Houseboating at Hinchinbrook
  |  First Published: April 2008

Two years in a row our preferred charter houseboat Princess was on the slip undergoing repairs and we were back on All Seasons for out annual Hinchinbrook trip. It has always been touch and go as to which of the two houseboats we charter, so it was no real drama. We prefer the speed, manoeuvrability and economy of All Seasons with its twin four stroke outboards but we always seem to opt for Princess because it has a better sleeping layout for seven guys.

All Seasons has a much better top deck layout, which is great in good conditions. Huey, as always, smiled upon us and yet again we had perfect weather for our five day charter. With only one new crew member this year we slipped quickly into our regular routine of heading for Goold Island on the first day to try our luck chasing crayfish, squid and oysters, before heading over to our usual anchorage in Number 3 Creek in Missionary Bay on the northern end of Hinchinbrook Island.

While the crays were certainly plentiful there were very few over the legal limit and we came home with only two keepers – not enough to feed the masses, but a start. For the second year we took a 150L freezer, and a generator was supplied, so the crays were frozen down in the hope we would get a few more later in the trip. The squid were scarce on the first night but we nailed a squadron of them under the deck light on the second night. One shot with the draw string cast net saw about a dozen on board, then an odd one or two after that. There was much discussion about whether they would become bait or dinner, with bait winning the day. They were a bit small for the table so the squid lovers didn’t put up much of a fight.

Garry Glaskin, our only new man on the trip, showed us all up on the second morning when he landed a magnificent bar cheek coral trout of about 6kg on a pink Prawnstar off Cape Richards. It turned out to be the fish of the trip and the biggest trout taken over the twelve years we have been going. He was pretty pleased with his effort and has offered to create a trophy for the Fish of the Trip, titled F.I.G.H.T. (Flange Irukandji Gloriole Hinchinbrook Trophy) with the first inscription to read; Year 2007 - “Flange Irukandji” himself - Gazza Glaskin - 6kg Coral Trout - Cape Richards.

Now the name may seem a bit strange but its origins are worth recounting. With two Garry’s on the trip it was quickly decided (mainly by the two Garry’s) that it would be too confusing to have to turn around every time the name came up, so I settled on the time honoured Smithy and seven fertile minds ticked over searching for a fitting name for Mr Glaskin. It turns out that Garry G. makes his living by importing flanges, which he has manufactured in China, so Flange was quickly adopted as his nickname.

During one of our regular sessions where the beer and the verbal diarrhoea flowed freely Flange regaled a story about one of his early slip-ups when attempting to assimilate into northern Queensland after a lifetime as a Sand Groper (Western Australian). He was at a dinner party and was telling those at the table about this fantastic fish he had bought and cooked, which had some exotic tropical name like Irukandji! After much laughter and ridicule it was finally ascertained that his Irukandji was in fact a big mouth nannygai. Consequently at every meeting of the dinner group it gets an honourable mention. Never ones to miss a chance at a put down, Garry was quickly crowned Flange Irukandji – a name that will stick for the duration of his attendance on our annual Hinchinbrook trips.

Regular, John Wedrat, was unable to join us until day three due to work commitments, but not wanting to miss a second more of the action than he had to, he departed Cairns about 10pm, drove to Cardwell towing his reef boat and came straight out to join us, arriving at 1.30am. His reasoning – he wanted to be there for the dawn lure session. When he arrived we told him he had scored the worst bunk on board during our lottery and he settled down for a few hours kip at the dinner table.

On any houseboat there are bunks and bunks, with the most coveted being the front double berths. On our first trip one of the more enterprising crew went straight below and claimed a prime berth by putting his bags on the bunk. We were one step ahead of him and had already decided to draw from the hat for the bunks, and we have done so ever since. John found out that we are basically an honest mob when Bruce Cordiner, our Iron Chef, handed over the front starboard bunk to him in the morning. We had decided that whoever drew the bunk against the window on the dining table could have John’s prime bunk until he arrived, so Bruce had to go from the penthouse to the outhouse.

We made good use of John’s reef boat when five of the crew headed to Otter Reef for a morning’s bottom bashing on day four. Rob Cannon and I elected to stay behind and poke around the bay flicking lures, as five was the limit in John’s reefie. They were back not long after lunch with big smiles and a good haul of trout and mixed reefies. It was great to be able to freeze the fish down whole and not have to worry about keeping them on ice until we got home.

Bluey, the principal of Hinchinbrook Rent a Yacht, had warned us during our briefing, that the crabs would be scarce, as Missionary Bay and the channel had been copping a hiding from out of town pro crabbers. The situation was so bad that the local pros had pulled their pots out as it just wasn’t worth their time and effort. He was certainly right as we only caught two keepers – our worst effort since commencing our annual trips.

At least we managed to nail a couple more crays and Bruce and Jason Hagen put together the meal of the trip with barbecued crayfish as the centrepiece. What a meal! Jason introduced another dimension to our fine dining when he created a magnificent desert of mango pastry topped with Drambuie cream on the second night. It was such a hit he repeated it on the night of the cray meal with a different style of pastry wrapping. It looks like Jason’s pastries are going to be a permanent feature on the trip from now on, if the rest of the crew have their way. Terry McClelland made sure the oysters kept coming thick and fast. We had them all sorts of ways, with Bruce’s suggestion of washing down raw oysters with a nip of Glenfiddich single malt whisky getting plenty of repeat customers.

Overall the fishing was unusual, though good. We have never lost so many good fish before, yet in spite of that our landed tally was the best yet. For some reason (and we never did put our finger on it) we kept losing good fish that were hooked on lures. It wasn’t the hooks as we were using one of the sharpest on the market in the form of Owner trebles. Everyone had the same problem. All I can put it down to was the fish were bumping the lures and hooking up on the outside of the mouth rather than taking them in the mouth. Everyone had stories of screaming runs and lost fish, which made for frustrating fishing at times. Sometimes it would happen a dozen times in a session.

We took our annual ritual dip in the cool clear waters of Ramsay Bay after a quick dash up Number 8 Creek in John’s reefie. New pylons have been placed at the boardwalk jetty and they are the type that take a floating pontoon, so visitors may soon not have to scramble up the ladder at low tide. We continue to be amazed at the lack of people on the water in mid December. Yes, it can be a bit warm but the seas are always flat and the fishing fantastic. If you are looking for a time to be on the water around the magnificent Hinchinbrook Island with the place virtually to yourself, then give December a go.

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