WE jagged it again! For seven straight years we’ve experienced great weather on our annual houseboat trip to Hinchinbrook Island, and this year topped the lot. Many people avoid the tropics in Summer for fear of cyclones and hot weather, but the stiff sou-easters we experienced for the majority of our five-night trip (the first week of the Christmas school holidays) were beautiful and cool.
We headed out of Port Hinchinbrook on a mirror calm sea, after Bruce Walker from Hinchinbrook Rent-a-Yacht had given us the usual rundown. Once we had set out, it was immediately down to the serious business of drawing for the Duty Skipper roster and the beds.
With seven on board it worked out that everyone had to do one six-hour shift and one 12-hour shift as Duty Skipper. With a system like this, there’s always someone in charge of the vessel so that the others can do their thing without worrying about the Princess. Gary Day from Brisbane, who was joining us for the first time, jagged the prized forward starboard cabin with double bunk. We made sure he felt guilty about being the new seagull in the flock and scoring the best perch.
Goold Island was our first stop because the winds were forecast to increase over the next few days and we wanted to have at least one dive. Terry McClelland was the keenest to nail a cray for dinner, but unfortunately they had other ideas and we pulled anchor and headed for Macushla without success.
Jason Hagen was the first to open the account with a string of doggie mackerel trolled up from behind the houseboat, which were immediately earmarked for sashimi that night. The three doggies were expensive though, with Jas losing three lures in the process.
On anchoring, Rob Canon and I headed straight for Cape Richards to try our luck jigging Prawnstars for fingermark – a tactic which had proven highly successful on previous trips. Rob opened the account early with a nice fingermark, but it proved to be the only fish worth mentioning during the session.
We returned to the Princess to find the others in a heightened state of excitement. Jim Mergler had just won a mammoth battle with a 7kg golden trevally, which took him over an hour to subdue. Jim was using only a 6kg hand line, and had been forced to give chase in the punt when the handline started getting very empty. He made sure we relived that encounter at every opportunity for the rest of the trip. He got so excited during some of our evening sessions that he just wouldn't shut up. Even threatening to tie him to a chair and tape his mouth didn't seem to slow him down!
Just to prove it was no fluke, Jim also subdued a 4kg golden on the same outfit. All the fancy gear the rest of us had was shown up by a handline, a no. 3 bean sinker and a 2/0 hook!
Jason and Jim were the chief crabbers for the trip, and soon had the pots strategically placed – in spite of Bruce Walker telling us we may as well leave them in the car because no crabs had been caught for over a month. Thanks to the efforts of a pro crabber, we had discovered some years ago that the muddies tend to be on the tidal flats (which dry at low water) rather than in the creeks at this time of year.
The next morning the dynamic duo returned with a couple of monster muddies and a few blue swimmers, and we were well on our way to the first feed of crabs for the trip. We ended up with two feeds of crabs, and what the muddies lacked in numbers were certainly made up for with size. The best went 19cm across the shell, and it was as full as a python that had just swallowed a pig.
The crabbing wasn't all good news though, with the crocs and the sharks giving our pots a real caning. Up to a third of our pots were attacked during any overnight period, and they were looking the worse for wear by the end of the trip – those that we managed to retrieve anyway!
Terry McClelland led the band of oyster collectors and there was no shortage of willing helpers. Everyone had their fill on a number of occasions, in spite of the poor tides.
On this trip we ventured for the first time up to the top of Number 8 Creek, in Missionary Bay, where it turns into freshwater. It’s the only creek in the bay that has running freshwater at its source, and in spite of the dry weather it still had a trickle coming down from the spectacular mountains on the western side of the bay. The scenery, as the creek changed from mangrove to rainforest, was breathtaking, with the massive staghorns, elkhorns and orchards a real highlight.
Both boats managed to find the rock bar that’s on a sharp bend where you are forced wide by an overhanging branch, some distance from the end of navigable water. Go up the creek on a rising tide and anchor the boat as far up as you can get, then walk up the creek for a look or a swim. Make sure, if you’re having a swim, that you choose a small and shallow pool where you can easily see the bottom throughout. Crocs are a real possibility in this region.
