Red with envy – John Boon Feb 16 edition

Oh no, not again! Don’t tell me it’s yet another bloke who thinks he knows how to catch a red emperor. The mighty red emperor has been done to death. It has been written about in just about every magazine available and will continue to be written about long after you and I are gone.

Thousands of articles have been written. Out of those  thousands of articles how many should you have read? Thats an easy question with a simple answer: All of them. In the future there’s probably going to be a thousand more and how many of those articles should you read? All of them. Why i hear you ask? Because the bloody things are so addictive and sneaky you should be exhausting every available research tool to benefit and build your own red emperor data base.

Why does such an animal turn grown men into blubbering messes once they hit the deck? They have the ability to stop anglers in their tracks, lose all sense of time and rational thinking. I don’t think such a fitting title has been given to a species that graces the Great Barrier Reef. Red: that deep crimson is highly eye catching just by itself. Emperor: the sovereign or supreme ruler of an empire.

I have lost countless hours daydreaming about reds. Everything about them is spectacular in my opinion. I have poured my heart and soul into figuring out how to get the upper hand and just when you think you’ve got it figured out they will send you back to the drawing board quicker then Chris Gayle wishing he could retract his public advances on a stunning news presenter.

We were fast approaching the Yeppoon tight lines fishing competition and the new addition to the family was yet to have a red on board. We were behind the eight ball straight up as the sounder that came with the boat had decided to give up the ghost. What were we gonna do?

When push comes to shove it’s amazing what fisho’s will do to hit the water. I rang a few good mates with a plan. A plan to get us on the water with some underwater eyes. Good mate Dale came though with the goods and things were looking up. He had an old hummingbird 798 mount and transducer in the shed collecting dust. We struck up a deal and I was now off for installation duties.

The old man has a 798 in his tinnie so we were going to be able to use that head unit without having to pull all the wiring out. The installation was done in quick time and the boat had now been loaded.

We hit the water at a sparrow fart and the 60km trip from the harbour took no time at all with the old man and I chatting about what the days adventure could bring. We were starting off around the 60km distance from the harbour as the fishing had been tough and bite windows very sporadic on the closer ground. We proved this hitting a few closer marks on the way out for zip.

We were confident we might get a bit of a bite going for the golden hour (as our old editor Lee Brake referred to as the sun coming up). As soon as the sunlight touched the horizon things started to move. The pickers become more active and some better bites were starting to register through the rod tips.
The ground we were fishing was fairly prickly with some good bait present. Not ideally what I like fishing for red emperor but at this stage we were keen for action. Any action.

The drift was re set and baits deployed. We were right on top of the mark when I came up tight on a reasonable fish. A quick pump and wind and we had a nice large mouth nannygai to open the account around the 4-5kg mark. The old man was up next as he was locked in a tug o war type battle.

He got the upper hand and quickly winched in a quality coral trout. We stuck with this spot for another half hour adding a few cod and sweetlip to the tally. Things were off to a great start with a healthy feed already secured so the pressure was off. The particular bit of ground we were fishing was approximately 60km south east of the harbour.

Not many people know this but this is actually the start of the ancient Fitzroy River bed. It starts around this area and works its way out to the north of North West Island. The river bed is home to acres and acres of fan corals, fern and wire weed. Ive spent a fair bit of time out in this area and it’s a hard place to fish.

The difficulty is not finding the fern grounds the difficulty is locating the quality fish in that fern ground. Sometimes the only way to find them is to do big long drifts which can waste valuable time. During those drifts you may actually find them and not even know it if they aren’t on the chew. If your willing to put in the time i don’t doubt the results would follow.

We put the cruise craft on the plane and set off looking for greener pastures. We ran over some search marks I had put together and besides the hussar driving us mad in the fern it was time to move on.

Our next destination was some spots out around the bunker group. Johnson’s Patch and Douglas Shoals are regularly visited by locals. It’s not overly difficult to get a good feed of quality reefies out there.

