Camp Island – A Hidden Gem
  |  First Published: October 2009

A lot of fishing enthusiasts will only ever dream of making it to the top end to fish places like Maningrida, Arnhem Land and Weipa – and so far I’m one of the dreamers. So when a good friend of mine, Ben Earle, rang late one night to ask if I’d be interested in doing a trip to a place called Camp Island, my first response was "Where the hell is that?"

Without giving too much away, Ben went on to describe the fishing, and by this time I was drooling at the mouth and imagining it to be a very remote place somewhere in the top end. When he told me it was a little less than an hour’s drive from Bowen, I was sold!

Camp Island is situated in Abbott Bay and is 15 hectares of National Park, approximately 3km off the mainland. The easiest way to access Camp Island is by boat from the Elliot River, but helicopter transfers can be arranged from Hamilton Island or Airlie Beach.

Joined by Ben’s mate, Hans, we took a midday flight out of Brisbane on the Queen’s Birthday Monday and arrived at Proserpine around 2pm. Jason ‘Hilly’ Hill, who would be our guide for the week, greeted us at the airport. Hilly has done a lot of work guiding at Arnhem Land Barra Lodge for the last few years and is now the full time caretaker of Camp Island, along with his fiancée Carly. As high tide and our way out of the Elliot was not until 6pm, we easily killed time by having a few cool ales in the main street of Airlie Beach.

We didn’t arrive at the Elliot River till after dark but could still get a rough idea of the beautiful area, thanks to a glistening full moon rising over the horizon. A quick run to the island in the spacious Quintrex Offshore and we were in Paradise. Beers were consumed, leaders tied and fishing stories exchanged in anticipation of the following day.

Gentlemen’s hours had been agreed to by all, so a 7am start saw a quick ride in the two 18ft Kevlacat Tri Hull’s to the western side of the island. Hilly recently acquired these boats from Nomad Sportsfishing. They are brilliantly set up and will comfortably fish three people. Ben and I were fishing from one, while Hilly and his deckie, Simmo, teamed up with Hans.

Hans was biting at the bit to land a big queenie so Hilly took him to some deeper water off the back of the island, while Ben and I focused our attention in shallower water flicking lures at coral trout and other tasty creatures. If I could only have taken one lure with me up north it would be the Lucky Craft Bevy Shad 75, so that was my first choice while Ben opted for soft plastics.

Our first casts resulted in the ever-present and sometimes annoying honeycomb cod. We managed to sift our way through the plentiful stripies and cod to bag a few nice trout. Hans was denied a happy snap with his first big queenie after pulling the hooks on several big fish.

Hilly had set four crab pots the previous day and we were all looking forward to checking them, with mudcrab already a possibility for the evening menu. We managed a dozen big bucks from the four pots, not to mention the empties and small but legal bucks we threw back.

After lunch we made our way over to Abbott Point, this time in search of huge GTs and queenies. Hans once again opted for a mixture of poppers and plastics, in hope of that big queenfish, while Ben and I decided to do some trolling to see what we could run over.

Within ten minutes we were both hooked up and losing line at a rapid rate. Seeing fish jump clear out of the water in the distance, we both assumed queenies. I pulled the hooks on my fish while Ben managed to stay connected and after a hard fought battle, I slipped the net under a metre-plus giant herring. After several high fives and a couple of photos, we released the fish and headed back on the same trolling run. The lures had not been in the water for a minute when we both hooked up again. This time I landed a nice golden trevally of about 4kg and Ben landed another solid giant herring.

Each time I’d noticed a good show of fish on the sounder so we put the trolling gear away and picked up our light spin sticks rigged with soft plastics. I’d suggested the idea and Ben had called me nuts considering the blistering first run these herring make. My first cast with a Berkley Pumpkinseed Power Minnow was snapped up and I began to lose 10lb braid at a rapid rate. After some skilful boat driving by Ben, I managed to gain some line back on what was the biggest herring of the trip. We spent the whole afternoon flicking plastics and hardbodies at these fast running fish, however the stand out was a 9kg golden trevally which took a bevy shad on baitcasting tackle.

The forecast was starting to look less desirable as the week went on so day two saw us hightail it to Old Reef in the Quintrex. Old Reef is about an hour away from Camp Island and from what I saw on Hilly’s Humminbird there is some excellent country here with good shows of fish.

The fishing was quiet on the day. If your bait was not snapped up instantly by an iodine bream or fusilier, you’d hook an unstoppable and get taken straight down into the reef. Simmo showed us how to do it early on, landing a nice trout of about 3kg.

