Head seawards from the tiny fishing village of Dungeness in North Queensland and pretty soon you’ll have to make a tough decision. Do you swing to starboard and see how you measure up to the piscatorial challenges of tangling with the tackle-munching monsters that live at the end of the 5.76km long Lucinda Sugar Loading Jetty – the longest service jetty in the southern hemisphere. Or do you steer to port and explore and fish the winding mangrove creeks, secluded bays and tumbling waterfalls of Australia’s largest island national park – the World Heritage listed Hinchinbrook Island.
Either way you won’t be disappointed, especially if you enjoy a blend of exciting fishing and relaxed, family boating in a truly spectacular setting. Whenever we’ve visited this area we’ve always managed to indulge in both options – and you can too.
Dungeness and the nearby township of Lucinda are located around 250 kilometres south of Cairns and 140 kilometres north of Townsville. There are two turnoffs from the Bruce Highway just north of the sugar town of Ingham – one on the town’s northern outskirts and another 10kms further north. Lucinda and Dungeness are located around 24kms from Ingham.
When To Go
This area can fish well all year round, but wet season flooding from a number of large river systems nearby can result in plumes of muddy, fresh water which can make the fishing challenging at best. Flooding can also cut roads and prevent you from getting into or out of North Queensland. And there are the summer temperatures to contend with.
Generally speaking it’s advisable to avoid visiting between January and March and don’t be surprised if you cop wet, steamy conditions (even cyclones) either side of this period.
Weather conditions from April through to November are bearable to glorious, with the winter months producing the most comfortable temperatures. School holidays and the Easter long weekend are popular with the locals, while the caravan park is often full of grey nomads between about June and August. October to December can be hot, but the mornings are more likely to be calm. At this time of the year clued-up locals fish for a few hours in the morning and are home before the afternoon sea breeze picks up.
Winter’s prevailing, strong, south-easterly winds can limit small-boat access to the jetty and the eastern side of Hinchinbrook Island, but in these conditions anglers still have the option of the mangrove creeks which flow into the relatively sheltered waters of the Hinchinbrook Channel. The good news is that winter can also produce light winds and glassed-out seas – perfect conditions to fish the jetty and explore the exposed eastern side of Hinchinbrook.
Accommodation and Facilities
Accommodation options in the Lucinda/Dungeness area include a caravan park with powered sites and units, a hotel/motel, a motel, a resort with luxury townhouses and units and a range of private beach houses available for rent. Houseboats are also available for hire, providing you with both on-water accommodation and a vessel to fish and explore the Hinchinbrook Channel. During school holidays and long weekends accommodation can be at a premium, so book ahead.
There are shops selling limited groceries, take-aways, ice and fuel at Lucinda and Dungeness and the hotel/motel also serves meals.
Dungeness is the main launching point for this area and boasts excellent facilities. There is a four-lane concrete ramp into Dungeness Creek, a loading pontoon, wash-down facilities, a large carpark, security lighting, toilets and a picnic area and playground.
This ramp is tidal-dependent. You’ll need at least 0.5m of tide to launch and about a metre to get out of the creek and into the bluewater. Please note that these conditions can change so it’s best to seek local knowledge and allow a fair safety margin of tide height when navigating the creek.
There is a number of single-lane, basic, gravel ramps in the surrounding area which provide access to the estuaries. All these ramps are tidal-dependent and a 4WD may be required. Check with the locals for further information.
Nearly 6kms in length and held aloft by 660 pylons, the Lucinda Sugar Loading Jetty is one giant FAD (Fish Attracting Device) if nothing else. It concentrates some amazing bluewater fishing in one spot and, being just a short run from the boat ramp, it’s accessible by even medium sized tinnies on a calm day. No pedestrian access is available to this jetty so you will need a boat to fish it. Land-based anglers can fish from the old jetty with access from Lucinda.
Inshore there are expansive, shallow sandflats both sides of the jetty, but by sticking relatively close to the pylons on the north side and keeping an eye on your sounder, you should be able to navigate this section on half tide or higher. If you’re concerned about the shallow waters then set a couple of shallow-running lures and slowly troll the length of the jetty rather than speeding out – the rewards can include barramundi, fingermark, queenfish and trevally. Once again, check with the locals for the latest info.
From around the halfway mark the water gets steadily deeper (and the potential trolling rewards greater) while the end of the jetty sits in around 20 metres of water. Here another jetty joins the main one, forming a T-shape where the ships berth and are loaded.
Remember to stay well clear of any ship movements or loading operations and don’t drive under any part of the jetty.
The fishing here can be exciting and varied with both pelagic and bottom dwelling species calling this pylon forest home. Mackerel, tuna, trevally, queenfish and cobia all cruise the surface and middle layers of water while the gloomy, rubble bottom holds the likes of fingermark, grunter, coral trout, nannygai and emperor.
Fishing techniques are equally varied – and successful.
