A gulf in class – Scott Coghlan on the magnificent wilderness fishing on offer in Exmouth Gulf

It’s one of WA’s great fishing destinations and if you truly want to sample wilderness fishing at its best without having to go too deep off the grid – head no further than Exmouth Gulf.   

With its fish-rich shallow waters, mangrove-lined creek system, numerous shoals and scattered reefs, the fishing and wilderness experiences on offer in Exmouth Gulf are world-class. 

Exmouth Gulf is one of the State’s great accessible wilderness fishing areas and is the envy of sportfishers from around the country.  

There is nowhere else quite like it in WA. It’s a place where we can cast a line for a wide range of species from bluewater speedsters to creek-dwellers, while seeing grazing dugongs, lazy turtles and gliding manta rays, or while enjoying the spectacle of dolphins and whales putting on a show in a pristine environment. 

It’s a superb fishing location and the natural attractions are part of what makes this place so treasured by both local and visiting anglers. 

The Gulf has come under threat recently from industrial development, and Recfishwest has, and will continue to do all we can to ensure we can all continue to enjoy what the Gulf has to offer and protect the values that matter most to fishers. We trust we can count on your support in the future to help us protect what’s important to our community. 

With many of you heading north, we asked Western Angler Editor Scott Coghlan to profile the Gulf and the fantastic fishing available for those making the trip – not too far out of town.  

Here’s what Scott had to share with us: 

Something for everyone

I’ve been lucky enough to fish the Gulf for many years now and it is just an absolute delight to be able to spend time exploring its margins, from Exmouth south to Giralia, and then up the east coast towards Onslow. 

It offers a wide range of fishing opportunities to please just about every fisho, from shore, boat and, as we have found, kayak. 

From the shore-based giant trevally at Oysters, to the coral trout and mackies of the shoals, to the queenfish, trevally and even permit of the flats, the whiting off the beaches, through to the mangrove jack, cod and crab of the creeks, and even billfish at times, there is something for everyone.  

There are beaches to walk, islands to explore, rocky points to traverse, oyster stacks to drift past, shoals to fish on and sandy cays that emerge on certain tides, all with resident fish and other marine animals around them. 

Big brassy trevally are often found on Gulf shoals.

Kayak fishing heaven

Much of my time at Exmouth in recent years has been spent exploring the eastern side of the Gulf around our base at the Wilderness Island camp, which is just about heaven on earth for keen sport fishers. 

Usually fishing in kayaks, we’ve enjoyed some amazing action on a surprisingly diverse range of species given the distance limitations with kayaks.  

Almost always in shallow water around the flats, we’ve caught big Spanish mackerel, longtail tuna, cobia, massive giant herring, countless queenfish and even barramundi, as well as golden, giant and brassy trevally.  

Metre-plus queenfish are a Gulf staple, this one caught by Matt McCarthy.

For the avid fly-caster, we’ve also seen prized permit and blue bastards, along with reef dwellers such as cod, coral trout and spangled emperor. When we head up the creeks, we find countless mangrove jack and cod, as well as mud crabs. 

Gliding silently about at a leisurely pace in kayaks, we’ve had incredible encounters with grazing dugongs and whirling manta rays, while constantly surprising big rays and cruising turtles. It always amuses me how turtles will slowly surface right next to the kayak, unaware you are there, look around lazily to check the coast is clear, and then react with extraordinary surprise at our presence. 

Squid are never far away and a walk along the beaches can produce anything from hordes of whiting, flathead and bream to big queenies, trevally and barra that are cruising the margins. 

Even if the bigger fish aren’t playing, light tackle fishing with bream gear along the shallows can be awesome fun, as it is often a fish a cast for small stuff like whiting, little trevally, flathead and bream. 

It is a similar story around the islands in the Gulf, where almost all the same species can be found, often in huge numbers on the right stage of the tide. And just about any rocky point, sand bar or outcrop will have fish lurking around it as long as there is enough water for them to get there. 

A huge giant herring for Glenn Edwards off the yak.

