Pigeon pair by kayak brothers

Having kids is fun, rewarding, sometimes exhausting and all consuming. With a seven week old baby and a 2 year old in the house, fishing opportunities from the kayak have become limited. I love my life more than ever though, and when the stars align, kayak fishing trips are all the more enjoyable.

I think my wife noticed me longingly looking at the ocean on more than one occasion, and she generously suggested I head out on a trip with Brendon. She would have a lot on her plate while I was out enjoying myself, but I accepted her suggestion (albeit with some guilt).

Having young kids gives you a natural advantage when it comes to fishing trips – early starts come naturally. My usual wakeup time is 4:00 to 4:30am, and often earlier, leaving several hours in the winter months before the sun rises. This is the perfect time to start fishing. I set my alarm – for 4:15. I woke before the alarm at 4:00am due to a sleeptalking toddler, I tried to turn my alarm off so it didn’t wake the rest of the household – only to realise that I had set it for 4:15PM! If it wasn’t for the early morning wake up training my daughters had provided I would have missed one of the most epic fishing trips I have experienced.


The outrigger was quite handy

It was pitch dark when I arrived at the beach in the Perth metropolitan area, and frantically rigged up my kayak. As my first proper offshore trip in ages, I was lucky that everything electronic and mechanical still worked. With a strong easterly forecast, I also had the outrigger and new outrigger board with me. Although bulky to transport and taking extra time to set up, these turned out to be a great decision for the events that day. I waited – and waited for Brendon, but he did not arrive. Turns out he also mis-set his alarm clock, so I headed to the fishing spot myself as the first light appeared, planning to meet up with him later.

I easily caught a few squid in the darkness on the way out, which would later come in handy as bait. I also had a small fillet portion of a Samson Fish that Brendon had given me from his last trip, which I planned to use as bait. I find Samson fish to be a really good bait, and have caught a large cobia and snapper on it before. As a last resort I had scaley mackerel and lures which had both caught snapper for me before, but they are more likely to ignore them than locally caught bait. Just as the horizon was turning a nice red colour my first cast for the day was launched and the live squid started to sink, pinned to a couple of snelled circle hooks and assisted by a tiny splitshot.

The easterly was quite strong, gusting to 25 knots and the ocean was quite choppy due to the distance I was from shore. However the outrigger made the ride very comfortable and I did not need to take any notice of the waves to maintain balance, instead concentrating on my sounder screen. There was nothing showing, just a flat bottom and blank water. Suddenly the screen lit up with arches and just as suddenly, my squid was eaten. I was on!


Brendons snapper, one of many caught that day

The initial run was quite strong, perhaps the longest and strongest of the day (including the later large capture). I gave chase, but felt confident with landing it, until the line went limp. Winding in, I was sure that the braid or leader would be broken after hitting some reef. However, the 40lb mono leader was bitten through right where the hook attached. My guess is a large snapper had his teeth just in the right spot (based on the arches and school of fish I saw) as Samson fish have virtually no teeth. It was possibly a shark.

Though disappointed, I felt it was was a promising start to the day. The school of fish appeared on the sounder again just as Brendon pedalled towards me in the twilight. I gently dropped another squid (the time the head only) down on a single circle hook, directly under the kayak. There was a typical snapper take with a heavy “thump thump thump” before it took the bait, and I was hooked up.

I was using 6-12kg gear and 20lb line as I wanted to maximum my chance of landing a pinkie for dinner. Though the snapper put up a great fight in typical snapper fashion, I knew exactly what was on the other end of the line by the fact that it was subdued within a few minutes. Up came a snapper of a about 73cm which I was lucky to land after the hook became stuck in the landing net before the snapper was in it. A great eating size, it went in the front hatch.

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This snapper was released as bag limit was already reached

Next I hooked a snapper of about 54cm. With the minimum legal size in WA being 50cm, this was on the smaller side for a WA pinkie (though it would be a treasured catch over east). I debated whether to release it or not, given the large school I could still see on the sounder and the bag limit of 2 fish. However I really like eating fish in their 50’s, as their flesh is quite tender, so in the front hatch he went.

With my bag limit reached, I put the heavier gear away and started fishing again with my 3-6kg Nitro baby viper matched with 3000 size reel and 15lb braid (that I have not replaced for 6 years despite over 100 trips with it). I’ve caught everything on this setup – 15kg Samson fish, plenty of snapper, squid, giant herring, it is even light enough to cast bream lures and extract them from particularly difficult snags in our rivers. Another squid head went down, and was once again nailed.


Brendons method of fish transport

The fight was fun on this lighter gear, and after a few exciting runs a snapper of about 74cm came to the kayak. It is quite fun not caring if a fish will get away or not, and I grabbed its tail ready for a quick photo by Brendon. Back into the water it disappeared.

My day was already a great success on the fishing front, having 2 snapper on board. This was made better by the cravings of a fishing addict who hasn’t had a good hit for a while. But it appeared that I was in danger of an overdose…

A few more just legal snapper hit the deck and were released as the sun rose, and soon all of the freshly caught squid heads were used up. I reached for the Samson Fish fillet that was defrosting on the deck and cut a long, slender slice off it. This went straight onto the snelled hooks on the 3-6kg outfit and was being deployed when a school of snapper appeared on the sounder. I was keen to release another larger pinkie before heading home for the day, and watched with anticipation as the bait slowly sank through the choppy water, aided by a tiny split shot.


