Rough and Tumble in the Bubbles
  |  First Published: December 2002

ON A recent trip to the tropical waters north of Cooktown and beyond Lizard Island, one particular tactic I employed provided some very visual and sizzling action.

If you ever get the chance to visit this region and wet a line, grab it with both hands! The area offers mind-blowing fishing opportunities in stunning locations, with an array of reefs, islands and cays you’ve only dreamt of.

Our 10-day trip demonstrated just how good reef fishing can get. There were 11 of us – a mixture of friends from Sydney, Cairns and Port Douglas – and we were looked after very well on the 56ft MV Doreen Too operating out of Port Douglas. The variety and quality of fish we caught in big numbers was extraordinary, but in this article I’ll expand on one aspect that brought about some surprising results.


In tow behind the main vessel I took along my little 14-foot flat-bottom punt which, to her credit, handled even the rougher days at sea. Each day we ventured to a new reef system and, while the rest fished from the main vessel, I fired up the punt with a couple of mates and punched around trolling presentations and also pulling up to bommies and tossing lures. A lot of the waters we visited were unsurveyed, and the amount of bommies peeking from the depths were a skipper’s nightmare. Captain Cook must have had a bad time trying to negotiate his way through this maze, but for a bloke in a tinny it was heaven!

While trolling I always kept a deep diving lure and a shallow lure behind the boat, swimming roughly in line with the end of the bubble trail of the motor. I also rigged up a small teaser system, attached to the side rail of the boat, which consisted of half a rod, an old spinning reel and a supply of 60lb line containing a string of six skirted lures in pink and white without the hooks. I set them apart 20cm from each other, and let the pink and white daisy chain swim and dance in the prop wash about two metres behind the boat. Because it was attached to a fixed reel, I knew I could easily wind it quickly back into the boat if needed.

Following this I had a live big popper rigged up, and this followed the teaser blooping through the water about one metre further back. As it turned out, this simplest of set-ups enticed some of the biggest fish taken on the trip.

I imagined how it would all look to the fish. A foreign object disturbing the surface (boat), then a boiling swirl of bubbles with a silhouette of fish swimming through (skirts) and an ailing fish a little further back struggling to keep up with the gang (popper). This tactic is similar to what game operators employ, but we were doing it on a much smaller scale.

From a fish's perspective, a mass of bait activity would not often cruise past his bommie – particularly not in this type of mad commotion. It was a feeding opportunity too good to refuse!


As we ducked and weaved in and out the of the maze of bommies, many of which were the size of a house, we soon trained ourselves to keep one eye on the water ahead and the other on the popper a few metres at the back of the boat. Time and again there was an almighty boom amongst the prop wash. The popper would disappear, the rod would double over and the reel would start screaming.

It became a team effort to drop the boat into idle, wind in the teaser and pull in the remaining lines. The angler had to get busy and get stuck into the adversary before it hit the rocks, so locked-up drags were a necessity. You could imagine three blokes all jolted into action in the one motion. We were a well-oiled machine after a few hits!

During the trip it wasn't small fish that hit this particular popper – it was the bigger fish, most likely the dominant and territorial predators lurking around the bommies. They made sure they were the first ones on the scene, showing who was boss of their stretch of water.

Extra big giant trevally, blue trevally, barracuda, Spanish mackerel, shark mackerel, red bass and even coral trout all smashed this presentation. The other lures further out back picked up their fair share of fish, but the popper did the most damage more consistently. Often the popper would ignite first, and not long after one of the other lures would get smashed resulting in a double hookup. Exhilarating stuff! This technique started as experimentation, but soon became the norm.


We tried a variety of lures in the prop wash position, but the SureCatch Tiger Popper was the clear winner. The size appealed to many fish, for some reason, and the colours didn’t matter. We lost a few lures along the way and replaced them with different colours, but it didn’t slow down the action. However, I recommend replacing the inferior hooks with a better quality treble. Ferocious strikes will soon discover any kinks in your armour.

Other lures which performed well in other situations on the troll were red and white deep diving Rapalas, Halco Gold Bombers and the pink and white Lively Lures’ Mack Bait. They were red hot presentations, particularly when moving between locations and when used behind the main vessel in the bubble trail. As well as the species I’ve mentioned, these presentations also enticed dolphin fish and mack tuna regularly.

This was just small portion of the trip where we enjoyed enormous success. To zip around the famous Ribbon Reefs No.7 -10 along the shelf, and the many untouched reefs further north in a small tinny, was excellent fun! When you have the opportunity to test-run a technique in such a rich environment, give it a go. I'm sure there’ll be something down there to swallow up your lure!

1) Heff and a whopping barracuda.

2) Rosco and Heff with a major GT.

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