Cape York Adventure – Dan Bowater – June 13

While I am probably not the most devout follower of a religious faith, the last couple of weeks have caused me to believe something close to heaven exists right here in far northern Queensland.

Picture a place where large bluewater species are so aggressive it is just plain scary; a place where large mackerel are so determined to take lures they jump straight into the boat after them; where giant trevally and queenfish attack in ruthless packs by the dozen; where metre cobia slurp big poppers off shallow reefs like remorseless thugs; and brute jewfish are so big they make you reconsider dropping your line back over the side.

As I scroll through a mountain of photographs, observe a nearby pile of destroyed lures and feel the pain of strained arms, I can’t contain my enthusiasm for sharing the story behind this special fishing nirvana not that I’d want too!

It all began one evening back in mid-2012 when the team from Weipa Houseboat Hire informed me of an opening timeslot in April 2013. I had heard great things from previous customers who actually shortened their trip due to running out of lures.

The legendary dry season run of pelagics would probably be in its beginnings in addition to a hint of run-off barra action. Without hesitation I promised they would have a deposit ASAP! Initially (to my surprise) it wasn’t easy getting people to commit to joining me on the trip.

The common response was “Yeah sounds like a good trip Dan, but we are going to Karumba for the weekend and that’ll do us”. However, the recruiting process ended up being a blessing in disguise when the committed anglers were eventually purged from those with a pedestrian interest.

Another factor that worked in our favour is that each trip is individually customised. In addition to two boats transported by crew members we also had a hired tender organised.

When it came to around February 2013 a sudden spike in interest occurred when our perceived pie in the sky plans were simply plain reality. We would be enjoying six nights in some of the most remote and lightly fished waters in Australia! Realistically it is a once per year journey hardly the kind of thing that is decided on a whim.

The crew

The crew consisted of my old mate Antony ‘Ant’ Gradisen, a former workmate and fishing nut all the way from Esperance (W.A); Darren Lee, a Weipa resident and hardcore barra fishing guru; young Brissy lads Scott ‘Gormo’ Gorman and Troy Marien from the TT lures team, and me of course.

Our plan was to meet at Cairns airport then meet Darren who, along with the Weipa Houseboat staff, would help us gather supplies. Well, that was the plan anyway! When Steve Rehn (of Weipa Houseboats) collected us from Weipa airport I warned not to drive past Evans Landing.

The guys had been travelling for hours (or in Ant’s case, days) and all were bursting at the seams to cast a lure. Evans Landing is one of the most dynamite land based spots in Weipa consisting of a T-shaped jetty that struts straight into the Embley River’s shipping channel. So what happened? Sure enough we ended up there.

When the lads sighted that signature lime/aqua water, fleeing bait and swirling currents the rod tubs were inevitably madly unloaded on the side of the road. Gormo led the charge with his Terez and Stella 8000 dropping down six inch Zman SwimmerZ (with the drag locked tight). What followed was three consecutive dust offs to the unforgiving, oyster-encrusted pylons.

These Weipa fish were tough all right! He then dropped down once more and stayed connected. The fight was predictably brutal with several desperate surges for pylon freedom countered by equally desperate retaliation by Scott. The reward was a beautiful 111cm black jew an outstanding capture land base. However, it was just the entrée of what was to come!

It begins!!!

The next day the real fun began when we prepared to embark on our long awaited houseboat journey.

For an hour we took positions to load a huge arsenal of fishing gear, beer cartons and a comparatively small amount of other items. The only restricting issue we faced was the houseboat featuring only forty rod holders (we had fifty rods!). The sense of expectation was at an all-time high considering we were also greeted by a mirror flat horizon.

The postcard conditions gave us a great opportunity to find an anchorage behind one of the coastal points. If conditions went sour we could always retreat to the Pine Bay area and fish for barra (not a bad plan B if you ask me!).

The drivers console is set up with a Garmin GPS that shows the main channel lines for navigating past sandbars and mud banks. Within a couple of hours of travel we were safely set up for six more days on the water! As we dropped the anchor behind the houseboat we could already see some small pelagics carving up the shallows.

It was only a matter of minutes before we were pulling in golden trevally, queenfish, and giant herring. Throwing small flick bait plastics with light jig heads to these hungry flats feeders was incredible.

At one stage we spotted a large black shape and in thinking they were goldens we began peppering it with casts. This was in all of about four feet of crystal clear water, so when we moved within casting range we were astounded to see a nine foot saltwater crocodile explode from the water. Lucky those first casts were a bit rusty!

About forty metres along the beach we were catching a few queenfish until Ant sighted a large black shape near the boat. It looked weird, sort of like a slow moving besser block. Darren grabbed the landing net and proceeded to scoop up an absolute massive buck mud crab! If all this wasn’t enough, we ended the day by seeing a huge manta ray.

Trailing it was a decent ten kilogram cobia which Ant was determined to catch (one of his bogey species). Out went his Halco Roosta Popper on his heavier Sustain 5000 outfit. He made a great cast that reached the edge of the massive, slow moving shape.

A few bloops seduced the cobe’ from under the manta wings and without hesitation it nailed his lure in clear view. Unfortunately, after a very tough twenty minute fight, mostly within a few metres of the boat, the angry cobe shook the Roosta free.