My method of transporting dinner back to shore

Sounders can be handy things for many reasons, and one of those is watching a bait or lure sink. I watched the bait sink – 2 metres -3 metres – 4 metres. Below this, at 7 metres, a big arch appeared on the sounder, and I watched as the sounder return of my bait connected with the big arch. Then suddenly I was on. The take was different from a snapper – a bit slower and more gentle. And no immediate big, strong run. I’ve caught these before – I was pretty sure I was on to another Samson Fish.

My thoughts were immediately confirmed as the sounder screen became filled with large arches that were definitely not a school of foraging snapper, but a pack of large, hunting pelagics. The fish discovered it was hooked and took off, nearly wrapping me around a cray pot. I took chase around the pot and successfully guided the fish into clear water, but on 3-6kg this was difficult. I felt the sickening rub of leader against reef and thought that the fight was over, but flipped the bail and let the fish swim nice and freely for a while. Luckily all was clear when I re-engaged the reel and the fight commenced.


Brendons 27.5kg Samson – his biggest kayak fish to date

5 minutes – 10 minutes, 15 minutes passed. I was soon absolutely sure that a big Samson was responsible for delaying my return to being a responsible Dad. 3-6kg gear is quite difficult to do anything with a large Samson, and all I could do was follow and chase. The rod was bent as much as I dared, and more than once I had to hold the rod vertically with most of it underwater as the Samson swam underneath the kayak. Several big runs were followed by me chasing it down again, I suspect more by moving my kayak to the fish rather than pulling the fish towards me. Interestingly, a big school of large fish kept appearing under the kayak, and I suspect the original school had followed the hooked fish.


One of my biggest kayak fish to date – 24 kg Samson

As I drifted ever further West into the ocean, I noticed that Brendon was also drifting about 150 metres away. Soon he drifted closer, and I was quite excited to see that he was also hooked up onto a big Samson fish. The further west we drifted, the rougher the chop became. However, both of us had outriggers which made fighting the fish and dealing with the chop much easier than other similar situations I have been in.

At times Brendon and I were a long way apart, at other times we were so close I was concerned that our lines would tangle. Sharing the experience with a great buddy, where we were both hooked up, not just assisting, was thrilling. Meanwhile the hard slog continued and the time passed -20 minutes – 30 minutes – 40 minutes. My arms were getting sore. Try as a might, there appeared to be no way I was going to raise this thing even an inch from the 16 metre deep water he was now mooching in, according to my sounder.

Meanwhile Brendon was using slightly heavier gear (but not much heavier, being 6-8kg). He raised the fish from the depths and was whooping for joy when his biggest ever kayak caught fish lay defeated on the surface after a 45 minute battle. I really wanted to get some photos and help him deal with the fish, but it was hard while I was hooked up. I thought I had no chance at all of raising mine on 3-6 kg. Locking the drag, I pointed the rod tip at the fish and made the decision to break it off.

Then something strange happened. I could not break the line. Every time I tried, the fish just came a tiny bit closer to the kayak. It also appeared defeated on the fighting front, and it was just a matter of slowly raising this heavy weight from the depths. This was harder than it sounds on light gear, but centimetre by centimetre it came up. I watched the big arch on the sounder, gradually getting higher and higher in the water column. When it was at 6 metres, I looked down to see colour and the first sight of the Samson Fish.


Catch for the day between Brendon and I – and we released many more fish

I was happy to land it despite earlier trying to break it off, and hauled it onto my lap. It was completely exhausted and did not show any signs of successful reviving, so I kept the fish (which I like to eat). Brendon also kept his for the same reason. A 45 minute fight really is not conducive to any fish being released healthy – if I was chasing a Samson and not snapper I definitely would not be using 3-6kg gear!

At 27.5kg Brendons fish was his biggest ever from a kayak, which is saying a lot for an experienced kayak fisherman like him. Mine was a little smaller at about 24kg, making it my second or third largest fish from a kayak. Fully loaded with a fish each that weighed nearly as much as our kayaks, we now had to get back to shore. Luckily we had outriggers and outrigger boards to store them on. We had drifted a fair way out to sea and had to battle a strong Easterly all the way back to shore with our new heavy passengers. However, we still had enough energy to have another short fish on the way back and Brendon managed another nice snapper, while I caught a decent flathead.

Carrying fish this large back to the parked car, along with all our gear and kayaks was tough work but soon I was on my way back to being a Dad. The Samson flesh from both fish was fine (there was no parasite that makes the flesh mushy) and both fish are being in many types of fish curries, thai fish cakes, marinara and other yummy dishes that they are suited for.


Loading and unloading the fish from the car was pretty hard as they were rather heavy!

Thanks to my fishing buddy Brendon, who has been there for many of my most memorable kayak captures. I was very happy to share a joint amazing experience with him this time. What an epic trip just from the snapper alone. The Samson was an overdose on fishing that will keep me hooked no matter how long I go without!

