It is always a blast getting an invite to head off to new places and different fishing spots. I do not get that many chances really, so when the invite was made to myself (and Bill Hohepa, NZs renowned fishing Guru... officially of course, as NZs only registered SUPERHERO, I actually outrank him, but seeing as he is bigger than me, I do not make an issue of this) to head off to Western Australia to try for some of those weird fish they have over there, I was naturally agog to go.
Our host for the trip was to be Peter Montague, well known WA game fisherman and fishing tackle manufacturer, who had tee-ed up with several of his mates and contacts several stops for us to go make some Television shows and a video of the exploits. The plan was to use all Petes 'Fishwest' lures wherever possible so that he in turn could use the video for his own promotional needs. Hey, that was fine with us!
We arrived in at Perth, and headed straight to the Budget Car Rentals desk, where we picked up the car we had ordered for our drive up the coast. Once loaded into the Ford Falcon (I think, Cars are not my speciality, or even particular interest!) station wagon, we headed out of the airport, and began our long drive to Geraldton, for us a looong drive, 600 odd kilometres, but for the W.Aussies (or 'Wozzies') this was just a quick side trip.
We rocked on into Geraldton to stay at the Oceanside Motel, where Pete joined us early next morning...6 AM on the dot! Hell, I am NOT used to this sort of early morning stuff.... I am an asparagus grower, not a darn Dairy farmer! Oh well, I suffered in stoic silence (in between long bouts of whinge-ing) as we pulled out of Geraldton for the reasonably long drive, even by WA standards, to Karratha, some 1100 kms further north.
Peter explained to us the lay-out of W.A. pretty effectively in those first few minutes... 'Guys, here around Perth and Geraldton, you are in W.A.. Once we get outside Geraldton, you will officially be in B.A.; 'Bugger All!'. And by golly, you know what? He was right!
Western Australia is HUGE! And we drove the whole 1800kms from Perth to Karratha. We must have been bloody mad. Hell, we coulda taken a plane! But what the heck, it was after all, mostly a very interesting drive, a complete contrast to the Solomon Islands I had been in only two days earlier, and certainly not at all the lush, if chilly Waikato I call home.
Flat roads. The speed limit of 110, which of course we adhered to strictly officer, honest, is routinely exceeded... on a long, flat stretch of road with no cars in sight, it seemed that ALL THE OTHER CARS BUT NOT US OFFICER, honest, were belting along at around 140-150km. Any slower and all those other cars that were not us officer honest seemed to crawl across the flat empty landscape.
Actually, that is not fair. The landscape was far from empty. When they told me to expect a heap of desert, I had vaguely in mind a long dusty road thru sand dunes and camels and stuff, real Beau Geste sort of affair, but this land was not at all like that. As we headed north, the land went from fairly dense scrub-land of wattle and I guess gum, to slowly more sparse trees and bushes, then after a few hours, and lunch at the civilised haven of Carnarvon, the road passed through a belt of red ant hills (about 2-3m high mostly) and settled into a dry, spinafex grass and salt-bush covered land of broad plains and slowly rolling hills of granite.
Everything was red though. The granite, the clay, the dust, there was little greenery as such, most bushes being a kind of greyish colour, with little ground cover so the bare red earth showed through everywhere between the clumps of vegetation.
Scattered among all this were Emus, dead 'Roos...road-kill in W.A. being REAL road-kill, no sissy rabbit and possums, hell no, these things were CARCASSES scattered along the tarmac. And at every corpse, flocks of crows and the odd Wedgetailed Eagle were scavenging. Those birds out there must really thrive along this lonely road.
Still, after a full day of driving and playing I spy and driving and twenty questions and driving and
hangman and driving, we finally (and driving) arrived at Karratha...hoooray!
Karratha is a strange place.. it is a modern suburb, without an 'urb' to sub to. It is as if a freak storm had lifted a corner of Perth from far in the south, and plonked it fair square in the middle of B.A. But hell, I didn't care, there were cool drinks, Loos, and before long, we found our way to the home of our Hosts in Karratha (after dropping Bill and Linda, who is not just Bills wife, but also cameraman, makeup dept and generally indispensable hand, and the obvious brains in our group, at the Karratha Mercure Hotel, a very nice place), Alan and Jane Patzak. This was where Pete and I had our rooms.
