Hutchies, Hutchison Shoal or Hutchies Reef, as it is variously known, is one of those very popular places that maintains its reputation by still producing good fish despite the number of boats that frequent it.
On a fine weather weekend Hutchies typifies that version of the old cliché, “you can’t miss it, head north from Flinders, keep the Cape behind you, and stop when you get to the flotilla of boats.” But even if there isn’t anyone out on the reef it is still hard to miss, since it is the largest rise of reef in the area. And the reef is also shown on any chart that covers the area.
I guess I’m painting it as an overfished spot with lots of pesky ‘seagulls’ (the name given to boats that flock around you when you start catching fish). But the spot still produces heaps of great fish.
I’m trying to be a little tongue in cheek, although it isn’t so funny when it gets dangerous.
Twenty years ago when I first started fishing Hutchies there was a code amongst trollers, for example, to follow the law and ‘give way to your right’ if the paths of two boats looked like intersecting. These days if you are in a 4.5m centre console you run for cover when one of those nicely painted 7m+ cabin boats is bearing down on a high speed wahoo trolling collision course from your left.
My Dad has fairly strong opinions about this. It’s funny when fishing with him and he sounds off that a few ‘might is right’ skippers are the aquatic equivalent of a hat wearing Volvo driver. Then I get to point out to him that our boat has a Volvo engine and we are more than happy with it. And that is my point, if it’s a weekend morning blessed with beautiful weather, then you will enjoy yourself a lot more on a trip to Hutchies if you take your sense of humour with you.
Now before you all stop reading and vowing never to contemplate a trip to Hutchies, let me tell you why I don’t mind putting up with the crowds.
On my most recent trip we landed at least 20 snapper, yellowtail kings and amberjack using soft plastics. If we had kept all the fish we caught we’d have had around 80kg of fillets on ice to take home. On the trip before that we trolled up a box of mini wahoo up to 10kg. It seems we caught about 10 mac tuna for every single wahoo that we landed, so the rods seemed constantly bent. The mac tuna were good-sized fish too, with a couple being kept for sashimi and sushi. These fish were caught slow trolling bibless minnows, such as Rat-L-Trap saltwater lures (the bigger 12cm models, are called Mag Force). Meanwhile the boats around us, cutting us off on each troll as they zigzagged every which way at high speed, caught pretty much nothing.
Our strategy worked because our skipper was prepared to do something different. It seemed so obvious, everybody else was high speed trolling so it didn’t take an Einstein to work out somebody must have caught a wahoo yesterday and word had got out. There seemed little point in joining the mobs who were more than likely spooking the fish. So we found our own little area, near wahoo’s bait of choice the mac tuna, made out like we didn’t know what we were doing by trolling slow with the Rat-L-Traps and enjoyed the serenity. That’s until the sounds of our screaming drags played a pied piper’s tune to lure the other boats over to us. Unfortunately this increase in boat numbers threw the wahoo’s circuit breaker and they shut down, then nobody caught anything. With no other option left we wandered away to one of the many other pinnacles in the area (towards Flinders) and although the fishing was a little hit and miss, we did put two more wahoo into the cooler box.
I tell these stories because within them is a great philosophy for fishing Hutchies, and any other pressured spot for that matter. The ideas that can be gleaned from these scenarios include as follows:
When the most obvious way to catch fish (such as high speed trolling for wahoo) is also the most popular and everybody is putting pressure on that primary technique, then trying something different is a logical option.
If the most popular spot is crowded or over crowded then the fish will possibly have relocated to a nearby spot. It makes sense to get away from the pack and go looking for those alternatives. Sometimes it can be as simple as the fish are where the crowd of boats aren’t.
If it is midweek and there are no crowds around, well it’s your ocean – enjoy! Naturally you have to change that opinion when another boat turns up to share it with you. And if three or four more boats turn up and share, make like the charter boat pros do and slowly slip away to one of your other spots. Often the seagulls won’t even know that you’ve gone.
I guess there are some etiquette tips that wouldn’t go astray too and they all apply to Hutchies:
• Don’t drive into the middle of schools of feeding surface fish, even when you are trolling;
• Don’t anchor in the way of another boat’s drift path. In many cases you’d be wiser to have a drift yourself; and,
• Give way to the right, even when trolling.
That covers a few tricks of the trade for wahoo trolling – find your own patch of water with some mac tuna in it during the warmer months of the year and you are putting yourself in the frame.
One other tip, we run a five rod pattern when we are slow trolling the Mag Force Traps. The pattern consists of up to four traps or other hardbodies and the fifth is a skirted lure. The lures are run in a W pattern with the middle lure run a long way back as the shotgun. The shotgun lure is a C&H No Alibi squid over feather with a 1.5oz headweight. These lures come pre-rigged on 135lb cable and a 7/0 hook. Run this lure on a high speed reel deep jig outfits, something like an Ugly Stik with a Penn Torque TRG200 reel with its lightning 6.3:1 gear ratio.
When the mac tuna are jumping on the lures close to the boat then it is a good sign that your lures have hit the edge of the school, or even the middle. The shotgun lure, because it is run a long way back, is yet to enter the school or strike zone. And in reality you don’t want a mac tuna eating it and hooking up, so it’s important to act fast. This is where the trick comes in. One of our crew jumps on the shotgun rod and winds the C&H lead head feather through the water at warp speed. The lure races towards the upcoming edge of the school and that’s where it attracts the wahoo’s attention. From there the race is on.
The faster you wind the more you’ll get the wahoo trucking after it. Over the years I’ve witnessed some awesome strikes as wahoo have pounced, jaws seemingly dislocated apart, on the wire rigged lure as it nears the white water at the transom of the boat. This is a great extra wahoo trick when slow trolling – high speed trolling without the fuel bill.
Next month I will look at soft plastics at Hutchies for some of those seriola and snapper.
Sketch: A five rod W slow-trolling pattern with shotgun lure.
Lure 1: the short flat – either a small deep running minnow (Rapala CD 11)or bibless Mag trap
Lure 2: the short flat – either a large shallow running minnow (Bomber 26A) or bibless Mag trap
Lure 3: rigger – a soft plastic / rubber swimming or skipping lure
Lure 4: rigger – a soft plastic / rubber swimming or skipping lure
Lure 5: shotgun - a skirted trolling lure or featherReads: 6298