Truly Escape with ET
  |  First Published: July 2009

I have travelled to just about every fishing lodge in Australia and the Pacific filming my Escape with ET show over the last 10 years, but I think Groote Eylandt offers the most diverse fishing available anywhere.

Operating the Escape Sportfishing and Wilderness Lodge over the past two years from Groote has given me the chance to look at many species in a different light. With a plethora of sportfish to target, Groote Eylandt is the perfect place to examine the behavioural habits of individual species, in particular sailfish.

I’ve learnt that where the sailfish feed and why is usually based around baitfish movements and seasonal changes like water temperature and the effect of the tropical wet season. This dumping of freshwater, combined with trade winds plays a key role. What has fascinated me however is observing the way sailfish work the bait schools into bait balls.

Sailfish are a light tackle angler’s dream. They are efficient hunters and often work in packs creating a wall of sails around their prey. It is spectacular to see this in action. Small tides of only 2m create the perfect, clear water conditions to observe these majestic fish at the southern end of Groote Eylandt each spring.

As the water warms, millions of baitfish move into the shallow grounds to feed and the sailfish are usually close behind. By September marauding Spanish mackerel, longtail tuna, and trevally have split the bait schools. These now smaller schools are pushed along with the currents and the feeding frenzy continues as bigger predators line up for an easy meal.

Birds are everywhere with terns picking up the floating scraps. As the baitfish boil on the surface dark shadows can be spotted below, cutting through the deep mass of herring forcing them to the top. The entire food chain is represented from sharks gliding by, with a sinister edge to their appearance to the bait the sails and mackerel are chasing.

It’s also an angler’s dream as this life cycle plays out right in front of you. However with so many birds and so much bait it’s easy to get confused while trying to determine which area to fish. Where to troll and what pattern is the best to use to segregate the sails from the many other predatory species is often the challenge.

Studies have shown that sailfish populations around Australia do not move long distances. As little as 160km may be their home turf, so the sails around Groote Eylandt are almost certainly available all year round. It’s the quantity of baitfish schooling at the southern end of the island that gives us the chance to isolate these predators.

One key indicator is to look at the different way seabirds feed. Watching the bait balls come under fire from above can tell you what’s happening below. Mackerel and tuna slash through the baitfish destroying everything in their path. This chaotic pattern provides lots of chopped up flesh that the swarming birds franticly devour in a whitewash of activity.

It all looks awesome and it’s tough to hold back from casting something into the zone, but if your real target is sailfish, move on. It’s not that sailfish won’t be in the area, it’s just that while you are watching the action, you’re probably missing out on the tell tale signs of sailfish feeding close by.

The sailfish will be working a patch of bait without the commotion. Birds will no doubt be hovering above but as the sails do the delicate work of herding the bait together the feeding frenzy associated with the mack attack will not be evident.

The first time I discovered this was after hours of hooking up to mackerel and tuna trolling close to the frenzy. In frustration I moved a few hundred metres away to inspect a small bait ball with a few hovering terns, and to my surprise three sails peeled off the side. The afternoon session quickly became a race to find these tell tale signs and we saw over a dozen sails that afternoon hooking eight and landing three.

My Escape Sportfishing and Wilderness Lodge will be a major sponsor of the Groote Eylandt Game and Sports Fishing Club holding the 23rd annual billfish competition this November. Anglers will have the chance to chase sailfish and black marlin from our five 8m Sportfishing vessels.

You too can be a part of the action! Our lodge is first class with 12 cabins all with air-conditioning and ensuites and terrific water views. Located adjacent to Dugong Beach Resort with its pool, licensed bar, restaurant and resort facilities there is no better place to stay on your fishing break.

New to the fleet is our 50ft mother ship Escapade. This will be parked right on the fishing grounds during spring and summer so keen anglers can enjoy her great facilities with the unique appeal of catching the evening meal off the back deck.

For the ultimate Sportfishing Adventure visit our website www.escapesportfishing.com grab some mates and come and enjoy a unique fishing experience.

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