I flew to Perth the on to Learmonth, where Jono picked me up and took me back to what would be Base Camp for the week:
where I dropped off all my gear, got change, grabbed the rods and off we went for a quick fish. it was a bit windy, but we headed up to North West reef for a few hours where we hooked up a few fish and got sharked or broken off. Good start.
Next day the conditions weren't too bad, wind was from the South east so we hit the western side of the peninsula. We launched at Tantabiddi and headed south. Just out of the southern passage through the reef we came across the first pod of whales:
The first of many encounters. We came back through the reef near Pilgramunna and started fishing the flats. Patchy cloud made life difficult, and apart from a large trevally, numerous little cod and assorted smudges we didn't have much luck so we headed out wide again. We found schools of stripey tuna which initially were very frustrating until we dropped down to 15lb tippet, then it was all too easy:
We kept one for berley and anchored up to try and catch some mackerel. It didn't take long for things to go off, I hooked a beast right next to the boat (no wire) and after a good run it bit me off. So on with the wire and after a couple more chases and hits I finally landed my first ever shark mackerel:
Few more encounters and it was time to head back. Shame the big ones got away, but at least we had dinner, and it tasted really good on the BBQ.
The wind was blowing from the south so we headed to the bottom of the gulf for some exploration. 5 minutes out of the marina we came across some longtails and it didn't take too long for one to hit the deck:
We explored a number of flats and inlets, and again the clouds made it difficult. Particularly frustrating were a couple of very large Blue Bones that we saw at the last minute. So we gave up and headed out to a shoal to try our luck dredging. We anchored up and it didn't take long before I got a massive thump and I was on. The headshakes indicated Golden Trevally and sure enough:
We caught a number of these great fish, all large and good fighters.
We also got blown away by some big spanish mackerel. Back to base camp and more shark mackerel for dinner. One can get used to this...
With the boat fully fuelled, we packed up food and drinks and headed off for a couple of days:
We headed straight across the gulf to explore some flats where Jono had had some good luck the weeks before. We came to an island, which had a long sand spit on the lee side, with birds diving and the occasional splash. We were drifting in 1m of water when I saw some nervous water and I made a cast. The fly landed and was promptly charged by 5 hungry mactuna. The one that I hooked off took off on a screaming run, tuna go really hard in shallow water. After a long run, half way through the wind back there was commotion followed by a thump and a large red patch appeared. This is what was left:
We then moved on to some other flats and while waiting for the tide to rise a few blind casts brought up a few new species, including this black spot tuskfish:
Once again the clouds made life difficult, so armed with half the mactuna we headed off to tackle mackerel. Action was fairly hectic but both Jono and I couldn't get one to the boat between sharks and bite offs, but finally I got one, my first on fly:
No where near as big as the one that I lost prior (shirt buttons and flylines don't mix) but perfect eating size:
Jono also managed to add a new species to his list - a batfish:
Last hookup of the session was a hoot. Big hit, line starts peeling off the reel and just as Jono said "that's a big fish" a 2m+ whaler shark leapt out of the water, did 2 barrel rolls and broke me off. Big fish all right...
We originally were going to be camping out, but the guide and the caretaker of Wilderness Island Lodge (Shane and Harry) had a client there for the next 6 days so invited us to stay so we could add company. We headed across and got there at dark, and while tying up the boat heard a quad approaching - thanks Harry for coming to pick us up). We cooked up the spanish mackerel and hit the sack.
Rain, wind and clouds, not a great start to the day, but I still managed to get a few pics of the place. Wilderness Island lodge is a great setup, safari tents to sleep in, a couple of toilets, a saltwater shower and a large communal dining area.
While having breakfast Harry got back and broke the bad news - Jono's boat had come off it's mooring overnight and was sitting on the rocks, all scratched up. Jono headed straight over and came back with some pictures:
It didn't look too bad and anyway, until the boat was afloat again we wouldn't have known so while we waited we went crabbing. Harry is a bit of a magician when it comes to catching mud crabs, it didn't take him long and no.1 was in the sack:
After 3 more it was my turn, Harry found a good looking hole and after a bit of poking around I felt the unmistakable hollow metallic knock of a mud crab carapace. The bugger didn't want to come out but after a good tussle dinner was complete:
After lunch we headed down to the rocks to wait for the tide to come in, and after a few casts I managed another new species, a Mangrove Jack:
We spent a couple of hours catching all sorts of critters, adding to the species list while we went. The boat finally floated off and wasn't taking on any water, so we went out to the shoal of the previous afternoon to try our luck on the mackerel. No mackerel, but some good trevally, Goldens and Gold Spot. Jono caught a good gold spot, and I lost a good one too...
Then it was back to the Lodge for dinner - mud crab. Before:
We woke up, had a big breakfast and then packed our stuff onto the boat for the trip back across. We said goodbye and thanks to Harry and Shane, and their Japanese client Jun. We retrieved the boat with trepidation, but the bilge was dry so that was a good sign. We were just about to leave when Jono suggested getting a crab or two for dinner, and this time all I had to do was look down and grab one that was walking past the boat. No luck with any others, our hook wasn't long enough, and the tide was going out so we headed off. Once again clouds so no point bothering on the flats, off for some dredging. We managed to catch a couple of school mackerel that were chopped up for "upgrade" purposes. Then the hammerhead sharks showed up at the back of the boat - first one around the 40kg mark that swallowed my dead drifted fly and screamed off. I applied heaps of pressure and it broke off. A few more hits and bust offs and another smaller hammerhead turned up. He swam behind the boat for a couple of minutes inspecting our flies but no luck. Probably around the 20kg mark, would have been manageable. Then the bigger brother appeared (50kg+), ate my fly and screamed off too. I hung on for a bit longer but once my backing started to get low I put the hurt on and broke him off too... I knew I should have packed the 13 weight...
An entertaining session with some good fish hooked but apart from the small ones nothing to the boat. And then back to Exmouth to get the boat looked at by the local fibreglasser. Highlight was "spaghetti al granchio" - mud crab spaghetti - beautiful.
We headed out on the western side, objective was a large spanish mackerel or two. Plenty of whales around once again:
as well as turtles and a big pod of manta rays. After a bit of searching we found the stripey tuna and had some good fun catching them, keeping 3 for berley:
Down with the anchor and out with the berley. First spot didn't turn up much so we moved north. We had barely started berleying when Jono hooked up on a mackerel which shortly afterwards went airborne and got promptly eaten. We persisted for a while without a single touch, until a 2.5m hammerhead showed itself at the back of the boat. All he wanted was the tuna carcass and wouldn't go away, so we decided to have a bit of fun. Jono tied the carcass to some rope and the action started:
After that it was time to head back to the ramp, where finally the sun showed itself again after all the clouds:
With only a few hours to spare we went back to where we started, North West Reef. As soon as the tide started to run out a current line formed and we had 3 hours of absolute mayhem. Massive narrow barred mackerel and monster queenfish were around, but unfortunately in the company of a huge number of angry sharks. We both hooked up numerous times but didn't stand a chance, you couldn't even let the fish run on freespool, it would be over in less than a few seconds. We went through lots of flies and wire all to no avail, but still hectic and great fun. Then before I knew it it was back to the campsite to pack up and jump on my plane.
Thanks a lot Jono for inviting me over. Shame the weather never gave us much of a chance to check out those flats on the eastern side of the gulf, but we still did well given the conditions, and had a blast. Plus I added another 14 new species to the list, current tally is 95, not far to go. Hope to fish with you again soon