And most of all, thanks for my wife Erin for bearing the full family load while I was out enjoying myself. I am still buzzing from the trip a week later.

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A fishy story with a happy ending

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With a young child, another on the way and a busy job, life has had a habit of distracting from time available to write a fishing report. I’ve still been getting out on the occasional kayak fishing trip, and one in particular stands out for me.

In August 2017 I headed out with good mates Brendon Chambers and Joel Tinetti on a mission to one of our favourite spots. Our target was a yummy pink snapper or two, maybe a bit of squidding on the way back to shore. And of course, if we were lucky, we would have a chance to tangle with a big Samson Fish.

Launching in the freezing cold morning, way before first light, we arrived at our spot just as the first specs of colour appeared on the metropolitan buildings on the shore. The sounder was not looking so great, but the occasional nice arch appeared which gave us some enthusiasm. However, there was a very strong easterly and current which both tried very hard to push us offshore, and required a large amount of continuous pedalling effort to stay in one spot. Hence our morning of fairly extreme exertion just to “stay put” started.

I prefer to fish with fresh bait these days, preferably live or locally caught, but was woefully unprepared this time. A stinky packet of bought scaley mackerel was kept in reserve, but luckily Brendon had a bunch of squid he had caught during a previous session and kindly gave me a few. The dark pre dawn period was not successful, but just as it became a bit lighter, I found a nice arch and dropped my very lightly snelled squid straight down in 8 metres of water. Luckily the current was mostly on the surface – so the bait drifted down – and was nailed.

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First fish for the day

I was calling the fish for a medium sized Samson Fish throughout the whole fight as it had several great runs (wheras snapper tend to give up after the first big run). Hence I did not have the net ready when a nice snapper came to the surface next to the kayak. A quick grab of the tail was sufficient though, and the fish was hauled aboard. Dinner – and the sun had not even risen yet!

The fishing turned a bit quiet, and we all dropped fresh squid on snelled circle hooks on the occasional arch that appeared on the sounder. I found yet another arch and casually dropped a squid on top, which this time was taken. There was no mistaking it, the massive first run and relentless weight was no snapper. This was a decent Samson!

I’ve caught a few good sized Samsons from the kayak with fights between 20 minutes and 2 hours, so, if I avoided getting reefed, I was mentally preparing for a hard slog. This time I was better prepared than before, with a good quality reel (which replaced the old Stradic which a 35kg Samson destroyed). The fish had a few long runs and I was calling it for a slighty smaller Samson of about 10kg, as after 15 minutes it started coming to the surface. To my surprise it was a much larger fish, and after a couple of attempts, I grabbed its tail and hauled it aboard. It never ceases to surprise me how how hard it is pulling a large fish aboard a small kayak and this was no exception.

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Brendon shows us his capture. He didn’t seem all that excited about a fish this size after the large ones he landed on the previous trip.

By this stage the current and wind had pushed me a fair distance from the others, but luckily I had a pair of lip grips. Killing two birds with one stone, I put the Samson back in the water and towed to back – head first – to where the others were fishing, followed but a few photos. Unlike previous Samsons I caught, this one was still well and truly alive and energetic and released well.

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A quick photo then it released well

Brendon and I had both caught decent sized Samsons from the kayak, but Joel was still chasing his first. It was with delight that we saw him hook up into a nice fish, and after a skilful fight, land his first. While not huge, it was still a respectful size on light gear, particularly when considering it was caught from a kayak in challenging environmental conditions.

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Joel fighting his first kayak Samson Fish

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Joel with his first landed kayak Samson Fish (he has since caught a monster from the kayak)

Shortly after I hooked up again to what I thought was a snapper. A short but powerful run fooled me, and up came a Samson about the same size as Joels. This was quite fun, and the Samsons turned on the game in numbers. Brendon landed one as well, and I hooked and landed a few more. They were quite abundant in the 60-80cm size range, and while fun on the lighter gear, I actually wished they would leave the bait along so I could catch another Pinkie.

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A typical fun sized Samson, one of many caught that day

So ended the fishing, we started heading back to the beach and I was more than happy with the mornings results. But there was more to come!

Before landing hit the shallow weed beds for a spot of squidding. This provides our bait for the next fishing trip (if they are small squid) or, if we are lucky, a feed of larger squid with the heads being kept for bait. This was the maiden trip for a new rod I had bought for my young daughter – a cheap $30 telescopic rod that she has since caught many good bream with. I borrowed her rod (don’t tell her). No matter what people try and sell you, you don’t need fancy gear for squidding! It was quiet on the squid front until my rod – I mean Christinas rod – bent over double and I thought I’d hooked the weed. The “weed” started pulsating and I realised it was a fairly decent squid. The rod was christened with my biggest squid ever, with a 35cm hood, and I was pretty happy!

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A fishing trip with a happy ending!

Child number 2 is due imminently, but please stay tuned. This blog will remain but is changing flavour. Teaching a 2 year old to fish and watching her land legal bream is just as fun as catching a big fish myself.

