Whitsunday Dreamin – Andy Pennell 2016

When I was 19 my best buddy and I did our first ever long distance fishing road trip. We pulled a 14 hour marathon drive north to the beautiful Whitsundays to chase anything with fins and possibly some backpacker lasses as well. It may as well have been the moon to a couple of young wide-eyed chumps from the country.

We had some fun, pulled a few fish and learnt some things along the way. Ten years later I journeyed back to see if this part of the world was just as remarkable as I remember it.

The Whitsunday region is stunning from every angle. The water seems more crisp and clear than anywhere else on the east coast of Australia and I automatically assumed that the any spot within 20 kilometers of Airlie Beach would have been well and truly flogged by fishermen. Like most fishermen I had to do an obligatory stop in at the local bait and tackle store. There we met owner Bob Spees. Now I’ve run into a lot of tackle storeowners here in Australia and abroad and I got to say Bob is by far the most genuine and helpful bloke I’ve met. There is helpful and then there is Bob who says “ look ill meet u at the boat ramp tomorrow at six and show u the ropes. “ Sure enough when my wife and I arrived at the ramp Bob was there, and after launching the boats he showed us a taster of what was on offer in his part of the world.

Its funny how as fisherman we say to ourselves this looks to good to be true some times, and this was certainly one of those occasions. Bob soon put my mind at ease when within an hour and a kilometer of the ramp he and his decky had racked up a few sizable estuary cod, a 5 to 7 kilo golden trevally, a beast of a flathead and been dusted by what they were calling ‘big fingermark’. At the boat ramp earlier I noticed what looked like a 10000 size stella with at least 50 pound braid rigged in Bobs boat, so when this man said “big” I knew he was serious. Within spitting distance of Airlie’s restaurant strip I landed the prettiest chunk of coral trout in 2 feet of water. I just sat there in astonishment as my wife said, “that will do to start” as she stared into the environet just as gob smacked as I was.

It was hard to concentrate a lot of the time, because every bend we ventured around was a scene worthy of a postcard.  Everywhere we went looked healthy, and the fishing was on point as long as we hit the water within a couple hours of a tide change. Between the two boats we managed a mix of fingermark, coral trout, mangrove jack, cod, flathead, golden trevally and all manner of bust offs.  I was impressed to say the least. The next day my wife and I ventured a little further and again the fishing was simply awesome. For a place that sees a lot of tourism pressure the aquatic life and the environment were exceptional. Every Island we explored held an abundance of life. In a one hundred meter stretch of bank while casting lures we hooked three coral trout, two blue bone, two squid, half a dozen cod and got dusted by a reef shark and a GT.  We were in heaven. With a clean incoming tide we could see the follows of coral trout allot of the time. I thought this visual aspect took the good fishing to another level. At one point my wife had what looked to be about a 4 kilo Blue Bone chase down a soft plastic on the surface for 20 meters before hitting it and busting her a bomby in about half a second. I laughed, she apparently didn’t think it was as funny as I did.

As the afternoon wore on we ventured back to our cabin set in the palm trees of the beautiful Island Gateway Holiday Park and just sat grinning in appreciation of what an amazing day we had. The next day I promised my very patient other half we would do something other than fish (at least for the first half of the day). Once again Bob Spees sorted us out. “Have you ever heard of Rob Bredle” he asked grinning. Bob proceeded to tell us the “Barefoot Bushman” was a friend of his and that he would line us up to spend the day with him on his property looking at the wildlife he has there. Bredles Wild Farm was in its infancy then and we were privileged to have kind of a private tour on this particular day. Rob is a one off let me tell you, he joked about every thing under the sun. He also has a profound depth of knowledge about Australian wildlife that is a testament to how much he cares for the animals of this country. We got to interact with everything from Koalas to Crocs and all without the touristy vibe you might expect. In the early afternoon Rob took us down to his croc enclosures and his exchanges with his saltwater crocs are something we will never forget. I sat there in astonishment as Rob saddled up on one particular 5-meter beast of a croc while proceeding to yarn to us as if he were sat at the kitchen table with a

cup of tea. This bloke is the real deal and if you make the trip to the Whitsunday region the Bredle Wild Farm is well worth a look.

As we left Robs place already reminiscing about what we had just witnessed my mind drifted inevitably back to fishing as it so often does. For a change of pace I suggested that we head up to Lake Proserpine to chase a few impoundment Barra for the afternoon. On the drive up to the lake I couldn’t help but think back to when this lake first gained notoriety. The late great Jack Erskine taught my buddy and I allot about what was then ground breaking new fishing technology and techniques over a few ales around the camp fire. He was a true gentleman and legends of the fishing world that ill never forget. The Lions Camp Kanga situated a few hundred meters below dam wall was a hive of excitement in those days as hundreds of keen Barra fisherman told stories of the ones that got away, and the ones that didn’t.  Today the camp is a little more subdued but is still a great spot to stay if you want to stay near the lake and get on the water early.

For the uninitiated Lake Proserpine is a fair old size, and covers approximately 44 square kilometers. That equates to a lot of water that can be very daunting when trying to find somewhere to concentrate your fishing efforts. Through the summer months however a lot of guesswork can be taken away as a lot of fish move into the deep areas near the ramp adjacent to the dam wall. On the last trip I was last there we had a lot of success trolling under the power of the electric motor. Our mode of attack wasn’t overly complicated and consisted of sounding good numbers of fish then dropping deep running hardbodies like Halco Crazy Deeps, and Rapala X-Raps back to the fish. The main trick for us was employing an extremely slow troll speed. White and bright green were the go to colors for us that trip, and we managed a handful good Barra to add to what was already an awesome few days of fishing.

The next few days we spent in Airlie Beach were reminiscent of the ones before, consisting of sun, good tucker, good people and some awesome fishing. If you are seriously thinking about a trip to the Whitsunday region, set a date and pull the pin. Even if the fishing were half as good Id be back. At around 12 hours drive north from Brisbane it’s a bit of a hike, but I assure you that as your first cast hits the azure waters of the picturesque Whitsunday Islands all the kilometers will be forgotten. The only problem we had during our stay at the Whitsunday’s, and I mean the only problem was choosing what we wanted to fish for and where.

I’ve stayed in all manner of accommodation while visiting Airlie Beach, but the Island Gateway Holiday Park is my pick for value and amenity quality. Little things often make a good trip a great trip and the owners and staff at the Island Gateway were more than accommodating in facilitating our needs as guests with a boat. On the fishing side of things, you would be mad not to pop into Whitsunday Fishing World to let Bob, Yvonne and the crew steer you in the right direction. These guys will give you the good oil on what is working where, plus Bobs a funny bugger so you can have a giggle while your at it. I was sad to here that Rob “The Barefoot Bushman” Bredle was attacked and seriously injured by a

big croc in late September. Apparently he is doing fine and will have another “love bite” as Rob calls them to add to his vast collection. As I said this earlier, this bloke is the genuine article.

We drove away from our trip to the Whitsundays feeling as though we’d had as close to a perfect trip as you could ever hope for. Only problem with that is the real world makes you want do it more often. I guess the only cure for that is to book in the next trip. Until then though, ill see you round the ridges.