Angler : Wilfish Flanagan
Location : Coral Sea, Australia
Species : Coral trout, GTs , Bluefin Trevally, Big eye tuna, Yellowfin tuna , Mahi Mahi , Black Marlin, Dogtooth Tuna, Wahoo, Small Mouth Nanagai , Cobia, Jobfish, Spangled emperor
Author : Wilfish Flanagan
Lure collecting is a habit. An expensive habit, too. But when you’ve got that dream expedition coming up, it’s almost worth breaking the bank knowing you’ll be rewarded down the line (pun intended).
After months of lure collecting for our crew, the time had finally come for our remote expedition to Holmes Reef located off the coast of North East Queensland. We all met in Cairns and after a short charter flight to Cooktown, we met Captain Brett Goetze and his crew aboard the 57ft custom Assegai “The Amokura”. We arrived to find all our gear sprawled out on the deck, a welcoming ice cold beverage and a quick meet and greet before we all headed to the local pub for a trip briefing. Like most good fishing trips, the banter was strong from the start with everyone tearing shreds off of each other from the word “Hello”!
We hit the hay early to recharge after a full days travel, a restless sleep to say the least, mostly due to the anticipation from what the next day could bring for us. Waking to a cracker day, we left the port of Cooktown and like all remote fishing expeditions we faced the agonising first day of travel, a 180 nautical mile journey to the reef! We stopped along the way to break things up finding a local reef which saw some chunky Coral Trout, Small Mouth Nannygai and Cobia that were hauled over the side before we set our Marlin spread and continued on to our end destination.
Hours passed with not a soul in sight until we passed a fellow game-fishing boat who greeted us with some good news: reports of the annual Tuna aggregation was happening 10 nautical miles from us!
Immediately, lures were rigged and we were steaming at 30 knots to find this annual event. Our Captain, ‘Bretto’, homed in on the fish via his radar and radio contact with the long-liners. Sitting up on the fly bridge brought with it a spectacular sight of what can only be described as 44 gallon drums launching themselves out of the water!
The spread was set, and no sooner were all four rods buckled over and all four of us hooked up to solid fish. It turned to pure mayhem with beaming smiles and shrill screams of joy from us all. Bigeye and Yellowfin Tuna up to 70kg coming over the side before dark – what a way to start the trip! After what was a solid workout, the drift anchor was set for the night adrift.
We drifted a total of six nautical miles in the middle of nowhere that night and were woken to the sight of a six-metre whale shark swimming around the boat, continuing to do so as we ate our breakfast. We donned snorkels and masks, jumped over the side and cruised along the surface taking up the amazing opportunity to swim with this gentle giant before meeting back up with the massive tuna shoal. We were into it again moments later with all the boys hooked up yet again. From jigs to stick-baits/poppers, the tuna were taking anything we threw at them. With the sound of screaming reels and buckled rods, it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Each of us managed to pull a ‘barrel’ in excess of 80 plus kilograms before we took the hooks out only to find swarms of tuna fighting over the lures!
Whilst all this was unfolding, our Drone hovered overhead, and the Go Pros underneath capturing the experience.
As hard as it was, we decided to leave the school and try our luck on some of the bigger predators that were feeding on these tuna. Moments later the marlin spread was set yet again. They were only out for 10 minutes before were saw a nice Black Marlin come up and crash tackle the long corner skirt. A short fight on 24kg stand-up tackle, we managed to tame an estimated 500lb model. Continuing on our journey, 30 minutes of trolling was all it took before another feisty Black crash tackled the short corner. Estimated at the 400lb mark, this fish put up a great fight going deep twice before tiring enough to get her to the boat. With everyone on a high, we thought surely it couldn’t get any better before a decent Blue Marlin came up in the spread, engulfing the shotgun peeling line and snapping us back into reality. All this happened so quick before the hooks pulled on what would have been a great fish.
All marlin and tuna distractions aside, I’ve failed to mention we hadn’t even made it to Holmes Reef. Well that night we finally arrived and under the cover of darkness we anchored inside the calm waters of the lagoon. After a good night’s sleep on anchor after what was a crazy day, it was time to try our luck on the local residents of Holmes Reef. First up were the Dogtooth Tuna who we’d been told had been fishing well just prior to our trip. The first drops with the jigs resulted in short-lived hook ups before getting hit by the taxman, in this case, sharks. We persisted, but found the sharks’ way too hungry to let any fish come to the surface. From there we made our way to the outer edges of the reef to hopefully find more Dogtooth Tuna minus the sharks. Finding another good patch of fish, we managed to pull a 35kg fish narrowly from the sharks. Activity was high with multiple fish excess of 50 kg coming up halfway on stick-baits, but reluctant to walk the green mile. We picked up some decent Coral Trout on jigs throughout the day and the Doggies started to bite again in the afternoon, not huge fish but fish up to 25kg still putting up a great fight. Admitting defeat to the sharks on day two, we headed back to the shelter of the lagoon to drown our sorrows.
A couple of quiet drinks were all we needed as day three was soon to be upon us. The game plan was to continue chasing Doggies. We pulled up on the spot eager to drop our jigs, looked up at the Captain waiting for the word. Game on, round two. After marking some good bait and fish on the sounder and multiple drops for no fish, it was safe to say they weren’t on the chew. The beauty of fishing remote reefs is there are always options. In this case we decided to work the outer edges of the reef, only this time for Giant Trevally’s in the deeper gutters. This paid off with some good GT being dragged out of their haunts, along with some big, green job-fish, coral trout and blue spot Trevally all falling victim to our stick-baits and poppers. The Amokura proved to be the perfect boat for this style of fishing, with two fishermen casting from the open bow and two from the back. More proof came when Big Arnie hooked up to a monster GT ’banger‘. The Captain drove him off the reef with ease whilst hooked up from a difficult angle from the bow. Once in the deeper water, Big Arnie was able to keep the trebles in on this 30kg model on the 220F stick-bait from Pacemaker lures. We dragged the beast through the transom door and quickly applied the deck wash to the mouth. A few quick pics were taken before we released her to fight another day. Pacemaker lures quickly became the go-to weapon of choice as 10 minutes later, Arnie hooked up yet again! This time, a beast of a banger estimated at around the 40kg mark; two cracker fish pulled from the reef to end the day.
The next day saw us slowly make our way back to Port Douglas via Flora reef. Only a short chug between the two reefs but it was the sound of the drags screaming which signalled our arrival at Flora. Both rods buckled over, one carrying a nice Mahi Mahi, the other a solid Wahoo. The adrenaline was pumping and we were all back on a high ... time to drop for the Doggies!
First drops resulted in solid hook-ups to big fish, though these were short lived due to Wahoo coming through in a feeding frenzy and snipping the lines. The Captain pushed the throttle and we were on our way again, this time via a Seamount not too far way. Marking good bait and fish in the sounder but with no bites, it was safe to say the fish had shut down. A storm front on the horizon and an average weather report was the catalyst to a decision to steam back inside the shelter of the reefs and closer to land yet we still made the most of our last night as we fished the calm waters for GTs up to 25kg on light tackle for most of the night.
As dawn broke on our final day, we all slept in, knowing we had to make the trip home and most having to head back to reality! A great few days of fishing were coming to an end, but these were memories we’d never forget. The Coral Sea can be brutally unpredictable, but every trip is amazing. It’s the great unknown that intrigues anglers all across the world time and time again and the Coral Sea provides this in abundance. The pictures only tell a fraction of the regions true beauty and the words here don’t do the amazing fishing that you’ll find justice, but believe me when I say this place is a must visit for any keen fisherman!