GT. Keep an eye out for birds diving into the water in the inner and outer reefs, as they’re often a good indicator of Trevally hunting beneath the surface.

Coral reefs and sandy flats are particularly favoured by Golden Trevally, while GTs prefer deeper drop-offs and channels. Remember, these gorgeous fish are known to give quite the fight, so brace yourself for an adrenaline-pumping experience!

Coral Trout

A man in a baseball cap and glasses holding a small Coral Trout aboard a Great Barrier Reef fishing charter on a cloudy day with the water visible behind him
Photo courtesy of Airlie Beach Fishing Adventures

Coral Trout, with their red-orange scales dotted with bright blue spots, are a sight to behold. Beyond their beauty, these fish are also esteemed for their flavour, making them a highly prized catch amongst both fishers and gourmet chefs. On average, Coral Trout weigh around 2–5 kilograms (4–11 pounds), though larger predators have been known to reach 15 kilos (33 pounds).

To catch these stunning creatures, jigging and live baiting are the most effective techniques. The Trout’s predatory nature means it’s quickly drawn to moving baits, especially in regions with coral structures. And that’s no surprise, given their name!

When targeting Coral Trout, it’s essential to consider their environment. The reef can easily cut through lines, so a robust and abrasion-resistant line is a must. To entice Trout further, live baits such as small fish or prawns prove to be irresistible. Once you’ve landed one, you’re in for a culinary treat – this is one of the most delicious reef fishes in the ocean!


A man with a long, grey beard and wearing a hat, siting on a fishing charter and holding a large Queenfish near sunset on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Get Out & About Whitsundays Fishing

These royal beauties are known for their aerial displays and long runs when hooked. With a streamlined body, distinctive dorsal fin, and silver scales, Queenfish are the embodiment of elegance and power. Typically, they weigh anywhere from 3 to 10 kilograms (7 to 22 pounds), though some might even tip the scales at 15 kilos (33 pounds).

Fishing for Queenfish often involves using lures, with surface poppers and stick baits being particularly effective. The good news is that Queenfish readily take to most offerings thanks to their incredible appetite. Ideal spots to target these fish include estuaries, coastal flats, and river mouths along the Great Barrier Reef, especially during incoming tides.

A critical factor to remember when pursuing Queenfish is their tendency to leap and thrash once hooked. It’s not just about getting a bite! Keeping them on the line is a challenge in itself. Locals often use a light tackle to make the experience even more thrilling, as every tug and pull is felt in its entirety.


A man standing on a fishing boat, holding a large Barramundi, with turquoise waters visible behind him, along with some trolling rods on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Ian Moody Sportfishing–MissionBeach

Arguably one of Australia’s most iconic fish, Barramundi are both a sportfishing favourite and a culinary delight. Characterised by their large scales, strong body, and distinct jawline, ‘Barra‘ are absolute superstars. While they average around 5 to 10 kilograms (11–22 pounds), some Barramundi in the Great Barrier Reef have been known to exceed 20 kilos (44 pounds)!

Lure fishing, especially using soft plastics or hard-bodied lures, is a go-to method for many Barramundi anglers. The key is to mimic the movement of smaller fish, which are the primary prey for these predators. Look for them in freshwater lagoons, river mouths, and estuaries around the Great Barrier Reef, particularly during the wet season when they’re most active.

One of the standout characteristics of Barramundi is their acrobatics. When hooked, they’re known to leap out of the water. It’s crucial to have a sturdy line and a good drag system to handle their aggressive runs and jumps. Once you’ve managed to reel in a Barra, you’re in for a treat!


A man and a woman sitting on a fishing charter offshore from the Great Barrier Reef with a large Marlin held across their lap, with water behind them on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Get Out & About Whitsundays Fishing & Tours

Marlin fishing in the Great Barrier Reef is nothing short of legendary. Both Black and Blue Marlin patrol these waters, offering anglers the challenge and thrill of a lifetime. Black Marlin are true giants of the sea, with the record catch weighing in at a staggering 650 kilograms (1,433 pounds), while Blue Marlin, although slightly smaller, are equally formidable, often ranging between 100 and 400 kilos (220–882 pounds).

Trolling with large lures or skip baits is the standard GBR technique when targeting Marlin. These pelagic beasts hang out in the deep blue waters beyond the reef, so charters focusing on offshore deep-sea fishing are your best bet. The Ribbon Reefs and the waters around Lizard Island are the most renowned Marlin hotspots.

Fighting a Marlin requires strength, skill, and patience. Timing is also crucial. Once you’ve encountered and battled one of these majestic creatures, it’s an experience you’re unlikely to forget!

Bonus: Tuna

Three anglers standing on a fishing charter offshore from Queensland, holding a large Tuna on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Black Magic 40ft Game Boat

Tuna are synonymous with speed and power in the angling world, especially in the Great Barrier Reef. This is the playground of various species, including Yellowfin, Bluefin, Dogtooth, Longtail, and Skipjack Tuna. Yellowfin, with their sleek body and, surprise, yellow fins, can reach up to 150 kilograms (330 pounds). Bluefin are slightly smaller but just as vigorous and Dogtooth Tuna, with their distinct teeth and aggressive nature, are a unique challenge. Meanwhile, Longtail and Skipjack are perfect for light tackle enthusiasts.

