Friday, September 16, 2011

North, South and Other adventures

My good fishing mate Jeff has kindly allowed me to publish this report that he wrote, it is a ripping good read with some fantastic photos, X-stream fishing!!  Thanks Jeff

I’ve been thinking about the incredible fishing period I’ve had during July to September 2011 (with only half of September gone!), squeezed into a NE Arnhem Land holiday, crazy travel with work, and late night early season bass and EP trips post the kids being in bed! It’s a story, or series of stories, I thought you’d like to hear and see.

My bro, Anthony (aka Ant), has been in the Territory for 10 years and in that time, I’ve managed 3 trips up there. This latest adventure was an awesome family trip, with fishing mixed in. But we managed 5 dedicated barra trips and an awesome epic camping at an offshore island. Just to prove you don’t need all the latest gear and big boats, I have very modest fishing gear (relatively speaking) and we did it all in a 4.1m trusty Allycraft rhino with a 30hp Yamaha 2-stroke as the donk. A corroded and temperamental but working Watersnake bow mount 44lb rounded out the boating hardware.

So, 14 July to 25 July saw us all fly out to a remote nearshore island in north-east Arnhem Land, me with secret plans to chase the Bass of the North. And this is the tale of a few of the fishing adventures that unfolded.

First morning, we grabbed 5 hours and launched the tinny at the “barge hole” (where all the supplies for the community are landed about 2 times per week). The tides were not going to be huge, but according to Ant, enough movement to hopefully get some barra interested. My snapper and bass-come-barra gear was a Shimano Jewell spin rod (8-10kg I think), 3000 Affinity with 30lb braid and 60lb leader. The casting outfit was my pride and joy, brand new Curado 200E5 (actually my new bass casting reel), trusty Raider Barra rod, 30lb braid, 60lb leader.

Man did it take me a while to get used to casting heavier lures on heavier gear! Back south, my main targets are bream, bass and EPs on light spin gear. As we used the electric to edge towards the first good looking snag, the anticipation levels were so high I was shaking! Tried about 4 casts to get the lure into the slot. It was frustrating, but I started to get it after a while. Next cast was on the money. A couple of turns of the handle and some aggressive action to the lure and BAM, I was on. Not a huge fish, but a 70cm odd barra landed and my first for the trip!

We ended up with 14 for the day, with a few cod, foul-hooked queenie and others thrown in as bycatch.

Next two days we saw the sights of a remote Aboriginal community and the people were great. Friendly, happy etc and my girls were a huge “hit” with all the 5-8 year old kids. But the dogs! Wow. There are way too many and some quite aggressive. Anyway, on the fourth day, we loaded the mums and kids into a charter plane. They flew out to an even more remote offshore island with lots of our gear and food for 3 nights. The bro and I then shot back to the house, hooked up the tinny and went via sea instead of air, the ultimate prize being a 40km boat run and fishing on the way! Only thing against us were the 35km+ trade winds. Oh well, it was going to be a wet trip…

First stop was a rock bar with tide flying over it. Anchored up and tied on a cheapish Bomber style shallow diver. As I did, I can’t believe I thought “those rings look a bit weak, I should replace them – oh well”. First cast the inevitable happened. Hooked up to a really nice barra. A few jumps and solid runs and pop – lost it. I thought the hooks had just pulled but sure enough, the middle hook was missing altogether! No! Why didn’t I change those rings! Another harsh lesson on fishing up north rubbed in. I knew it, but was lazy and forgot the power of 5kg plus fish like barra!

I tied on a Bomber 17A with more appropriate hardware and fired out another cast. It got crashed immediately, but it was a smaller fish.

We never managed to hook and land another big fish off that rock bar. We also had over 30km to go, and 10km of that in fully open water so, with the wind picking up, we headed to the next stop off on the journey to our offshore island.We stopped at another rock bar on the other side of the island we were driving around and first casts, we both hooked up. I landed an 86cm fish. Man these barra are versatile! Upper tidal reaches deep in snags one day, offshore islands the next, and still the barra are smashing our lures. I was in Bass of the North heaven!

