Fishing somewhere new and learning from the bottom up with very little help is a very interesting and rewarding experience but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t come with its low moments. I was going through a spell where motivation was lacking as I was getting a bit disillusioned fishing hard every day and having very little to show for it other than the same fish over and over again in roughly the same sizes. You try to learn as much as possible, I write down all my experiences, weather observations, fish observations, absolutely anything that might help me piece together the puzzle of shore based fishing here and what makes it tick. It’s a long process and one that only evolves through time and effort. Fortunately I have both of those on my side and over the past couple of weeks things have started to offer an increased glimmer of hope.
Last week my mission was to catch a Golden Trevally. I’d been in Exmouth for nearly three weeks and I’d not seen one let alone caught one which was incredibly disappointing due to what friends had told me of their experience here. I was given a location by a couple of mates to try so naturally I went there to see what I could find. First impressions were good, extensive sand flats, sun high in the sky, a bit windy but certainly manageable. It was around the bottom of the tide when I arrived and I wasn’t seeing much from the shore so I decided to take a wander out onto the flat and explore it from the water. That is when things got a bit more interesting. I was seeing a lot of sharks on the flat, a good sign as fish often follow them around and lo and behold I found two sharks with pods of fish behind them. The first yielded a nice little Golden for me, it was great to get my first Golden but annoying at the same time as there were bigger fish in the pod.
I managed a few of these little chaps before one of the sharks decided I was a rather interesting proposition and came right in for a nosey. Fortunately for me I was holding a 9′ fly rod that I could prod it away with but it certainly got the heart rate up a bit.
If you’d been looking for Goldens for three weeks and finally caught them in one area, what would you do the following day? Go back to the same place and catch a Stingray, right?! It is probably not the ideal scenario but it’s exactly what happened. I arrived down at the beach and found coloured water, likely a by product of the high winds and big tides. Very quickly I could make out the outline of a big ray moving along the shore and as always had a cast around it in case of any fish following that I couldn’t see. This was one of those moments that would be reasonably difficult to repeat, ok maybe not difficult but it’s certainly something you don’t want to happen. As I retrieved the fly I felt the line tighten up and with a panic induced beat of its wings I knew I’d foul hooked the ray! What followed was a very interesting fight on the 10 weight as they’re fairly powerful creatures that pack a heck of a bit of weight. Once I got the fish into the shallows I couldn’t budge it when it lost buoyancy. On one hand I was kind of stoked as it was my biggest fish here in Exmouth but the majority feelings were of guilt as I foul hooked it in the wing and of a bit of fear induced by the knowledge of a venomous barb connected to that whipping tail of its. Thankfully the fear wasn’t justified and it was released without any dramas and without any new wounds inflicted in me.
A Stingray may not have been my ideal biggest catch but the location certainly made up for that. Over on the West side of the cape looking out over the Ningaloo Reef offers some spectacular views over the course of the day. The beaches are surrounded by a clearwater lagoon, the outer reef creates huge breakers rolling on the horizon and in the evening you get the watch the most majestic display of colours as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean. It’s a truly beautiful sight.
After the sun has dipped below the horizon and the last bands of oranges and yellows disappear from the sky, the moon appears from the other side and offers an equally impressive view.
I’ve been fortunate enough to fish from a couple of boats over the last week with some great people. The first was with Rudi a member of the WA Saltwater Flyrodders club but unfortunately we were cursed with dirty water, cloud cover and no fish. Still, we got to see a friendly pod of Bottlenose Dolphins.
The other day I was out in the gulf with Jono Shales in search of tuna. For the first few hours we cruised some beaches, finding lots of permit, Jono having some good shots, getting a follow and a take from one but none landed unfortunately. Selflessly he also set me up for a couple shots at some big Queenfish but I couldn’t get them to eat. One fuck up (that’s a technical fly fishing term for when you mess up the cast) and one fish that wasn’t interested. I did manage to land a small GT and at one other stage I hooked into a fish, announced it was a queenie and in his best Crocodile Dundee manner Jono told me, “That’s not a Queenie, that’s bait”. It was about then I knew things were serious! That was the first time I’d seen Queenfish of this standard, when a metre long Queenie is cruising along and you have to make the shot strange things happen. You become focussed, your heart beats faster, you kind of hold your breath, you watch the cast going out, it looks good and when the fish isn’t interested all you can do is swear a few times and move off in search of the next one. After that we cruised 20 miles around the gulf in search of tuna and saw one solitary fish busting on the surface, again Jono gave me the shot but it didn’t happen. It was hard going out there but that’s fishing. It was a great day out in good company and lots of good tips learned.