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Sweeping off the cobwebs in an awesome offshore session

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Brendon and I after a great trip

Waking up at 4am for a pre-dawn fishing trip isn’t all that hard for me anymore. With a toddler who has been waking up around 4:30am each morning, it is just normal. There was no 4:30am sneaking out the back door like the old days – Christina was up and so was her Mum, so goodbye hugs farewelled me as I left on a valued offshore kayak fishing trip.

Although I have been lucky enough to fish offshore a few times since Christina was born, I haven’t caught all that much. On the previous trip, I hooked up and dropped two suspected large snapper on a trolled lure before a large shark approach me and I freaked out, heading back to shore. Other trips have resulted in yummy squid but not much else, except for fathers day last year (see previous report). I had no bait, and had done no preparation, so did not have many expectations besides enjoying a calm morning on the water catching up with Brendon.

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First keeper for the morning by Brendon (photo: Brendon Chambers)

A calm ocean greeted us as we launched at a beach in the pitch dark. Being mid winter, the boat traffic was minimal but I wore two head torches and used a 360 deg white light just in case. There was still a couple of hours left before the sun was due to rise, prime shallow water snapper fishing time. Although I had no bait, Brendon kindly gave me a bunch of whole Cockburn Sound squid he caught on a recent trip but didn’t eat. There is no better bait than local squid, and no better time to fish than just before first light – so we went straight to our reefy ground in 7-8m of water.

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Brendon landing his first kayak caught Samson Fish

It started off a bit quiet, but soon we were seeing plenty of fish on the sounder that looked snapper-ish. I hooked up soon afterwards, and up came a pinkie of about 45cm. Suspecting that all the arches were fish this size, I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

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Brendon – Success

Seconds after dropping a whole squid on snelled circle hooks straight over the side in 8 metres of water, it was hammered big time. The fish took off at a high speed, and I called it for a really big pinky. Only a few seconds passed before I felt the gut wrenching scraping of braid against rock, and I wound in a piece of severed braid. Bugger!

A bunch of fish remained on the sounder and shortly afterwards Brendon also hooked up, but suffered a similar smoking after a short fight. Something was distinctly unsnapperish going on. The bottom was pretty flat but these fish still managed to bust us off and fought relentlessly. I had suspicions about what they were…

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Brendon hooked up big time onto the secnd Samson

I hooked and dropped a couple more nice fish, along with landing more just undersized snapper. Just to try and prove me wrong, Brendon also hooked a nice fish, but this time landed a pinky about 69cm long. Great stuff! Just to even the score, I hooked up and landed a snapper slightly larger as the first hint of light hit the eastern horizon. The trip was a success for both of us and we had only been out less than an hour. Little did we know it was going to get a whole lot better.

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Second Samson landed

Brendon and I both had ancient side scanning sounders which rarely showed fish unless there were big schools around, and we were both seeing these big clouds of fish this trip. This enabled us to search around and find them before dropping a bait on their head in the pre dawn gloom. It didn’t take long before I was smoked yet again, re-rigging just the hook this time as I had tied on a very long leader. Just as I got ready to cast again, Brendon hooked up. The fish took off, and I could tell, even from a distance, this was no snapper. Even the biggest pinkies can be stopped in 5 minutes. This had Samson written all over it and Brendon was excited – this was a fish he had been chasing from a kayak for ages.

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Landing Samson number 3

I was expecting Brendon to suffer the same fate as me earlier, but he expertly fought the fish and eventually landed a nice specimen, a Samson of 1.17m and 14.3kg. As his first Samson, Brendon kept it as they go pretty well in a curry. Back to fishing!

The big arches and clouds of fish remained on the sounder as the sun peeked its nose over the horizon. I hooked up and was smoked around the bottom yet again, and was re-rigging for the 3rd time that morning when Brendon hooked up again. This time after a spirited fight, a Samson of about 80 to 90cm came up. After a quick photo it was released back to the depths.

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Samson number 3

Meanwhile I hooked up again and it was a big fish. I’ve caught a couple of large Samsons from the kayak, one which took 2 hours to land, and I really did not feel like another long struggle that morning though I was very happy to see Brendon getting stuck into them. It was almost a relief when the Samson busted me off after a couple of minutes as I really wanted to spend that time catching a snapper. Rerigging for the 4th time commenced.

The sounder was still alive as I put my last squid head on a single circle hook and dropped it overboard. The sun had risen but the fish didn’t seem to care – bang! I was on again.

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My pinkie – fought like a Samson

This fish fought hard like another Samson – I was certain of it – and I attempted to control the fish. After a few minutes I managed to retrieve line and bring it up from the bottom, keen to at least land one of the long tackle stealing fish. To my surprise, up came a nice Snapper, only just lip hooked. I nervously reached around for the net and was relieved to land it after a few aborted attempts. Bag limit sorted and fish dinner for the first time in months.

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Back at the beach

The bite starter to get a bit quieter, but it didn’t stop Brendon from landing another Samson about 80cm. I also hooked up on large fish a couple of times but dropped them both before we decide to head home.

What an amazing couple of hours of fishing and in beautiful, calm conditions. I have no doubt that the locally caught squid was the key to success, along with the early hour we were fishing. Thanks a lot to my fishing buddy Brendon for giving me some squid which no doubt were the reason I went home with some snapper. I’m really happy to have seen Brendon catch and land some great Samson fish during what was possbly our hottest ever metro offshore session.

