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Exmouth Black

This is the story of one very large Black Marlin I encountered off the coast of Exmouth, Western Australia back in 2008. A fish that will remain entrenched in my memory forever!

Our story begins in Fremantle as two game boats prepare for one of W.A’s most daring blue water adventures ever attempted. The plan was to travel up the coast from Fremantle to Exmouth where we would attempt to film the tag and release of Western Australia’s first 1000lb marlin.

The vessels we had been kindly allocated by Dr Lindsay Adams were the Orca, a 46’ Cresta with an impressive sparkling, stainless tuna tower and the Wave Rider, a Black Watch 40 and one of my personal all-time favourite boats. Both these vessels were very familiar to me after encountering them and their crews in many east coast game fishing tournaments from Port Stevens to The Great Barrier Reef in my younger years fishing with my father and the crew of Born Free.

We headed out of Fremantle and pointed our bows north in search of warmer, bluer waters. Both vessels were fully loaded with tackle and fuel but only two crew members aboard each. Once we had arrived safely in Exmouth we would collect the film crew and head out to the Exmouth Plate, a notorious sea mount located around 150 miles west of Exmouth. This is a place that is rarely visited and it and other areas like it could quite possibly be the key to giant Black and Blue marlin breeding cycles here in our west.

After birthing overnight in Carnarvon, Shark Bay and Coral Bay we had now well and truly had enough of travelling and sightseeing, Exmouth was only a few hours away so we figured it was time to wet a few lines and try out all these fancy new toys we had to play with. I ran out a standard billfish spread of five medium to large sized Richter lures attached to 80 and 130lb chair outfits with a flashing witch doctor teaser to boot before reclining on Orca’s impressive tuna tower deck.

Conditions were absolutely superb as we cruised along the Ningaloo coastline crisscrossing our way along the 100 – 300 meter lines working bait schools, bottom contours and current lines. The view from our magnificent vantage point was incredible and I can clearly recall commenting to Skipper Steve Tucker about what we were going to do when we actually hooked up. Having this much gear in the water with only two people on board is seriously not recommended and generally results in chaos and shear pandemonium upon hook up.

We figured the boys next to us on Wave Rider were having similar thoughts and decided to check out their spread. I glanced over to notice they were much more sensible than us and were only running two lures and no teaser. Ha, we thought. Being so close together and us having such a fantastic looking spread compared to theirs surely we will get all the strikes.

It was around lunch time when we moved over a very promising looking bottom contour wide of Ningaloo Reef, the area was alive with bait schools and as I watched the lures splash and bubble their way through the warm, cobalt blue water I knew it would only be a matter of time before we had our first billfish strike. The only thing I didn’t realize was it wouldn’t be ours.

Tuck’s and I were having a good old chat up on the tower enjoying the view when I noticed out of the corner of my eye what looked to be another large vessel tearing up wave Riders lure spread. Upon closer inspection I soon realised that this was no mysterious vigilante at all but a massive marlin doing its best to rid itself of whatever the Wave Rider boys had stuck into it.

I quickly raced down to the fly bridge and was confronted with the rather panic stricken voice of one Skipper Steve Pavlovich booming across the radio. “Were gunna need a hand over here Nicko!” After clearing all our gear I then returned to the fly bridge where the two skippers had decided on a plan of action.

Wave Rider didn’t have a chair harness on board or anybody to handle the fish at boat side so it was decided that I would be transported from Orca to Wave Rider with the chair harness in an attempt to land this beast of a fish. Great theory but think about it, a risky bow to bow transfer in mid ocean while hooked up to an enormous rampaging billfish? I had my doubts but was also confident in both skippers abilities not to get me killed.

I clipped the large and extremely awkward chair harness around my chest and shoulders, put on my leader gloves and made my way to Orca’s massively high bow sprit. Tuck’s and Pav moved the boats into their final positions and there it was, a 10 – 15’ leap of faith required by yours truly. Orca’s bow is considerably higher than Wave Rider’s so there was definitely going to be a bit of free fall action going on before landing.

Anyway I made it no dramas at all and as I stepped down into the cockpit I couldn’t believe my eyes, here was this big, burly looking bloke with a bright red face and a 60kg chair outfit jammed in his crutch. I quickly positioned him into the chair and clipped up the harness, his face began to regain colour and I’m pretty sure he also started breathing again at this stage. The man’s name was Tim from memory; he was Steve Pavlovich’s cousin and a shearer from down south.

Pav chased the big marlin down with all the skill and expertise of a Cairns marlin fleet skipper and big Tim handled the heavy tackle like he’d done it all before. There are two different fighting styles of most billfish species, the sprinters and the sluggers. The sprinters tear across the surface leaping and carving up the water which tires the fish fairly quickly whereas sluggers head deep and conserve energy by swimming along deep thermoclines and currents. These sluggers use everything they can to their advantage and are generally much more difficult to land than sprinters.

