While Paulo wasn't able to join Carl, Holger and I on our annual Fraser Isl kayak fishing odyssey, he was able to get to Fraser for a fishing trip a couple of weeks earlier and if his east coast report was anything to go by, fish were likely to be few and far between. Rather prophetically, he went on to add that he thought all the fish might be found in Platypus Bay on the northern end of the west coast.
This aligned perfectly with what I was expecting and consolidated my resolution for us to get as far north as possible as quickly as possible, my thinking being that the sooner we got up into Platypus Bay, the more quality fishing time we'd have.
A typical Fraser isl sunset, as seen from the beach off Wathumba creek
We began day 1 by launching from the Urangan Marina at around 8AM with ambitions to sail 50+km directly to Wathumba creek, which is a good 25km further than we'd ever attempted to traverse on the first day previously. Thanks largely to steady sth east winds that carried us to the isl over a reasonably comfortable (yet suitably lumpy) sandy straight crossing. Rather than sail directly to Moon Point as in previous years we took on a more northerly heading and as such were in the rougher water for longer, much of that time spent with water sloshing over deck. Along the way I hooked two fish. The first - a fine specimen of an estuary cod - was released because it was simply too early in the day to be keeping fish and the second - a small spotty - returned due to it's modest size. It wasn't until we'd sailed about 50km and were approaching the creek when we saw the first signs of the potential action to come.
My Rapala Magnum CD was hit hard and chomped clean from it's 80lb leader, in much the same way a shark or spanish mackerel might do. Less than 5 minutes later the same thing happened, this time on a Williamson tuna catcher, which made me think we were probably looking at spanyards here. We'd been sailing for around 7 hours at this point, so we just pushed on to land. By the time we got there Carl's hull was half full of water, which was an ominous sign so early in the trip, but after emptying his kayak and inspecting the hull I declared a clean bill of health and called it for a poorly secured rear hatch and rudder line tube, which is precisely what it turned out to be.
As we dined on spaghetti Bolognese (which I'd prepared and dehydrated a couple of days earlier) we patted ourselves on the back for a job well done. I was especially happy that we'd been able to reach Wathumba on the first day, which by my calculation, put us well within daily range of where we were likely to find the fish we were looking for. The pressure to proceed forward with haste was well and truly off and from here we would be able to concentrate on the fishing, instead of covering distance.
Adventure Island kayaks landed safely at nth side of Wathumba creek
Day 2 - Day 6
A fine specimen of a spotty mackerel caught on a Storm Thunderblade comes aboard
The next 5 days blended into each other almost seamlessly due largely to the alternative approach we decided to take after investigating the area on day 2 and taking weather predictions into consideration. From all accounts it looked like we'd get favorable weather for both sailing and fishing and from Wathumba we were able to track down fish by sailing north into Platypus bay. The more we talked to people the less reasons we found to explore further north than we were able to sail to comfortably from Wathumba. So it started to make perfect sense to simply base camp ourselves at the creek and do day trips from there and this turned out to be an excellent decision, helped by the fact that fairly constant winds blowing through the camping area kept us relatively well protected from insects, making it a whole lot more comfortable than previous years.
Holger's new Clark hammock worked a treat
The action we encountered each day was reasonably constant yet varied enough to keep it interesting. At times the fishing was incredibly exciting - not so much due to prolific catches, but more so to prolific action on the waters surface. Easily located by tell-tale packs of opportunistic birds, fish could be seen in large numbers hiting up panicked pint-sized bait fish. These were spotted mackerel mainly but by the end of day 2 we'd seen a few sharks, spanish mackerel and longtail darting around, the latter of which I was able to hook, but subsequently lose. We found the going tough on this day as it was tricky for us to both match the hatch (we'd packed much more larger lures than small ones) and compete with the sheer numbers of baitfish. We lost quite a few soft plastic tails this day, and several other lures were chomped clean as well. Although we did eat mackerel that night, we'd all returned feeling a little defeated. I was especially frustrated by the amount of lures I'd lost to this point, so naturally I resolved to proceed with a wire-trace strategy. And as a result of that, coupled with crystal clear waters, hook ups suddenly became a whole lot harder to make, and near impossible when casting into bait balls. Half-way into the trip we were confronted with the wire vs mono conundrum in a wholesale fashion and were starting to second guess ourselves on which lures to tie on, and how.
This was fairly typical of the sort of frustrations I continued to be plagued by
It's not that we weren't catching fish, more so that the conversion rate to this point was horrible. For me personally it was shaping up into a symphony of spat-out, bust-off and chomped-off lures and one by one I watched some of my precious tackle selection shrink, my favorites among the first to go (naturally). Most of our catches were coming by trolling, mainly from rogue spotties. While legal in length it was clearly apparent that the larger ones were hunting the baitballs and these were the tougher nuts to crack.
For the most part we lived on Spotty mackerel based rice dishes for dinner
I started turning this around on day 5 by tying on a small Storm Thunderblade lure, which of everything I was packing in my tackle box, most closely resembled the anchovie baitfish that I'd be able to cast reasonable distances into fresh wind. Using my lightest outfit (Nitro Voodoo rod fitted with Okuma Trio 2 reel, spooled with 12kg Sufix 832 Advanced Superline) I turned frustration into fun as the bites started coming, hauling in a few good fish before a small accident saw the spool cap of the reel fall over the side of the kayak, which effectively shut down my light outfit for the rest of the trip.
