NT Adventures part two: One perfect day.
Hamish has given a good account of the trials and tribulations experienced during the four-day epic adventure on the Daly. Once we’d made it to safety, which was an effort in itself, we had a difficult decision to make. Where to fish next? Despite not discussing it explicitly at the time, we knew that if we didn’t find any fish, we would be seven seriously broken men. The mozzies, sleep deprivation, moisture, Kakadu colds and heat had taken their toll, and we were determined to catch some fish.
We explored a few options during a XXXX gold-fuelled meeting at the Daly and decided on heading up to Dundee beach. We knew the weather would be easing, Dundee was relatively close, and the crowds would have dissipated after the long weekend. A quick call had us a few dongers booked and we were on our way. Spirits were rising at this point, and I think the sun even peeked its way through the fluffy storm clouds still looming on every horizon. A few more XXXX golds and we were getting close. Well, we thought we were getting close, and we were in terms of distance, but the end of the road was potted with holes and we had to take it pretty slow. We also ran into some friends of Dan and Mitch’s on not one occasion, but two. Crazy what a small world it is. Needless to say, we got there eventually, and settled in at the pub while our rooms were getting made up.
Civilisation at last. Spirits were at a four-day high at this point, helped by the prospect of porcelain, beds, cold beer, food that we didn’t have to make ourselves, and undoubtedly boosted by the gorgeous blonde staff working at the pub. After some excellent grub and a few more beers, we unpacked, hit the hay, and slept like dead sharks (i.e. the odd fitful attack (on mosquitoes), most of which were but nightmarish figments of our imaginations, temporarily burnt into our fragile psychological states).
Day one at Dundee! Spirits were high and we were on the water pretty early, about 8am. The plan was to head down to the Finniss and try for the elusive barra. On arriving, we started trolling. There was reasonable numbers of bait and we could see a few arcs on the sounders, so were feeling pretty confident. The tide was flowing out and concentrating baitfish around a little point where some terns were diving, so we concentrated our effort around here. Nothing.
Some baits were procured and out went the livies. Catfish started coming into the boat, but alas, no barra. After a while we cracked the shits, and another beer, and decided to head out and try the reefs. At this point, I was extremely happy to see the brown water turn to green, and then further out, to blue. However, the reports of ‘acres of tuna’ were deemed to be false after seeing no birds, no acres, no hectares, nothing. We headed up to a reef near the ramp and finally found some fish: schools of tiny giant trevally busting up small baitfish. We cast a few slugs, had some follows and a hookup but none were landed.
Back at base, the morale was again low. We had some beers and evaluated our options. Some of us were keen to head out wide, and the consensus was that we’d head out the next day to see how we go. We didn’t want to take Danny’s boat out, as we’d be driving at least 60kms down the coast and out to sea, so resolved to hire a boat. Another $350…another gamble.
We awoke to a breeze and it took a while for everyone to get going. On hitting the water, the mood was improving, but there were a few nervous looks at the bumpy chop and a few seasickness tablets getting munched. After an hour or so of travelling, I started to feel a bit queasy, which is rare for me, and regretted not having a placebo-quarter tablet. Keen for some distraction, I resolved to start singing at the top of my lungs to pass the time, and was soon joined by Hamish. We belted out the tunes as we approached our destination, after nearly 90 minutes of solid cruising. We were wet, but the sun was shining and the hire boat was going beautifully.
Sail city was the first destination, and was to be the destination for the remainder of the day. We slowed our pace and started cruising out into the ocean, seemingly devoid of anything. Suddenly, Liam shouted ‘BIRDS!!!!’ Hamish was next to spot them, literally screaming ‘BIRDS!!! BIRDS!!!’ Soon Graz and I were WOOOHOOing, but out WOOHOOs were replaced by ‘BUST-UPS!!!! BUST-UPS!!!!! ACRES OF BUSTUPS!!!! ACRES OF TUNA!!!!!!!!’
My heart was racing at this stage, with adrenaline coursing through my veins. A few hundred metres in front of us, we could see a few hundred terns diving into the water, with explosions of white froth beneath them. Liam hit the throttle, telling us to get ready. We pulled up quickly about 50 metres from the commotion, causing me, now kneeling on the front casting deck, to lunge forward and nearly crack my head. I had the bail arm clicked, regained my posture and composure and punched a 40 gram slug towards the froth. Advice from Liam was to let it sink, which was incredibly hard as all I wanted to do was wind, but I managed to let it go for a few seconds before engaging the bail arm, winding once and BANG! I was on! After the last few days, you can understand how amazing this was…
This fish took off and with drag screaming and heart racing, I started what was to be a fairly long fight. Pumping and winding for at least 5 minutes I had the fish close to the boat, but it was sitting deep and doing those characteristic tuna circles that can make them pretty tough on your arms. The pressure was on, and after nearly high sticking the rod on numerous occasions and lots of advice from my crew, we finally had a nice longtail in the net. YEAHAAAA!!!! WOOOOHOOOOS! erupted across the water, and it was evident the guys on the other boat were also hooked up.
For the next 3 hours or so, we chased the tuna, the tuna chased the baitfish, the birds chased everything and we got seriously sore arms. It was an incredible session. We even got a few mackerel tuna and some frigates..it was fish soup. At times, the fish were busting up around the boat…Attenborough-like stuff.
