Townsville Trip of a Lifetime
  |  First Published: October 2007

Every now and then a fishing opportunity comes up that is too good to knock back. When my mate, Ben Earle, invited me to come up to Townsville for a week’s fishing, I did not think twice. The plan was to head out onto the reef for a couple of nights and then have a crack at the estuaries. I booked my plane tickets that night and I was on board.

Marine Biologist, Ricky Gleeson, and I flew into Townsville around midday and met with Ben. Expectations were high so there was no time to waste, it was straight to the Marina to board Turning Point, our mother ship for the next three days.

Once at the marina, Les the skipper and his deckhand, Todd, gave us a warm welcome. I was totally blown away by the sheer size of their vessel. Turning Point is a luxurious 68-foot Westcoaster that can accommodate up to fourteen people for as long as a week. The great vessel was topped off with two 6m centre consoles towed behind for our shallow water work.

We spent the first night on Magnetic Island. After a few too many beers and a BBQ dinner to die for, it was off to bed for an early morning start. Turning Point had three hours to steam ahead before we reached our first spot.

The morning’s game plan was to troll over a structure named ‘the hell hole’ about 35nm from Magnetic Island. Some of the crew paired up and took off in the centre consoles to troll, while I stayed on Turning Point. We had just got two lures out in the spread when the ratchets started screaming. Our initial calls of Spaniards turned out to be a pair of XOS mac tuna. For the next hour it was pandemonium, we just could not get our lures past the Tuna. The guys in the tenders did eventually get past the tuna and each landed solid GTs.

Every time we trolled over the structure, we would gaze with astonishment with the amount of fish life showing on the Furuno. It was time to put away the trolling gear and target some bottom dwelling species. Ben Collins and I had joked with the guys the previous night about using soft plastics on the same gear we’d use to chase snapper in Moreton Bay. Ben’s soft plastic did not even see the bottom before it was hammered. After a tough twenty-minute battle and several Matt Bowen type bursts of speed, it found the anchor chain. After another half dozen encounters with these unstoppable characters, we gave up on the idea and moved to some heavier gear but struggled to get the same presentation out of the lure, and could not get the brutes to bite.

The centre consoles were soon moored at the stern again, so Les suggested we move to nearby ground in the form of Davies Reef. He predicted large mouth nannygai and on our first drop he couldn’t have been closer to the truth. After my earlier misfortune on the plastics, I was not going to be shown up and rigged a couple of 5” grubs on a dropper rig. As there was more current, I had to use an 8oz snapper, as opposed to the 3/4oz jig heads we were getting smoked on earlier. The technique was simple: drop the rig to the bottom and, with the smallest bit of slack in the line and shake the rod tip like mad to get the plastics moving. My plastics were on the bottom for no longer than a minute when I got a solid hook up. After a short battle on my 40lb jigging outfit I landed my first plastic-caught cobia that had me wondering what the fish we lost earlier were.

As the sun went down over the horizon, Davies really started to turn it on. There were many groans as the boys were getting busted off by big fish, while also bringing an array of reef species on board. The list included, mangrove jack, nannygai, green jobfish, spangled emperor, red throat, hussar, cobia, coral trout and a variety of cod and trevally.

An hour or so after dark, a school of hussar moved in and frustratingly rattled off our flesh baits from the hook like an AK47. As good as these fish are to eat, they also make great live baits on the reef. We grabbed for the jigging rods, snooded two 9/0s on 120lb leader and floated the live hussar down. Ben Collins’ was the first to be eaten and after a hard fought battle boated a green jobfish that hit the 10kg mark. After a few happy snaps, he had another live hussar in the water and no time later was smiling for the camera behind a pair of 5kg mangrove jack.

I was not going to be denied, so persevered with the large hussar I had sent down live. After waiting patiently for a couple of hours, I got the run I had wished for. Well, maybe not quite as devastating. I set the hooks and loaded the rod with the drag fully locked and started to gain some line back in the first minute of the fight. It was at this stage somebody on the boat asked if I wanted some shots of myself doing battle on my camera. As soon as the swear word, ‘Camera’ was said, this fish turned around and headed back to its reef to avoid the paparazzi. To say I was disappointed would’ve been an understatement.

After a massive second day, we anchored in the sheltered waters of Chicken Reef. We woke up in the morning to some pretty sloppy conditions, but it didn’t stop us from taking the centre consoles out to do some trolling in close to the reef. I fished on the scout boat with Ed Vanderkruk. Our plan was to troll a variety of depths zig-zagging our way along the edge of the reef. Any bommies we came across that held a significant school of bait were plotted on the Eagle for reference on the next troll. We’d trolled for about half an hour and had only caught a couple of alligator gar when Ed hooked into a solid green jobfish.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, we noticed an abundance of flying fish in some areas. We started to concentrate around these areas, as we knew there would be larger predatory fish not far behind. Our strategy paid off - landing GT, turrum and shark mackerel for the next few hours. We tried a variety of lure colours that morning, but the stand-out by far was the old faithful Qantas red and white.

While we concentrated in and around the shallows, the boys on Turning Point fished wider, trolling a variety of Wolf Herring, Gar and Lures. They came up trumps with some solid Spanish and shark mackerel, along with the ever-present GT.

That night we anchored on Davies Reef, where Les had spoken of small mouth nannygai. It took a while for the fish to come on the chew but when they did, they came on thick with a mixed bag of small mouth, hussar and green jobfish coming over the side.

Having not done a lot of jigging on the trip, we were keen to get some in on the trip home. We had a sound around Centipede Reef that showed a stack of bait in about 40m of water, with some bigger red arches hanging around it. With a whole lot of enthusiasm, I was the first to get my 300g knife jig to the bottom and with the first crank of the handle was locked up. After a solid workout, I swung aboard a horse bludger trevally for a quick photo. My next drop only got fifteen metres below the boat, when I noticed the line peeling off way too quickly to be the lure falling to the bottom and landed my first ever rainbow runner. The last two hours fishing of our trip were spent jigging up turrum, rainbow runners, tea leaf and bludger trevally.

The four-hour cruise back to the harbour had a sad feel about it, our trip had finally came to an end, but it gave us all an opportunity to reflect on the memories that will stick with us forever.

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