Scott’s Spots – Denham, the gateway to Shark Bay

It’s the gateway to Shark Bay and as such Denham deserves to be held in the highest regard by West Aussie anglers, reports Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan in this week’s Scott’s Spots.

Shark Bay is famous for its pinkie fishing.

Shark Bay and its surrounds offer a magnificently diverse and exciting fishery with much to offer anglers of all persuasions.

Denham is located about 800km from Perth by road and can be reached by turning off the Great Northern Highway at the Overlander Roadhouse. From there it’s about 130km to the town and the regular glimpses of water as you drive towards Denham should start to whet the appetite of any keen fisher. Once there, Denham boasts a good boat ramp from which trailerboats can explore the vastness of Shark Bay, all the way to Dirk Hartog Island and even beyond to Bernier and Dorre islands. That’s a lot of water to fish, so much that few could manage to try it all in a lifetime. 

Fishing out from the islands offers a chance at prized species like this red emperor.

While a lot of Shark Bay is quite shallow and relatively featureless that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of fishing opportunities. These start right in the town itself, where countless squid are caught from the jetty every year, along with tailor, whiting and the odd pink snapper and mulloway.  A boat is not necessary to enjoy Shark Bay fishing and wading the shallows around Denham, and in other spots in the Bay, can produce some exceptional light tackle action on whiting, flathead and yellowfin bream, plus maybe a few tailor and even pink snapper. 

The bluffs of Shark Bay offer some good fishing opportunities.

There are a number of bays and bluffs that offer some great opportunities for shore fishers, or even those who want to explore in a kayak. Little Lagoon can be worth trying for yellowfin whiting, flathead and yellowfin bream. Boaters have the option to explore the wider reaches of Shark Bay and will find a vast range of fishing that offers plenty of diversity This area is famous for producing big numbers of pink snapper and, while this fishery was once forced to the brink of collapse, tight management has seen it bounce back. It is an important spawning area for pinkies and there are many locations within Shark Bay that can produce snapper in good numbers, including out around the islands.

Shark Bay is also renowned for producing some of the biggest cobia you’d ever see and some absolute monsters to more than 60 kilos have been caught there. 

Mulloway are a common catch in Shark Bay.

Mulloway are another regular catch in Shark Bay and will be caught in many similar locations to pinkies, while tailor can be found around many headlands and although fish in the 1-2kg range are most common, there are jumbos to be had by those in the know. 

Grass emperor, commonly known as black snapper, are a common catch in the shallows of Shark Bay, and school mackerel regularly show up 

Boats can also be launched at nearby Monkey Mia to access similar fishing, with the tip of Cape Peron producing some good action at times. The waters around Faure Island are fascinating, with channels snaking their way through the channels and these can fish well at times for the usual Shark Bay species, including some nice trevally. There is launching available at Nanga Station on the western side of the Peron Peninsula and this area is good for snapper, while the shallows there offer similar options to Denham. 

Jamie Chester with a big trevally caught near Dirk Hartog Island.

For those who get the right weather to make the long trip to the islands, there is superb fishing all around Dirk Hartog Island (DHI).

Shark mackerel are often seen chasing bait in the sheltered anchorage of Turtle Bay and you don’t need to venture far from there to experience some great fishing for a wide range of species. 

Pinkies are a common catch west and north of the tip of DHI, along with various species of trevally, and the demersal fishing can be excellent for all the usual species associated with the Mid-West, including some thumping coral trout. 

Pelagics like Spaniards, tuna, cobia and wahoo work the west side of DHI and there’s the chance of billfish, particularly sailfish.  

Dirk Hartog Island’s rugged west side is home to giant trevally and big tailor.

Casting lures at the rocks can produce giant trevally and some jumbo tailor. 

The east side of DHI is more protected and generally shallower but not to be ignored either, offering more pinkies as well as tailor, flathead and trevally on the flats, where it can be great sight fishing 

Denham can also be used as a launching point for those wanting to boat fish at the legendary Steep Point. 

It is not uncommon for boats to be launched in Denham and then steered across to Shelter Bay, while other members of the fishing party drive there in an offroad vehicle to set up camp for an extended stay. That then allows them to be based close to the point, with the obvious fishing opportunities that provides for Spanish mackerel, tuna and pink snapper, along with the bluewater demersal species such as red emperor and Rankin cod. 

Tailor of this size, and much bigger, are a staple for Shark Bay fishers.

Steep itself is a famous destination for land-based game fishing, offering the rare chance at mackerel, tuna and billfish from the rocks. Spinning can be productive at Steep, but it is especially popular with ballooners who can use prevailing winds to take their baits well out from shore and into the strike zone for some seriously big fish. At night, soaking baits can produce tailor, mulloway, snapper, spangled emperor, cobia and maybe even the elusive bonefish.

The shallows around Steep are also worth fishing with light gear for tailor, small snapper, trevally, flathead and whiting, and the occasional yellowtail kingfish cruising through will test any gear. 

Likewise, Dirk Hartog Island is popular with shore anglers who reach the island via a barge and can base themselves there to fish for similar species to Steep Point. 

There are also charter boats that work out of Denham and offer anglers the chance to fish the Bay and out around the islands on an extended live-aboard stay. This can be a great way to experience all that Shark Bay fishing has to offer. 

Ballooning is popular at Steep Point.

One thing to be wary of when fishing Denham is the wind as there is usually little protection on the water when the weather blows up and it can mean a long and slow trip back to town in a small boat. 

Accommodation is plentiful in Denham and there is a good range available to suit most budgets, while several restaurants and a couple of general stores means visitors are well catered for. 

There is also an annual fishing competition called the Shark Bay Fishing Fiesta which gets great community support and is a lot of fun for all involved. 

Denham has plenty to offer fishers and there’s always the chance of an encounter with some of Shark Bay’s other locals like dugongs, tiger sharks, sea snakes, manta rays and turtles. 

Sunset over Denham during the Fishing Fiesta competition.