The islands and reefs of the Great Barrier Reef swallow most of the open ocean’s swell. This gives an easy option to get in and out of the water, without dealing with large swell as I did in New South Wales. This is a fact and waters around the reef appear calmer and harmonious. As so often, Mother Nature added her own spice and danger. As the underwater world is higher elevated around the reef, water fills a larger landmass. This increases tidal movement enormously.
I was eager to find out what it is like to paddle and fish in these waters. A larger variety inhabits these reefs too, fish I wanted to add to my kayak bucket list. The pelagic fish are at home here in the winter months. Add queenfish, giant trevally and the elusive barramundi to the mix, and your wish list increases dramatically. Strong winds prevented Maniyak and me to get out on the reef waters until we came to Mackay. The marina opts for easy launching and returns, as well as promising fishing grounds along nearby islands and the protective walls. I clearly underestimated the enormous tidal and water movement. Slade island is only a few kilometres from the harbour entrance and marks a good starting point in these for me unknown waters. I got caught in raging tides and drifted northwards no matter how fast or strong I paddled. Eventually, I got out of the current, steering west with the tide until I was able to return. This is all part of learning and experience will come out of it with plenty of practice.
A large school of Macktuna were chasing baitfish and I was able to hook and land a decent specimen on my silver ‘slug’, a silver metal lure.
Local knowledge and good advice are very important, but hard to come by. Not many local fishermen are keen to share their techniques, choice of bait or promising fishing grounds. I needed to study and observe these waters, and therefore fish movement. As my fishing technique in New South Wales was rather simple, yet effective, it appears to be a totally different ball game up here. The preferred bait chased by predatory fish is small herring. They are not easy to come by as jig hooks are often too big. Artificial bait leads to artificial intelligence. They range from hard body lures to soft plastics and are not easy to use or to choose from with a large variety of sizes and colours on offer. The basic idea, however, is to imitate baitfish to entice your target fish to strike.
I couldn’t wait to take Maniyak out at Cape Hillsborough on calmer winds. I knew I had to do my homework and study where and how waters and fish move. ‘Structure’ is what fishermen call rocky outcrops, reefs, shipwrecks or sunken trees, anywhere fish can hide from danger and water movement. Baitfish prefer these structures to get away easier from predatory fish. Predatory fish like the pelagic kind know where to look for baitfish. Other fish like mulloway, barramundi, coral trout and mangrove jack are aware of that too but prefer to be tucked away and ambush bypassing unaware prey. Lying out of strong currents preserves energy just as well.
The most fish activity appears to be when water currents slow down, just before or after the change of tides. Light and time of day are just as important, as fish are most active just before or just after either sunrise or sunset. Other fish prefer the nighttime to stalk prey.
Cape Hillsborough has plenty of structure, a large area to discover and study.
On most days, a school of mackerel or tuna passed by and stirred baitfish to a boiling pot of waters. These move in lightning speed and following them with Maniyak was impossible. I did still try.
The first few yak outings were a touch frustrating. A mackerel bit through my line, a tuna was lost due to a bent swivel and a decent barramundi was lost to a shark, after a 20-minute battle. At least I knew that my lures have the desired effect and that I was at the right place, at the right time.
Being a bit superstitious on good luck charms, I bought myself a new singlet at Cape Hillsborough. A reminder of my already amazing time here at the Cape, in a favourite colour with the writing ‘Working on my bucket list’, which I am in many ways.
Armed with my two ‘light’ artificial lure rods and expanding bucket list, I set off with Maniyak.
The wind started to pick up as it had the last few days. Tuna were chasing baitfish in the not so far distance, jumping out of the water at full speed. I had no chance of-of getting there in time and headed for the in-bay structure.
The glass clear waters showed schools of garfish skimming the surface and schools of herring underneath. Every now and then, some baitfish fled along the surface, no predatory fish were seen. Flicking my soft plastic, I eventually landed a school mackerel, even though well undersized. It’s a start and confirmed that my choice of bait worked.
I followed the large school of baitfish to the southern rocky headland and noticed plenty of activity on my sounder.
It didn’t take long for a beautiful ‘Fingermark’ to snatch my soft plastic bait.
Fingermarks are in similar appearance to Mangrove Jacks and have the same set of sharp teeth.
Fingermarks are easily recognized with a silver shiny body and a large dark spot on their flanks, looking like a fingerprint.
This was my personal best-sized fingermark at around 60 cms. Wow, I was happy. My study and perseverance paid off! If I could only have another go at those jumping tuna. Haha, they must have read my mind as it wasn’t long after when another school of tuna darted around the headland and shot straight in my direction. Chasing baitfish on the surface, their speed propelled them out of the water in usual impressive fashion. This is always an incredible sight to see. I felt like being under attack with 6 or more torpedos aiming for me, trying to turn Maniyak into a yellow submarine. However, I armed myself with the same successful soft plastic and waited for them to get into casting reach. I cast the lure high up into the air, which creates a larger splash when it hits the surface. I waited a few seconds for the lure to sink, imitating an injured herring. I then retrieved the line as quick as I could, imitating bait getting away from this chasing pack. It worked like a treat.
The soft rod bent over spectacularly as line peeled off my reel. A loud ‘yes’ was released, no one could hear me out here anyhow. I was lucky enough to have caught many tuna this year already. My selected fishing gear in New South Wales was stronger and heavier and makes handling large fish somewhat easier. This heavier gear is useless for using artificial bait, lighter line and tackle is the perfect solution.
It was so much fun and even more challenging, chasing this tuna with my kayak along the headland. The hook was well set, I was just hoping that no shark would appear. I lost track of time whilst battling with this silver blue bullet before he eventually at considerably time later gave in.
If I wouldn’t have ears, my smile would go all around my head, as I lifted this Longtail Tuna around the meter mark into the yak.
The sun shone perfectly on to its silver blue body, giving perfect light for a photo shoot. After a few photos were taken, he swam off again to join the rest of his school. Maybe he learned something as well?
I sure did and graduating this practice exam with honours was just the perfect way to end my stay at Cape Hillsborough. I was clearly happy. Patience and perseverance paid off, just as I hoped for.
Gotta be happy with that.