A Rundown Of Our Reefari Mothershipping Charter
With months of planning and organising, “D Day” had finally arrived, with 14 keen anglers from across the eastern seaboard positively foaming with excitement. Gear was checked, double checked and checked again. Beers were nervously cradled and everyone spoke in hushed voices as they barely concealed their nervous trepidation.
A few of the crew were veterans of past trips, but most of the crew were mothershipping virgins and their excitement was palpable.
And who could blame them, as our five day/night Reefari piscatorial adventure of a lifetime had just begun as we steamed from Mackay Marina aboard the mothership Centurion. This was to be our base for the next five days, a big comfy air-conditioned 80 foot mothership, with all the comforts of home. To top things off we were also spoilt with the benefits of Raptor II, a 33ft Cougar Cat as a tender.
Then, not forgetting of course our three dories to get amongst and explore the reef proper. All in all we had the boats, the gear and the enthusiasm to take the outer reef by storm!
The first night was spent travelling to remote Trogibee Reef approximately 180 kilometres offshore for our first anchorage. This is a known serious fishing nirvana and anticipation was off the scale, with the boys settling in for the first night and then awaking on the reef, ready to get into some serious action.
And the reef fishing didn’t disappoint, with the dories catching the usual quality red throat emperor and coral trout, and thanks to having the Cougar Cat in tow, we were off into the deep water aboard Raptor II chasing the big red emperor this area is renowned for.
With our quality Furuno FCV 585 sounder and 1kw transducer we were in the ultimate playground, and it was the icing on the cake to have full fuel tanks to play with.
Being towed out opens up all this area with plenty of fuel to race around and sample what each part of this piscatorial wonderland has to offer. Usually if you can get out this far, you just don’t have the fuel to explore; you’re normally too worried about whether you’re going to make it home!
Did I mention the mothership?
Now this is the way to go fishing! We used the range it granted us combined with our experience in fishing these deep marks and enjoyed some of the best red fishing ever.
With red emperor fishing becoming harder as the years progress, and distances needing to be traveled becoming greater, this was truly some of the best fishing I’ve seen. We caught an absolute plethora or ‘average’ size red fish in the 6 to 8 kilo bracket and several monsters pushing well over 10 kilograms.
Hello red heaven!
Clayton from Emerald landed a monster on the first day and it was later deemed to be the best red of the trip, however some other giant reds gave Clayton’s benchmark a shake on more than one occasion. It was actually Clayton’s first trip to the reef and thankfully it was proving to be a real cracker. The bloke was on fire (red fire), and he also managed another horse the next day – this red fishing is too easy!
Everyone was having the time of their lives and no one could complain about the masses of trophy fish that just kept coming! We were even catching the reds on the reef edges and legal fish off the mothership in the shallows at night.
We managed one exciting night time Cougar Cat excursion before the weather turned for the worse, with of course more red emperor. Norm and Greg did battle with some large spangled emperor and local Mackay angler, Conrad lost a monster red just as he was nearing the boat. We could see a great blur of big beautiful red and it was sooooo close, but hey, that’s fishing.
In the end it was starting to get late and the sharks moved in. These weren’t your little island bities either and I swear I heard the theme song from Jaws on more than one occasion. Funnily enough it quickly became time to pull up stumps and call it quits, but sharks aside, it’d been a great start to the first day.
As the trip progressed so too did the highlights.
Chad and Co from Newcastle did battle with a gargantuan giant barracuda of 25 kg, which was bravely brought aboard the dories with only a lip gripper and released after the compulsory photo’s. This truly was a monster with the teeth to match. It was an awesome fish and just one of several of these crocodile-denture-packing missiles that were landed over the five days.
The trolling was never dull, with plenty of Spanish and shark mackerel around the reef points and edges, which kept everybody busy and the reels screaming.
Greg, also from Newcastle, kept the fishing gods happy and sacrificed plenty of lures and tackle, much to his annoyance and everybody’s entertainment. Buster quickly became his nickname, with Two Heads, a much more ego-enhancing name, given to Linc.
For this skilled (or arsey) angler almost every catch was a double header of quality fish, including two 60cm-plus red emperor in one haul. Now that’s how you do it kids! Captain Cod (Dave) was, funnily enough, great at catching cod, with an 8kg version and an even bigger 18kg model falling to the captain over the extent of our adventure.
As a note, the largest cod was towed (to flush oxygen through its gills) and released to fight another day.