Number one – keep your line wet. It will make a huge difference to the number of tangles you get when shooting line and it’s picking itself off the floor.
Number two – never let go of the line, when shooting, keep it in your hand. One, to manage tangles and two, to enable you to strip the fly immediately as it lands.
Number three – just general sighting skills for permit and what you’re looking for for big queenies.
After having a great day on the gulf side, I decided yesterday that I would go and explore some of that. I’d been told of an area where a few big Queenies had been seen cruising and I’d seen a few with Jono in a different area so things were looking good. I arrived at the beach to clear water and no wind, what more could I ask for? Within 5 minutes I was seeing permit everywhere, I was actually a little gobsmacked at how many there were. Some of them really obvious too, I of course had a cast over them with my clouser but I didn’t expect any to eat it, they didn’t. I was in pursuit of big Queenfish although I was sorely tempted to tie on a crab and chase the permit. It didn’t take me long to get a fish on the bank, I saw two fish cruising, one nailed the fly and it turned out to be a little black GT. Next up was a bit more exciting as I saw a dark shape cruising along a sandflat. My first reaction was it’s probably a shark but I kept my eye on it until it was a little bit closer. Then I realised it was a Queenfish, a brute, a metre long fish cruising along the beach and well within casting range. I made the shot, it was a good shot, the fly landed and I started strippping it like mad. The fish instantly keyed onto it, turned and chased it towards the shore but just wouldn’t eat it. He chased it all the way in and the next cast spooked him. Dam that was exciting. So exciting in fact. A fish that size chasing the fly is quite a sight to behold but once again it crushed spirits to a fairly low level when it didn’t chomp down on that fly. I’ll have more shots I thought to myself.
Later on I found a pod of small Queenies, about 4 or 5 of them and that was just stupidly entertaining. I cast, I stripped the fly very quickly. Within a second there were 4 fish behind the fly, the first one missed it, the second one missed it, the first one missed it again, the third had a crack at it. I recast, another fish missed it, then finally one nailed it right on the surface and a nice little Queenie was landed. They’re a truly great fish, they’re super aggressive, they’ll take surface flies and they go airborne when hooked. What’s not to like about them?!
I ended up having a number of small Queenies over the course of the day, seeing them chasing bait fish and chucking a cast in amongst the commotion. The real prize came though when after a fairly long section of great looking water and seeing nothing I finally spotted a pod of very large fish. At first I thought they were Queenfish as I only saw the silver flashes and that is what I’d been seeing. The fish were swimming around as a collected group so I made a cast slightly to the side of them to bring the fly down the side of them then right in front of them. The first cast yielded a couple of follows but no hookup. This was seriously short range casting as these fish were no more than 20 or 30′ off the rocks in deep water. There wasn’t much chance to get any meaningful retrieve going before the fly was up and over the rocks again. The second cast however produced two fish charging at the fly, one of them grabbing it and me getting a solid hookup with my left hand. I had a flood of adrenaline going now thinking “what the hell happens next?”, I’ve never hooked something this big before! It didn’t do a huge amount until I leaned into it a bit and it just tore off. The drag was set fairly solidly but peeling line off wasn’t an issue for this fish. A landmark for me as I finally saw the backing knot sail out of the rod, it’s about time that happened! All I can say is after a fair tussle with it, an aching right arm from holding the rod and I had this superb Golden Trevally to hand.
It was an absolutely stunning fish, by far the biggest I’ve caught and I really am struggling to put it into words how I felt. The hardship and hard work of the past 3 or 4 weeks had finally paid off, I’d gotten my break, I’d finally done what I came to do. I was stoked. It’s hard to explain just how good the whole experience was from seeing that fish to landing it but one thing is certain, I am 100% addicted. Another Golden like that would be sublime but I am absolutely fixated on getting out there and getting a big Queenie now. I may even be caught by the permit bug. Things are looking up, I’m feeling more confident, I’m seeing more fish and I’ve got a burning desire to catch more, the weekend weather is looking great too.