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Christina loves fishing

Back home, I cleaned the pinkies while miss 16 month old looked on in excitement. I cant wait to take her out in a kayak one day. The next day I went shopping to replace my decimated supply of terminal tackle – Christina came along too and came home with a present – her first fishing rod.

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Hello!

Hello to anyone subscribing.

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My posts have been rather quiet over the last year. This is mainly due to being a Dad to a very energetic and entertaing baby then toddler, who has taken over my life (in a good way). However, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been out…and catching some fish

Posts soon to come –

Brendons and I’s most awesome metro Perth session yet on Samson Fish and Snapper

Eels over East – fullfilling a long ambition to eat one

Wading the flats with a baby on my back

Giant herring in Dunsborough

Other stuff to be announced.

In other news – the image hosting site I was using has done some dodgy stuff and the links no longer work. In between work and nappies I am slowly fixing up the image links on this site, and it should be complete in a couple of months.

Thanks for reading and I hope you are having a great time fishing or other outdoor activities.

Please send me a link to your blog or site in the comments section and I am keen to look at it.

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Welcome to the Jungle!

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Far North QLD is a fly in holiday destination for many Western Australians, despite the long distance. Warm, tropical weather, the Great Barrier Reef and awesome rainforests attract visitors in droves, who mostly follow the tourist trail. Anglers from all over the world also congregate in Cairns and Port Douglas to chase arguably the worlds most prized fish – the mighty Black Marlin. However, for the average angler with the limitation of a budget and what he or she can fit in his suitcase on a plane, there is some surprisingly exciting freshwater fishing to be found.

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The wild Tully River

This fishing trip was inspired by a paddling trip in the early 1990’s. Way back then, as a teenager, my family while water rafted down the beautiful Tully River gorge. The rapids were great fun, the scenery awesome, but it was seeing the schools of very large sooty grunter and other freshwater fish that burnt a permanent memory into my brain. I vowed to return one day – with a fishing rod!

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Christina has kept me entertained!

Now with my own young family, I finally returned to far North QLD this year and found a slot between family duties to chase my 25 year dream. Kayak fishing in Far NQ is not a practical option due to man eating crocs and fast rapids in the freshwater sections, so for this trip a good pair of hiking boots and a backpack had to take the place of a paddle. A 6 piece 2-4kg travel rod, a 1000 size reel spooled with 2kg braid and a small collection of poppers and soft plastics joined me. A 1 hour easy drive inland from the town of Mission Beach (half way between Townsville and Cairns) found me on the banks of the Tully River.

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First glimpses of the Tully

A big “Warning – Crocodiles” sign greeted me at Tully Gorge. I figured that the risk must be low in this section for the white water rafting companies to operate with regular capsizes and many swimming tourists. There are also many major rapids combined with steep banks downstream to discourage crocodile migration – though I’m sure some crocs welcome the challenge. Wariness was the order of the day though, and it is always important to be aware of the possibility of crocodiles in any waterway in far NQ.

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Stuck between the crocs in the river, snakes on the bank and stinging vines and cassowaries in the Jungle…

I parked the car at a picnic area full of tourists and rushed down to the beautiful river with fishing rod in hand. I planned to hike to a more remote spot before fishing, but could not resist a cast into the gin clear, fast flowing water surrounded by lush rainforest. A soft plastic left over from a Perth bream session was the most convenient option in my small tackle box, and was soon whacked by something in a fast flowing section of the rapid. Any species in the fresh water of far NQ would be a first for me, and I was excited to know what had taken a liking to the plastic. A small Barramundi perhaps? A Sooty Grunter? Perhaps a freshwater Tarpon? Up came a Jungle Perch – a strikingly beautiful fish with many similarities to Australian Bass (found further south on the east coast). I was stoked at this capture, and looked forward to my day of shore bashing along the bank.

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Jungle Perch are stunning fish

Nothing in Western Australia can prepare you for the thick maze of vines, thick forest and ultra steep, slippery hillsides that you need to navigate to reach fishing spots the Tully River. Trying to pull myself out of a tangle of thorns while watching a snake slither uphill from me, and at the same time keeping an eye out for crocodiles, made me feel a tad vulnerable. Though I was still a long way from my intended destination downstream from a rapid, I felt a need for a break. Casting a small surface popper into a featureless, shallow side eddy, I wasn’t really expecting much. But then, it happened – BANG! A spray of water erupted and a silvery fish launched out of the water, leaving a good 30cm of air between the waters surface and its tail. There was no doubting that this was another Jungle Perch, and a decent sized one. As with all the Jungle Perch I caught on the trip, it fought quite hard for 20 seconds but then was relatively easily landed in the shallow water. Releasing the fish, I could not help but feel the similarities with WA river Redfin Fishing, or Australian Bass Fishing – but on steroids.

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Jungle perch are stunning fish

The bank became so inaccessible that movement upstream required wading in the river, which I was not prepared to do. A new spot was in order, and an hour of bush bashing later found me in the middle of a section of rapids. Surface poppers worked well here, and a cast into the eddy formed by a semi-submerged boulder was smashed by another decent Jungle Perch. Fishing with 2lb line in strong rapids strewn with rocks is great fun, but eventually the fish was brought bankside and released.

