The Reef - Townsville
As a Southerner, my exposure to fishing pristine tropical reef systems has been some what limited to what I have seen on the internet or read about in magazines.
The dream of casting a lure over crystal clear waters surrounded by coral outcrops and sandy cays is something I thought could only be achieved by spending a ton of cash on long range charter trips, however with a little bit of research and a zest for adventure, I managed to find my oasis, whilst it may not be so close to Sydney, it’s a place easily accessible, facilitates everything the traveling Angler needs and most importantly, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg!
Taylors Beach is a small town approximately 120Klms North of Townsville, a quiet place with a population of just ????. There is not much here, the caravan park dominates the main drive, and provides the locals with their fuel supply and daily necessities, and, well…. That’s just about it. Yes, it has nice sandy beaches and mangrove linked creeks, none of which you would want to venture in, the locals tell me they haven't seen crocks here “for over 20 years”. That’s enough to keep me away.
The real attraction is the fishing, and more so, the variety. Out the front of Taylors Beach lies the Palm Island Group, a stretch of coast that spans 40 kms long, here you can find amazing shoals, bommies and structure that holds a variety of species from Coral Trout to GT’s, more so, further to the North is the world Heritage Listed, and spectacular, Hinchinbrook Island. The “Hinchy” as the locals refer to it, is a mecca for all types of sport fishing, topwater, micro jigging, soft plastics, you name it, it’s a destination people travel from all over the world to visit and not just for the fishing, the hiking and back trails up the mountains provide some breathtaking scenery, if your lucky, you could even fish for Jungle Perch in many of the remote fresh water pools. As tempting as these two locations seem, unfortunately they don’t form part of my itinerary, so they will have to wait till my next visit
I made the decision to travel 2200ks from Sydney to fish the Reef, that was my plan and I was sticking to it!
I left Sydney on Monday morning at 3 am, with my 18ft Scout in tow, the plan was to meet a window of good weather by Wednesday morning which could see me fishing out of Mackay with a couple Local gents.
Diamonds are a species I have always wanted to catch, their sleek profile, vibrant colours and fighting attributes are a “must have” capture for any sports fisherman, so with with Diamonds on my mind, I was determined to make it to Mackay by Wednesday. It would be a great way to break up the trip!
Arriving late Tuesday night, exhausted, I found some refuge close to the boat ramp, rolled out the swag and passed out. Just a few hrs kip and before I knew it i was rubbing shoulders with boys at the ramp. The weather was perfect, crystal clear skies, not a breath of wind. I could smell the fish.
“what are the chances of catching a Diamond”, I asked, as we steamed towards Lukes first mark. “We haven't caught one this season yet, but I recon we have a good chance” he confidently replied. With that said, I firmly clutched hold of my Bloodline jigging rod and smiled to myself, I had butterflies.
We arrived at his first mark, and after a bit of sounding around the Raymarine lit up. “Their Diamonds” Luke said, “Drop your jig”
Luke positioned the boat perfectly, and the 60g butterfly jig went straight down, a few slow pitches was all it took and the little Apollo 30 overhead started to scream. Luke looked over to Andrew and smiled, “Diamond” they both said simultaneously followed by a few chuckles. Their laughter was at my expense, “Good Luck with that” Andrew said as line continued to peel, there was no sign of this fish stopping.
As the fish started to surface, we all leant over to side of the boat “Yep, Diamond” says Luke “And it’s not a bad one either”.
With a few photos and a quick release, it was all over… I was blown away by it all, it happened so fast, textbook in fact, I just caught a Diamond Travelly. Tick.
As I left Mackay and travelled north I could feel QLD kick into gear, the humidity, stretches of sugar cane fields and my first encounter with a “Croc Wise” sign, I must be close now.
I called Jimmy, a local Townsville resident whom I planned to fish with for the next few days, however the news wasn't good, the weekend looked like a wash out, 15-20knott winds and big seas. 15 aint that bad, right? but jimmy was quick to remind me that we needed to travel close to 100Ks offshore, oh, and that I only have an 18ft boat! “The only day we can fish is tomorrow mate” Jimmy said. “So get your ass into gear, and get here tonight”. It was 2pm, I had 500’ks to go. Walk in the park!
I pulled into Taylors late Wednesday night, unpacked and rigged up some gear. I didn't get a chance to look around, it was dark when I arrived and whilst the last stretch of the journey was the smallest, the 2202.9 km drive had taken its toll and I needed to chill. I had 5 hrs before I had to meet the boys at the ramp. “Tomorrow is the day I meet the Reef” I excitedly said to my self, of course, I didn't sleep.
I got to the ramp a little early and the boys were not too far behind, we quickly launched the boat and cruised through the channel then along the 6km Sugar Loading Jetty to open water. The weather was perfect, not a breath of wind and flat seas. I toggled the GPS to point us towards the first reef and opened the throttle, the Honda kicked us up onto the plane and off we went.
Miles Tam, a good mate of Jimmy’s joined us on this trip. Both boys have plenty experience fishing the various reefs out of Taylors beach so I was being guided by their knowledge “What’s the plan boys” I yelled. “What do you want to catch?” Miles replied, as if to insinuate the offering was endless. “ I really don’t care” I said, “I just want to see the reef and maybe ping a few G’s” “Keep going straight” Miles confidently replied
Im not sure if its a QLD thing, or maybe the sign of a good fisherman, but confidence is something, I have noticed, these lads are not short of. When I take out a punter for a fish out of Sydney, and they ask “what’s the plan” I certainly don't give them an option of what they want to catch, “The plan is to catch whatever we can” Is my go-to repose. So when I say I want to catch a GT and get such a reply, I get excited. Damm it, I should have said I wanted to catch a Mouri Wrass!