With the wind picking up still and families to meet on the destination island at 12 noon, we had to keep moving (after loosing the Bomber to a marauding big queenie that grabbed said lure near the rocks and peeled 30lb braid off with ease to do me up between some underwater boulders).

We shot into the open water for 10kms and were drenched, buzzing by a few turtles and seeing something free jump ahead of us as we cruised, or slapped across the tropical seas. As we approached the destination island, a small school of northern blues were torpedoing out of the water, trying to savage poor baitfish. We tried them for about 15mins but the action was very slow. They only came up briefly once more and we still had 8km to get to the landing beach. 

What a shame. On our way again, we "had" to troll 4-7m depth water along the edge of a distinct ledge forming the outer barrier of the island. BAM! Damn, just a barracuda. Whack! "That’s a bit better, yep, that’s a decent fish…"

By now you may see the resemblance of Ant (bro and myself)!
A nice little Coral Trout later (part of dinner – yum), and we were around the rocks and cruising for the landing beach.

Being the only people on the island, it was an amazing and slightly haunting experience. So remote, so much history of traditional use over the years. My middle daughter of 5yrs declared she’d like to be a Palaeontologist, as she pieced together turtle bones from the long abandoned remnants of a camp fire. Over the next 3 days, we just chilled out, cooked fish on open fires, played games, got dirty, experienced life together. It was a special time for me, to be there with Ant, his wife and 6 month old, and my wife and 7, 5 and 2 year old girls! Oh, and the fishing was, well, unbelievable!!!

A “secret” reef we found, 500m from our beach, produced cricket score numbers of HUGE fish simply dropping large plastics or Raiders down below. Things like this (we found the reef by accident on the sounder and trolled it first, which produced Ant’s monster Golden snapper aka Fingermark on the first run! And yes, that is a Halco Laser Pro 190mm in that fishes mouth!)…

After that it was a lucky dip of Golden Snapper and what we think were Brassy Trevally. In any case, they were mean, angry and strong!


Ant had new BlueChart software for his handheld GPS, which showed a reef coming up from 17m on one side, to apparently 2m!! It was 15km from our beach and north into open water, but the threat of 35km+ winds could not hold us back. We woke early, and headed for the spot. On the way, we had to head past a small island and sure enough, the fish were ready. This time plague proportions of queenfish.

After about 20 odd catch and release efforts on raiders, poppers and even hookless lures (to get hit after hit right to the boat), we “tired” of that and headed for the elusive reef. Things were bumpy, but the wind hadn’t got too bad, so we pushed on. The reef seemed miles out and we were in open water big time. As we approached, we couldn’t see anything obvious. But, sure enough, as the trusty GPS confirmed we were real close, there she was. A “banana” shaped reef, clearly visible in about 3 foot of water, with current ripping into the drop-off. 

This smacked of GTs (our target), so I picked up my heavy outfit (Rovex 10-20kg spin rod, V-system 80 reel and 50lb line, 100lb leader) and punched out the huge Williamson popper (a loner from Steve actually!). Second cast and 3 handle winds into the retrieve and BANG, the lure was monstered! My god, I couldn’t believe it. But why did I doubt it! The fish ran like only a big fish can, stripping line off the reel at the same time as me nearly being pulled overboard in the rockin and reelin tinny at Banana reef. I was a bit lucky, the fish went to deeper water and slugged it out. I finally landed my biggest fish to date, an estimated 15kg+ of remote NT GT!

As I struggled to lift the beast for a pic (maybe it was 20kg plus), I realised how big it was as it spanned the beam of the tinny! The release of that fish was one of the most satisfying of my fishing “career”! It was great to see it swim off into the depths and hopefully live to fight another day. 

The wind was picking up and it was hard to stand and cast, so we trolled around for a while, getting smashed then sharked on about 3 consecutive occasions! One that didn’t get away was another decent Coral Trout. It was one, of the 2 fish each day, that we kept – it was destined for the rustic open fire oven!

Unfortunately, we were forced from Banana reef much too soon. The wind was picking up. Time to head back, relax with the girls, and cook up our dinner of fresh fish and potatoes.

