Fishing the Bluewater scene offshore from Darwin is something to be desired, from line thieves such as coral trout, tusk fish and red emperor to brutal thugs such as Spanish mackerel, Black Jewfish and fingermark, what ever you want, Darwin has it all.
This was one of those impromptu trips that had me rummaging through my arsenal of tackle trying to figure out what was required for a three day live aboard trip out of Darwin. Considering I was flying with Tiger Airways and their excess baggage policy was $33 per kilo over their 15 kilo limit, I was a little apprehensive about packing too much. Overall, the hardest to sort through was which outfits would suit the fishing we were doing.
After numerous phone conversations about the finer details of the trip, I’d scaled down the arsenal to three outfits, a Wilson 50lb TX Deep Jig Spin with Twin Power 6000 for deep bottom bashing a Wilson 50lb TX Deep Jig Overhead with Black Magic BMX for use when trolling for pelagics and a Wilson Blade ‘n’ Tails XOS with Twin Power 4000 for casting at tuna schools, should we see some. Regardless, I was decked out for the intense fishing that lay ahead.
Although the weighing and culling of my gear took most of the afternoon, I was off to the airport for a trip out of the cold snap in Victoria and off to the balmy weather of the Northern Territory. Arriving at Cullen Bay, I boarded my living quarters for the next three days. Northern Exile, a 46ft west coaster with owner / operator Shaun Uden of Fish Darwin charters. Shaun, a born and bread Victorian headed North some years ago and has been operating out of Darwin with huge success. Also on board, was fellow fishing journalist Danny Spelic, his brother Jaz, Shaun’s good friend Liz, channel 7’s Home and Away star Jon Sivewright (Tony Holden) and Maggie the fishing dog who didn’t just love being at sea, but took a liking to a certain persons leg.
We left the confines of Cullen Bay later than expected, mostly due to the wind factor, as it was blowing 20 knots from the North East.
Our destination was The Peron Islands, a 12 hour boat ride to the West.
Along the way, Shaun decided to give us a small taste of what was to come.
A few hours into the trip, we pulled up onto a little reef Shaun had been fishing over the past few 48 hour trips. Without hesitation it was all action, lunging at whatever fishing rod was within reach to bait up. The pilchards and squid were pre-cut and it was a matter of sticking them onto the hook and deploying them into unknown, no technical approach here, just slap it on and send it down. It only took a few seconds for the offerings reach the bottom, considering we were fishing in 20 odd metres of water, the line went slack from the 8oz sinker making contact with the reef below.
Running the braid through my fingers enabled the smallest of bites to be detected which allowed me to set the hook the split second the bite was felt. Catching me unaware, one fish took off with the bait with no prior warning. I wrenched the rod back almost folding it in two, and the few kilos of drag I had set on the reel didn’t seem to matter as the fish ripped off 50 maybe 60 metres of braid. The head shakes were fierce and while the braid had no stretch, it enhanced the fact I was onto a good fish.
A short time into the battle, Shaun asked me what I thought it was, if I was in NSW I’d call it for a good king but here, my face was drawn to a blank. Instantly, Shaun laughed and said it is a good Goldie and on later inspection the bronze and silver coloured flanks lit up under the deck lights, a magnificent golden snapper.
It wasn’t long before everybody had a hook-up on goldies as I sat back in Awe of the fighting power these 5 or 6 kilo fish had. After the first few fish, my leader required an upgrade, bearing in mind a golden snapper’s teeth, so it was a quick change over to get back into the action without risking a bust off. While the night grew on, we were only 4 hours into the journey and decided to continue on to get to the next location by day break.
No rest for the addicted: Although it was a rather sleepless night, the metre or so waves lapping on the hull kept shuteye to a minimum. Nevertheless I’d figured there was plenty of time to sleep when I get home, so without forethought it was back to the transom for more line peeling runs and shredded leaders.
Ever so slowly the sun rose above the horizon in the midst of some of the most amazing pink, red and yellow colours gently merging together creating an artists impression of a sunrise on the horizon. Meanwhile, the bacon and egg breakfast was a definite thumb’s up while we made headway to another reef.
Reef hopping occurs quite often in the top end and is purely due to all the little sharks that quickly move in after you hook into a few fish. It seemed as though every reef we fished was much the same, you’d hook a few beauties and after four or so fish landed the sharks would move in making short work of the fish that were hooked. However, there was always another reef a short distance away to drop baits onto. After noticing some promising arches on the sounder, we dropped anchor.
A selection of pilchards and squid baits were deployed and everybody was ready for the first hook-up. Jon’s rod was the first to load with a solid fish. The run was long, pulling a substantial amount of 50 pound braid from the reel, mind you; he was also quick to remind us that he had the 'big one'. After a few minutes of being pulled from one side of the boat to the other, a black Jewfish of about 20 odd pounds came into visual range. Jon again, reminded us that he had the points on the board and was extremely excited with his catch. While the day wore on, more golden snapper, tusk fish, Spanish mackerel, cod and coral trout made it on board but with nearly every fish hooked 'it’s not a Jew' could be heard echoing from somewhere on the deck.
Now, with all of us wanting to top Jon’s previous catch, going to sleep was not an option.
We’d fished many reefs throughout the day and Shaun decided to hit one more just on nightfall. It was his little piece of magic he’d been saving up his sleeve just wide of the Peron Islands. While moving to the next reef, I flicked out an old favourite skirted lure, a black / purple 6' Richter Soft Grassy that had caught dozens of Blue fin tuna on a recent trip to South Australia. A few km’s out from Shaun’s secret spot, I heard the high pitched squeal from the drag on the Black Magic BMX reel howl. As I turned my head it stopped, then again squawked and as I concentrated more to where the lure was skipping across the water I noticed the bill from sailfish harassing the lure. Meanwhile, with all this going on and my excitement levels hitting their peak level in the matter of seconds, I quickly came back to reality. While watching the sailie whack the lure, I was holding up the 50 kilo metal in-floor freezer lid. If I had dropped it I most likely would have shattered Shannon the deckie’s feet if not chopped them off. By the time I got to the rod and free spooled the lure the sailie lost interest and looked for an easier meal, a sure sign of another pathetic billfish feeding, how frustrating!
Pulling up on our anchorage for the night, baits were once again deployed.
The best part about fishing in the Northern Territory unlike in Victoria is that the second the bait hits the bottom you’re on. This time it was one of the best sessions on Red emperor you could imagine. As if it was rehearsed, everybody was tight to a fish, and every fish landed was a magnificent reddie. Some fish went five maybe six kilos while the odd smaller fish snaffled a bait. Just as the sun fell behind the horizon, Liz hooked up in dramatic fashion with something huge buckling her 10 kilo outfit. After a long battle of tug o war, Liz landed quite a sizeable Chinaman fish of about 12 kilos which was later released. With nightfall vastly approaching and the smell of freshly caught emperor on the Barbie we were quickly lead away from the fishing to enjoy a few quiet ales and the meal that lay ahead.
With a long trip home, we’d decided to put in the hard yards early the following morning to get a few hours in front; this would allow another few drops along the way. A few kilometres out of Darwin Harbour, Shaun’s jewie spot was in view on the GPS and within minutes we found ourselves getting one last arm wrenching before packing up for the trip. By this time I was down a few packets of hooks, leader spools and swivels from the previous day’s battles and with that in mind rigged up one last 80lb paternoster. It took a little while as the squid strips waved with the motion of the rocking boat but nevertheless found their target, a solid black jewfish.
While our arms were well and truly too tired of fighting any more fish, we set off back into the confines of Cullen Bay to end the last few days of blue water fishing at its best.