Returning back to the houseboat, the other lads were similarly amazed by their first fishing session where they tried the scenic red cliffs area for barra. Our houseboat had two levels, so finishing each day with a top deck barbeque meal was a great way to talk about our catches, share a laugh and create a game plan for the next day.

There was even a giant map of Weipa including GPS marks stuck inside the glass dinner table for easy viewing (what a great idea!).

Even though we experienced some awesome action on our first day, we had no accurate idea what would confront us the next morning… and considering our location, that was a very exciting prospect. The fresh oceanic air welcomely removed any stale air (with five blokes drinking beer this was a big plus!). I found the gentle rocking motions of the houseboat sent me to sleep very easily (the beers were helpful for that too).

Holy leaping Spaniards!

The next morning we set out to the inner reefs in the tenders only to be cut short at the second headland. Metre queenies were exploding from the water everywhere. We either had to drive over them or catch them…it was a no brainer.

Working some high speed poppers in the vicinity saw instant success, at one point we even had a five way hook-up (yes, every angler in both tenders hooked up at once!). It was only 6.30 am yet we had already caught and released thirty queenies to a metre. It was getting to the point that we couldn’t get a lure past them, no matter how fast we retrieved.

Ant was getting a kick out of playing this game with his fast Sustain and Maria Bullchop lure combination. Since I was constantly fighting big queenies, I couldn’t see exactly what was happening on his side of the boat. Mind you, I could hear plenty of laughs and splashing. The next sight was a mixture of awe and horror. From above something like a large missile was descending in slow motion straight at us. The next thing I heard was Darren fearfully scream “incoming!!”

Had we annoyed North Korea in some way? Not quite. From the stratosphere a freefalling forty pound Spaniard narrowly missed Ant. It then simply crashed down in-between us all and began shaking in every destructive way possible. The next call was “feet!” as the mega Spaniard’s razor jaws thrashed around inches from our toes.

Personally, I have already copped one serious hand injury to this species and one is enough. We simply waited for the high flying mack to calm, while pieces of its once large tail hammered against the gunnels and scattered all over the boat.

Ant was unsure whether he could actually claim it, since he never hooked up. Was it luck or genius? We could not decide. The mack was so determined to get his lure, the game of ‘catch me if you can’ simply provoked it to go into orbit!

Going deep

If you had told me that this kind of action was the norm, it would be a bad joke in most parts of Queensland’s east coast. Apparently in remote Cape York it is common to experience this level of insanity, not only using top water methods but also on the many aggressive structure-oriented reef species.

Having heard these rumours, we could not resist dropping down some big soft plastics on the nearby shallow reefs. A double hook-up resulted from the first drop on solid giant trevally. Darren then went one better with a 105cm black jewfish.

The fingermark we also stacked up in numbers and feeding hard. Each small reef showed a densely packed sounder screen… This place was out of control! We could have bagged out easily, but that was not the goal. For three hours we were constantly getting hammered by all manner of fish and quickly placed a dint in our initially large lure collection.

It was lucky we had Troy in our crew; his selection of TT lures was large enough to bail us out of trouble. At one point, fishing from the other tender, he curiously upgraded to a nine inch lunker style plastic and hooked a deep fighting behemoth on his Stella 10000. In most normal circumstances this reel would rip in even the most dogged opponent to the surface with relative ease.

However, we simply watched Troy get dragged around the boat in circles for half an hour before the 65lb braid snapped like a gunshot. Apparently it was a huge cobia. On the way home both boats threw out some Halco Laser Pros which were annihilated within seconds. Placing the Crazy Deep in close and the three metre version further back was an effective strategy. It was proven by a destroyed pile that accumulated on the houseboat cleaning table over the following days (named the ‘lure graveyard’).

Each day we finished similar crazy sessions by knocking off some succulent fingermark fillets washed down with an obligatory cold ale below the trademark Cape York ocean sunset. Does it get much better than that?

By the third night we had some visitors to the houseboat, presumably attracted by the tasty fish frames we were throwing overboard. Hooking on a frame, Troy was keen to land a large, infamous Weipa whaler shark on his big Stella (this guy is keen!). Among those big grey coats he also landed a beautiful Queensland groper estimated around the eighty kilo mark.

We were all well aware this species is protected and it was never harmed or removed from the water. It was just one of many incredible things we witnessed over seven action-packed days.

Our accommodation

The houseboat is like the name suggests, basically a small floating house. The need to unpack and set up repeatedly (like when camping) is really not a factor. Secondly, on most houseboat operations basic linen, cutlery, utensils, bedding etc. are all provided. All you really need to alter is your clothes, food, and tackle.

The rest is always set up. Lastly, water and fuel are supplied in large (but finite) amounts. Our houseboat had an 800 litre underfloor tank that supplied fuel to our three tenders for the full seven days. Being able to have a short shower and knowing we would be in a fresh set of clothes after each day was another plus. No dust or sand involved!

In terms of organising food or other gear, Weipa, while being a small town, still boasts some necessities like a supermarket, butcher, bakery and tackle store.

I have been on a lot of good trips away but in my eyes nothing has given me the kind of opportunity to tangle with so many quality fish in such an amazing place.