The aroma of freshly baked sausage rolls wafts from the cabin, across the aft deck and down onto the port duckboard as I breathlessly haul in my second consecutive 3kg goldband snapper. Over the PA system Captain Kenny Smith booms, “Reel ’em up, boys, we’re down in 58m now. We’ll have some smoko on our way over to a nice little trout bank about a mile away; put out a trolling lure if you want.”
Appetites sharpened by a couple of hours of champagne bottom fishing, 14 happy anglers descend on the huge tray of hot snacks like ravenous gulls.
Nobody suffers aboard Mikat, not even the fish. All the choice reef fish are humanely dispatched, buried in ice slurry and within the hour are bagged and blast-frozen, ready for dinner tables all around the country.
Coral trout, redthroat, spangled and red emperor, tuskfish, jobfish of all kinds, sweet little hussars, Spanish mackerel – no doubt about it, this is a helluva meat-fishing expedition. And what meat!
The southern Great Barrier Reef produces some of the finest warm-water table fish on the planet and if you’re fond of a fish dinner, it’s hard to go past sustainably harvesting your own on a voyage with the experts aboard Mikat. Generous bag limits enable everyone to take home plenty of Queensland’s finest reef fish, filleted, frozen and in meal-size bags for the ultimate edible trip memento.
The 20m alloy Mikat has been carrying anglers from Gladstone out to the Swain Reefs and other remote parts of the Coral Sea since 1992. Its looks belie its age; it’s spotless, immaculately maintained and crewed by consummate experts and bloody good blokes.
With near-new twin 800hp Scania diesels, Mikat cruises around 11 knots yet can get up and boogie at 18 knots-plus. The big generator puts out mains power for everything from the blast freezers and the galley to hot water and recharging your MP3 player by your bunk.
Accommodation is in two double cabins forward and two six-bunk cabins midships, with all linen and bedding provided. There are three roomy toilet/showers and ample space for dining and lounging in the red cedar-trimmed main cabin, which is equipped with DVD, Blue Ray and a gazillion movies and music tracks.
Mikat is capable of handling anything the elements are likely to dish out on these reefs well over 100NM from the coast. Getting out there and coming home, the ride can become a little lumpy once the wind hits 30-plus knots but there’s always calm water and good fishing in the lee of the reefs.
Many of the fishos on our voyage were ‘repeat offenders’, some of whom make the trip twice a year. Typical of Mikat clients, they came from Cairns to Goulburn and even New Zealand and used many types of fishing tackle (see fact box).
Between bottom sites we trolled up a mix of trout, jobfish and shark mackerel but on the final day we had a serous mack attack, boating a dozen Spanish in half an hour. Top troll lure of the trip by far was the chartreuse Rapala X-Rap Magnum.
On our last morning at Snake Reef, the aromas of a lavish cooked breakfast lured me up the nine steps from my bunk just in time to see a humpback whale’s tail so close it blotted out two cabin windows. “Silly buggers don’t know the whale-watchin’ charters don’t start until next week,” said deckhand ‘Oney’ McAndrew.
Call 0427 125 727 to find out more about a fishing charter once you’ve visited www.mikat.com.au.
Most charters seem to leave Gladstone on a Saturday afternoon and return late on Friday or early on Saturdays. There are heaps of return bookings so you should call ASAP to check on a vacancy for you and your mates. And make certain there’s plenty of space on the way home for the big styrofoam boxes the crew pack with delicious fillets.
The typical Mikat bottom outfit is a strong star- or lever-drag overhead reel holding at least 250m of 50-80lb braid, on a 15-30kg rod with a powerful butt and a softer tip. Crew and clients agree that gear must be from a reputable maker; no-name internet specials don’t survive a week here. Daiwa Saltists and Shimano TLD reels and Wilson Live Fibre Texalium rods figured prominently. It might seem like overkill until a big chinaman or a GT grabs your bait.
Daniel Tillack, of Jarvis Walker, agreed to come on our trip on condition that JW supplied the gear so how could we go wrong? Everyone loved the compact Fin Nor Marquesa 16 lever drag loaded with the latest Rovex Kor 50lb (seriously good round braid). The Fin Nor 50 OH jig rod was powerful but light, the combo coming through many solid workouts with flying colours and a swag of big fish. The beefy Fin Nor Offshore threadline outfits were seemingly bulletproof, as was the quality Offshore 16H overhead outfit.
The 8/0 Tsunami Kirby hooks were plenty tough and sharp enough and the supple strength of the 80lb and 100lb Rovex 10X and Rovex Kor leader materials went down a treat with everyone.
With over a dozen fishos along the starboard rail, it made sense that everyone used a simple 3-6oz ball sinker running straight down to the hook. That way tangles were rare and quickly freed.
When we were anchored for the evening, I had a ball with a 50g octopus jig sweetened with a squid strip. I cast it on a ludicrously inexpensive Rovex Airstrike 701SPXXX snapper-style rod and Air Strike 3000 threadline with a surprisingly smooth drag. A hussar or small cod hit almost every drop and occasionally a solid redthroat made the combo earn its keep. It also worked fine for redthroat and small trout with plastics on 1/2oz heads.