Trolling with skirted lures or live bait is effective for most Tuna species, with the deep waters beyond the reef being the ideal location. Specific hotspots include the Ribbon Reefs and the regions around the continental shelf drop-offs. Different species have different preferences. For example, Dogtooth Tuna are often found near reef drop-offs, while Yellowfin prefer open waters.

Fighting a Tuna is all about endurance. Regardless of the species, hooking a Tuna is any fisher’s goal. And, once on board, their meat is a sashimi lover’s dream.

How to Go Fishing in the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef isn’t just a national treasure. Stretching over thousands of kilometres, this marine marvel is as vast as it is vibrant. You can drop a line from sun-kissed shores, venture into the deep blue waters, or hop on a charter to reach those legendary fishing spots. Let’s discuss the ins and outs of Great Barrier reef fishing.

Kayak Fishing in the Great Barrier Reef

A bird's eye view of a lone kayak making its way along the Great Barrier Reef's clear waters on a bright day

Kayak fishing in the Great Barrier Reef offers an intimate experience, bringing you face-to-face with some of the reef’s most stunning creatures. As you paddle through the clear waters, you can enjoy coral lagoons and sheltered channels. These are some of the spots often untouched by larger boats.

Coral Trout, Sweetlip, and various Trevally species often hover around coral structures, attracted by small bait fish. For those seeking a challenge, GT often patrols these waters, too. Light to medium tackle is best, with soft plastics and small lures imitating local bait fish proving most effective.

Deep Sea Fishing in the Great Barrier Reef

A man sitting in a fighting chair aboard a fishing charter on the Great Barrier Reef, as another man helps him from behind on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Australian Black Marlin Charters

Venturing into the depths beyond the reef’s edge, deep-sea fishing in the Great Barrier Reef is an angler’s dream. Here, the continental shelf plunges into the abyss, creating the perfect conditions for Marlin, Tuna, and Mahi Mahi. The Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef are prime locations, known for their deep channels.

The deep blue also holds its secrets, with shipwrecks and submerged structures often becoming hotspots for a range of species. Great Barrier Reef deep sea fishing isn’t just about the catch but the adrenaline of the unknown. Every drop or troll has the potential to hook into a record-breaker – a fish of a lifetime – set against the backdrop of the world’s largest coral reef.

Charter Fishing in the Great Barrier Reef

A view across the water towards a fishing charter anchored near the shore in the Whitsunday Islands, with a group of anglers looking towards the camera
Photo courtesy of Whitsunday Fishing–Reel Deal

When you’re after the full spectrum of what the Great Barrier Reef fishing has to offer, booking a charter is the answer. Numerous professional skippers provide tailored trips all along the coast. Depending on your interest and skill level, you can book a half-day inshore trip or a multi-day expedition to distant waters.

On these charters, you can target a range of species, from Coral Trout on the inner reefs to mighty Marlin in the deeper waters. Expert crews bring local knowledge, guiding you to the best spots and advising on the most effective techniques. Most charters provide all the necessary gear, from rods and reels to bait and lures, allowing for variety.

Great Barrier Reef Fishing Techniques

A man wading up to his waist in clear inshore waters in Australia near the Great Barrier Reef on a sunny day, with a fly fishing rod held above his elbow, ready to cast
Photo courtesy of Tropical Sportfisher

In the Great Barrier Reef, trolling is a dominant method, especially for pelagic species like Marlin and Tuna. Here, lures or bait are dragged behind a moving boat, enticing strikes from curious predators.

Casting soft plastics or poppers around coral bommies and channels is also effective for species like Trevally and Queenfish. Their aggressive nature makes for explosive surface strikes, especially during early morning or late afternoon feeding frenzies. For bottom dwellers like Coral Trout and Nannygai, bottom bouncing with live bait or jigs around coral structures can be particularly productive.

Jigging, especially vertical jigging, is another favoured technique. By dropping metal jigs to deep underwater pinnacles and retrieving them with a rhythmic motion, you can attract species like Dogtooth Tuna or Amberjack.

Lastly, fly fishing, especially in the shallows, can be a unique challenge. Targeting species like Giant Trevally on the fly demands precision and patience but promises unparalleled satisfaction when you land one.

