Frank Oostenbroek caught this dolphin fish in sloppy conditions.

Chasing Dolphinfish Around Cape Moreton

I MUST admit my life seems to be ruled by the weather and the opportunity to go fishing.

The urge to travel doesn’t exist unless the destination offers me the opportunity to wet a line. I can remember going on a trip to Holland and after going through customs, my first stop was the local tackle shop so I could buy a fishing licence. When I went to Tasmania, I had previously contacted the tackle shop in Launceston for a fishing licence. While in New Zealand, it took me almost three days to get one, which was torture.

I used to spend my life looking at seabreeze.com.au but lately I share my time between it and windyty.com because the latter offers a 12-day forecast. While I am not suggesting that any of the weather websites are totally accurate, Windyty does allow you to see what the wind is supposed to do throughout the day.

I am sure most of you also spend the week hoping for that perfect weekend. The weather has been absolutely fantastic on quite a few days recently, and I know what you are thinking: most of the good days have been during the week and you’ve already taken too many sick days. But sooner or later the weekends will also be great, so I thought I’d fill you in on what has been happening around Cape Moreton during the weekdays while you have been working.

I took my daughter Tammy out one beautiful day when the water was like glass. Hutchisons Reef wasn’t firing so we headed out to the 100m line. We had only just left Hutchies and we were in about 80m of water when Tammy told me there was a marlin chasing one of the lures.

As I turned around I could see a marlin trying to smash the skirted lures with its bill. I grabbed the camera and tried to take a clear photo but the marlin kept slashing left and right. I couldn’t believe it would continue to attack the lures for so long and with so much tenacity.

The more the fish tried to stun the lures the more blue its fins became, until even its tail became bright blue. I was a bit slow to react, and in hindsight maybe I should have free-spooled the lures to try to get the fish to swallow one, but by the time I thought of it the marlin was gone.

We kept trolling around in circles for a while but eventually continued towards the 100m line. We had only just reached 90m when the Grubbsta Bubblegum lure went off. Tammy raced over and grabbed the rod while I cleared the rest.

It wasn’t long before a beautiful dolphinfish was laying in the Esky. No sooner had we started trolling again than the Bubblegum-coloured lure went off once more, but this time Tammy had a little more trouble getting the fish in. As the fish lay beside the boat I placed the gaff in the perfect position but still struggled to lift almost 16kg of dolphinfish. The fish went out of control once in the Esky, so we quickly closed the lid and latched it down. Well I had no idea that this fish was powerful enough to smash three hinges off the Esky and blow the lid off. We quickly put the lid back on and kept it in place by sitting on it. Even then we could feel the massive bashes of the dolphinfish right up until it finally settled.

It seemed that every time we placed the skirts in the water, another dolphinfish would strike, until finally Tammy asked me to stop trolling. Apparently her arms were burning and she needed a rest.

I also went out with my mate Ron Winnett on a day that was predicted to be perfect, but I think the weather bureau meant to say perfect storm. The waves started off nice and small early in the morning but by 9am we had 25 knots of howling wind blowing against 2m of swell, which made life a bit interesting.

Can you believe that right in the middle of the storm and massive waves, two of the Grubbsta lures went off? I am so glad I fitted the TMQ autopilot to the boat. I just headed the boat into the wind, activated the autopilot and went about fighting the fish.

It was a great test for the Stessl as well. The waves kept breaking over the front of the boat and we were both soaking wet, but at no stage did I feel unsafe. In fact the boat just kept going forward until two dolphinfish were safely in the Esky and I once again took over the controls. It would have been great to have a self-draining floor but the automatic bilge pump easily kept up with the amount of water coming into the boat.

You may well ask what we were doing out there in those conditions, but sometimes the wind can come up so fast it is almost impossible to predict. These are also the times when you wish you had taken a bar crossing course with Bill Corten.

My most recent trip to Cape Moreton was with Aaron Gilmore, a serving member of the Royal Australian Air Force who has just been posted to RAAF Base Amberley. I first met Aaron on a trip to Townsville, where he was posted at the time.

Much of his time was spent fishing in the tropics, which provided him with a wealth of experience, but all the skills in the world can’t compare to a small bit of local knowledge. Aaron was new to Moreton Bay and really wanted me to point out some of the more popular areas, so I suggested he take his own boat to allow him the freedom to do his own thing. We also agreed we would dedicate the day to trolling, so I organised a couple of Grubbsta skirted lures for Aaron, and these were placed into the water as we reached Cape Moreton.

Our plan was to troll over Brennan Shoal and up towards Smith Rock and Flinders Reef and then on to Hutchisons Shoal. Spanish mackerel often arrive at Cape Moreton a few weeks later than many of the other pelagics, and they seem to get a lot bigger towards the end of March.