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A calm, featureless, shallow and deceptively fishy spot

A string of nice Jungle Perch followed, all with spectacular surface strikes and a good fight. I knew that some fish were lurking close to shore, so I crawled along on my hands and knees and shot out some short casts of only a couple of metres. One took the popper less than a metre from where I was crouching, and the shower of spray in my face was a welcome refreshment on the warm day.p1130020_zpsfef75y3t

A few sooty grunter added to the mix

20 more minutes of trying to force my rod and my body through a mess of vines found me casting into a small pool in the middle of the rapids. Although I was happy with the many Jungle Perch already caught, I was also pleased with another first – a small sooty grunter which decided that poppers were tasty. A procession of his mates followed him back to the bank.

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Pretty fish and happy angler

While sneaking along the banks, it became clear why poppers worked so well. All of the little crevices in bank side rocks were full of tadpoles, and frogs were hopping all over the place. The wildlife along this section of river was abundant and at one stage a cassowary wandered by – just to give me another dangerous animal to worry about.

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Rough countryside.  Those rapids were magic to fish in.

It took another hour of bush bashing and a near vertical hill climb through dense vegetation to make it back to the car, but I was satisfied that my 25 year dream had been lived. I had not caught any of the giant Sooty Grunter that I had drooled over as a 16 year old, but the hard hitting Jungle Perch made up for that. This was a very cheap and easy trip and would be suitable for any adventurous Western Australian who is visiting Far North Qld but only has a 2WD hire car, a light travel rod and a few bream lures.

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Poppers worked well, probably because so many of these were about

Besides the Tully, there are other rivers in far North Qld with similar fast flowing freshwater opportunities – just be aware of the crocodile risk, and preferably speak with a local before tackling the banks on foot to assess this. As a sneaky day catching some great fish on a family holiday, I don’t think a wild rapid fishing session in the tropics can be beaten!

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My first fathers day as a Dad – catching snapper with my dad

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Yesterday I celebrated my first fathers day as a Dad myself. I was also lucky enough to be able to spend part of it kayak fishing for snapper with my own Dad, who lives in Sydney but was visiting Perth. Following a morning of epic snapper fishing and great father and son time, I came home to see my own 6 month old daughter. What a great ride the first 6 months of fatherhood has been for me, I’m loving every moment of it. Although my fishing has slowed down, and I’ve barely had time to write a report, I still have been getting out. Let me update you on my latest trip, and I’ll write up my others as time permits.

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Millpond launch

My 71 year old Dad (Verne) taught me how to fish and is the reason I have loved fishing all my life. I remember getting excited taking a canoe to a NSW dam to chase trout, or hopping in a boat to chase yellowfin bream, or casting for tailor on a beach. Often we didn’t catch anything but the hope was always there, and Dad loved seeing me pull in a fish. Dad has always been an enthusiastic fisherman but is not usually one to wake up early enough to be on the water at first light or use the latest tackle/ rigs. He just loves being outdoors in nature with a good mate or me (both in our case!).

It was great to have an opportunity to take him snapper fishing on fathers day this year. A near perfect forecast, combined with a Sunday and no other appointments lined up to make it impossible not to go. Not mucking around with those unreliable lure thingys this time, we rigged up some unweighted snelled scaley mackerel and launched my two kayaks – Dad in the Hobie Revolution 13 and me in the old workhorse Hobie Adventure (revolution 16). Brendon Chambers came along also, and we also met Les (Grunter) on the water. Getting up early was easy for me (my daughter makes sure I get practice every morning) and even my Dad woke up at sparrows fart o’clock.

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On the way

Lots of promising arches and schools of baitfish were about, including some very large (larger than normal and rather ominous looking) arches lurking around the baitfish. Nothing would take our baits, as is usual, and I had no high hopes for the day. I was just enjoying a millpond day on the water with my Dad. Giving up on the snapper, we caught a few small squid before heading for the launch spot.

Heading back, I saw another nice but lonesome arch on the sounder and immediately dropped an bait directly on top. An unweighted scaley takes forever to sink, but after a minute I figured it was nearly at the bottom. Bang – line peeled off and within seconds I could still feel a big fish on the end of my 3-6kg outfit, but the fight was shortlived. Grind-rub-ping! Mr fish found a way to avoid my dinner plate. At least I knew snapper were about.

Les inspired us further after showing us his catch of a couple of pinkies, but we had to get home. It was fathers day after all and I had to see my daughter! However, after seeing a large school on the sounder I couldn’t resist, and dropped a bait down.

 

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You never really land a fish from a kayak until you are back on the shore, if you plan to keep it. Too many opportunities to drop it overboard!

60 seconds seems like an eternity when the bottom of a sounder is covered in big red arches, but I was quietly hopeful as I watched the silvery reflection of the scaley slowly disappear into the depths. Bang! A hard fight ensued for the next 10 minutes on the 3-6kg gear, and I knew there was always a good chance I would lose the fish. I’d forgotten how fun snapper fishing is, but with the right gear they sure pull hard. The beautiful white and pink shape appeared from the depths in the bright sunlight, and a nice snapper slipped into the net after a few aborted attempts. At 85cm, this was my second ever largest snapper and I was pretty happy after about a year of snapper drought. Now it was my Dads turn.

