Trip tricks and tips (Part II)
  |  First Published: May 2003

Garry Smith continues his list of useful tricks and tips learned from six years of houseboating around Hinchinbrook Island.


Looking after your hands on an extended fishing trip is pretty important, as Jason Hagen found out a few years ago. He was unlucky enough to get a nasty cut between his thumb and index finger which became infected.

A good start is to take care when handling fish (e.g. always use a glove or towel), but it’s near impossible to avoid a spike or scratch at some stage. You don’t notice many of these nicks until you wake in the middle of the night with your hand throbbing from a budding infection. Any break in the skin is bound to attract nasties when you’re handling crab bait, fish bait, slimy fish and fish guts all day, especially in the tropics. Long ago I got tired of being woken in the middle of the night from the pain, and have developed a nightly routine that’s held me in good stead for many years.

Firstly, before going to bed I wash my hands in metho. You need a fairly high pain threshold for this, but I can guarantee no infections.

Next, I use Savlon or Paw Paw ointment as a moisturiser (just using metho dries your hands out too much). For those of you with a low pain threshold, you can wash your hands thoroughly in a bowl of Detol and water instead. That's too messy and fiddley for me though. Give me the pain any day!


Most of the crew prefer bait fishing to luring, which results in the problem of bait scraps all over the boat – as well as the mess involved in catching fresh bait with a cast net. To combat this, I have developed a few tricks to keep the boat smelling as much like a rose as possible, and minimize the cleanup time on return home.

A daily spray of the boat with a disinfectant, like Strike Zone Sanitiser or Pino Clean, does wonders to reduce the stench. After you’ve sprayed the boat, make sure you then splash a bit of water around and pump it out with the bilge pump, as some of these disinfectants are a bit harsh on the skin. Rinsing also does a better job of removing the smelly stuff.

A great trick I picked up from Geoff Mayes, QFM's other Cairns writer, is using a large flat tray to put the cast net into after each throw. Geoff uses a sorting tray with sides about 20cm high, while I have opted for a tray with 10cm high sides, which I bought from a local butcher’s supply shop. This method stops a lot of mud and rubbish getting into the boat, and has halved the time it takes me to clean the boat on my return home.


Many anglers who charter houseboats in the Hinchinbrook area bring their own fishing boats as tenders, even though the houseboats have their own tenders. We have always brought our own boats because we have far more flexibility with a larger tender. It comes with its own set of problems though, not the least being towing and mooring.

In calm conditions any old tow rope will do, but when it gets a bit rough it pays to have a heavy-duty tow line. I had one made up the first time I took my boat and it’s been excellent. It consists of 20m of 14mm Silver rope, with a stainless steel spring-loaded clip spliced to one end. I keep this on the houseboat, and when coming and going I just unclip the tow rope and stow it so that it can't end up around the houseboat's prop.

The extra length of this rope is very handy when running with a large following sea because the boat can be let back until it is riding, pulling up one of the wakes. This reduces surfing, which can be a real problem in a following sea.

A couple of other strategies also help in these conditions. Load the boat with most of the weight at the stern, so that it rides with the nose high, and in severe conditions drop the motor down. In calm conditions, tow with the motor up to reduce drag.

Mooring the tenders can be a real pain at night, and if you do it incorrectly they can damage the houseboat or tender. Just leaving the tender hanging behind is not always the best option, because the houseboat swaps between being more under the influence of the wind and the tide, depending on their relative strength. Because the tender isn't as influenced by the wind, it can bang against the houseboat during the night, waking everyone up.

Unless it’s really rough I always moor alongside and use two good fenders to stop my boat banging against the houseboat. I have also had a 5m, 14mm Silver rope spliced with an eye on one end, which I loop around the grab rail on the port side of my boat. I use this to tie off at the stern, when moored alongside, and just pull it back into my boat when casting off. You just have to make sure it’s stowed properly so that it doesn't end up around your prop.


I took an electric thruster for the first time last trip and was concerned about having enough battery power to last five days’ fishing. I took along two deep cycle batteries to power the 40lb Thruster, and Rob Cannon brought along a small solar panel to use as a recharger. Rob already had the solar panel from a canoe trip down the Mitchell River, where he used it to recharge the batteries in his video camera.

As it turned out, the spare battery and the solar panel weren’t necessary. Even though we did two or three hours a day of luring, using the Thruster for positioning (I avoided using it for trolling to conserve power), the ACDelco deep cycle battery lasted the whole time. The ACDelco MRV30HMF (640CCA, 800MCA, 100 min, 100AH) has been my main boat battery for over two years, but for the trip I removed it to use on the Thruster and installed my car battery to run the boat.

A great feature of the ACDelco, besides how long the battery lasted, was the built-in hydrometer, which shows green when 90% – 100% charged, clear or yellow when 40% – 90% charged and red when it needs to be recharged. It was simple to keep an eye on the hydrometer to see whether it needed recharging.


Over the past few years I have developed a real taste for espresso coffee. I decided to take along my little espresso maker and ground coffee this year, and it proved a real hit. I wake first on most mornings, and the boys rarely said no to a fresh cup of REAL coffee to start the day.

A number of the crew brought along special knickknacks to share with others, some of which have been mentioned in these articles, so the idea has been bandied about that from now on everyone has to bring along a little something special to share with the rest of the crew.


Terry McClelland came up with a fantastic idea for the final night, which I'm sure will be an annual event from now on. Terry hit on the idea of ‘Hinchinbrook Pursuit’, where everyone had to write at least three questions about happenings or discoveries on the trip. These questions were placed in a hat and then drawn out, and as a group we tried to answer them.

It provided a huge number of laughs as we relived highlights of the trip, and had another opportunity to pay out on those who had embarrassed themselves in some way or another. Besides being extremely funny, it allowed everyone to reflect on what had been another excellent vacation.

1) The plastic cast net tray helps to keep the boat a lot cleaner and less smelly.

2) Heavy duty tow and mooring ropes are essential when the weather turns nasty.

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