Alan, or 'Patzie' as his is widely known, is Karrathas only fishing guide, and a regular writer in several Australian fishing magazines. Aside from this, he also has taken out major prizes in the big Barramundi tournaments in the Northern Territories, and in Aussie fishing circles, something of a celebrity. I hasten to point out though that he is not an official Superhero, so I officially outrank him, but as he is smaller than me, I do not make an issue of this, coz those small guys can be bloody mean at times you know.
Alan and Jane soon had us comfortable and relaxed, cold drinks in hand, and after a short introductory 'How are you, are you totally buggered, yes we are, good nite' chat, we all crawled off to bed, so as to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for the next morning.
Next morning it took a wee while for me to locate my bushy tail. I think it got crushed in the suitcases somehow. Ohhhh, god, 7 a.m. and I did not want to get up.... still, not wanting to let the side down, I collapsed out of bed and crawled to the shower, emerging finally to some semblance of a human. I am not a morning person.
Nor it seemed is the normal Karratha Morning! What was this, a tropical paradise (if BA is your idea of paradise) and a howling wind?? Oh man, so much for our plan to head up the local tidal creeks hunting Barramundi and Threadfin Salmon, after a quick re-think when Bill and Linda arrived, it was decided instead that we would go with Patzie for a four-wheel drive exploration of the near-by Burrup Peninsula.
OK, so it wasn't fishing, but it was still fun! We did take rods along, on the off chance we should
encounter some fish-laden beaches (we did but they weren't), but it was a real pleasure to see a four wheel truck being driven so well... and an education! Patzie made that Landcruiser really perform, I swear going up one particularly lunatic section of boulders (road? Track?? HAH! Fat chance, this was just plain old boulders!) he was getting the truck to balance all four wheels on the same rock before jumping to the next... it was like being inside a Disney cartoon car!
Still, it sure was fun, and despite being fishless, the scenery was pretty spectacular, in a bleak sort of way. A few months before, a bush-fire had swept through the burrup, and the vegetation was totally gone. Kangaroos were gathered here and there looking for all the world like they were surprised the food was gone ('Duh? Where all de green fings gone??') just like it had been the day before and the day before and the day before...... but I guess they did have enough to eat, the certainly seemed to still be full of bounces. The landscape though looked just like those pics you see of Mars.. all red rock, stones, and shattered granite.
The granite, as a result of the constant daily heating and contracting, has blasted itself to pieces in this region. Angular rocks from fist sized to car sized were everywhere in mounds, heaps, hummocks and hillocks, among which we threaded in the truck. Grabbing a stone and hurling it against the larger boulders, the granite rang like a bell, different rocks chiming a different note each, really pretty musical. Again, for a Kiwi boy a long way from home, this was all fascinating. Patzie sighed and rolled a ciggy.
One little ray of joy did enter the day though, when on the way up that lunatic stretch of boulder, we met a group of three Customs Land-cruisers. Obviously out for a bit of a tiki-tour and training exercise (yes, even Aussie customs officers like to skive off from the office once in a while), these guys were a little less sure of the trail than was Patzie. As we came off the lunatic boulders, we hit a nice stretch of flat, tyre-crossed sand.
Pointing at the tracks, Patzie told us that this was a trap for new players... when the tides were low, then this area of flats baked solid, and was a perfect driving surface. However, at the moment, we had high tides, and the clay was now tidal mud, so edging his way carefully around the edges of this sneaky swamp, we headed on our way. Coming back, guess what we found? There, up to it's chassis in red mud, with an in-bound tide, was a nice shiny new Customs Landcruiser, with 2 others gamely, but futilely, trying to winch it out.... ohh darn, someone screwed up!
Of course, being the nice guys we were, we all laughed, pointed, made a few unhelpful but to us humorous comments like 'Are you SURE the heroin is buried out there??' and after many photos and video shot, continued happily on or way. Did they extricate the nice Customs vehicle? Who knows.. that is an Aussie tax-payers problem, not mine!