Carl proudly displays the catch of the trip, hooked on a Silstar Slapstick Stickbait soft plastic
I wasn't terribly bothered by this to be honest because by now I'd had my fill of casting at spotties and started turning my attention back to other species, specifically what might be hanging around underneath those bait balls, instead of what was visible on top. On day 6 Carl proved what we'd all assumed as certain by now - the presence of spanish mackerel. Slowly trolling a large clear-coloured Silstar Slapstick stickbait on a custom-rigged stinger jighead, Carl hooked up to what he immediately called for a spanish, which is precisely what it turned out to be. After what might have been a 6 - 7 minute fight Carl landed the fish Billy-bob style, held it up for a few photos and then released it with a huge grin spanning his face. This whas the primary species Carl was hoping to catch, so it was mission accomplished for him. Not only had Carl found new love in what was for him a new lure, this was also the first serious fish he'd been able to test his Nitro Viper on, and he had rave reports on that by days end. By now, however, Carl was cursing his reel selection - specifically, their lack of a fast-wind feature, making cast and retrieve fishing all the more challenging for him.
Day 7 - Day 8
Get me the hell away from this big nasty german guy!
We'd entertained the possibility of staying at Wathumba for one extra night, though this would have meant having to traverse 50+km on our return trip, which was a bit of a risk considering favorable conditions may not prevail. To play it safe we decided to split up the return journey over 2 days, aiming for Awinya creek as a suitable half-way point. We'd spent 2 nights here on our previous trip and found it to be fishy enough as a suitable flathead fallback proposition, which we did have to resort to in order to be eating fish that night. By now we were all pretty tired and although still enjoying ourselves thoroughly, were starting to miss the comforts of civilization. We all had cold drinks and juicy steaks on our minds and were looking forward to making the final crossing. This was to be our final fishing session as well and although it turned out somewhat anti-climactic for myself, both Carl and Holger found success by trolling 11cm Magnum CDs a few hundred metres off the beaches around Moon Point. The gaping smiles on their faces as they held these fish up for the camera summed up the mood for the final day perfectly. Holger also tussled with a 5' shark, which had taken - and eventually claimed - a 14cm CD.
Typical Fraser Island Golden Trevally
Of all our trips to Fraser Island, Carl and Holger were quick to declare this the most successful of them all and although I wasn't quite so fast to agree at first (fish were far more cooperative on our 1st trip), it's safe to say that we were incredibly blessed with idyllic weather and for the first time, were able to stay out the full planned 8 days. And although we hadn't reached as far north as we had on that first trip, we did in fact cover more ground and it was especially good to prove to ourselves that we could comfortably cover 50+km in those conditions with fully expedition-packed kayaks. And because we were able to do that and subsequently decided to base camp at Wathumba (as opposed to moving camp most nights) we were able to spend more time fishing and relaxing, and less time messing around setting up and packing down camp. To top this off, near constant breezes through the camping area cooled us down and kept insects at bay, so it was certainly the most comfortable trip yet. And this being our third crack at it, were for the most part better prepared than ever before and no doubt will be even more so next year. In fact we all learned a lot this time around that should really help make follow up trips all the more smoother.
In particular, I felt as if I'd learned a lot more about preparing for kayak fishing expedition style trips and will be better prepared in numerous ways next year. Not only will I be packing a greater variety of small pint-sized casting lures, I'll be taking more rods. Somewhere between now and the next trip I'll be focusing on finding the best solution to solve the wire vs mono dilemma. It's not just frustrating losing lures, it's especially frustrating losing big fish and the amount of them I lost this year was simply uncanny. Had I been able to get those fish in, this trip wouldn't have just been great, it would have otherwise been simply brilliant in every way. On the plus side, I now know for absolute certain that the lures I chose to use are most certainly very attractive to the species I was targeting. The challenge facing me now is finding a leader solution that is abrasion resistant enough to handle the razor teeth of spanish mackerel, yet also discreet enough so as not to spook the fish.
As per usual, our Adventure Islands served us well
There were many highlights to this years trips and I'll leave Carl and Holger to share their own personally. When the return crossing was finally over and we were sitting down to a cold drink and steaming steaks Carl asked us all what our personal highlights of the trip were and at the time I couldn't decide if it was the fun I'd had gaffing a particularly resilient specimen of a spotty, my elation at our success at reaching Wathumba on the 1st day, or some of the wildlife encounters we'd had, which was many (whales, manta rays, sharks, dugongs, various species of dolphin, turtles on mass... not a single dingo though, surprisingly). But upon reflection on that question as I drove home I realized that the real highlight of my trip was observing the smiles worn by Carl and Holger as they held up their big catches on the final days. It was great to share those moments with them and catch it all on video. Speaking of which, the full video report is in development now and should be ready in a few days. I will follow up in a week or so with an autopsy style report to discuss in detail what went right, what went wrong and what we'll aim to do differently next time, and numerous gear reports will follow.
Sailing across the lumpy straight was easier going without spray skirts attached
Holger fighting a fish
Carl shows off the Stickbait stinger rig that treble hooked the spanyard
Cleaned and ready to be wrapped in a towel and secured to the tramp
Once again, Rapala CD Magnums stole the show catching most fish, but the Rapala Maxrap pictured behind the CD caught a few good fish as well