Fishing on top of the reef with fresh flesh or live bait could see you tangling with a coral trout. If you stick to the out sides of the reefs and look around the pressure points and drop offs then a rampaging red throat emperor wouldn’t be to far away. Pound for pound I reckon that a RTE would have to be one of the hardest pulling reefies for it’s size. Also top notch on the dinner plate.

We pushed out a little wider in the calm conditions to some reliable ground. Now it was time to put the game face on because this particular ground is home to some hefty red emperor.

Setting up gear for red emperor is now some what of a ritual. Everything needs to be perfect other wise they will locate any flaws in your setup. If knots don’t look right don’t take the chance, cut them off and re tie them. Baits need to be well presented and the fresher the better. Another good tip is to make them as stream line as possible. Baits that spin will have a negative impact once they hit the bottom.

Even with large flesh baits i’ll still trim them up to make them float or swim correctly in the current. Presentation is everything i believe because just remember you are trying to tell them a lie so the more believable that lie is the more chance you have of them making a mistake.

We had a large selection of frozen and fresh baits on offer. Things like the ever reliable Keppel Island squid heads, yakkas, slimy mackerel, mac tuna, fresh strip bait and mullet. If we couldn’t catch a red with that smorgasbord then we would proudly admit defeat.

We loaded our selections onto our ganged hooks and sent them down the bottom for our first drift. Well the first was what I call a prospect and it didn’t exactly go as planned. “Right least that ones out of the way let’s try that again” i said to the old man. The second drift was spot on and it was now time to see if anyone was home.

Our baits hit the bottom, we clicked the reels in gear and all eyes were glued to the sounder. The small rocky rise was now hitting the middle of the screen and the pickers were telling us that we were now in the zone. Our offerings were holding up well against the hoards of hussar and the old man came up tight on a solid fish. Calls of red were whispered early into the fight. Have you ever realised the first three words that get spoken when colour shows? 99% of the time someone will yell “It’s a red!!” Just have a listen next time and i’m sure it will be spot on. It’s just like a reflex, you won’t even know your saying it.

These were our exact words as I stood next to Dad with the waiting landing net. High fives were in order with the first red for the new boat had now been secured. The monkey was now off the cruisies back. Just as I made a dash for the camera I heard the old man erupt in laughter. “Whats going on mate” I asked. “You’re not going to guess what I caught it on” Dad said. It was attached to dads single 7/0 on the top. Here I am giving you advice on bait presentation and being pedantic and the old man nails a nice red on a dirty old frozen Yorkie.

Yorkies are a nickname given to this little bait fish by locals. They are in fact part of the anchovy family and have an orange back. We have had great success on them in the creek but haven’t really used them much offshore as they are a really soft bait that gets picked off quite easily. I guess it goes to show that it’s great to have a selection of baits down there to see what they are most likely to bite on.

We grabbed some photo’s and spun around for some more prospecting. This time I was putting down the old faithful setup. A large squid head rigged on a PE Tackle red zebra ganged setup. I wasn’t disappointed with the head barely touching down before being inhaled. Good head shakes down deep had a fairly confident call straight up. I was relieved to boat my first red for the trip.

We continued to search this area finding some more great looking country. More red emperor action was on offer along with sweetlip, maori cod and coral cod adding to the tally. I was also chuffed to land my first cap coast pearl perch. I have caught a few down around 1770 but not up this way. It wasn’t large by any means but a pearly none the less.

The run had now picked up and it was getting close to closing time. We were nearing the end of the bait supply when I finally hooked up solid. This one was giving me a bit more stick and I was hoping it wasn’t just foul hooked.

Seeing those big reds cutting there way to the surface is a feeling all on it’s own. No matter how many you may hook in your life each one is as spectacular as the next. To finish off the trip with a 10kg plus model just put the icing on the cake.

Being good at catching a specific species takes time and a keen interest. I personally could stand there all day chasing them. Anyone can drop a bait down and catch a red but to continually get results then attention to detail will benefit the fisher greatly. Just like previously mentioned I’ve read countless magazine articles about catching reds, watched heaps of dvd’s, been lucky enough to fish beside guru’s but most of all it’s the ability to observe, be persistent, patient and learn that will see your quest on the road to red success achieved.