PICKING up where I left off last month on my week-long live-aboard Swain Reefs charter trip with Carlo Fishing Charters, we’d just wrapped up an incredible morning of fishing a glassed-out Great Barrier Reef.
This unreal start to the fishing had us salivating, but not for lunch, rather to get back out in the dories and catch more epic fish!
However, for whatever reason (tide, moon phase, time of day, amount of current, barometric pressure, position of Saturn’s third moon in relation to Uranus) the fish just weren’t chewing as hard in the afternoon. A decrease in run was noted, so Dad and I opted to very slowly drift rather than sit motionless waiting for fish to potentially appear. The 65mm Zerek Fish Trap in Black Jack didn’t put a foot wrong after its successful morning and continued to be used to great effect every time I put a cast within a sniff of a bommie.
The vast majority of fish it enticed were undersized, so I figured a switch to a bigger presentation could get the bigger fish’s attention. Nope, no luck on the 110mm Fish Trap, apart from giving the tiddlers a fright as it dropped to the bottom.
Switching through a few soft plastics rigged on jig heads saw no further inquiries, so I admitted defeat and joined Dad in using bait. Drifting through a channel in the reef and dropping lightly weighted half pilchards produced a number of redthroat emperor including several legal models that found a home in the under-seat icebox.
Before long, our Swain Reefs charter captain Karl came over the radio signalling it was time to wrap it up because the incoming 20-25 knot wind necessitated a move to a more sheltered section of the Swain Reefs group. It was with heavy hearts that we waved farewell to this epic section of reef and the glassy conditions.
Trolling to the next location yielded only a mack tuna but fishing under the cover of darkness off the back of the Carlo II netted a number of redthroat emperor for several anglers, with Andrew managing some solid fish. My dad Lindsay also scored a cracking spangled emperor, though it wasn’t quite as big as my one from the morning session (honest!). Our first night spent at anchor in the bowels of the Carlo II was accompanied by the sound of wind whistling and waves sloshing against the hull as conditions continued to deteriorate.
The big boat handled the conditions admirably. With the air-con humming away and keeping us cosy at a just-so 24C, we slept like logs and woke to the cacophony of 15 fishos getting a little excited about downing breakfast and hitting the water.
Master chef Pete had put together a delicious breakfast, so Dad and I inhaled our serves, I downed three coffees and we headed out the back to suss out our anchorage in the bright light of day. We basically had two long ribbons of shallow reef running north to south both in front and behind the big boat, with a very lumpy bottom in between and drop-offs to more than 25m in places.
Karl gave everyone advice on where they should head for the best fishing and everyone promptly went wherever they wanted. Dad and I cut across the substantial waves, which the Aussie Whaler dory handled very well, and into a lagoon but came up mostly empty-handed after a few hours of fishing and moving and repeating.
After our very lacklustre morning session, I was keen to benefit from the expert tutelage of Pete for the afternoon outing, and we were fortunate to have his presence grace our boat.
I hadn’t really been feeling pumped about fishing that morning, but having Pete on the boat was a great motivator and to see him absolutely pole quality reef fish into the boat one after the other was truly eye-opening. His action was savage, sending his rod tip from the waterline to the sky in milliseconds, and if he wasn’t using thick-gauge hooks I’m sure he would have straightened a few. In any case, the way Pete fished taught us a lot about what we should be doing to successfully catch more fish and we employed a number of his tactics for the rest of the week.
At one stage we were drifting with the wind and waves through the deeper section between the reefs and I had a Mustad Big Eye Bucktail Jig running out the back, jazzed up with both a soft plastic trailer and bit of mack tuna flesh. As we passed a significant pressure point I got slammed and connected to something that proceeded to absolutely peel 50lb Daiwa J-Braid off my Penn Spinfisher.