For the pelagics you can anchor up and drift baits of pilchard or other bait fish under a float. Live baits are even better. You can also troll diving lures along the face of the jetty (be mindful of other boats working the same small area) or cast poppers or metal slices close to the pylons. One option which is bound to get you seriously stretched is to let a heavy metal slice sink to the bottom amongst the pylons and then rip it up at speed. It drives the trevally and queenies nuts and you’ll need to be fishing heavy tackle to hold some of the horses out of the pylons.
If you fancy the tastier bottom species you’ll need a good supply of fresh baits (herring, mullet, large prawns or squid) and tackle to stop them in their tracks. I would suggest at least a 15 to 20kgs rod and reel or a heavy handline. A paternoster or a simple running sinker rig is a good way to present the bait close to the bottom. Depending on the tides, the current at the end of the jetty can be strong, so you’ll need a variety of sinker sizes to ensure you get to the bottom.
You could also try luring the bottom with large, heavily weighted soft plastics. Hop them slowly beside the pylons and hang on tight.
From Dungeness, Hinchinbrook Island offers two worthwhile options to travelling anglers new to the area.
The first is to fish the myriad of mangrove creeks which twist and intertwine and eventually spill into the 22 nautical mile long Hinchinbrook Channel, which lies between the mainland and the island. You’ll probably need a lifetime to thoroughly cover this amazing stretch of water and mangroves. For visitors the best bet is to pick a few estuaries or channel features with the help of a good map, Google Earth or a few friendly locals and concentrate your efforts on these spots.
Species you can expect to catch in the estuaries and along the channel edges include barramundi, mangrove jack, fingermark, cod, bream, grunter, salmon and trevally. Deeper holes in the channel are popular targets for the likes of fingermark and even nannygai, especially at night.
Best baits in the estuaries are fresh mullet and herring fished either live or slabbed, as well as prawns. A cast net is legal in Queensland and can be a real asset when chasing fresh bait. If you don’t have one then buy one and learn to throw it. Do, however, remember you’re in crocodile country and be wary whenever you’re near the water’s edge.
For lure fishing I would suggest a range of hard-bodied and soft plastic lures from 70 to 140mm long. Both shallow and deep divers can be handy. I’m not going to enter into the colour debate except to say that I have a weakness for any lure with a splash of red on it. The most popular boat for luring the estuaries is a tinnie up to about 4.5m in length fitted with an electric outboard.
When flicking lures, target the larger snags in particular, especially if they’re lying in deep water. The trick is to drop the lure as close as possible to the timber – and then get it out again. This can be heart-stopping stuff and is one of my favourite forms of lure fishing. Jacks and barramundi will probably be your main target, but all of the fish species mentioned above are possibilities.
Other features which the locals regularly target are the creeks and drains that wind across the mudflats at low tide. These drains carry a range of baitfish and crustaceans as the tide recedes from the flats, attracting a range of predators. Cast to or troll past the spots where these spill into the main channel and you’re likely to score a number of the predators listed above.
Hinchinbrook Island’s second option if the weather is calm is to stow the rods and explore the eastern side of the island, at least as far up as Zoe Bay. At around 10 nautical miles from Dungeness, Zoe was described by cruising author Allan Lucas as “perhaps the most beautiful place on the entire east coast of Australia”.
Round Hillock Point just to the south of Zoe Bay on a calm day and you’ll know exactly what Lucas meant. Ahead lies a 2.5km long sliver of white sand, cut at each end by mangrove-lined creeks and backed by the rugged, rainforest-shrouded slopes of 1121m high Mt. Bowen, Hinchinbrook’s highest peak. It’s a scene straight out of a classic South Seas Islands movie.
North Zoe Creek is the larger of the two creeks and navigable with care by sharp-eyed trailer boat skippers, but it is the southern creek which draws most crews – and for good reason. South Zoe Creek’s mouth is shallow (you might have to walk your vessel in on a low tide) and there are submerged rocks to avoid a short distance upstream, but once you’re inside you can securely anchor stern-on to the sandy bank and step easily ashore.
Amongst the shoreline trees you’ll find a track leading to a national parks campsite and toilets just behind the beach. From here the track continues into the rainforest, roughly following and at one stage crossing, the upper reaches of South Zoe Creek. It eventually leads to a large swimming hole below a waterfall which, it is claimed, never stops flowing.
This is what makes Zoe so special, especially if you’re visiting during the warmer months. It’s not hard to spend hours just sitting on submerged boulders in the cool, clear water with schools of jungle perch swimming expectantly at your feet.
So, whether you steer to starboard or port as you leave Dungeness, the options are memorable. Exciting fishing at the end of the north’s biggest FAD, heart-stopping luring for tropical terrors in the winding mangrove creeks of The Channel, or relaxed cruising along a stunningly scenic coast followed by a swim in a hidden waterfall – does it get any better?
I think not.