We found the school again, and this time my Dad was on. Dad normally chases smaller estuary and fresh water fish, so a big, angry snapper from a kayak was a bit of a shock for him I think. Larger fish from kayaks can be quite physical when you are not used to it, and positioning the kayak can be tricky to avoid rudders and mirage drives with the line, not to mention the risk of highsticking. Dad did well though and after a 15 minute fight he raised another nice pinky from the depths. My Dads best ever snapper and one of his largest ever fish safely slipped into the net, and I think he was pretty happy also. Of course landing it from a kayak makes it even more special.

We had been on the water long enough – fishing is important but so is the rest of the family, so we left the school behind and headed for home. What a great day on the water and a memorable way to spend fathers day with my Dad.

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When the fish weighs more than the boat

 

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It is just a few more months before my wife gives birth to our first child. I’ve had so many people tell me “You’ll never go fishing again” and “sleep will be a distant memory” that I decided to make the most of the fishing time I have left. With a nice weather forecast and relatively low swell, the gentlemanly 6:20AM launch was pleasant. The sun had already risen, and the bright day was not the best time for shallow water fishing. That, combined with just a stinky packet of scaly mackerel for bait, along with a few lures, did not give me much confidence in the fishing for the day. It would be a nice relaxing day out there in my new Hobie Revolution 13 kayak though, I ignorantly thought.

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The water is not always the trickiest part of a beach launch

With me were long time kayak fishing buddies Brendon Chambers and Matt Checksfield.  Matt is the proud Dad of a 1 year old, and this was his first fishing trip since May (now October). His kayak fittings expressed their jealousy of the baby by seizing up, requiring liberal use of WD40 prior to launching.

The day had a promising start.  Trolling a deep diving lure in 9 metres of water, I hooked up to (and dropped) onto what felt like a nice snapper within 20 seconds of the first cast.  Some patches of possible thunderstorms appeared on the northern horizon, and I kept a close on them as we continued fishing into a fairly brisk easterly.

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Hooked up in a Revo

A few decent arches and some schools of Skipjack Trevally appeared on the sounder, but they were impossible to tempt. I would not want to eat a piece of plastic or a soggy half frozen Scaly Mackerel either when there were fresh crayfish about.  Even most of the wrasse snubbed our offering. I really wanted a fresh or live squid as bait, but they were also proving difficult to catch.  Matt had to head off, but Brendan and I decided to have some casts around a huge floating dead cuttlefish.  This was being torn apart by a small shark, accompanied by lots of surface thrashing. At least a bit of fun with a 60cm Bronze Whaler would stop the day being a total writeoff, but even the shark preferred fresh cuttlefish over our bait. The storm clouds threatened to send us back to the beach, but then they disappeared to the North and the day heated up.  Brendon and I were just about to head home anyway, happy to have spent a relaxing (if uneventful) morning on the water.

DSCN2189 Attempt 1 to land the Samson fish

The saving grace for the day was a greedy squid that decided to sample my half frozen Scaly Mackerel, and hung on for long enough for me to net the greedy creature. I had a live squid – and that only means one thing – Samson Fish!

With a puff of ink, the snelled and very colourful squid was sent back down with a small running ball sinker to assist. This was the last cast for the day, and I knew it would not be long before a hungry wrasse killed and decimated the bait. After 20 minutes of slow trolling, one last attempt involved pedalling into 6 metres of reefy water, where I saw a rather interesting shape on the sounder. I wound the squid closer to the kayak and let it hover there, close to the bottom, but only for one second.

The hit was like a steam train and there was no mistaking it – this was a Samson Fish.  With only an ancient Stradic 4000 reel and 9kg braid to stop it, the fish took off like I wasn’t even connected to it.  This was my snapper gear, and after some amazing recent late season Cockburn Sound sessions I’d removed some worn out line, forgetting to replace it. Within what seemed like seconds the fish had taken all the main line and the different coloured backing was starting to peel off. I could see the empty gold spool starting to get closer, and so there was only one thing to do – chase it.

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Attempt 4 to land Samson Fish – this time safely lip gripped by companion Brendon Chambers

At this stage I still had no idea how big the fish was. I’ve caught a 15kg Samson Fish from the kayak before, and was estimating this new one to be around 20kg in the early stages of the fight.  The previous fish had been somewhat co-operative, letting me walk him out to deep open water prior to the real fight. This one was having none of that, and all I could do was pedal as fast as I could while figuring out his course and retrieve some line.  Luckily its initial run took us out into deeper, reef free water and soon I was only 20 metres from the fish.

Out in deeper water, I thought I had a good chance of landing this fish. I warned Brendon that it was going to be a long fight, thinking that in 30 minutes time we would be photographing and releasing the fish.  Then it decided to let me know who was in control, and darted back towards the reef with more line peeling off my drag.  My drag was as tight as I dared, but that just wouldn’t slow it down.  Remembering what worked for the previous Samson Fish (caught at the same spot), I pedalled as fast as I could and outflanked it on the reef, forcing it to swim away from me and back into open water.

