Weipa’s weird weather – Dave Donald 2013

What’s the best way to finish a Claytons Wet Season? With a Claytons Cyclone, of course!

The wet on the Cape and right throughout the north has been a non-event this year with virtually no run off in the rivers around the place from mid April.

In the lower Gulf, the season has been disastrous with many cattle properties in drought mode when grass should be up around the top of a horse’s back! What this means for the 2013 fishing season is yet to reveal itself, but already there are ominous signs that the piscatorial brigade are not up to their usual tricks.

Strong south east trade winds have blown almost every day during April, at least a month earlier than usual. Then, we had a cyclone rear its ugly head and kick the wind strength up a few more notches. The balmy days that normally prevail between the change from wet to dry season were almost entirely absent.

Don’t have to worry about wrinkles, the wind has blown them into a ‘duck’s tail’ at the back of my head!

Now I’d planned to hang up my guiding shingle at the end of the financial year, so there were a couple of special people I was keen to catch up with. Most important were the two Urologists who were regular clients before they helped me through my bout of prostate cancer. I only had to mention that this was their final opportunity for a ‘thankyou’ trip and their flight were booked next day.

The pair duly arrived and Glen ‘Woody’ Wood informed me at dinner on the first night of his desire to catch a barra on a ‘fizzer’. After a few glasses of a delightful Pinot, Steve Bourne also decided that fizzing was the way to go and I’d found myself with an interesting challenge. I don’t have to mention which lures were already rigged to the boys baitcasters when I picked them up next morning!

Well, during the next couple of days, fizzers found themselves in mangrove trees, stuck on bauxite outcrops and Woody even bounced one off my scone! By day four, all we had to show on the genre was a big circle – not to mention the sizeable lump on my noggin.

That’s not to say the boys hadn’t caught any fish! When I’d managed to persuade them to change to regular lures, the score had mounted steadily with both docs casting very accurately.

Lunchtime came around so I pulled out the fresh rolls and salad. We’d anchored just wide of a lovely gutter that had already been peppered with casts and the tide getting down towards the low. The ‘boofs’ started as soon as we were all munching away!

In the ensuing mayhem that left half-eaten buns with spilled contents all over the deck, Woody flicked out his fizzer for the umpteenth time and a barra climbed all over it. This had happened a couple of times previously, but this time the hooks stuck! I took great pleasure in clicking off the several shots that provided evidence of his first ever fizzed pink eyes. In hindsight, I’m not sure who faced the most difficult task, Woody nuking my cancer or me finding him a barra to eat his surface lure!

Then came the GOM trip – my fellow grumpies being Warren Steptoe and Steve Watson, both mates of long standing, so much so that we’re all on the downside of 60 these days with the aches and pains to prove it! I don’t know who upset the fish gods, but as soon as the lads stepped off the plane, Cyclone Zane started buzzing around.

We headed to Mapoon with showers and gusty winds for a tailwind and that night, the BOM weather outlook was far from encouraging. Next morning, we took one look at the white caps on Port Musgrave, left the boat behind and headed for the beach where the wind was at our backs. A pleasant morning catching queenfish, giant herring, tarpon, bream and golden trevally on fly ensued. The water was clear, full of baitfish and showed no signs of any wet season discolouration.

That night, the news on Zane seemed bad! The system was expected to pass right over us at about midday next day, but it was expected to weaken considerably. Meanwhile, the heavy rain that was supposed to be generated was nowhere to be seen.

Cyclone day dawned reasonably clear with the wind not quite as strong as yesterday. BOM was again consulted and the forecast was more than a little vague. With other vessels in the area providing a backstop, we decided to launch and see what the day brought. The only indication that an ex-tropical cyclone was in the vicinity came about midday when heavy overcast conditions and a few showers moved through the area. We had headed a long way up the Ducie River to find a few sheltered spots out of the weather and this had significantly cleared by the time we returned.

Perhaps dubbing the depression Cyclone ‘Clayton’ would have been more appropriate!

Perhaps the most interesting result of that day’s fishing concerned the mood of the fish. Barra, in particular, can go from aggressive feeders to very finicky ‘pickers’ in various situations, something that is probably most obvious to those that fish for them regularly, such as fishing guides. But ‘cyclone’ day, I have never seen barra so tentative towards the lures we were using.

On one particular snag, Warren, Steve and I raised better than a dozen fish and not one came to the boat! Some rolled behind the lures, others seemed to push them away, some even followed them to the boat but turned away without striking. Between us, we probably raised more than 40 barra that session but brought less than a handful to the net.

I’m a fan of the theory that bases such behaviour on the barra’s swim bladder. When barometric pressure is low, as in cyclone conditions, the bladder acts like an aneroid barometer and swells, effectively ‘bloating’ the fish. You only have to think back to how keen you are to eat when you get a similar problem! Maybe this explains why the fish bite their heads off when the wind drops and fine weather prevails.

Anyway, the upshot of our grumpies picnic was strong winds, finicky fish and plenty to moan about. However, we did manage a couple of fine feeds of crabs and fresh barra washed down by some excellent sav blancs and cleansing ales. There’s really no such thing as a bad week when you go fishing!

The weather improved almost as soon as Warren and Steve jumped on the big bird heading south and my godson, Drew, and his mate, Greg, arrived. Our first day saw us travel 50 kays south of Weipa as far as Norman Creek in much better conditions and the fish responded accordingly. By 10.30am, the boys had landed 9 species including barra, trevally, queenfish and Spaniards. A big session on the wide reefs after lunch brought the tally up to 14 with a couple of hefty fingermark making the icebox. Big 7inch Gulps were the best performers.

The next couple of days saw us visit the Hey and Embley Rivers on premium tides, and again, the fish were very keen to participate. There were lots of small barra in the drains and on some snags, plus fingermark, grunter and cod down deeper.

Our trip up the Embley began with Drew hooked up to a ‘submarine’ that had him in all sorts of trouble in a snag pile. We managed to work the fish into open water thanks to some frantic boat driving and clever rod work with the powerhouse revealing itself as a Queensland groper around 14 kilos that, incidentally, had a mate swimming nearby. As these fish are protected, Drew carefully released the groper back into its snaggy home.

Shortly after, Drew was on again, this time wrestling a trophy mangrove jack into the net! Man, was he stoked! His best jack ever really put the icing on a huge morning. Suffice to say, we all landed some nice red devils that day with the standout lure type being soft vibes.

The wind returned with a vengeance on our final day, but the boys still managed to keep the species tally ticking over with a swag of small reefies. The final count for the four days was 31, a pretty impressive effort for a lure-only trip. A fish banquet, featuring our fingermark fillets, at the local Thai restaurant, was another important highlight of a top week.

Yeah well, so far, it’s been an eventful time for my final guiding season. More to come next issue!