by Jarrod Day
Located some 200 kilometres North East of Townsville, Flinders Reef rises from the depths. A myriad of Coral Cays, Coral bommies and the most picturesque aqua blue water, it is a location anglers can only dream of fishing.
In every direction you look the view is picturesque.
Northern Conquest Fishing Charters is a local charter company which regularly makes the 12 hour trek across the ocean so anglers can make that first cast into some of the most fish rich waters in the world.
Enlisting a good friend of mine, Rob Laspina from Rob Laspina sports fishing charters we began our journey late in the afternoon. The next morning we arrived at our destination for the next five days and greeting us was the most turquoise coloured water I had ever laid eyes on.
With a combination of 15 anglers and three boats, the ocean was ours to explore using a myriad of fishing techniques.
Working the reef:
Once we had everything in check and the use of three purpose built boats to fish the area, Rob’s 23’ Contender enabled us the opportunity to get within casting distance of the reef. Armed with a wide selection of surface poppers and stick baits, 8’ rods and reels leaded with 80lb braid we were set.
Big Gt's might be rare,, but they are a welcomed catch.
With crystal clear water in front of us and bommies surrounding the main reef, it was a matter of casting abroad to the bommies edge to work the popper or stick bait. If I can only advise that this style of fishing does require a level of fitness, it is an extremely effect technique designed to catch the attention of Giant trevally, Jobfish. Red bass and the odd coral trout. We’d worked our way along the reefs edge to no avail, 'were there any GT’s here' I was thinking after a solid four hour workout. Sure enough, we made our way to a smaller reef named Mid Reef. Excluded from the rest of the system, Mid Reef held a plethora of deep bommies, electric blue holes and to what the others lacked was current and bait. This was it, finally some life on the reef and within the first few casts a few small fish engulfed our poppers. At first, blue fin trevally made short work of our offerings but the further on we worked, the more fish came to the surface.
Even the coral trout grow big out here.
While surface work is an effective style of fishing for those wanting some mind blowing surface strikes, fishing the deep is also exceptional. The varying depths surround Flinders support a vast array of species. With the majority of the lagoon 50-60 meters deep, a mixture of coral reef and sandy path ways line the bottom harbouring coral trout, trevally, jobfish, red bass and a host of other reef dwellers. Out beyond the reef, the depth can hit amazing depths exceeding a kilometre but it is the 60-120 meter depth range that is most commonly fished. Here, giant trevally, jobfish and dogtooth tuna are the most common species caught, but you never know what you might hook.
Fishing the bottom can be done in a number of ways including general bottom bouncing with heavy 100lb paternoster rigs and 8/0 circle hooks while jigging with octopus type jigs and slim line jigs suits the sports fisho. We’d armed ourselves with a wide selection of jigs and while each of us had something different to send to the depths, I favoured a selection of Duel 150g Tamentai jigs, Yo-Zuri 200g Taguri Leads, Smith 300g Mejiyume jigs and Dogtooth 200g Saxon Jigs. Each had their own unique action allowing me to chop and change depending on the situation and depth.
I’d tied on a Mejiymue and sent it down after sounding some bait and larger marks that had the markings of big doogies. Drifting over the mark and re-setting the drift countless times, we’d all but given up until each of us hooked up. It was like someone hit the light switch and it was on. Coral trout, long nose emperor, jobfish and a nice sized dogtooth tuna came over the gunwhale. In awe of such variety, we each free spooled our jigs back to the depths to get tight again. Meanwhile, the older folk on board opted for a bait fishing approach and with a 'not what to expect attitude', hooked fish that dreams are made of. Glenn and Brett’s dad Jeff somehow managed to hook thumpers and on a few occasions Jeff passed over the rod to his son Brett to finish off the gruesome battle. Giant trevally of epic proportions, Dogtooth in excess of 40 kilos amongst a plethora of other bottom dwellers were all caught and released and with a handful of weary anglers, the other boats came back in from a hard days fishing.
