GOLDEN opportunities don’t come along too often, so when they do, you’re well advised to grab them with both hands.
I was lucky enough to find myself in this situation recently when owner and operator of Carlo Fishing Charters Karl Kleimeyer invited me on a seven-day Swain Reefs fishing trip aboard the recently completed Carlo II mother ship. Karl has been running charters for over 30 years and knows the southern expanse of the Great Barrier Reef better than most fishos know their local boat ramp. Over the next two editions of Bush ‘n Beach, I’ll walk you through my week-long experience living aboard Carlo II and fishing day in, day out.
But first, prospective Great Barrier Reef fishos may be wondering what a live-aboard charter entails. When you book with a charter operation like Carlo, you’re essentially buying a package deal that includes a week of accommodation, three prepared meals a day, fresh water for drinking and showers, fuel and dory/tender use, fish cleaning, filleting and freezing and nightly entertainment in the form of satellite TV, depending on the boat (Carlo II has Foxtel and a DVD player).
The initial investment in booking your place aboard an extended charter can seem expensive, but factor in the above (not forgetting the copious amounts of fuel burnt getting to and from the reef) and it all starts to make sense. And don’t forget, you won’t be fishing grounds that get hammered by thousands of recreational fishos on a daily basis. The whole idea of an extended charter is to get off the beaten track and visit comparatively untouched locations to enjoy unreal fishing, the likes of which you likely won’t have experienced before.
Most extended charter operations prefer to take large private group bookings (16-20 in the case of Carlo Fishing Charters) rather than mixed groups to hopefully ensure harmony and a commonality among guests to give everyone on board the best experience possible. However, in my case, trip organiser Errol and Karl came to an accord that saw my dad Lindsay and I joining the pre-booked group of 15. Lucky everyone knows we’re easy to get along with (haha).
In terms of inclusions, just about the only things you won’t find supplied on extended charters are clothing, alcohol and fishing gear (some hooks, sinkers and odds and ends are usually available). If you’re anything like me though, this shouldn’t be a problem as you’ll have more fishing shirts than undies and enough rods and reels to stock a small tackle shop.
The Carlo II
I mentioned the recently completed boat and indeed, after 30 years of faithful service the original Carlo was retired in 2018 to make way for its mighty 32m state-of-the-art replacement featuring a bulbous bow for superior cruising comfort and wave-carving ability. With a huge 7.9m beam across its steel hull and three levels of fibreglass superstructure, I never found the mother ship lacking for space. Sleeping quarters are spread throughout the boat in the form of 12 air-conditioned ensuite cabins.
There’s loads of seating in the main saloon and around the back deck for enjoying meals and socialising over a beverage or two, a voluminous chiller for food and drinks, a well-equipped kitchen and my favourite feature of a full walk-around deck for 360-degree fishing ability. Six Aussie Whalers make up the Carlo II’s dory fleet, all powered by Mercury two-stroke engines and running basic sounder setups. In transit, all these dories are craned up and stored on the top deck, while each night five of the six are lifted on top to clear the back deck and duckboard for fishing.
While taking the dories out to explore more remote and shallower parts of the Great Barrier Reef is a highlight, don’t discount the epic fishing that can be enjoyed from the big boat at night on anchor and under way by trolling. We enjoyed some fantastic times on the back deck after the sun went down.
With rods and reels stored in horizontal rod racks on the ceiling of the back deck and tackle bags and boxes tucked into a storage rack or tucked under the seats, you’ve got a clean and uncluttered workspace in which to rig up, chill out and fish. Carlo Fishing Charters is also different to most Swain Reefs fishing operations in that it leaves from Yeppoon, rather than Bundaberg or Gladstone to the south. This means a shorter steam to the Reef and easier access to the top of the Swains region where you’re less likely to encounter other boats.
Extended charters comprise a full crew to keep everything running smoothly. On our trip with Carlo Fishing Charters we were treated to the hospitality of skipper Karl, his son Peter and deckhands Keith and Brock. Karl is a genuine Barrier Reef veteran and knows all its ins and outs and the best places to take shelter from adverse weather while still catching plenty of fish. His experience is obvious from the moment you meet him, and combined with the epic size of the Carlo II (which Karl had designed to his specifications) you know you’re in safe hands no matter the conditions.