After bagging a few more trout, all around the 3kg mark, we gave trolling a go in hope of a Spanish mackerel. We didn’t manage any Spaniards though I think if we could have got our way past the plentiful shark mackerel, we probably would have had more of a chance. Rapala X-Raps were the lure of choice. On the turn of the tide, we went back to some bottom fishing and managed to berley a variety of different species up to the boat including cobia, golden trevally, mackerel, rainbow runners and red throat sweetlip. We ate like kings that night, stuffing ourselves with chilli mud crab and coral trout, washed down with plenty of Bundy Red.

Ben had mentioned earlier in the trip that he had one wish and that was to bag a Spanish mackerel, so on day three Hilly, Ben and I headed north to Cape Upstart National Park. Cape Upstart is a massive rocky headland that drops straight into deep water. Hilly told us that the picturesque area held some of the biggest Spanish mackerel and coral trout in the area.

After a forty-five minute run, the weather had suddenly turned sour on us and we were battling winds of up to 35 knots. We had tried getting into a small creek on the way to get our crab pots that had now been in for 48 hours but the weather was too rough at the mouth. We persevered for a couple of hours trolling lures in the sheltered rocky coves.

Hilly was the first to hook onto something solid and hopes were high for a Spaniard; however it turned out to be a solid Mac tuna. I managed to boat a feisty little GT that fell to a Rapala Barra Mag. With the seas now looking very ugly, we decided it was better to be safe than sorry and slowly made our way back to Camp. The seas were rough but not once did I feel unsafe in the Kevlacat. We made it back to Camp Island without incident and fished the back of the island for a bag of small mixed reef species.

The wind did not let up that night and was just as rough the following day. We didn’t really have any other option but to fish the protected side of the island. Ben was still insistent on catching a Spanish mackerel, so I suggested that we try trolling some bomber 15A’s around the edge of the reef. We caught a multitude of different reef species on these before Ben had a solid hook up. He quickly boated a small Spanish mackerel. Although it was not a big fish, Ben was more than satisfied and the best part was that we were only a stone’s throw away from our cabins.

Hilly was keen to get up the creek and get his pots back so we took all the gear out of the boat and shot across to the creek where we had set the pots three days earlier. The first two pots were a little worse for wear and the crabs had escaped but the second two pots were loaded and we kept eight good-sized crabs.

We both noted on our trip back to Camp Island for lunch that the weather had started to back off and Hilly asked me what I would like to do that afternoon. I told him a big GT would top off an excellent trip. Hilly told me he had a spot where they were all big, but I’d have to be good to boat one. I accepted the challenge.

After a gourmet spread at lunch, we headed over to Hilly’s favourite big GT spot. I’d paired up with Hans in one of the Kevlacats and Ben and Hilly fished from the other. Hilly pointed me in the right direction and then took Ben to another area close by. The heaviest gear I had taken with me was a Daiwa Saltist 4500 loaded with 40lb jigging braid – the outfit I’d successfully landed GTs on at Hinchinbrook a few months beforehand. Hans and I opted for River2Sea Dumbell poppers.

It took all of about five minutes before I hooked my first GT for the afternoon. After a brief tussle I pulled the hooks and beat myself up for going too hard on the fish, so I backed off my drag. The next cast I was on again, and this time had 20m of line ripped from my reel before I could even palm the spool and lost my popper. While I was retying a 100lb leader and another popper, Hans got a solid hook up that made his gear look worthless when it came to boating one of these brutes. It didn’t matter what we did, we were simply not up to the challenge. We hooked up thirteen times to GTs that afternoon and did not land a single fish.

The sun had now gone down so we met up with Hilly and Ben for the trip back to camp. Totally beaten and frustrated, it was comforting to know that the other boys had hooked up six times on 80lb braid and only boated one fish about 10kg. I’d not seen a single GT that afternoon that would not have pulled the scales at 15kg or more. I asked Hilly what the smallest one he had seen was, and it was the one he managed to boat.

This was to be our last night at the Island. Over dinner and many beers we all talked up our glory and our heartbreak that the four days fishing we had experienced in this beautiful part of the world was over. We are already making plans for a return trip and I can’t wait to lock horns with another giant GT.

Fishing aside, there is plenty to keep you entertained at Camp Island. The resort provides excellent facilities including a tennis court, swimming pool, snorkelling and kayak hire, or you can enjoy a leisurely stroll around the island. The rooms all have ocean views, and are large and spacious. If you’d like to experience this world-class fishing at Camp Island, log on to www.campislandresort.com or phone Jason Hill direct on 0419 680616. Who knows? I might even see you there!

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