When summer arrives my mates and I know it’s time to go to Hinchinbrook Island on our annual houseboat trip.
There were a few changes to our annual Hinchinbrook houseboat trip this year. This would be the first time we had fished the big new moon tides and there was no lead-up rain prior to our arrival.
A trouble-free drive from Cairns and a smooth loading soon saw us on our way out of Port Hinchinbrook, aboard Princess, after the usual rundown from Bruce Walker from Hinchinbrook Rent a Yacht. We headed for Goold Island as the weather was looking good for the first night. Goold is always a good anchorage if the winds are light from any direction, and it can handle southeasters up to 20 knots, but after that it’s best to go over to the better protection of Hinchinbrook Island.
The first fishing session had us in raptures. Both boats got onto grey mackerel and a stack of small GTs on the southern side of Garden Island, on the afternoon rising tide. The fish were taking practically any small trolled minnow and we looked set for a fantastic trip.
Unfortunately, the great start was followed by three tough days, which we put down to the very large tides (some of the biggest for the year) and a persistent northerly, which restricted our fishing options. We tried all our usual spots in Missionary Bay and the creeks that empty into the bay, but we couldn’t nail anything but scrap fish. There was plenty of little stuff taken on bait and lures but no trophy fish.
On the second day we managed to put four crays on ice, along with a feed of squid. There were lots of crays around but most were under the legal limit of 11.5cm (tail). It’s quite difficult to judge size in the water but we were spot-on, with all four crays speared going legal length. We probably passed up a few crays that would have made the grade but we were more than happy with the crayfish salsa and seafood paella that the chefs created from our bounty. Spanish cuisine was the theme for the trip and ‘The Two Chefs’ – Bruce Cordiner and Ken Duncan – kept our taste buds drooling for the entire trip.
Coral trout must be fast learners. The first four days of our trip were in the last of the three nine-day Coral Reef Fin Fish Spawning Closures, and while Rob and I were spearfishing we had 5lb trout swimming along beside us, like dogs on a leash. They must have known they were safe!
Terry McClelland, as usual, led the oyster eaters. Terry just loves a challenge, and when it came to picking oysters off the rocks he was first ashore every time, with a sprinkling of others in tow. Terry even went ashore in the dark and picked oysters under torch light.
The crabs just wouldn’t play the game, in spite of the mammoth effort put in by Ken and Trevor. Those two worked the pots relentlessly for our entire stay, for two muddies and a sand crab. We put it down to the lack of rain before and during our trip, as the crabbers, the techniques, the bait and the locations were the same as last year, when we did well.
Jim Lee (owner of Un-Reel Sportsfishing Adventures and QFM correspondent) arrived on day four, and his local knowledge of gun locations and techniques turned the fishing around for us.
One of his useful pointers was to retrieve lures very slowly when fishing the mangrove edges. There was no such thing as too slow; anything slightly faster than dead stop did the trick. Jacks, cod, bream, coral trout, GTs, and incidental barra just loved it.
Another hint – one which I couldn’t bring myself to use but which Jim swears by – is not to use new hooks that are too sharp. His reasoning is they hook up on the mangrove roots too easily and you spend too much time retrieving lures.
This led to another hint: get that lure as far into the trees as you can. The boys who spent a session fishing with Jim said he fished so deep into the trees that one in four casts had to be retrieved from the vegetation.
The other big tip from Jim was to fish in less than a metre of water. Basically, the water was too deep from the time when it reached the mangrove leaves on the rise until it dropped below the mangrove leaves on the falling tide. Fishing the right depth requires a fair bit of mobility and you need to be prepared to cover a fair bit of territory during any given fishing session. The fishing window for each spot can be as small as half an hour to an hour before it’s time to move on.
Trevor took the best catch for the trip on the second last morning, landing a 25lb GT on 20lb braid in four feet of rock-strewn water. It was a mighty effort; the initial run was blistering and the fear of running out of line saw us throw the anchor float and give chase with the electric Thruster. Twenty minutes later the huge GT was being held up for a photo before being swum back to life and powering off.
The final afternoon saw us back at Goold Island. Here we enjoyed a fantastic dusk bite, casting lures in the shallows and catching mainly coral trout, cod and barra. At least the trout were on the bite on the final day, when the season was open.
John Wedrat, an accomplished reef fisherman who can catch trout at will out off Cairns, showed that he also had the magic touch on light spin gear. He nailed a couple of beauties flicking lures in the shallows around the northern side of Goold Island on the final afternoon.
But all too soon it was time to pull anchor and head for port. All up, another fantastic Hinchinbrook experience.
1) Trevor Gordon was elated with this monster GT taken on 20lb braid in shallow rocky terrain.
2) Rob Cannon with an incidental barra taken while chasing trout. The barra were impossible to avoid; we even caught them on coral bommies.
3) Rob Cannon with a brace of crays and a squid and the author with a couple of crays and a reef flathead.
4) John Wedrat certainly has the trout touch.Reads: 1929