Some QFM staff and VFM writers recently joined me in Weipa while they were en route to the mothership Eclipse. It fell to my fellow guides Josh, Dan and myself to keep the troops from getting ‘bored’ while lounging around Queensland’s sportfishing capital. What a couple of days they proved to be!
Being in the guiding game long enough to see my beard go from dark brown to more salt than pepper, I’m used to clients coming up with ‘wish lists’ that require me to rub that old lamp I found half buried in the sand on a remote beach some time ago. However, the turbaned gent who somehow manages to squeeze himself into the lamp has assured me that I am definitely over quota. (I think the ‘make me handsome’ request broke the bank!)
QFM Editor Steve Booth presented me with an epic species list to challenge even the most hardened practitioner. His list included fingermark and black jew on lures, a couple of big Spaniards, plenty of longtail tuna and some big trevally thrown in for good measure – all in two days!
Because I’m a professional, Boothy was unlikely to suspect that my reply of “Yeah, no worries old mate!” was sarcastic, especially considering my chances of picking up another one of those lamps was as likely as finding an honest politician. Once upon a time, a request like Boothy’s would have seemed intimidating but now I’ve learned to go with the flow. Any shortcomings can be simply, but profoundly, explained in two words: That’s fishin’!
The day arrived and three boats headed south loaded with enough tackle to stock your average emporium. There had been perfect fishing conditions the previous week but the Fishing Monthly mob had brought 20 knots of trade wind and choppy seas with them which severely limited our operational area.
Josh and Dan headed for a smudge on the horizon west of Boyd Bay and happened on a big bait ball populated by longtails, trevally and sharks going ballistic. In very sloppy conditions, the crew hooked fish after fish on soft plastics, landing plenty but losing heaps to gear failure and bite-offs from mackerel and big sharks.
Further south, we found longtails in plague proportions and spent the morning constantly hooked up to tuna on plastics and fly. Even at lunchtime when we sought shelter from the wind 100m from the beach, we were continually interrupted by fish erupting close to the boat.
Victorian Dirk Wendt even dropped his lunch roll to hook a tuna on fly when the temptation became too great. The other boys followed suit as soon as they’d gulped their food down. With fishing this good, indigestion was a certainty!
News came over the radio shortly after that QFM ad man Trent Butler had ticked one of the more difficult boxes by scoring a beautiful black jewfish on bottom fished plastic in 20m first drop on a reef off Boyd Bay. Maybe I wasn’t going to need the genie after all!
The wind eased after midday so, to get away from the tuna hordes, I headed to a favourite bommie in 15m out wide. A pattern soon emerged as we drifted over the reef area: bottom-dwelling species on the front edge and across the top, trevally on the drop-off, then mackerel out wider.
The boys lost a lot of lures but they landed some great fish including fingermark, coral trout, golden and brassy trevally and more tuna. A couple of small mackerel made the boat but the larger ones just snipped the 40kg leader like it wasn’t even there.
Back on land at the debriefing, the news was both good and bad. Yes, the list had a full compliment of ticks on the first day but, because the party had opted to fish almost exclusively soft plastics, the heavier jighead supply was almost exhausted.
It was a day the crew will long remember and is a pertinent reminder of just how versatile the Weipa fishing scene can be.
I had the pleasure of Booth and Butler joining me for day two but the frantic pace of the day before had dulled their enthusiasm a little; or was it the celebratory drinks? We went looking for big trevally and found more tuna, the strong wind keeping us inshore.
I’ll bet Booth and Butler never thought they could tire of catching tuna but when I suggested late morning that we make our way to the headland and have a look for some jacks, they immediately accepted. Using their lighter finesse tackle, the boys pulled fish after fish from the edges of the rocks – stripeys, tuskfish, cod, coral trout, but only a single undersized jack.
It was not until we approached the deeper water near the end of the headland that the larger fish started to show. A 2kg coral trout came up first, quickly followed by a slightly larger version, then Trent hooked a real bruiser.
I was finishing the bleeding of a trout the boys wanted for dinner when I heard Boothy mutter something about a ‘big, red cod’! Something didn’t compute in that statement and I was unconsciously reaching for the Environet before an excited shout from Trent confirmed the misidentification.
It was the biggest jack I’ve ever had in my boat– 61cm of bright scarlet and huge incisors, the tattered Berkley Power Bait hanging from its jaw. Three very excited anglers started babbling and shouting about this absolutely magnificent fish!
More trout, trevally, fingermark and tuna rounded off another Weipa classic but the fishing after landing that jack could only be anticlimactic! With their jighead supply zero and the boat littered with ‘blown’ plastic tails, we headed for the ramp late afternoon in blustery conditions.
In the April issue of QFM I asked readers for a copy of my article ‘Flying Blues’ published in 1975, and I received responses from a number of helpful collectors of angling magazines. My special thanks go to Mick Baker of Gorokan NSW, and an old mate, Rob ‘Spotto’ Clark, for taking the time to locate, then mail me copies of most of my early contributions, including the milestone saltwater fly piece.
Thanks to their help I have found quite a few pieces that I don’t have in my archives. The number of articles featuring the early evolution of my saltwater flyfishing experiences was more than I had remembered and offered an interesting insight into what was perceived as a ‘fringe’ sportfishing technique in those days.
I had a bit of a giggle reading legendary Australian Angler editor Ron Calcutt’s curt comment that I seemed to like making my fishing life as difficult as possible by persisting with the fly rod. That perception is still widely held today, except for those of us who know better!
I plan to eventually feature these groundbreaking articles in a special page on my website (www.weipafishing.com), providing a concise history of the early days of saltwater flyfishing in Queensland. I know that I had a lot of fun gathering the necessary content!
1) What a jack! Queensland Fishing Monthly ad rep Trent Butler with 61cm of crimson muscle landed just off one of Weipa’s headlands.
2) Victoria Fishing Monthly writer Wayne Friebe with a typical longtail, one of dozens landed that day.Reads: 660