A dolphin fish that had taken a Grubbsta Rio.
A dolphin fish that had taken a Grubbsta Rio.
Aaron and John Gilmore in their pioneer boat.
Aaron and John Gilmore in their Pioneer boat.
Aaron Gilmore with a great spaniard.
Aaron Gilmore with a great spaniard.
Almost 16kg of dolphin fish caught by Tammy.
Almost 16kg of dolphin fish caught by Tammy.
Frank Oostenbroek caught this dolphin fish in sloppy conditions.
Frank Oostenbroek caught this dolphin fish in sloppy conditions.
John Gilmore with a spaniard caught on a hardbody.
John Gilmore with a spaniard caught on a hardbody.
One more dolphin fish caught by Tammy Oostenbroek.
One more dolphin fish caught by Tammy Oostenbroek.
Ron Winnet with a dolphin fish caught in sloppy conditions.
Ron Winnet with a dolphin fish caught in sloppy conditions.
One of the many dolphin fish caught by Tammy Oostenbroek.
One of the many dolphin fish caught by Tammy Oostenbroek.
A marlin smashing one of the Grubbsta skirts.
A marlin smashing one of the Grubbsta skirts.
Frank Oostenbroek caught this dolphin fish while out with Tammy.
Frank Oostenbroek caught this dolphin fish while out with Tammy.
With this in mind, we decided to also use a couple of Rapala X-Rap 20+ lures in Red Head colour because the latest Grubbsta skirts are a lot lighter so you can troll them at a much lower speed, which gives you the opportunity to use a combination of hard-bodies and skirts.

We were lucky we decided to troll the combination because it worked almost immediately. As I glanced to the left I could see Aaron grab one of his rods as a big spaniard hit his lure. Aaron had brought his father John along as his autopilot, so there was no problem keeping the boat on the desired course.

Nothing is better than hearing your reel screaming within a first few minutes of arriving at a new destination, so the day was off to a great start. As we continued to troll north, my rod also went off and several minutes later I lifted an 8kg spaniard into the boat. It appeared the spanish mackerel also liked Grubbsta lures, because not long after both hooks were bitten off one of Aaron’s brand-new lures.

After I handed Aaron a new skirt we continued circling the area. We got a few more strikes but the fish didn’t stick to the lures.

The water was very green and only about 24.5C, so the decision was made to head for deeper water. We were now east of Hutchies in about 115m of clearer but still greenish water when I decided to head south along one of the current lines. The water temperature had risen to just over 25C and we could see a few small flying fish darting left and right and then Aaron sounded the alarm.

I had changed all my lures to skirts but Aaron didn’t have enough so he’d continued trolling skirts and hard-bodies. As I looked back I could see a black marlin dancing behind Aaron’s boat but it only lasted for a minute before it won its freedom.

I don’t know if black marlin prefer hard-bodies or if I am just unlucky, but they nearly always take the hard-bodies if given the choice. The trouble is that once a marlin is hooked on a hard-body it doesn’t take the fish long to shake it loose, even if you use single hooks.

We continued south until we were due east of Cape Moreton and then I turned my boat west. Apart from the marlin and a couple of flying fish we had not seen anything that would indicate the presence of fish.

The tide was just about to change, so we pulled the lures in and raced towards the area where we had hooked the mackerel. We had no sooner dropped the lures overboard than one of my lures went off, but the fish escaped. Again the lure went off but the hooks still didn’t stick.

Finally one of the rods bent hard over and it was on. I left the boat idling forwards while I cleared the other lines and lifted the rod out of the holder. The fish had taken a lot of line and was still heading towards New Zealand.

I estimated it had taken about 300m of line, so I stopped the boat and finally started to wind a few metres back onto my reel. The fish was either very heavy or I had hooked it in the side. Fearing the worst, I made sure I wound in my line as gently as possible, but it was taking ages.

The minutes ticked by until I could finally see some movement on the surface about 100m back. Aaron and John had pulled up beside me in the hope of capturing the moment with their camera.

Time after time the fish would pull off another 20m of line and I would wind it back in, until eventually I could see the massive fish under the boat. It was about 2m long and really wide and seemed to just be slowly swimming along about 8m below.

I gently pulled the rod up and reeled in another couple of metres until my reel had taken a few turns of my wind-on leader. I placed the rod back in the holder, grabbed my gaff and slowly lifted a massive mackerel towards me. Then with a shake of its head the mackerel was gone.

I tried really hard not to display the full effects of my disappointment, so I mumbled some quiet words under my breath and tried to raise a smile. It was just after 2pm and time to head for home before the afternoon storm, but after witnessing that fish, Aaron and John were keen to give it one more try. I was devastated, so just sat back and waited for their return.

After a few minutes I could see John reeling in one of the rods, so thought they would be along any minute. Another 10 minutes went by before they finally returned and I realised John had caught another mackerel. I am sure the weather will soon be kind to you and a weekend will be perfect.

But until then, may all your fish be hungry.

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About Frank 'Franko' Oostenbroek

Frank 'Franko' Oostenbroek
If there is one thing that Frank Oostenbroek (FrankO) is passionate about, it's fishing with soft plastics. Whether it is in fresh water, estuaries or out chasing marlin, FrankO has proven his ability to continually to catch the big fish. FrankO offers a variety of services including a fishing school, photography and electrical fit-outs on boats.

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