Fighting this fish for about five minutes and steering it away from the bottom, we just started to see a silver shape that looked quite like a big mackerel when a fierce head shake threw the jig from its mouth and it was gone. I was pretty deflated to have lost my first big pelagic of the trip, but we were chuffed to return to the big boat with an almost-full box of big redthroat and a number of coral trout, with the fish count probably 80 percent Pete’s and the remainder split between Dad and I.
Thanks, Pete, for making us look good. Later that arvo Dad nabbed a couple of trout on a Berkley Gulp 7” Jerk Shad off the big boat while Andrew decided it was time to tie on a fish frame and play with the sizeable tawny nurse shark that had taken up residence under the boat (though at the time we had incorrectly identified it as a lemon shark).
No extended fishing charter is complete without a bit of shark fishing mayhem and this was just the beginning for us. Andrew was able to test the absolute limits of his Daiwa Monster Mesh rod on ‘Le Mans’ as the shark affectionately became known, bending the relatively light rod in half several times without issue. Great evening entertainment over a chilly beverage.
The next day, Dad and I employed Pete’s methods after I threw a 140mm Zerek Pelagic Z hard-body in colour 03 over a bommie for a monster long-tom, big shark mackerel and mack tuna in quick succession, along with numerous missed strikes from other fish. Predominantly designed as a bluewater trolling lure, the Pelagic Z did an admirable job of being cast and retrieved at speed, with an aggressive action that really got the angry fish fired up.
We shifted again after lunch, towing the dories in a daisy chain and heading further south into the Swains to another of Karl’s anchorages that provided good protection from the howling easterly and had a big lagoon to be fished from the dories.
Ducking out for a quick arvo session saw all boats return with reasonable numbers of redthroat and a good game plan of where to fish the next morning. Returning to the big boat for deckies Keith and Brock to load the dories onto the roof before the tide climbed higher and the wave action increased due to more water over the reef, our fishing group was ready to settle in for an evening of banter and bevvies.
But first, I still had a kind of dead live bait I had been running under a balloon out the back of the dory at anchor in the hope of enticing a passing spanish mackerel. Once the boys had cleared a couple of the dories away, I summoned my strength and swung my balloon and mostly dead bait out as far as I could off the duckboard.
Landing a full 3m from the stern of the boat, I turned to laugh at my pathetic effort with a couple of the guys. Quickly their expressions switched from laughter to shock as they screamed that the balloon had disappeared. I swung back around to the sight of Mustad Wish 70lb braid flying out of the open bail arm of my 950SSM Spinfisher and through the guides of my Wilson Live Fibre 15-24kg rod. I snapped the bail arm down and the drag started screaming as the fish barely slowed.
Shit, I had been running a loose drag setting while the rod was sitting in the holder of the dory. I quickly cranked the drag down and down and down but there was no stopping this fish as it continued to power away and back under the boat before a lack of manoeuvrability saw my braid cut not far from the rod tip. Damn, there goes at least 50m of braid. Pete was out the back and surmised it was a big GT that had likely been sitting under the boat waiting for its chance to pounce.
I was pretty gutted because I’d been craving catching a cracking GT on this Swain Reefs charter and had just been dusted on my heaviest outfit in about seven seconds. While we didn’t think it possible, the wind continued to increase in strength and about 20 minutes after my smoking someone yelled to let us know a jacket that had been drying at the front of the boat had blown overboard.
I had a 65g slug rigged on my 9’ Samaki Zing Travel rod and quickly extracted it from the rod rack and fired a cast straight over the jacket, which was now about 30m out the back of the boat. Sadly, the bow the wind had created in my line meant my retrieve swung wide of the jacket and by the time I had the slug in to cast again the jacket was out of range.
I popped my rod up against the side rail in case something else needed retrieving in the wild conditions. With the sun almost setting, I was looking out over the reef as two longtail tuna cruised by, jumping clear of the water in a similar fashion to inquisitive dolphins. Well damn, I had my slug ready to go, so immediately started firing the 65g SureCatch Knight out around the boat and ripping it back.