Hamish managed to have a massive barry and didn’t land a fish for about an hour. I think he lost a leader first, then cast off, then screwed up his rigging, then maybe was bitten off, then dropped a few, had some braid knots and generally was being cursed by the fishing gods. However, he came good in the end and managed to land a few. After the arms started getting really sore, we thought it would be a good opportunity to set up the fly rod and pulled out my new Scott S4S10 weight and lamson guru 4. Due to Hamish’s morning of barrys I decided to let him have the first crack, and he tied on a small white clouser minnow, which closely matched the fish the tuna were coughing up all over the boat. I was driving at this stage, and managed to place the boat beautifully in the path of an oncoming school, before killing the motor. The fish were getting closer. Hamish was casting intently. On! Then off. The barry was continuing, but a cast or two later he had a solid hookup. The long rod bent over with line screaming through his hands. Some newvous moments ensued, with line wrapped around his feet. Some neat footwork and he had it on the reel. For the next 20 minutes, he gave it some serious curry before it started to arc from one side of the boat to the other. Finally, the fish was in the net. A few quick snaps, and it swam away strongly (quite a surprise after such a protracted fight).
Hamish had christened my new rod!! But it didn’t matter…what a way to christen it. I tried with the fly for a while but by this time the chop had dropped off, the sun was brighter and the tuna were spooky. We could still see them busting up but they would go down as soon as we were close. We caught a few more on the troll before Graz had the great idea to tie on a plastic and send it wafting to the bottom. First cast and he was smashed by a coral trout, then hooked a lovely tea leaf trevally. Needless to say, we were all fumbling around with knots and soft plastics, determined to get in on this new action that was occurring. Soon we all had plastics, jigs or just plain old slugs twitching around on the bottom, and were getting smashed every cast. It was a mix of coral trout and trevally.
After an hour or so of this we had actually had our fill and resolved to hit up a nearby reef to try for some other reefies; maybe even a black jew if we were lucky. On the way, we drive past an anchored boat and a bunch of what appeared to be more tuna busted up not far away. We couldn’t resist another go, and deviated from our course while throwing out some trolling lures. Liam was first to hook up, and after calling it for ‘not-a-tuna’, pulled in a lovely mackerel. Soon we were jigging again, and the action was hot. More coral trout and a heap of mackies down deep. The mackies were taking their toll on the gear, but we didn’t care; it was great. Soon the golden spot trevally moved in, and Graz had a stonker in the boat while the others were hooked up, rods bent. Graz went down again and hooked another one. We managed to land one while he was bringing his up, dropping a few others in the process. Grazza’s was giving him some serious curry and we were all keen to get a look, so held off on the drops for a while. Some huge tail thumps and someone called ‘shark’. The rod bent even more and the reel screamed before the line went slack. Graz was winding up the slack, and as the rod started to bend again we all saw a huge lemon shark cruise up to the boat, line in mouth. He had a look and decided to go the other way. It would have been three metres long and a few hundred kilos. Line was screaming as Graz tightened the drag and was busted off.
Mayhem ensued for a while and I decided to head up to the front of the boat and have a few exploratory casts with a 40 gram slug. I had been getting bitten off when dropping deep, and was keen to see if I could hook another longtail as my arms had almost recovered from the morning’s workout. Letting the lure sink through the water column, I felt a few tentative touches and started winding. No hookup, so I let the lure sink. Again, the touches. Winding in again, this time getting close to the boat, I saw a large shape behind the lure. A flash of purple, blue and green caught my eye, and as it materialised in front of me, I initially thought ‘dolphinfish’! Half yelling at Hamish, who was standing next to me, we both realised simultaneously what it was. A sailfish. Not just one sailfish either – a pod of four or five, all brilliantly lit up behind my lure, big eyes glinting, sails fully raised and generally looking incredibly beautiful in the water. ‘SAILFISH!!!! SAILFISH!!!’ we yelled, like little kids on Christmas eve. I quickly cast out again, not so far this time, and started winding. I felt a tap. The rod loaded up. Suddenly, within a second or so of hooking up, the fish was on the surface, and thrashed and jumped about six times straight towards the boat. I had a moment of thinking that it would jump straight into the boat, but it stayed in the water. As I had cast so close to the boat and it had basically jumped all the way to the boat, it was a quick fight and we had it boatside in less than a minute. We had a few nervous moments, as the net had a big hole in it, but Hamish eventually managed to get a grip on the fish and hoist it into the boat. This was truly an unforgettable fishing experience.
I don’t think it really sunk in straight away, but have since realised it’s probably comparable to catching a metery on your first barra session or a Murray Cod on the first cast of arriving on the Murray. These fish are revered and respected up here, and understandably so. They are stunning to see in the water, fight well (maybe not so well on this occasion) and have a mysterious charm about them that will have me definitely going back one day to try again. After this, I sat down for a few minutes, cracked a celebratory beer and felt completely content. The four days on the Daly were long behind me, and the fishing gods were smiling on all of us.
The other boat came over to check on us and probably didn’t believe us at first, judging by some of the looks on their faces (‘are you sure it was a sailfish?’), but they soon had a spread out the back and managed to raise five pods, with strikes each time, but couldn’t get a hookup! Bad luck boys…shoulda thrown out a 40 gram slug!
Anyway, we still had a few days left, and the fishing was pretty tough, so I’d rather end on a high. How to finish? All up, it was an amazing trip. We had felt broken, hard-done-by, emotionally fragile at times, but had persisted, and experienced one of the best days of all of our fishing lives. For me, it was up there with the most memorable days on the water. With fishing, as in life, it pays to persist. The satisfaction of having to really work for it makes it all the sweeter.