by Lee Brake
Lee Brake has just returned from a week fishing some of the Cape's more remote rivers and has picked up a few tips and tricks during his adventures.
Our digs for the week. Eclipse is a terrific mothership and her owners treat guests like royalty – we certainly ate like kings!
Last week I was lucky enough to be invited on one of those 'trips of a lifetime'. It was well-known ex-guide Dave 'Lumpy' Milson's 50th birthday and he'd put together a trip with Eclipse FNQ Fishing Charters aboard the Eclipse D, a 52 foot aluminum power catamaran run by Joe Berwick and Bianca Gerrard (http://www.eclipsefnq.com.au/). Over the week we experienced some of the best fishing I can ever remember and visited no less than five of the Cape's remote rivers to the north of Weipa. Rather than fill a novel with the highlights of the week – which are numberless – I thought that over the next few weeks I'd take a look at a few of the different species, and the tactics we used to catch them, in these remote rivers. My reasoning for this is that these Cape York tactics were, to a fair extent, foreign to me. We fished this area very differently to how I would fish around my home town of Mackay, Queensland and it took some adapting.
To set you a scene, we started our adventure in Mapoon and the mighty Wenlock River before heading north, first to the Jackson River, then the McDonnald, the Doughboy and finally back to the Skardon River. Mostly our days involved fishing the flats over the high tides in the mornings (often sight casting), then moving up the rivers and branching creeks in search of barra as the tide dropped. We'd fish drains with small shallow divers and surface lures over this run-out period and were blown away by the quantity of barra ready to slurp, boof and smash our lures from the surface. Once the tide bottomed out, it was usually back to the mothership for a few coldies before heading out to the river mouth to tangle with the marauding pelagics pinpointed by white water and wheeling, diving birds. Mixed in with all this were periods of trolling rockbars, bouncing vibes for fingermark and jacks, casting snags and jigging inshore reefs. There was rarely a dull moment and when you throw daily visits by Mini Minor size gropers, a tussle with a barra-thieving croc and some of the best food and company you could wish for, there should be little wonder why I call it the 'trip of a lifetime'.
To kick things off, let me tell you about beach fishing on the Cape. It's pretty amazing actually and shares some common traits with bread and butter beach fishing in places like Frazer Island. It's all about reading the water: analysing drains, detecting gutters, spotting pressure points and locating bait schools. However, unlike in the south where the rewards are tailor, whiting etc, up here it's all about barra and line-burning pelagics. Our first day in Mapoon, before we boarded Eclipse, saw us four-wheel driving along the beach in search of barra and pelagics at high tide. Lumpy and his next door neighbour had pulled a string of barra from the beach just days previous, so we were confident. Unfortunately though, the water was a little choppy and that meant that barra were a less-likely scenario (though Lumpy put the hooks into six in a row at the beach near the mouth of the Skardon a few days later).
We went the light spin option instead. This pretty much saw us pulling up at any gutters and drains along the beach to fire out small feather head jigs (http://pupsjigworks.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/marabou-crappie-jigs.html). These are, without a doubt, the simplest, yet most effective, lure for catching pelagics along the beach. White is the go-to colour and a little shiny fleck is never a bad inclusion. You can make them yourself or buy them from most tackle shops.
Anyway, after a little coaching from Lumpy, we quickly found the local queenfish and trevally population to be ravenous. The key was to simply cast the lure out, allow it to sink and then, at a medium pace, retrieve it by slowly lifting and dropping the rod tip. This proved much more effective than just straight cranking the lures in, which was my first instinct. We had a ball and for over an hour we caught fish after fish. At times it was three and even four-way hook-ups and, despite being on the smaller end of the scale, these pocket rockets where amazing fun on 1-3kg tackle.
Later in the week we used the same technique, but this time fishing from one of the Eclipse's custom-made 5m tenders and casting into the beach. It's hard to put into words just how amazing it was sneaking along in less than a metre of water sight casting at queenfish, golden trevally, sharks, mackerel etc as they cruised within spitting distance of the boat. The key was to cast in front of the fish and 'yoyo' the marabou jig in their line of sight while not casting too close and spooking the fish – something that in my excited state took effort!
It really was about as much fun as you can have with your pants on, but the honest truth of the matter is that this was what we did to kill time while we waited for the water to drop out of the mangroves up the rivers. If killing time is this much fun, wait until you read next week's story!
(Note: We saw plenty of crocs along the beaches, so if you plan on casting from the shore, make sure you stay away from the edge and keep your eyes peeled.)