by Lee Brake
Small, secluded and alluringly tranquil St Helens Beach in north Queensland is one of the state’s little hidden gems situated centrally in a bay fed by a multitude of mangrove creeks.
What the rocks! Most of the local creeks have rock bars, so don't go roaring around until you know the area.
To say that the St Helens area is heaven for small boat enthusiasts would be pretty much right on the money. There are close to a dozen creeks to explore and fish, ranging from tiny mangrove and rock lined inlets to long meandering systems that wind inland past the Bruce Highway and offer excellent freshwater sport. Add to this more rock and mangrove flats than you can poke a rod at, a string of inshore islands, some deep holes, sandy beaches and prime land based hotspots and you have the perfect destination for the travelling angler looking to explore somewhere different.
This little oasis of piscatorial perfection is situated about 15 minutes off the Bruce Highway (turn off at Calen) and is roughly and hour’s drive north from Mackay or south from Proserpine. It’s not the place to come if you want an internet cafe on the corner and a drive through Maccas, but if you like the idea of an escape from the hustle and bustle, this is a good spot to keep in mind.
Working steep banks around mid-tide with mid-depth divers is a creek way to pull barra and jacks. Make sure you're getting your lures right into the back of the fallen timber though!
Tranquillity aside – and that’s available in spades – this is fishing county. A quick drive down St Helen’s main street will reveal to visitors just how fishing orientated this little community of less than 100 houses is. Every house has a boat – sometimes two or even three – and cast nets hanging on clothes lines, crab pots stacked under mango trees, rods leaning up against old tin sheds and empty boat trailers in various states of repair are all everyday sights. These aren’t your Skeeter owning, graphite wielding fishos either; they’re mostly retirees and holidaying farmers who prawn, crab and soak a few baits. It’s a simple life and a good one.
What’s on offer
I personally love St Helens Beach because there are so many piscatorial options available. Even if you don’t have a boat, prawns can be netted (cast or drag) off the beach near Carpet Snake Point and Skull Knob; grunter, parrotfish, whiting and flathead can all be caught off the beach and its points; mud and sand crabs can be caught by putting pots overnight around the beach’s fringing mangroves and you can even walk out to the mouth of Jane Creek at low water to chase a barra or salmon in the hole there.
Now that's a crab! There are plenty of bucks around, but fresh baits in well placed pots will work best. Kangaroo haunches or ox heart are crabby delicacies!
If you have access to a boat, you have a host of options depending on where you want to launch and the tide you want to fish. It is possible to run around from Seaforth without much fuss. Many anglers do just this and if you’re planning on fishing the area over the top of the tide, it’s not a bad option; however, if you want to work the St Helen’s area more thoroughly, it’ll pay to launch locally, as sandbars are a key feature of the bay. The ramp at Carpet Snake Point isn’t bad, but is a half tide ramp and should also be avoided if there’s strong northerly wind blowing. From here you can fish the local creeks with ease and it is a very short run over to Jane Creek and not much further to Blackrock, Station or Saunders. All of these systems receive only light recreational pressure through most of the year and fish very well. Blackrock and Jane are also nice, deep creeks with plenty of deep holes and bends. This makes them exceptional barra, jack and fingermark creeks, and whether live baiting, bouncing plastics or trolling you can expect some impressive catches. The mouth of Jane is an easily accessible spot and there are plenty of snags, drains and holes to keep you occupied. Grunter fishos will also find some nice shale bottom through this area.
The author walking on St Helens Beach at low tide. Heading out to cast the net for some prawns.
Blackrock is more extensive and, as the name suggests, it is full of rocks! As you push upstream almost every bend has another rock bar and these can yield rewards for the thinking angler and bent props for the unwary. Work the deeper sections of these on the run out tide with plastics, blades or bait for bream and jacks, switch to barra gear for the first of the run in, and then finish off by going back to the finesse gear as the tide rises to tempt grunter and fingermark. Trolling the whole system slowly with medium and shallow divers like B52s, Classics and RMGs on your first visit is a productive and informative way to get to know its layout. Further around the bay are Station and Saunders Creeks. Both of these are tricky to navigate around the bottom half of the tide and are mostly popular for crabbing, but Station does have some pockets of deep water that fish well for barra and jacks. Also worth being aware of is the Green Zone that exists at this end of the bay which encompasses the Brothers Islands and the headlands at the point of the peninsular (check your zoning map).
The inshore islands, reefs and headlands are also well worth your attention. Low Rock (a.k.a Lonely Reef) sits all by itself between Croaker Rock and Carpet Snake Point and its isolation makes it an attractive target for fingermark, the odd cod and reef fish and school mackerel. It’s best trolled or live baited, however, casting 5-7' plastics around its fringes will get results. The High Islands to the north are popular for coral trout and grassy sweetlip and are popular for mackerel trolling. From there it’s about an hour’s run out to the Smith Group of islands which are extensive and contain some excellent reef fishing as well as some outstanding anchorages, but that’s for another issue.
The area is fairly well known for its grunter (javelin fish) through the cooler months. These fish will take fresh baits or soft plastics and put up a dogged fight!
There are a few options for those visiting the area. The Mackay City Council maintained camp grounds at St Helens Beach itself are popular and sites are well kept with facilities available. Otherwise, Saint Helens Gardens Tourist Park offers a variety of accommodation and is situated on the bank of St Helens Creek back towards Calen.
Camping information Mackay website
The area is crawling with rat barra throughout most of the year. Snag resistant minnows are my weapon of choice. Trolling deep divers and working plastics in deep holes does produce the odd monster!