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Brendon after hauling the fish on board.  This was a joint capture, as the later moments would have been impossible without him.

A few more sizzling runs followed as the easterly took us further and further out to sea. At this stage my reel (which is probably 10 years old and has 180 trips under its belt) started to dislike the abuse, and the drag started to stick and line peeled off unevenly.  Throughout the fight I had to constantly adjust and readjust the drag to allow the fish to run, while later having enough force to retrieve line.  Post fight and I think my little reel either needs new drag washers or retirement.  As this is going on, my thoughts were with the quality of my FG leader knot and the condition of my leader.  “Please hold!” I thought.

Meanwhile Brendon was following me, providing great support, company and advice as the battle progressed. I revised the size estimate to 25 kg – this thing had some weight. The battle had moved from sizzling runs to a battle of wills and strength – and I wasn’t sure I was the stronger one.  It was impossible to budge the fish from his intended course.  The only way to retrieve line was by moving the kayak on top of the fish and following it.  I was getting worn out but the fish was showing no signs of giving up.  The day heated up to 32 degC, and this was like a gym workout in the full sun.

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The start of a continuous smile that lasted a week

The 1 hour mark arrived and the only sighting of the fish was on my sounder. Over this period I had many opportunities to look at the sounder screen, and feel that I can confidently identify a Samson Fish arch in future.  However, the fact that I just couldn’t budge the fish from the bottom, no matter how hard I tried, had me doubting the species.  Maybe I had hooked a large stingray? The headshakes suggested otherwise, but I would never be sure until I saw colour.

The time passed, and the fish was pulling the kayak along backwards, out to sea. This assisted with tiring the fish and 1.5 hours later I risked tightening my drag in an attempt to lift it from the bottom.  Centimetre by centimetre I gradually started to ease the fish up, the only headway so far I had made.  However, each time I did this, the fish would see the kayak when it was about 6 metres down and go for another blistering run.  The braid and also the rod were at their limits during the difficult raising exercises from directly beneath the kayak.  It was also physically difficult for my office worker body – sitting down in a kayak you can’t use your legs when fighting a large fish in the same way as you can in a boat, and the whole fight was fought with me twisted sideways.

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Big Mouth on a 35kg Samson Fish

After several attempts, I finally saw my leader knot and a big Samson Fish swimming a couple of metres down. This was both a joyful and a bad moment, as I realised that the small ball sinker was stuck above a small tag on the FG knot – preventing me from winding any of the 2 metre long leader onto the rod.  Landing this fish was going to be tricky as the leader or fish would not be within my reach without high sticking the graphite rod (which would break it). But that was a problem for later – the fish decided it didn’t like the look of me and took off again.

By this stage my left hand had gone numb, my arms were aching and I’d run out of water after drinking a few litres. Brendon reminded me of something Wayne Stocker from Yakfishwest had told us on a recent info night – letting a lot of line out and towing the fish, with the theory being that the fish can be planed up at an angle from the depths.  I tried this, and though it didn’t work that well due to the heavy weight, it did assist with fighting the fish with less effort from me.  I was onto my last energy reserves and on the verge of locking the drag or giving the rod to Brendan.

On one attempt I eased the leader far enough out of the water that I took a chance, leaned out and grabbed it. This was difficult due to the sinker still being stuck above my leader knot, meaning the long leader would not wind through the rod guides  As it was only a 40lb leader I still needed to be careful, but I managed to handline the fish up and get a good look.  This was one big Samson Fish, and I grabbed its thick tail in my gloved hand.  Landed!  Or so I thought – the strong fish had other ideas and didn’t like my touch, shaking off my grip and heading off into the distance for another round of battles.  A horrible moment occurred when I saw my braid wrapped around the rod tip, but luckily it cleared.

At that moment it became clear that I would need assistance from Brendon to land this fish, and so began several attempts. Manoeuvring two kayaks on a bumpy ocean with a big, angry fish in between them is a risky business.  There were some nervous moments and aborted landing attempts – each time with the fish heading back down to the 14m deep sea floor.  Eventually though, after a total of nearly 2 hours fighting time, the plan came together with patience and skill by Brendon.  Grabbing the leader, he pulled the fish within reach of his Hobie Pro Angler kayak and secured it with lip grips.  I don’t know how he managed to haul an estimated 35kg and 1.5 metres of fish onto his lap – but he did! Thanks Brendon – this is your fish as well as mine to take credit for.

The fish looked pretty big to say the least, the biggest I will probably ever catch from a kayak, and I felt relieved that the fight was over. I was knackered and the fish seemed to have lost its energy too.  We carefully transferred the fish to my kayak for a few photos – a delicate task on the ocean with a heavy fish. When the 35kg fish went on my lap, the kayak sank down noticeably into the water so there was less freeboard.  Which is to be expected I guess – the fish weighed significantly more than the boat it was caught from.

And so, after a 2 hour fight across several kilometres of ocean we finally landed back at the beach. For the next week my arm, leg, bum and shoulder muscles still ached. So did the muscles on my face used for smiling.

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