With no luck after a few casts (I tire quickly and have no excuses as to why), I dropped the slug straight down beside the boat and began slow jigging it up, something that has worked countless times in Moreton Bay. On about the fifth jig the slug got slammed and the fish promptly took off towards the sunset. The Saragosa SW6000 was absolutely singing as 20lb PowerPro braid disappeared at an alarming rate.
As I was up the side of the boat, the guys on the duckboard quickly brought their lines in and I passed the rod down so I could come and join them to better fight the fish. At first I wasn’t sure it was one of the tuna I had hooked, but as the fish steadily rose to the surface 100m behind the boat I became more confident.
The next 20 minutes were an absolute mission as the fish continued to pull strongly and never gave up, and while under-gunned in terms of gear, I didn’t give the fish an inch and slowly but surely brought it within range for Pete to get a gaff shot. It was a longtail all right and a solid one at that, going 12kg on the scales.
I was absolutely wrecked and my arms were jelly but I was stoked to have landed such a fish on light gear – and without being sharked! We were all keen to see the fish turned into sashimi the next day. That evening continued to produce as a number of the crew got toasted by the big GTs and sharks holding under the boat.
The next day the awesome catches kept coming for most of the Swain Reefs charter group. Dad hooked a nugget of a trout on bait and we trolled up and down the reef edge in the dory for numerous shark mackerel for Dad on the Pelagic Z and many mack tuna for me on the 65g slug (yes, the slug worked a treat on the troll!). The mackerel knocked Dad flat more than once thanks to vicious hits and the tight drag he was running. It was a pleasure to watch. We moved to our final destination the next morning, a truly picturesque location in a massive lagoon with dozens of big bommies coming out of 12m of water.
The last two days seemed to fly by. Highlights for us were a bunch of bumper coral trout caught trolling that same Pelagic Z past the bommies, a shark mackerel landed on a Zerek Zappelin stickbait that sent me A over T, a little mack tuna I hooked on the slug being engulfed by a monster GT next to the boat and busting me off and Dad getting smoked by powerful fish three times in a row, using heavier gear each time. Pete came out with us for a brief session and we slayed a box of redthroat in short time before he jumped onto another boat to help them do the same.
Four or five large GTs also took up residence under the big boat and deckie Keith landed one on heavy overhead gear in record time, while Andrew utilised a fish frame to do the same with a spin setup. As the final fishing minutes of the final day approached, I still hadn’t landed my big GT, despite being busted off multiple times.
I was committed to catch one but was too stubborn to drop a frame over to hook one of the brutes off the big boat. Instead, Dad and I opted to drift away from the big boat while I cast back to it with first a Halco Roosta Popper and then the Zappelin stickbait. Try as I might, I just couldn’t entice the GTs to hit a lure. I had one GT following my lure and our boat for a good 100m and with every cast it would rise to inspect and occasionally nudge the lures, but it just wouldn’t hit.
The call came over the radio to pack it in to get ready for the steam home, and I conceded defeat, knowing I would be back some day to hook and land one of those big GTs on a lure. The trip home was remarkably comfortable considering we were tracking beam-on to the substantial swell and chop, and Dad and I managed a decent amount of shut-eye. It’s a credit to the design of the Carlo II and Karl’s seamanship.
That wrapped up seven days in fishing heaven and I can’t thank Karl, Pete, Keith and Brock enough for having Dad and I on board and also Errol and his group for allowing us to jump in with them. I can highly recommend Carlo Fishing Charters as a superb extended charter outfit, and take note that not only do the guys head out from Yeppoon, they also offer charters to the Kimberley in Western Australia and Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory, which are well worth checking out.
For any more information and to book a Swain Reefs charter or a trip to one of Carlo’s other spectacular destinations, visit carlofishingcharters.com.au or call Karl on 0428 753 293. Swain Reefs charter fishing Swain Reefs charter Swain Reefs charter Swain Reefs charter fishing trip