Long trips during the doldrums
  |  First Published: December 2012

For much of the East Coast or Cape York and Torres Strait, wind and sea breeze is a fairly constant feature of the weather. However there are some months of the year where all the build-up activity occurring around the wet season actually helps calm sea conditions. January is one of these months and for some keen fishers, this month will present a chance to get further offshore to chase reef fish and pelagic speedsters.

Storm clouds brewing somewhere off in the distance and the chance of squall are ever present factors in January. At times the best thing someone getting around in a small boat can have will be a raincoat and a good bilge pump. But when the rain and cloud fade away, spectacularly clear reefs, dead flat seas and flighty fish will be the norm.

Writing this article just hours after a flight from Horn Island down to Cairns, I was again reminded by the enormous array of inshore islands and cays littering the East Coast. Those little postcard sandy strips in the middle of a vast ocean really stand out to a daydreaming angler. Literally hundreds of inshore and barrier reefs litter the clean blue water in this far northern section of the Great Barrier Reef. An organism so vast it is difficult to comprehend.

This time of year, yellowfin, northern blue, albacore and mac tuna will be feeding their way through swarms of tiny baitfish which have moved offshore. Imagine birds dipping and flittering in all directions as far as the eye can see and you are imagining a calm January morning somewhere between the inner and outer Barrier Reef in the far northern east of Cape York.

Wide of this will be mahi mahi, marlin, sailfish, wahoo, mackerel and all sorts of hungry-toothy critters riding the currents from restaurant to restaurant. It is a fascinating thing to imagine the circle of life that exists between the estuaries of Cape York’s east coast and the far flung coral reefs of the Coral Sea.

One of our favourite fish, the mangrove jack brings this theme into perspective. The very same mangrove jack that grew as a tiny fingerling in the upper reaches of the Jacky Jacky River may be the same fish that grows fat and lazy on a reef out at Murray Island, where it is only just included on the Australian map.

I have witnessed a feisty little mangrove jack caught on a half sardine bait in the very upper reaches of a tiny feeder creek and a month later a large reef resident mangrove jack, caught 250km east as it fed over shallow rocky country at night. It is this variety of habitat and enormous array of species that makes the far north coast such a special place and worthy of the iconic status it has around the world.

It is obvious even with the naked eye out of a plane that this section of the reef is healthy and free of the turbid runoff associated with industry, farming and cities further south. When you consider the vastness of this section of reef, it seems a little ridiculous zoning recreational anglers out of so much of it!

There are too many lifetimes worth of potential places to go and little hidey-holes to tuck yourself into out there. Huge internal lagoon systems where some level of protection is granted from wind and waves exist in many locations. Today I saw one on a reef outside Lockhart River and another further down into Princess Charlotte Bay that would take years to explore with a mask snorkel and set of fins.

Getting to these places is a lot easier said than done but trips in the name of adventure are more than possible out of places like Cooktown, Lockhart River and Thursday Island.

Recently I had the good fortune of taking a smallish (5.8m) boat around the many cays and islands of the Central and Eastern Torres Strait. Basically the further east one goes, the clearer the water and more prevalent are the big fish! Or at least they are easier to spot. Tides and currents play a huge role in dictating travel and sea conditions in the Torres Strait. Our trip began and ended under favourable conditions, which over a three-week period is more than one should ask!

We visited Yorke Island, Darnley, Stephen, Murray, Coconut, Yam and Warraber Islands on this journey and it was incredible to experience the diversity which exists between these islands, reefs and cays. One thing is for sure, they are all beautiful places occupied by very proud and forthright island communities. The sea is home and way of life to all small island people and the knowledge held by these people surrounding their marine resources is very impressive.

It is only during the doldrums where the wind drops right out where these types of trips are truly enjoyable. And when it happens, it can be the most spectacular, remote and invigorating any fishing and boating nut will experience.

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