Great Barrier Reef Fishing Spots

A view across the water towards an inlet in Yorkeys Knob, leading out to the Pacific Ocean and the Great Barrier Reef on a clear day

Now that you know what to target and how, let’s delve into the specific fishing spots of the Great Barrier Reef:

  • Cairns. The “gateway to the GBR”, Cairns is often referred to as the “Black Marlin capital of the world” too. Here, you’ll find a mix of pelagics and reef fish to challenge your angling skills, especially between October and December.
  • Lizard Island. More than just a honeymooner’s paradise, this island provides some of the best access points to the productive fishing grounds of the reef. Known for its Black Marlin, it’s a focal point during the annual Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic.
  • Port Douglas. Just north of Cairns, this is the gateway to the northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef. Port Douglas has calm blue waters and an abundance of reef fish, serving as an ideal location for those wanting to combine a luxury coastal retreat with prime fishing opportunities.
  • Airlie Beach. This coastal town in Queensland’s Whitsunday Region is a popular base for anglers looking to explore the southern parts of the Great Barrier Reef. You’re likely to hook Coral Trout, Sweetlip, Red Emperor, along with a range of pelagic species. It’s also, naturally, a starting point for those venturing out to the Whitsunday Islands.
  • Yorkeys Knob. Just a stone’s throw from Cairns, Yorkeys Knob is known for its boating club and marina, which sees many anglers set off for fishing trips. The nearby reefs teem with species like Coral Trout, Nannygai, and Spanish Mackerel. It’s also a favoured spot for a GT haunt.
  • Ribbon Reefs. This chain of ten individual reefs stretches north of Cairns to Lizard Island. It offers the chance to land species like Coral Trout, Giant Trevally, and Spanish Mackerel, especially in the north.
  • Low Isles. Closer to Port Douglas, these isles are surrounded by coral formations. A haven for light tackle enthusiasts, they offer a mix of reef species and are perfect for a day trip.

Great Barrier Reef Fishing Seasons

In the land down under, where the sun often shines bright, the question isn’t if you can fish the Great Barrier Reef, but rather when you should cast a line for the best results. Each season has its own unique charm.

A young boy struggling with a bent rod as he stands on the side of a fishing charter in the Great Barrier Reed on a day with sunny intervals
Photo courtesy of Reel Addiction Sport Fishing Charters

Summer (December to February) sees the beginning of the wet season. It’s prime time for chasing Black Marlin around Cairns and Port Douglas. The freshwater inflow can also trigger Barramundi to become more active, especially around estuaries. But be wary of the occasional cyclone.

Autumn (March to May) is a great period to target reef fish such as Coral Trout around Airlie Beach and Lizard Island. Moreover, as the waters around the Whitsundays warm up, where you’ll find Spanish Mackerel.

Winter (June to August) in Queensland is anything but cold. It’s a refreshing time with clear skies and calm seas, perfect for a trip to the Outer Barrier Reef. Yellowfin and Dogtooth Tuna become the talk of the town. Yorkeys Knob and Hideaway Bay are especially bustling with activity during these months.

Spring (September to November) is a transitional period, where the waters start warming up again. It’s during these months that anglers, both novice and seasoned, flock to spots like Cardwell and the Ribbon Reefs. The reason? It’s the prelude to the Black Marlin season. Plus, the increasing water temperatures lure species like Giant Trevally and Queenfish closer to shore.

Great Barrier Reef Regulations

An infographic featuring the flag of Queensland followed by text that says "Great Barrier Reef Fishing Regulations What You Need to Know" along with the FishingBooker logo

Fishing in the Great Barrier Reef isn’t just about casting a line and hoping for the best. Here’s a quick list of rules to keep in mind:

  • Licence. While you won’t need a licence, you’ll need a Stocked Impoundment Permit (SIP) for freshwater fishing in rivers, creeks, and stocked impoundments. Luckily, most fishing charters operating in the area possess all the essential permits, allowing guests to fish hassle-free.
  • Zoning. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is divided into different zones, each with its own set of rules. While some zones allow recreational fishing, others, such as the ‘Green Zones’ (Marine National Park Zones), are strictly no-take areas.
  • Size and Bag Limits. Whether you’re after Coral Trout or dreaming of that massive Barramundi, familiarise yourself with the legal sizes and bag limits set by the Queensland Government.
  • Protected Species. Some species within the Great Barrier Reef are protected, like Humphead Maori Wrasse or the Potato Cod.
  • Gear Restrictions. Using a spear gun in the Marine National Park Zones is a no-go. There are also restrictions on the number of hooks you can use on a single line.
  • Seasonal Closures. Some areas of the reef undergo periodic closures, primarily to protect spawning aggregations of fish. For example, Coral Trout and Red Emperor have particular times during the year when fishing for them is restricted.

Fishing the Great Barrier Reef: The World’s Largest Coral System

A view out of the bow of a fishing boat on the Great Barrier Reef, with the reef visible in front of the boat on a clear day

In the expanse of our planet, few places hold the allure and magic of the Great Barrier Reef. For anglers, it’s not just about the thrill of the catch, but the privilege of fishing in a world-renowned ecosystem. As you embark on your journey fishing in the Great Barrier Reef, remember that you’re not just an observer. Here, every cast and every catch matters. Tight lines!

Have you ever been on a Great Barrier Reef fishing trip? How was it? Let us know in the comments below!

The post Great Barrier Reef Fishing: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Lisa
Title: Great Barrier Reef Fishing: The Complete Guide
Sourced From: fishingbooker.com/blog/great-barrier-reef-fishing/
Published Date: Wed, 01 Nov 2023 13:35:39 +0000

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