OK, so that was a day of fishing we missed, but never mind, there would be tomorrow to come. And it did, and it was at least a little less blowy. Not much, but some! Anyhow, not to be denied now, we loaded up our boats, Patzie having a very sweet new Quintrex 'Ocean River' centre console boat with a 100hp f100 Yamaha four stroke on the back, while Bill and Linda had a Hire Boat, a 21ft Seaquest alloy boat from Steve Carman Marine in Karratha. This boat was actually pretty cheap as a hire boat, but as a boat, mate, it sucked, as we were to find out. Not dangerous or anything, but a cow of a thing to ride in over even small waves, the wettest boat I have ever seen. Happily though, I was with Pete and Alan on the Quintrex.
After heading to the Dampier boat ramp, I guess 15-30 mins drive away, we loaded aboard the boats and headed off. In the smaller boat, we soon pulled ahead of Bill and Linda, but being nice blokes, we slowed and let them catch up. This enabled them to take video of us belting along, and I did the same to them with my little vidcam. Picies all nicely took, we headed along to the Flying Foam Passage, just checking out what the weather would allow us to do.
We had hoped to cruise out to the outmost island of the Dampier Archipelago, Huoy Island, but this was not on, a stiff breeze was chopping the water up beyond comfort point, so we slowly worked or way with the wind past the small islets scattered about the upper end of the passage, easing our way towards the southern end of Legendre Island. All this way, casting poppers everywhere we could, all we managed to bag were a few smallish trevally, nothing at all memorable. Oh sure, it was fun, but hard going too, the turps was definitely going on Alan to find us some fish! It was at this point that we finally reached a small bay on the bottom of Legendre, and the day was set to change.
Until now, I had been quietly thinking 'hmmmmmm, so is this W.A. fishing??', but in this little bay (Let's call it Queenie Bay eh?) we finally found the fish. Everywhere. And I think all of them.
This bay was about the size of a couple of football fields and we started working our lures, Pete's
Fishwest Pencil Poppers, around the rocky bluffs. No sand or beach here, the rocks simply ended in a wave-worn shelf some 10ft high, dropping into about 20ft of water. With a small slop and slight swell running around the far point and into the bay, there was a foam of white water all around the edges of the rock... this was by far the fishiest place we had visited yet.
We had gone maybe 50 metres into the bay, maybe a dozen casts, before the first fish turned up. With a 'Yoo-oo!' Pete called out his 'fish-up' holler, as a racing silver something barrelled out of the wash to chase his lure. It didn't connect, but it was action, so we called Bill over closer so he could be in handy video range if things got better, and kept on casting.
Who it was that got the next hit, I have no clear idea. Why? Because from that point on, every cast had hits and follow-ups, as queenfish first, then a selection of trevally species, all fought each other for our lures. This was dynamite fishing, constant action, with good sized queenfish and medium size trevs, giant trevally, golden trevally and gold spot trevs, both striking and usually hooking up, on the Fishwest poppers. Full on action, that was a far cry from what I had experienced before overseas, these fish were acting far more like the packs of small rat kingies we get around our NZ coastlines, fish that without caution or hesitation, chased anything that moved in the water.
In the Solomons, it is totally different. Sure, there you get big fish, and often plenty of them, but you have to work much harder for them, and once you get one, you'll not find another for a fair while, the local fishing pressure having taught them to be a little smarter about their dietary habits. Not so these fish, they were all over each other trying to grab our offerings!
Here it was that I finally got a decent queenfish, a fish I had fancied for a fair while, having only bagged the tiny fry found in Tonga and the Solomons to date. These queenies were in the 5 to 10lb range, a long, skinny fish, bright burnished silver, they bit hard, leaped repeatedly, ran hard and generally were a hell of a lot of fun. Man, that afternoon, for about 2 hours, we could not go wrong, Bill must have got some aweome footage, the action was constant.
A cast in towards the rocks was rewarded with a gauranteed hook-up from a queenie or trevally, but just for a change of pace, I decided to flick a lure as far as I could out to sea. Casting with the wind, the lure shot a mile out into the blue water, and instantly raised some BIG splashes! What was going on? As I wound and jerked in the lure, making it skitter then sag as much like a wounded baitfish as possible, something was coming up and smacking the popper. At times the whole lure was flicked clear of the water...huh? Bingo! sailfish! Yes, a small sailfish was steaming in behind the popper, but as the lure hit the shallows, with one last flick of a bill, it was gone, and almost immediately was nailed by yet another queenfish. Oh man, these lures are fantastic!