Leaving that island was sad, but knowing we’d have the memories for life from that once in a lifetime opportunity felt great. We got everyone and the gear back to the “hidden runway”, as my girls dubbed it (it is accessed via a rough track and in the middle of the island, in the bush). No mean feat - it was 2km away on crude track. Then, they were gone, off in the little charter plane back to the main island, leaving Ant and myself to do the 40km journey back by boat.

Immediately, the anticipation levels were again heightened. And for good reason. Although we didn’t connect to our other target species (Spanish Mackerel) for the whole 3 days, we still managed some good fish on the way home, including more trevally at “Secret reef”, and cod and barra from a few rock bars on the inside of an island…

We were lucky enough to get two other dedicated barra trips in before it was time for the family and I to head back to Darwin and home to the south. Unbelievably, on the last evening and then actual morning of having to leave, we caught over 20 barra, 5 over 90cm.

91cm (x 2)…


93cm, and FAT...

Then the highlight! My PB Bass of the North of 94cm. This great fish was caught casting around the entrance of a large feeder creek to the main river, and just monstered my lure, tore about 40m drag, jumped and did everything such an iconic species should do! Most importantly, it was boated, snapped and released like all of the other awesome animals I had the privilege of experiencing on those 2 last trips in the NT!

Now, before you start thinking that planning a trip to remote Australia is what’s necessary to experience unbelievable fishing, think about your own backyard. All too often in the past I’ve found myself going through long periods of no fishing when work is flat out, family life challenging, sickness around or options seemed limited. In recent years though, I’m thinking more that its’ about attitude, and creating the opportunities and the experiences themselves, that is important. I’ve caught some great fish since that July NT trip, both in my home waters of the far south coast, at what some would consider unorthodox times AND by creating some very obscure opportunities. Some examples:

1. EP sessions at night (for up to nearly 20 landed and released) after the kids are asleep.

2. Early season bass at night after the kids are asleep, starting fishing from 8pm to 10pm and going for 2-3hrs (a few more snaps in Steve’s reports above). By the way, these have NOT been epic sessions, but more typical early season Bass forays. 2-3 hrs solid fishing, 1-3 fish landed a session type scenarios. Patient and concentrated casting, with a bit of philosophising with Steve (when he’s there) thrown in. My best this season is 35cm last night, Steve of course got a 39cm last night…

3. Opportunistically “seeking out” equally enthusiastic fishing buddies on work trips. In Aug/September, I’ve fished Broome jetty for bream, batfish, and floated out a live bait that was monstered at 9.30pm (fight lasted 5 seconds, but what did I expect on a 50lb handline, bought at the local tackle store because no rods or gear were taken?), targeted bream on lures in the Canning River in the middle of Perth, fished Kalbarri for a beautiful landed tailor and a run (but no hookup) on suspected Jewie (Mullaway over there)

4. Quality time with family – My eldest daughter got a little trevally in NT, and I landed a nice bluenose bream after floating around in the canoe with my dad on a leisurely Sunday late afternoon in late August (do NOT overlook Cormorant roosts!).

I reckon Ausbass is bloody great. I love reading your stories so thought I’d share mine. Keep em coming, all of us, to learn, reflect and enjoy. Practice catch and release. Smell the cool early morning air. Notice the Cormorants ****ting in the water. Go forth respectfully and aware. Tune in, and the rewards and experiences of fishing will continue to be profound, well beyond the catching of the fish themselves. Most importantly, enjoy planning for and chasing the barra of the south, the aussie bass we love and spend way too much time on (with EPs coming a close second)!

I think we have to thank technology too. The new lines, lures and hardware available in recent years has completely changed our opportunities and approaches (though I often turn to the old wooden production and homemade lures for chasing bass!). Mind you, it doesn’t have to cost the earth either! My current modest outfits for bass, EPs, bream and flatties are a Penn pin point tournament rod picked up for $99, a Rovex Aureus 1500 and 6lb Sunline PE. The other outfit is an old model Daiwa Exceler 2000, new “splurge” on a Raider 3 piece travel spin and 4lb Fireline. My aim is to better my bass (48cm FL) and that infamous EP (52cm FL) PB’s from an epic last season! I'll keep you posted!

Happy and safe fishing experiences!  :)


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