Pete has been working on charters with Karl since his teen years and has an extremely good grasp of charter life. He’s also the ship’s master chef and knows how to whip together a mean feed to keep hungry clients happy from dawn until bedtime. If you get the privilege to have Pete on your dory for a bit of a guided fishing session, you’ll find he has the most intense pump and wind action you’ve ever seen. I’ve never watched a rod tip move from the waterline to past vertical so quickly and with such ferocity, and my god does it work. Pete is a fish-catching machine and wastes absolutely zero time getting the fish into the boat and another bait back in the water. It’s an experience I won’t forget any time soon.
Deckies Keith and Brock do an awesome job working flat out to get dories in and out of the water, cleaning decks, plates and boats, helping prepare meals, filleting and bagging fish and generally running around to keep everything running smoothly.
Dad and I packed Dad’s Ford Ranger the evening before the trip and left Brisbane’s southside at 4.14am on the Saturday of departure, arriving at Keppel Bay Marina shortly before 2pm after a few stops along the way (much coffee was needed – I ordinarily operate on gentleman’s hours). Along the drive we noticed the trees were barely moving, with hardly a breath of breeze about, so we were pumped and looking forward to seeing great conditions at Yeppoon.
Yeah, nah… we were greeted by a delightful 30-knot easterly ‘breeze’ that did its best to blow the thongs off my feet. Somewhat deflated, Dad and I met Pete and loaded our plethora of fishing gear onto the boat as more cars turned up and did the same. With everyone’s gear loaded and cars locked away in secure parking nearby, we did a bit of a meet and greet, finding we were heading to sea with a great bunch of guys and girls.
Pete gave us all a safety briefing and warned us the trip out might be a bit lumpy thanks to the less than stellar conditions. However, we need not have worried, as the Carlo II under the guidance of Karl did an outstanding job of dealing with the conditions, and we travelled through the night without even one seasick passenger. With Dad on the bottom bunk and me up the top in one of the forward lower-deck cabins, we even managed to get a pretty good sleep while under way.
It’s amazing how the sea can change overnight, and by the time we awoke on the Sunday the water was glassy as we neared our first anchorage. We were stoked but knew we had to take advantage of the conditions as the forecast was for the wind to get back up to 20-25 knots from Monday and hang around until at least Thursday morning. In our first anchorage at the northern extent of the Swain Reefs near an area known as the ‘T-Line’, the crew seamlessly unloaded the dories, briefed the group on where we should be fishing and sent everyone on their way.
Excitement was high, with surface action everywhere (mostly mack tuna) and a really fishy feel to the place. Dad was quickly into the redthroat emperor and coral trout using bait, while I played around throwing a 40g SureCatch Knight metal slug on my Samaki Zing Travel 9’ three-piece rod. I caught a few mack tuna and got hammered into the reef by a couple of fish too big to stop with a 10-25lb rod and 20lb braid.
Too tempted by the sight of sizeable fish cruising below us, I switched the slug for a 65mm Zerek Fish Trap in Black Jack and on the first cast snagged a 65cm spangled emperor on the drop. Too easy!
Dad quickly switched to a pre-rigged Storm soft plastic (from about 2003) and went on to catch countless more redthroat and trout, though many were undersized and promptly released. The Fish Trap continued to do damage for the morning and went on to hook six fish from seven casts. It was absolutely deadly.
Most other boats had done even better than us and cleaned up on redthroat with the odd solid trout thrown in. This was the kind of start we’d been hoping for!
I’m running out of space and need to wrap this up, so be sure to grab the January edition of Bush ‘n Beach just prior to Christmas to see how the rest of our trip with Carlo Fishing Charters turned out and check out the many, many awesome fish photos to come.
SPECIAL OFFER WITH CARLO
-New Year’s Eve fireworks cruise on Brisbane River-
- Food provided – drinks package available – comfortable platform with great viewing opportunities
- Call 0428 753 293 to secure your spot today!
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