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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.