I must say, trying not to skite or anything, that I did get the fish of the day, as well as NOT getting the fish of the day too! How did I perform this remarkable double? With but a single cast dear readers.
Nearing the end of our tethers now, having caught and released more fish in that period than you could reasonably expect to land in a month or so, I tossed a popper back in to the white water at the very start of the bay. We had passed here before without raising a sausage. This time though, the popper was nailed.
Out from the cover of the rocks, a big trev charged on the lure, indeed, several piled on after it. In the confused splashing, one of them succeeded in grabbing the popper, and I was into it. After a short range but dirty fight, we had the fish nearing the boat, and in the clear water below us, we could see it. The biggest trevally yet, it was on its side as the 20lb Fireline ( throughout this trip, I used 20lb Fireline, on a TiCA Taurus reel and one of Pete's 8kg 'Signature Series' leather grip casting rods, a v e r y sweet set!) slowly lifted it to us. There in the clear water, a huge trevally was chasing and harrying our poor victim... this trevally, I can say without hesitation, would have tipped the scales at 50lbs. Easy.
Once landed, my hooked trev weighed in at the respectable, but not huge, figure of 25lbs, the biggest landed fish of the day, but the little blighter had beaten a far far better fish to the lure dammit... if only that big fella had've got there first! Well, in all honesty, I probably would have lost it, but hey, a guy can dream can't he!
One thing I did notice different about using the Fishwest pencil poppers from the floating chugger
poppers I use in the Solomons, is that the fish as the fish chase out the kittering pencil popper, you can stop winding, and the lure will immediately sink backwards like a jig.
This action seems to ring all the bells for every fish we came across, and also means that once a fish is hot on the lures tail, you can work your lure to further entice the fish while it is some distance from the presence of the boat. And when you do hook up, it is very satisfying to know that the popper itself is bullet-proof, with a super-strong one piece stainless plate through the whole lure connecting the attachment point to thehooks... no dickey little plastic encased pins or insert in these poppers. All up I must say, I am darn impressed with those lures!
OK then, the day was grinding on, and it was time to head back to base, so that we could get some more videoing done in and around Karratha itself. Turning or backs on a fishy spot firing as well as this was not too easy, but it had to be done. Tomorrow though we were resolved to bring fly-rods! Those queenies looked like a poultice of fun on a fly!
Next day, the plan to head for Huoy was acheivable, by taking things easy around the outside of
Legendre. The wind was still a precence felt in the morning, but as the day wore on, it dropped right out, flattening off nicely.
This time we were able to get past the sheltered little 'Queenie bay', and work or way with poppers along the seaward side of Legendre. Really interesting place, god help anyone trying to land there. The island itself is a long, flat slab of granite, rising little more than 50ft from the water, with the waterline itself being split between granite shelf of 10 to 15ft, and long sand beaches. The small slop and slight swell seethed all along this coastline, and larger waves had for millenia worked away at the rocks immediately on the water, carving them to wickedly jagged and fluted shapes, as well as scouring any vegetation from the rock.
Where the sea allowed greenery, we were back to rolling hills of spinafex. No trees, no bushes, just a solid grey-green coating of this prickly grass. Certainly not a place to go skipping barefoot through the morning dew here! Spinafex (apart no doubt from being a haven to millions of lethal spiders and snakes, like the rest of Aussie is) is a mean little grass... each blade is needle-tipped and hardened, so that walking through spinafex is much like having acupunturist leprachauns attacking you from mid-shin down...by golly it hurts after a while!
For a good 150m from the beaches, and 100m from the rock, the bottom was covered in coral and granite bolders, perfect haven for Coral trout and other bottom dwelling ooglies, several of which chased the skittering poppers, sadly though none hooked up. It also made landing bigger fish pretty tough, as repeatedly we were bust off on good fish as they fled among the rocks.
Despite losing so many fish, we still managed to land a fair swag of them. The action was constant, with hits, misses, and follow-ups keeping us on our toes in between the hook-ups. Around each headland and rocky bluff, we had fish, usually GTs (giant trevally), smash at our poppers.