Gary has done a number of houseboat trips on the Broadwater at the Gold Coast, and he was particularly taken by the beautiful scenery and isolation of Hinchinbrook. In five nights we anchored in sight of another vessel on only one occasion, and it was way off on the horizon. This was a far cry from the Broadwater, where Gary once counted over 100 other vessels in view at one time.
Another highlight for Gary, which the rest of us now take for granted, was watching dugong breaking the surface as they moved across the weed beds, on an oily calm dawn.
Bruce Cordiner, our chef extraordinaire, was once again in charge of the galley and he didn't disappoint. The multiple-course dinners started at dusk and ran for hours, and no one has ever been game to leave the mothership after dark in case they miss out on a delicacy. Even taking a shower has to be strategically timed, otherwise the vultures devour everything before you get a taste.
One evening, Rob, Terry and I decided to break with tradition and go for a fish under a nearly full moon, AFTER dinner. This made it a late start and we didn't return till the early hours of the morning. It proved to be a very productive tactic – for Rob anyway. He landed two more fingermark, two jacks and a nice grunter. We were kept just as busy, but our list consisted of re-rig, re-rig, trevally, re-rig, catfish, re-rig and sharks.
Terry was having a nightmare! In spite of casting only a metre wide of Rob, and often right where he was landing, Terry got snagged nearly every cast and spent the whole night practicing his rigging skills.
The only bright spot for me was a sand bass, which I caught on a Storm soft plastic. This was only the second sand bass I had ever taken on a lure, with the other one being the day before on a Prawnstar Junior.
Mergler may have taken out the Main, but Rob was certainly the Champion Angler, leaving the rest of us for dead. I fished with him most of the time and Rob, in his usual quiet manner, wasn't giving much away. Careful observation revealed that the significant difference between Rob's approach and the rest of us was that he bait fished with 30lb braid, while we all used mono. I always use braid for luring, but things were pretty quiet on the artificial front. The huge majority of fish were being caught on bait, mainly fresh sardines and fillets of belly flap.
Many times I saw Rob buried by good fish, yet he was consistently able to pull them out using braid. His other significant technique was fishing with his rod in freespool the whole time, with no ratchet on. He relied totally on thumb control (and very successfully I might add) to avoid any over-run when a fish hit. Trust me – fishing braid in freespool is about the quickest way I know of to get a massive over-run!
The only other observation I made was that Rob used a length of 30lb mono leader, with a small pea sinker right up against the hook, for both live and dead bait.
The fishing wasn't up to its usual standard this year, even though there was plenty of action. Usually everyone manages a trophy fish or two for the trip, but this year Jim and Rob were the only ones to have captures of that class. There was no shortage of action, but small fish, catfish of all sizes and small sharks were the main players.
There were also a number of unstoppables that wouldn't surrender even when the boys gave chase in the punt. Bruce and Terry chased one denizen from the deep for over a kilometre before busting it off. I reckon it could well have been a giant groper. Rob, Terry and I had spotted one in about three feet of water, right next to the boat, as we worked the shallows flicking lures with the electric Thruster. Because of the murky water, and having had a number of our pots crunched in the area, Terry was convinced it was a huge croc and was not very fussed when I motored over for a closer look.
There were certainly some unusual captures. Gary even managed to catch a sea snake that swallowed his bait. Jas has become a bit of an expert at unhooking sea snakes, and everyone was more than happy to let him do it!
The final night is always ‘Cocktails Night’ and Terry added a special touch to Bruce's steady delivery of liquid and solid delights with ‘Hinchinbrook Pursuit’ – his version of Trivial Pursuit. Everyone had to come up with at least three questions about happenings or discoveries on the trip. It proved to be a real hoot, especially when at least half of the questions were aimed in some way at motor-mouth Mergler.
1) Rob Cannon with one of the many trophy fish he nailed in Missionary Bay.
2) Jason Hagen is pretty pleased with the monster muddies he caught on the first check of the pots.
3) The top end of Number 8 Creek in Missionary Bay reveals a fascinating junction between mangrove and rainforest, and salt- and freshwater.Reads: 741