“10 to go” I said as I peered towards the GPS, In less than 10 nautical miles we would be at our first stop, Brambles Reef, shaped like a horse shoe with it’s pointy end facing South, Brambles is the closest reef formation to Taylor Beach. Due to it’s proximity, it is one of the heavier fished reefs but I wasn't phased by this, like most places up here, locals stick to their ways and fish for a feed. Fortunately for us, Gt’s are not on the top of the ladder when it comes to eating and for this reason the boys tell me they are plentiful.”Find the Fussies pushing to the surface, and we find the G’s” Jimmy said.
Cruising along at full speed, the depth started to rise and the colours began to change. The deep blue ocean morphed into an aqua like colour that was so clear the reflection of the clouds in the water mimicked the sky and it was almost as if we were floating in mid air!
Then, the reef appeared! Visibility couldn’t get any better, I pulled the boat into neutral and let the current push us into the thick of it. It was just what I imagined, elephant ears, cauliflower and weeping coral staring right at me. Massive caves and drop offs teaming with life………“Fussies” Yelled Miles, and with that said,he grabbed the controls and we were underway My nostalgic encounter with the Reef, that I came so far to see, was over. Time to catch some fish.
Schools of bait fish were everywhere and they were under attack, every so often the schools would shower on the surface in a frantic attempt to escape their predators below. I launched a small popper over the back of one of the schools and cranked it towards the boat, three sweeps of the rod was all it took and the lure was engulfed by a hungry G. Next it was Miles’ turn and just like my attempt it didn't take long for his lure to get some attention. “You have got to be kidding me” I said, as Jimmy called out “im on!’ We had just arrived and within minutes we were in the middle of a 3 way hook up.
Welcome to the Reef.
This action continued for hrs, we cruised between bait schools and continued to catch fish after fish, admittedly the fish were not breaking any records, but they were G’s, and we were having a blast catching them!
By Midday, the heat had beaten us so we found refuge is a nice shallow part of the reef and decided to have some lunch, a swim and work out a plan for the remainder of the day.
Chasing these schools for hrs subsequently had us sitting a long way further east than we thought, we were not far from Pith Reef, which made our decision easy and with the weather continuing to work in our favour, we made the call to travel the additional 10Miles to explore Pith. I was underwhelmed upon arrival. There were no pressure edges, no signs of bait and no flowing water, it was dead. The old saying”Never leave fish to find fish” was ringing in the back of my mind and I was beginning to wonder if the long haul was worth it.
Miles optimistically threw out a popper to cure his boredom and within minutes a pack attack of big Red Bass launched at this lure! “No way!” I said, I could have laid money on their being no fish here. That was about all the action we got at Pith, we threw a few stick baits around for a couple small trout and I enticed a black tip Reef Shark to eat my lure, the boys tell me they are rare up here, I didn't believe them. But making jokes at a Southerners expense is what it came down to, and until we found some fish It was not about to stop. Think Bill, think.
According to the Raymarine, another 5 miles East looked to hold some nice country, tight contours showing shoal like patches all within a few miles of the shelf, “I recon we head out here” I suggested, the boys looked at me with excitement. “We, weren't going to ask” Said Miles. So once again, we pushed further out.
As we left Pith, our surrounding began to change, with no protection from the reef we found ourselves in Blue water, flying fish, schools of Tuna busting the surface and the occasional big splash “Did you see that” was something that was shouted every few minutes, this place was EPIC.
By now it was getting late and we were 110klms off the coast, I had to be back at 4pm for a scheduled meeting and couldn't be late. With my eyes glued to the sounder, I found myself quietly groaning at what I was looking at! The terrain out here was nothing short of amazing, huge 20ft drop offs, pinnacles, ledges, fish……”Aggggrrrrrrr” I just wanted to keep searching, but I knew time was not on our side. “Let’s just get some jigs down” Said Jimmy. So thats what we did.
It wasn't long until history repeated itself, a 3 way hook up, we all started laughing simultaneously as we were being punished by these fish. “Big Trout, I recon” said Jimmy but I knew I had no Trout! The first fish came to the surface and I called it, “Thats a yellow fin!” Jimmy couldn't believe it, a first for him, and a great achievement to be caught on a jig. Luckily Miles lost his fish as mine wasn't giving up, “We’re gunna need chase this one guys” I said, as Miles pushed the boat forward. I was using a 3-6 Kilo Zeikel Slayer running 30lb and I knew I had a bit of work ahead of me, if this was a yellowfin, it was a good one. 10 minutes into the fight and I see colour, peering into the water desperate to see some gold flashs, they didn't appear. I had a big GT. We all had a good laugh, once again, I was entertaining the crew.
A few more drops and the same result, great fish, effortless. However, we were out of time. With a 2hr run back to the ramp, I had to call it. It was hard leaving a spot like that behind, but we had no choice.
The ride home was as good as the journey out, calm seas, beautiful skies and spectacular scenery as we blasted along the reefs edges all the way back in. All the while, I could feel the boys throwing daggers in my back for cutting the trip short.
The weather predictions were right, the rest of the week was a ride off. I had driven a long way to fish for one day, and whilst it was an incredible days fishing, it wasn't enough.
With that in mind, I decided to leave the boat and car at Jimmy’s place and fly home, 3000ks is a lot quicker by air, and with so much more to explore, it’s a great excuse to be re-united with the Reef.
Till next time.