In one particular bay, we had a constant stream of good fish, both landed and lost, the best of which was a respectable shark mackeral, which after it's thrashing attack on the popper, set about promptly emptying the greater part of my spool in a series of blistering runs across the bay.
It was only by having Patzie follow this fish out into deeper water that we finally brought it to heel, and although it was not the good spanish mackeral we had thought (our initial call slowly changed as the fight lasted far longer than the normal rather wimpy spaniard battle) it was certainly one of the best shark macks Patzie had seen. And on a popper too!
We headed on our way, as the wind dropped out, into calmer seas and far more pleasant conditions. Coming to the end of Legendre, there was a small gap in the long chain of islands, perhaps a couple of hundred metres across to Houy Island. Thru this gap, water was racing as the tides emptied the huge bay within. Easily 8 knots, this was a nasty little area of steep 1-2m pressure waves, extending out to sea almost a kilometre. Holy cow! And we had to cross that? In this little Quintrex?? Eek!
To my surprise, and considerable relief, the Quinnie handled it superbly, far better indeed than did the far larger and seemingly robust SeaQuest boat Bill was using. In the slack water either side of the current, schools of small queenfish were swimming, holding station until slack water and the chance to feed more freely, but there seemed to be no larger fish among them.
Oh well, it was getting on to lunch time, so we decided to scoot around to the inside of Huoy Island to anchor up in a quiet bay there. Being a faster boat, we of course got there faster, Bill and Linda taking the opportunity of filming us as we cruised on by.
We had just dropped the pick in the calm refuge we had chosen, when the VHF crackled into life, with Bill calling out 'I just bagged a Cobia! Nyah-nyah-nyah!' That man has the luck of the divil man, I tell ya! I'm not jealous or anything, oh no, not me. Not half.
Seemingly, it was about a second after we passed them, that their driver, Patzies mate XXXXXXXX, spotted a couple of big Manta Rays cruising by. One thing not widely known to us Kiwis (well let's face it, we do not have Manta Rays, so why should we know?) is that Mantas are often accompanied by Cobia, a sort of cross between a kingfish and a remora, generally brown in color.
However, what they lack in looks, they certainly make up for in horsepower, and Bills cobia put up a great scrap once it pounced on his popper flicked over the Mantas back. It was still kicking when they idled over to raft up with us for lunch a few minutes later. This fish was not released, this one was put in the 'take Home' bag.
After lunch, we again cruised off, heading back for the bottom of Legendre to see if any more GTs had turned up. Well, by golly, guess what? They had!
In the same bay from which I had extracted my shark mackeral, there seemed now to be a school of big cruising GTs. The first cast into the bay and Pete picked up a nice ( if not as nice as MY big one, not being competitive or anything, eh!) GT, around the 20lb mark, and then from then on it was tackle donation time.
I was still using my 'sporting' 20lb line, Pete was more rational, using 50lb Fireline. I hooked up on a nice fish Patzie called for about 30lb, being chased up by much better fish. Ka-ping! Bust-off! Then Peter hooked into one Patzie called for 50lb (the fish were clearly visible, only some 30 metres from the boat on the surface), which after a solid, head-rattling fight, took him into deep water, over a rock ledge and Ka-ping! Bust-off part two.
By now I had re-rigged, I flicked my popper into the maelstrom of aggro GTs, and whammo! Hook up again! OK, this time we figured we would lead the fish out into deep water before it could rock us, a splendid plan really, shame the GT didn't know about it. After 15 minutes of slowly reversing out, then back in to recover line from a fish that was NOT co-operating, the fish finally managed to get around a stray bommie, and Ka-ping! Bust-off three, the return of Bust-off. (now showing in movies near you!). Oh bugger.
While we were busily giving GTs pretty popper ear-rings to show their girlfriends, Bill was tootling about out behind us, some 150m out to sea. What was going on, why had he missed all this great popper action? Well, Bill was having some fun of his own... he had a sailfish up beside the boat, chasing his popper four times as he flicked it about the boat. Too bad it didn't have a decent bite, but the chances of hooking a billfish on a treble hook (especially as we had closed the barbs down to make releases easier) were pretty remote. Very spectaclar though, Bill and Linda were buzzing about that for a fair while!
