Dead mack escapes overboard
  |  First Published: November 2004

One thing about fishing that never ceases to amaze me is that just when you think you’ve seen everything, along comes a surprise!

Just recently I had a day trip out with some friends to the Jackson Patches, about an hour’s run out from Russell Heads south of Cairns. We were heading out in Ben Solly's 5.5 Aussie Whaler, a comfortable centre console fibreglass rig powered by an impressive new Suzuki 115hp four-stroke. The plan was to do some bottom fishing for coral trout and whatever else turned up on the bottom, and maybe a bit of mackerel trolling.

We got up at 3.30am and drove to Deeral, and 6am saw us heading out of at Russell Heads. An early morning land breeze of about 10-12knots made it a less than pleasant trip out to Jackson Patches, but we were soon setting baits for a mackerel troll shortly after reaching our destination at about 7.30am. The trolling proved to be fruitless so we made our first bottom fishing drop. It wasn't long before the action started.

My son David brought in a just legal sized trout, which we decided to release, and a few smallish bits and pieces followed by a decent sized shark mackerel which gave him some curry on his handline. I decided to get a floater line out on one of the mackerel rods, and crew member Brian Stopford obliged by presenting me with a fresh fusilier for bait. The fusilier was axed very shortly after casting, and it turned out to be another shark mackerel. While this was happening I had begun to catch more fusiliers, which were everywhere. I turned the next fusilier into a 10kg Spanish mackerel on the same rod, and then another fusilier became a 10kg Spaniard for David. Things were looking up, with the fusiliers disappearing like jellybeans almost as soon as they were cast. Another fusilier and another mackerel.... no, this time it turned out to be a 5-foot white tip reef shark that put on quite a performance.

Just to break things up, Brian produced a pearler of a coral trout which went about 80cm, followed by a nice spangled emperor. Then Ben got a beaut spangled as well. Three more fusiliers got axed in quick succession, but the results weren’t good – Brian got a bite-off and a bust-off, and Ben got his fusilier bitten in half by a mack. David then got a run on his fusilier but pulled the hooks.

At this point we ran out of fusiliers so Ben decided to toss out an old faithful pillie. He didn’t have to wait long before his TLD 20 reel screamed into overdrive as a big mackerel started its first run. Ben was well and truly hooked up, and after about 10 minutes of pumping, with the mack on its third run, we guessed it was a pretty decent fish. The big Spaniard was finally brought boatside, and after gaffing it I handed it over to one very pleased Ben Solly. We estimated the mack at around 20kg, and Ben said it was possibly his biggest mackerel ever.

It was at this point that the fun began!

All of us agreed that Ben had better stop fishing and process his big catch to get the fish on ice quickly, and so Ben went about his business. I continued to catch live fusiliers just for fun. I baited up the TLD with another fusilier and got ready to cast out, but started watching the other side of the boat with interest. We all noticed that Ben was holding the big mack over the side to clean the fish after bleeding; fortunately he had a tail rope on the fish. Ben was leaning over the side of the boat when, seemingly in slow motion, all 120kg of Ben disappeared over the side head first and into the water with his fish.

I was feeding out the line which I had just cast, barely able to keep it together at the sight of Ben’s feet going over the side of the boat, when suddenly my fusilier was crashed while I was freespooling. In a moment of mayhem my TLD was birdsnested and another mack was blown. By now Ben was making his way to the back of the boat, still with the mackerel attached to his hand via the tail rope, and holding his $800 pair of prescription glasses in his other hand. He told us the glasses had slipped off his face as he leaned over, and as they started to sink he had no option but to follow in after them with mackerel in hand.

We all had a good laugh but I’m sure Big Ben will be wearing a lanyard around those specs next time he’s on the water.

We picked up a few more fish, including a tangle with a huge groper, but several more drops failed to produce more coral trout. We weren’t even close to our bag limit but we had a large esky full of prime eating fish and four happy anglers. Ho hum – another day in paradise!


This month don't forget the coral reef fin fish spawning closure on November 6-14. November is also, of course, the first of the three-month closed season on barramundi on the east coast of Queensland.

There is still plenty to do this month though, with November being a prime time to chase fingermark in the Cairns Inlet as well as Kings Point and the Harbour Leads. Freshwater fishing has been great, with most local streams providing good action on sooty grunter and jungle perch. Tinaroo is also the place to be, with conditions ideal for any one interested in catching trophy size impoundment barramundi.

Till next month, good fishing and see you on the water.


1) Ben Solly was rapt after catching his biggest ever Spanish mackerel. This 20kg fish was captured during an eventful day trip to the Jackson Patches south of Cairns.

2) A wet but relieved Ben sits on the transom of his boat after rescuing his mackerel and his expensive glasses.

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