Fishing the Swains Reef

By Jacks Boric


The Swains reef is made up of the southern reefs of the Great Barrier Reef from Hixon Cay to the Ribbon reefs, a very untapped sport-fishing destination. The reef and its surroundings hold everything from populations of dogtooth tuna to snapper and pearl perch. The swains is only accessible by the 10 regular live aboard charter vessels and lies 120nm north east of Gladstone, Gladstone is only a 5 hour drive from the sunshine coast and is the gateway to the most southern tropical reef sports fishing. The Swains reef has a huge diversity with everything from gt popping, flats fishing, jigging and big game fishing. A destination everyone should go to at least once.


A huge attraction to any sports fisherman is the giant trevally and the Swains is loaded with them. Most of the GT's at the swains range from the 15-30kg mark but fish to 40+kg are an achievable goal. Poppers and stick baits are your obvious options when chasing these brutes but they are regularly caught while trolling for mackerel as by catch. Every reef in the swains has good populations of GT's but some are better then others, reefs close together or that sit out by themselves have fished the best for myself. Reefs like surprise and turrum both have large channels through them where the tide pours and gt's congregate to feed. Other reefs like bills have shoals that run off the pressure points where bait congregates and as the old saying go's "find the bait find the fish". GT's at the swains can be hard some days like any fish but it can often help to move around a lot, most reefs are smaller then 5mm long so it won't take long to get to your next pressure point. Pressure points are parts of the reef which the tide runs past very fast and are usually found at the end or corners of the reef, pretty much every desirable fish at the swains will feed at pressure point at some stage or another. Lagoons can also fish well from gt's but sometimes the by catch can be a lot more special. While stick baiting and popper fishing for gt's in the lagoons I've hooked big dogtooth tuna, massive green job fish, mackerel, Maori wrasse and big blue spot trout and who could complain about that.

Gear like the new Shimano Ocea Plugger rod matched with a Stella will give you a fighting chance against some of these larger beasts.


Shallows fishing are simply awesome; everything in the shallows pulls hard. Trevally, jobbies, some of the biggest trout you'll ever see and heaps more, get into some surprisingly shallow water.

Medium weight gear around the 30-40lb mark will put you in the game for plastics, stick bait and popper fishing around the plentiful cracks in the reef and sand channels. Fishing the flats with surface lures is as good as it gets on a visual aspect.

One of the best techniques I've found in the shallows is working the orca stick bait at a medium pace through the cracks in the reef but plastics vibes and pretty much any lure you can think of will work for something at some stage. Coral trout on surface lures is a very real option at the swains and some monster trout live in the shallows but extracting them is the hardest part. On the run out tide most of the baitfish funnel off the top of the reef and out the cracks and sand channels that line all of the reefs. Casting your lure up these cracks and working them out with the tide works the best and as the same with the gt's moving around a lot really does pay off, there is no point sitting and hounding one likely looking channel for an hour when there is another 100 likely looking spots on the reef. Professional trout fisherman regularly visit the swains and can often catch 10 trout of one bombie so channel so if you don't get a touch in the first 5 minutes at channel there probably isn't a trout keen to take a lure there.

The Swains reefs have a huge untapped sport fishing potential and its up to us to discover more, gt's, shallows fishing, jigging the options are endless.