Finally rounding the corner of Legendre back into 'Queenie Bay', Pete and I again set about sorting out some more queenies. It took some concentration, as the water was lower and the swell bigger today, and we were almost caught napping by a couple of nasty swells nearly breaking on us. Discretely pulling back into deeper waters, Pete broke out his Fly rod, and started to flick a red-white fly about. Blam! Instantly, queenfish were fighting each other to grab this offering.
Once hooked up, these queenies were a power of fun. Leaping and thrashing, Pete in short order had two fish landed and released. Talk about suckers for a fly, even I managed to get a queen on Petes rod (thanks pal, it was a hoot!), they would have to be one of the most aerial fish in the sea.
Well, it was time for Bill to head back in, and as both Pete and I were pretty much plum tuckered out, we decided to head out for a bit of a troll for a while, working our way back to Dampier that way. All about the place were schools of small tuna, mostly kawa kawa or mackeral tuna. Similar to our skipjack tuna, but with silver bellies and a patterning on the back behind the dorsal. Hoping for a sailfish, we popped out 3 small Fishwest 'Mackeral Express' lures, rigged on wire just in case something toothy came along.
We had three lines out, two running off Shimano baitcasters of Patzies, the third was a black and red 'Mackeral Express' on my TiCA Taurus reel... not an ideal trolling rig, but hey, it was better than nothing, and I looked forward to showing the TiCA folks a pic of a sailfish on one of their reels! Gotta be good for some brownie points I reckon!
Well, as it happened, the first lure to get hit was the one on that same spinning reel. Just as we came through a school of surface feeding tunas, the reel started screaming...man, not just screaming, this thing was going supersonic and accelerating towards warp speed! It took only a few seconds to clear the other lines and start chasing this fish, but it was still humming line out, long enough to get some video of the line hissing off the spool. By the time we actually got the fish slowed, I had barely 10m of line left... all the 200 yards of 20lb Fireline and almost all the 20lb nylon backing were out there.
Luckily the Taurus has a pretty healthy retrieval rate, and we were able to recover the line as we motored after the fish. Chasing the fish like that certainly shortened the fight, we soon had the fish boatside, a pretty decent sized mackeral tuna (or frigate tuna or kaua kaua or kawa kawa... call it what you will!). Hell that was a fast fish!
OK, one to me, next up, a sailfish please! Well, not quite... trolling for another 5 minutes or so, and again the black and red lure was thumped, again with the screaming drag etc etc... but this time the scream was a little shorter, the fight a little wimpier... but the fish was way better, being a nice 20lb spanish mackeral. Still, that was two to me, so at this point, just as I was getting into this trolling with a spinning reel, Patzie called it a day. I think there was a little trans-tasman rivalry there you know, the lads not having taken the news that Kiwis invented Pavlovas and vegemite at all well earlier that day.....
That left us with one last day in Karratha to score big-time in the trolling department. We grabbed all the Fishwest skirted lures and the Fishwest bibless minnows, everything was all traced up, trolling gear all sorted out and... the wind blew 35knots all flippin' day. So, that was a nice relaxing day beside the Karratha Mercure Hotel pool! As Bill Hohepa said, 'Old Maori saying Captain, 'When the winds blows, the fishing sucks'!' And by golly, you know, I would not doubt it for a second!
That was all for our stay in Karratha, it was just a whistle-stop trip this time, but we are planning a longer return trip next year in the non-windy season, probably more around March-April.
We had a real blast there though, my sincerest thanks to both Alan and Jane, they were great hosts up there, and I would gladly recommend Alan Patzak as a Charter operation not to miss if you ever get over that way. A great place, great folks and great fun! Particularly interesting is the scheme Alan (Patzie) has in mind.... by the end of the year, he will have his new 30 foot boat in action as well, and using both his boats, he will run fishing camps off one of the more remote islands, where the fishing, we are told, is even better than around Legendre! Hard to believe, but I can only take Alan's word for it..until next year that is.
From Karratha we were to drive south to Shark Bay, where Pete had arranged us accomodation at the world famous Monkey Mia (pron 'my-ahh', not 'mia' as in 'Mamma-mia!') resort, you know, that place where the dolphins come right into the beach and you can pet and feed them in