Charter Chops
  |  First Published: November 2007

My husband and I have recently returned from a thoroughly enjoyable trip to Cape York. We left the caravan at Cairns and decided to tent up. We travelled the standard Cape York adventure – the Bloomfield Track, The Old Telegraph etc. and, of course, we had to include a large amount of fishing. Even though we had our own gear, we were very keen to experience our first ever 'professional fishing charter'.

This long-anticipated experience took place at Weipa, where we booked at the campground office for a morning's outing. Minimum charter price was $300 including morning tea. We shared the cost between hubby and myself and a very excited elderly gent.

Our skipper was a very friendly and helpful young bloke, who took us to plenty of good fishing spots up the Embley and Hey Rivers. He continually baited our hooks for us, and our three rods were never still. Constantly we reeled in fish after fish – bream, cod, fingermark – throwing back plenty that were just short of size. Morning tea was never mentioned, but we were too busy pulling in the fish to give it much thought.

On our way back to the boat ramp we asked the skipper whether he would fillet our fish, but we were told he didn't fillet for his customers. This later proved to be quite a problem, as our fishing knife wasn't big enough to cut through the chunky bones in the big cod we had kept. We had to resort to using an axe to hack it into manageable sized pieces.

All in all, it was an exciting morning's fishing, and we felt it was one of the best $200 that we'd ever spent. So much so, that we were keen to do it again!

The next port of call was Seisia. Here the skipper and his off-sider walked through the Loyalty Beach Campground most evenings touting for business. The trip we booked ended up with a total of six passengers – us, another married couple and two single gentlemen.

We were offered a choice of two vessels - one for approximately $450 for a morning's charter or a larger vessel for $600. The skipper recommended we take the larger vessel to give us more space.

We were told that the trip would begin from 6am until 10am and would include light refreshments, tea, coffee and water. He advised that we would be charged extra for any lures that we lost but he would fillet our catch.

Six o'clock in the morning we headed out from the wharf at Seisia, for about 45 minutes motoring to an area south of the Jardine River mouth. During this time one of the outboards seriously lost power and barely got us up on the plane for the remainder of the trip.

Once there, our skipper produced three rods which he hooked up with lures and handed around. The other three of us were given handlines with live bait. A fourth rod he used himself, casting from atop the cabin roof.

We moved position several times during the course of the morning, but the handlines only produced on two occasions. We were reduced to using three rods between the six of us, with the skipper often using the fourth from the cabin roof.

The very first fish hooked and landed by one of our party was a beautiful coral trout, which the skipper placed still alive, in the bait tank. During the morning the most senior amongst us, at 75 yr old gent, hooked two huge, unseen monsters, both of which eventually broke his line after a long and arduous battle. The skipper and another passenger hooked a large queenfish each that were immediately killed at the stern of the boat.

We were curious as to why the trout was kept alive, while the other two fish were quickly killed. Our skipper replied that if we caught a better fish during the morning, the trout would be thrown back into the sea.

"So is it not very good eating?" asked one of the passengers about the coral trout. The Skipper replied that the queenfish were better. My husband and I had both heard contrary to this but the Skipper was the professional so we decided not to say anything.

We motored between various fishing spots and we did a lot of trolling and not a lot of casting with our three rods. The skipper still used the fourth rod from up on top. However, when we did hook a fish it was very exciting to battle them into the boat.

Eventually we headed back towards Seisia with the total catch of two dead queenfish and one live coral trout. There was nothing that remotely looked like it could be hiding 'light refreshments' anywhere on the boat.

On approaching the sandbanks on the northern side of the Jardine, our skipper nosed the boat up onto the sand, and suggested we all go ashore for one last fish. We were all keen for the chance to get in a few more quick casts, to try and hook one last fish – this time we were given four rods to share. The skipper remained on the boat, where we assumed he was filleting our catch.

Back at the Seisia wharf, our skipper handed us one large bag of beautifully filleted fish. While the promised morning tea had conveniently been overlooked, he didn't overlook the fact that we were to be charged $30 for the two missing lures. None of us had the correct change, so we agreed to leave the payment in an envelope for him to collect at the camping ground.

As the afternoon progressed the mutterings of discontent rumbled and grew amongst our party – specifically that we had paid a fair sum of money. Our spokesperson decided to complain to the campground office, where she was handed the phone to speak to the skipper's boss. After he mumbled and grumbled that he'd never had a complaint before, he agreed to waive the $30 charge for the missing lures.

Further disappointment followed that evening when we discovered that the fillets did not contain any coral trout, only queenfish. What happen to the coral trout? Did the skipper throw it back without informing us?

Our answer to these questions was provided a few days later when we headed back down south, and went into fish shops. We checked out the price of coral trout fillets and realised they were the most expensive fish in Cairns at $48 per kg.

My gripe is that six people paid a fair sum of money to take part in a special experience – a Cape York fishing charter. We expected a professional operation. However, not only was our Seisia experience extremely disappointing in its lack of hands-on fishing, but our skipper chose to blatantly rip us off by keeping the best fish for himself! – Lyn Titley

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