Scratching the surface:
The variety of fishing that can be achieved while at Flinders never ceases to amaze me and while popping and jigging were the main techniques used, trolling between locations proved very effective. The outskirts of the reef are home to a large variety of pelagics including dolphin fish, yellow fin tuna, dogtooth tuna, cobia, wahoo, barracuda, blue and black marlin, sailfish and the list continues. When moving from location to location, a selection of lures were sent out the back, Yo-Zuri Hydro Magnum’s, skipping garfish and a scaly destined for a big marlin. Each day a range of species came aboard whether it be a doggie or cuda, tuna or dollie each of us took turns when a reel howled. Once the fish was released, the lures were once re-set and off again to our targeted location. After working a set of contour lines, we rounded the northern most tip of the reef and began to head south west along a steep drop-off where a significant current was working. Mick the deckie AKA Wurzel, quickly rigged another skip bait sending out just beyond the wash. Zig zagging along the contour lines, tony was next in line and considering it was his birthday, it was only fair he got to catch the next pelagic. While the boys sat back waiting for the bait to be engulfed, I was flicking the reef in the Contender with Glenn and Brett. Our stomachs began to growl, so we decided to head back to the mother ship for a spot of lunch.
Well known marlin angler and pioneer of marlin fishing around Cape Bowling Green in the mid eighties, Alan Zavodny or AZ as he is commonly known was at the helm calling us over the 27meg. 'Marlin on' was all we heard and instantly the throttle was at full noise. In the distance, I could see Tony at the transom, harnessed up and with rod loaded under the pressure of a big black marlin heading Deep South.
Tony with his big blue marlin after a lengthy battle.
We’d done a few laps of the boat waiting for the fish to burst from the surface only to catch it in an aerobatic display but there was no prying it from the depths. By this time, it was 4-5 hours into battle and unfortunately something was wrong. There was no movement; no line peeling runs just a constant pressure from a fish that wouldn’t budge. Reelistic had also come over and with the power of twin thrusters and a 610 horse power Volvo Diesel along with Skipper Brad at the helm had come to an agreement to transfer tony onto the Riv in an attempt to bring the fish to the surface. In the middle of the Coral Sea and 15 knots with a two meter swell to add to the equation, the transfer was completed in two stages. Firstly the reel was backed off and passed aboard Reelistic followed by Tony and once again back in the harness it was full throttle bringing the fish to the surface. By this stage, we headed back to the reef and waited until later that day to find out the results of a hard days labour. Sure enough, the battle took a further two hours with the end result of a deceased 350lb black marlin coming aboard. Tony had been brought to his tether but being excited to boat such a magnificent fish on his birthday, the sad feelings from such a prestigious fish not being able to withstand such a battle on 50lb tackle was cast over us.
When you hook-up, it is best to just hold on.
The day prior and once again on Reelistic, angler Brendan took his seat in the game chair to battle out another marlin. This time, the fish was an estimated 400lb blue and was successfully tagged and released at boat side. The battle was on heavy game tackle and took only 30 odd minutes to subdue but was worth ever second as Brendan had never caught a marlin before.
What was most amazing was the diversity of species in these waters and whether or not it was a marlin, wahoo, tuna or other pelagic species, each and every lure or bait that was put into the spread was engulfed without hesitation.
The reef maybe beautiful to the eye, but it is what lurks below that has anglers heading to this remote destination.
Flinders Reef may be a 12 hour journey from the Townsville coast but to experience fishing in the Coral Sea at such a remote location is an experience that will never be forgotten. Northern Conquest charters offers five day live aboard experiences to this remote location and if you’re looking for the next adventure for your bucket list, I highly recommend this place as one not to miss.
Fish on tap, while the boys re-fueled, the author couldn't resist a cast into the shallows.
Popping Mad getting re-fueled on a nearby sand cay.
The author displays a solid Dogtooth tuna caught while jigging the deep.
A selection of quality jigging tackles.