While on a recent trip to Norfolk Island, Kim got amongst some hot bottom-bumping action – but it was action with an ingenious difference!
TAKE a close look at some of the photos on this page and you’ll see that the rigs we used on this trip were quite original. We’d heard the local stories… then we experienced it first hand!
The owner/operator of Advance Fishing Charters on Norfolk Island, Darren Bates, uses rocks as ‘snapper leads’ due to the scarcity and cost of the big sinkers on the South Pacific island.* Darren’s father Brian introduced the ‘rock sinkers’ with his Shark-Cat charter business which he started in 1983. Brian, with a streak of larrikinism (also evident in his sons Darren and Wayne with whom we fished) told how gullible visitors would ask how he gets the holes in the rocks. This jest of ‘finding the right rock’ has been passed down to his sons, the fable continuing.
“I tell them that the rocks come that way [with holes in them] but that it’s not easy to find the flat versions with the holes in the right places!” Darren laughed. “I can find them okay, but I’ve found a new spot that has better shaped rocks of the right weight.”
Believe it or not… you just might have to visit Norfolk Island to check out this rock fishing for yourself. Darren also reckons that the rocks don’t tangle up in his rigs the way lead does.
We launched Darren’s 23-foot Shark Cat, powered by twin 130hp Hondas, at Norfolk’s Cascade Pier on the east side of the island. After a 20-minute run to the GPS marks, a check with the sounder showed fish marking. The drift started and it was ‘lines down’.
Darren offers both rod-and-reel and handline tackle, and I opted for the handline option first. I haven’t had much experience with handlines since I was a kid, so I was keen to give something different a try – and to give the ol’ arms a workout. I found that pulling in fish after fish, hand over fist, quickly saps your strength but definitely not your enthusiasm. It was great! Over the course of the morning I fished with two different lines and made an interesting observation – the older line with its rough finish was much easier to handle as a handline. The brand new line was very slippery in comparison, and difficult to pull up.
No sooner had our the ‘bedrock’ paternoster rigs hit bottom in the 40-odd metres of water, we could feel the bites through the heavy handlines. After feeling the bite, you let the line slip through your fingers for a brief moment, stop the line flow to feel for the weight or kicking of a fish, and then strike upwards by grabbing the line and reefing skywards to set the hook. Initially the fights are quite dynamic, especially from some of the bigger sweetlip. About halfway up the fish come a lot easier because the change in pressure causes the gases in their swim bladders to expand. After this happens, the fish almost float to the surface.
It’s quite a thrill to look down into the crystal clear water and see the colour of a good-sized tablefish attached to your line. Sweetlip and cod formed the majority of our catch, and Darren’s clients can go home with a feed of fresh reef fish – ideal for a fish fry on the island. Australian visitors are also allowed to take 5kg of fillets per person back to Australia. Fish taken earlier in your stay can be frozen at your place of accommodation, and then packaged for the short flight home. If you plan to take some fish back it’s a good idea to update this information with Customs when you arrive.
Our main target was sweetlip, called ‘trumpeter’ on Norfolk Island and ‘red throat’ and ‘lipper’ in other parts. We hooked them two at a time and quite often they stripped line through our fingers as they ran for the bottom. Catching doubles is a buzz! We regularly pulled up a sweetlip on one hook and a cod on the other, which shows that the fish feed in amongst each other – or at least in close proximity. In a red-hot flurry of activity, we filled the bin with table-quality fish in just over two hours of fishing. We fished in roughly six spots that were fairly close to each other, made up of pinnacles and sandy bottom areas between coral patches.
The biggest red-throat weighed in at 3.5kg. A few 2kg fish made it to the bin, and the rest of the catch – a mixture of tomato cod, rock cod and sweetlip – would have been around the 1.5kg mark. We did hook a few bigger fish, but they either bricked us on the bottom or rubbed us off on the coral. Despite the heavy handlines, with a powerful fish there’s no guarantee of boating it.
Two interesting captures included the largest blue fusilier that I have ever seen, and a fish that we couldn’t identify on the water and hence named the ‘black parrotfish’ because that is exactly what it looked like – a black version of a parrotfish.
After a few good fish on the handlines, I switched to the reefie rods to give the broomsticks a try. The big Alveys are certainly efficient fish-catching tools, and you don’t get the tangles of line lying on the deck that come with using a handline. On the other hand, the direct feel of the standard issue index finger and the strength-zapping tussle with a fish from down deep on the end of 100 feet of handline has a hand-to-hand combat feel to it that really gets the adrenalin pumping.
I recommend that you try both options for a comparison yourself, and make up your own mind. I’ll take either, especially if there’s a chance of a fish on the other end!
Norfolk’s self-imposed fishing guidelines amongst club members (you have to be a club member to use the launching cranes that are maintained by the clubs) is ‘one bin per trip’ during the Summer breeding season for their trumpeter, and mixed bag of reef fish. A bin is about the size as a large Nally tub or fish crate. I’ve fished Norfolk in both Winter and Summer, and have found that Summer appears to be a much better time for high levels of all-round fish activity.
I’ve enjoyed half-day fishing trips from Norfolk Island on quite a few occasions and the fish numbers have always been impressive. It's hand-over-fist reef fishing like it must have been in the good old days back home in Australia. We left the Norfolk reefies while they were still biting.
If you’re planning a trip to Norfolk Island, rock up and shout yourself a half-day fishing trip or two. Hope you have as much pure fun and enjoyment as I did.
* Don’t the scarcity of big sinkers worry you – the island has three stores that sell a wide range of tackle. Just about anything you’d ever want is available, including the latest full roller game rods and Tiagra reels, at tax-free prices.
To get to Norfolk Island takes about 2.5 hours flying from either Brisbane or Sydney. We flew Alliance Airlines (Flight West) ph 1300 1300 92 who have recently established Norfolk as a new route. We stayed in the self-contained apartments at the Hibiscus Aloha. These apartments are in the centre of town, so all the shopping is just an easy walk up the road. A complementary hire car can be provided as part of the package, and this is ideal for tourist drives around the island. Norfolk is a tax-free shopping haven, and the island is a must for history buffs interested in its convict settlement past.
There’s lots to see and do on the tiny 8km x 5km island of Norfolk, and the place abounds with fish. Take my advice and make sure that you include a half-day fishing trip or two in your itinerary. The hotspots are often close to the launching sites and cost is approximately $65 per person per half day. Currency is Aussie dollars, and the local costs of living for tourists is extremely inexpensive. Ideal for the family.
With the tax-free prices on tackle at Norfolk, it’s a good idea to buy your tackle when you arrive to save on packing space and baggage weight. To check out the fishing tackle scene before you go over, contact Pete’s Place on phone (6723) 22405 fax (6723) 23098 or e-mail --e-mail address hidden--
You can contact Darren Bates at Advance Fishing & Cruising Charters on ph. 23363, fax 23837, mobile 80280 or via e-mail at --e-mail address hidden--
1) This sweetlip was one of many of that size taken during our holiday. Note the rock used as a snapper lead.
2) With the bedrock double dropper rig we were getting bites on almost every drop.
3) The author with a broomstick-caught sweetlip, which the Norfolk Islanders call ‘trumpeter’.
4) Darren Bates’ Shark Cat launching at Cascade Pier.Reads: 2026