Easy beach access 

The Exmouth side of the Gulf is a similar story, with shore fishing opportunities for all the same species from the southern end to northern tip. Bay of Rest is a popular spot, especially for jacks and mud crabbing. 

The Learmonth Jetty is great for families, producing both bread and butter species and bigger fare, even turning up some very lost Australian salmon a few years ago! 

The beaches south of Exmouth are easy to access and walk, and can be dynamite for whiting, bream and flatties, while the marina and connected canals is another great family fishing spot. It holds some big jacks, loads of cod and bream, and plenty of small trevally and queenies at times. The outer walls often produce bigger queenies and there have seen Spaniards and even a sailfish caught inside there. 

Walking the shore during a break from the kayak paid off for Glenn Edwards.

The biggest flathead I have ever caught was on fly at the boat ramp! You can also pop into the Exmouth Game Fishing Club of an evening and grab a feed while enjoying one of the best sunset views going around. 

Just north of town, Old Bundegi can produce golden trevally and queenfish for shore anglers, while near the top of the Gulf, Oysters is famed for big GT’s from the shore and a range of other species including queenies and mackerel. 

For those with boats, the Gulf possibilities are almost endless. Although it’s not a particularly deep area generally and indeed a lot of it is very shallow and requires some navigational care, the shoals that rise out of deeper water hold plenty of different species. 

At times, golden and brassy trevally are thick and can easily be found by their surface activity, and there are always pelagics like Spanish and school mackerel, and longtail tuna patrolling them. Bottom fishers will pick up coral trout, spangled emperor and cod, and even the odd black jewfish shows up. 

At the top of the Gulf, bait often aggregates late in the year and draws sailfish into the area, offering some incredible shallow-water billfish excitement unlike nothing else in WA. 

Closer to the town marina, King Reef – the artificial reef deployed by Recfishwest – has become a fish magnet for a wide range of species, not the least of which are some huge golden trevally that will test any angler. 

Precious and unique  

Exmouth is most famous for its bluewater fishing out from the incredible Ningaloo Reef, but the Gulf is a precious and unique fishing location with an allure all of its own, and especially for lure casters like me. 

 In recent years, the Gulf has been recognised as a fishing destination of immense value, including attracting fly-fishers from across the globe to target permit. The more you explore the Gulf, the more you find – its waters hold many angling surprises and boasts a superb range of fishing options to suit all styles of anglers and every level of experience.  

Not only that, but it’s also relatively protected from the weather than can affect the west coast and can offer a great alternative when conditions at Ningaloo are no good for fishing, although don’t think it doesn’t get rough, as the combination of wind and short chop can be horrific! 

I love spending time in Exmouth Gulf and maintaining access to this unique part of the coast for recreational fishers should be of vital importance to not just local and visiting anglers, but anyone who has ever enjoyed casting a line in WA.

Fishing on foot in front of the camp at Wilderness Island.

Industrial development threatens the gulf’s unique fishing experiences 

As we reported back in September 2020, a major proposal were shelved to build a pipeline construction and loading facility in the south-west corner of Exmouth Gulf, right next to some of the most popular fishing spots of Wapet Creeek and the Bay of Rest.

Industrialising a place of wild beauty and highly valued wilderness fishing opportunities like the gulf seemed to be a ridiculous proposal to Recfishwest and many members of the fishing community.

Subsequently, Recfishwest submitted our objection to this development through the EPA process, and with many other organisations taking a similar view,  the proponent for the project decided not to proceed. This means that for, now at least, the wilderness fishing experiences offered in that part of the gulf are protected. 

It’s no time for complacency, however, as there are two other developments currently proposed for Gulf waters that we are keeping a close eye on. One is a solar salt development on the eastern side of the Gulf, the other a proposed jetty and port facility south of Exmouth township. Both of these developments could have significant impacts on fishing experiences in the area.  

Recfishwest is continuing to monitor these projects as they progress toward gaining the relevant approvals. We will keep you updated during these processes and ensure that your views are put forward when decision-makers are asked to judge these developments. In the meantime, stay updated through our newsletter, website and social media channels to keep up to date. 

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