Lures were lost and heroes created, with the Rapala Magnum X-Rap 30s giving another standout performance that keeps the brand’s reputation strong in my books. We even managed the odd coral trout on these lures when they got down close to the reef. Other consistent performers were the Halco Laser Pros 190’s, and the Big Downsider 200 by River2Sea.
This big lure with an even bigger bib seemed to be diving the deepest amongst the lures. It valiantly managed to land some nice fish only to – I must solemnly report – be lost in battle towards the end of the trip.
Some of the spots we fished had probably never ever been fished before, with five and six way hook-ups common. There were more than a few “unstoppables” which usually resulted in only a few making it to the boat at the end of each round of chaos.
To elaborate, when fish can’t be stopped on 50lb-plus line and 24kg heavy tackle, they quickly fall into the category of “unstoppable” and once hooked all an angler can really do its smell his or her thumbs burning against the spool and desperately try to hold onto the rod as it is plunged seaward under a mountain of pressure. This usually doesn’t end favourably and there were more than a few rod-but bruises and sore muscles amongst the crew from repeat failed hookups.
On one serous drift we ended up with a ratio of two large nannygai to one red emperor, but mostly it was just red, red, red and well, more red! Things had been seriously reversed with reds usually about one for every six nannygai in our usual stomping grounds. Here it was one nannygai for every six reds, but who’s complaining? We were actually joking about trying to get the hooks past the reds.
To put things into perspective I remember one big six-way hookup only resulting in three fish making it to the boat; a mixed bag with a nice cod, spangled emperor and of course another red! These were all trophy fish, so you can only imagine the bust-offs. If you ever fish out this way, it’s recommended to use heavier tackle, at least 50lb braid and 100lb leader, and check your knots, with these quality fish finding any weak links. Unfortunately, even with this calibre of gear, tackle losses were high, so bring what you think you’ll need, then extra, and then double it!
Reds aside, there were other fish of note, including a 60cm grassy sweetlip by Greg which pushed close to the boat’s record and some other large spangled emperors and nannygai.
Did I mention fishing nirvana?
One morning was spent trolling south of Denton Reef, with plenty of birds working in some challenging conditions. It was pretty atrocious really, but the yellowfin tuna didn’t seem to mind and readily attacked our lures, putting a bit of variety into the esky. With one per person on the scoreboard, we decided to move on. Tough to leave them biting, but there was just too many options.
Lynn from Centurion served up some fresh Yellowfin Sashima that afternoon, and I’m still raving about how good it was. The tip is to chill the flesh, then fillet into very fine slices. Then serve with Soy Sauce and Wasabi. It’s just so tender! It’s well worth giving it a go, and I’ll be on the lookout for more yellowfin tuna, solely with this recipe in mind.
Night time fishing was good with some great red throat emperor sessions. Freeding frenzies involving these tasty reef-dwellers can break out at anytime so it pays to persevere. Sharks were numerous as usual (this is barely-fished water after all), but once they cleared out, some quality fish came aboard the boat, with once again the odd red emperor amongst them.
This is a great time to get out the plastics, the Berkley 7” Gulp Shads being a personal favourite, and the octo-style jigs. One memorable catch was a nice, legal, night-time red emperor on a Shimano Lucanus Jig to Ian Meads. Some big spangled emperor also like to get involved in this nocturnal pandemonium and Norm and Greg’s double header were prime examples of these quality fish.
Unfortunately with great fishing, time seems to go even faster, with the trip finishing up at beautiful Penrith Island for the last run home. Around the island a few more coral trout and redthroat were added for the table and all up it was a great way to finish the trip. Look out for our videos on our Reefari Youtube Channel, 4 part series coming soon.
Fact Box - Five Day Highlights
Day 1: Night time red mayhem in the deep, GTs on poppers and 25kg-plus barracuda.
Day 2: Travelling to Eaton Reef with reds well over 10kg and trout and emperor from the shallows.
Day 3: Pelagic pandemonium as yellowfin tuna schools moved in and smashed lures along with Spanish mackerel. Fishing into the night at far-flung Denton Reef sees frenzied red throat emperor and spangled emperor sessions.
Day 4: Deep water bombies found and double headers were commonplace. Reds, giant cod and trout! Exhausted, the crew turned to trolling only to usher in a Spanish mackerel blitz that provided little reprieve.
Day 5: Island hopping at Penrith for trout and redthroat, then home.