Fortunately for us this fish was a sprinter and a magnificent one at that, after around half an hour or so of her going absolutely nuts all over the ocean it looked like we were going to get our first shot at the leader. Now this is where things go pear shaped, just as I was about to place my hand on the leader Pav informed me to be very careful as it was only 300lb! “How big is the hook?” I quickly enquired. “It’s only a 9/0!” Was Pav’s reply.

This fish was probably close to 800lb plus and all I had to hold onto it with was a 300lb leader and a 9/0 hook? I took the leader gently into my gloves and began to work on the fish as best I could, I can remember thinking “This fish might die if I take too long” I gingerly kept pinching away on the leader pulling the massive marlin closer inch by agonising inch.

The marlin was still very strong and continued changing direction making things very difficult for me on the leader and Pav on the wheel. After what felt like an eternity but was probably only 5 minutes or so the beautiful, big marlin suffered a massive heart attack and died. One second I was staring into her beautiful, big brown eye and the next she was gone. Her colour began to fade as she simply rolled over and floated to the surface, her huge bill extending from the ocean in her final salute. Fare well my old friend fare well.

All big marlin over 150kg are female and considered to be an ocean treasure that are truly respected by all who encounter them. This fish was no exception and will remain with me for many years to come. There was no celebrating for me or for her, just a lasting memory and a great old story.

We eventually made it to the Exmouth Plate with the film crew by the way but only managed marlin to around half the size of the fish encountered on the way up. Like most fish giant Marlin also seem to know when the cameras are out. Here is some amateur footage taken towards the end of the battle.

Calm seas, clear skies

Nick Hocking

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Shimano Ocea Wing Jigs

Jigging has certainly come a long way over the years from the good old days of cranking slim, fast action metal jigs for seriola species like yellow tail kings, samson fish and the mighty amberjack. To these days where they now catch everything from pelagics such as mackerel, tuna and wahoo to demersal species such as our beloved Western Australian Dhu fish and Bald chin groper. This has led to a proverbial tsunami of jigs flooding today’s market leaving anglers with the ponderous task of what jigs to use and when?

Not only are there many different styles of jigs available but as to be expected they also come in a range of different qualities. These qualities are generally gauged by price although some manufacturers with greater buying power are capable of producing top quality jigs at a more reasonable cost than most. Cheaper jigs will catch fish, just not as many as the top notch models will.

Shimano has always had a name for producing top quality products and is still to this day the only tackle manufacturer confident enough in their products to offer an unbeatable 10 year warranty. Their range of Stella reels are still the pick of the bunch and when coupled with the Grappler range of jig rods make an absolutely sensational jigging set up. Shimano Stella 5000 and 6000 reels loaded with PE 3 braided lines attached to Shimano Grappler jig rods rated to PE 2 – 3 are my preferred jig outfits for targeting demersal, seriola and pelagic species in 25 – 60 meters of water.

Not only do Shimano produce top quality rods and reels but they also have a killer lure range including some of the best jigs available. Their Bottom Ship 2 range of jigs has proven themselves to be a winner with anglers all over the world as have the new Ocea Wing jigs. With their full name, Ocea Stinger Butterfly Wing offering a hint as to the kind of action they produce these Japanese styled butterfly jigs allow anglers to fish the entire time their jig is in the water. The heavy rear end of the jig is designed for rapid decent with the multi-faceted side creating a fluttering wobble during both free fall and when being worked at depth. Ocea Wing jigs can be worked either fast or slow and will account for a large variety of species no matter where you are. Fish will eat them on the decent, when being worked at depth and also on their rapid retrieval, a privilege certainly not available to those who fish with bait rigs.

Butterfly jigging is by no means a new or cutting edge technique and has been steadily mastered by the Japanese over the years to the point of perfection. This finesse style of slow action jigging has produced incredible results all over the world and is now set to revolutionize the way many of us go fishing. The idea is to drop the jig to the sea floor and begin a slow lift and drop/flutter style of action similar to the motion of a slow rocking boat. Lift the jig slowly as the boat rises over a swell and simply allow it to flutter as you drop back down the other side keeping the jig as close to the sea floor as possible. Once the jig is 4 or 5 meters off the bottom drop it and begin the retrieve again until your line angle becomes too shallow effecting the jigs natural action. Sometimes it helps to add a little flick at the end of the lift depending on the mood of the fish. Most jigs will only work to their full effect when they are fished directly under the angler.

This style of jig and retrieve is designed to imitate the majority of a reef fish diet and mimics 100% of all demersal species prey items including Crustacean (Prawns, crabs, crays ), Cephalopod ( Squid, Octopus, Cuttlefish ) and even small fish. To say that it is extremely effective is an enormous understatement and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this finesse style of jigging replacing the old days of dragging large lumps of lead around the sea floor attached to heavy Paternoster styled rigs loaded with chunky baits. Not only is slow action butterfly or demersal jigging more effective but it is also a lot more enjoyable allowing anglers the luxury of fishing with lighter and more comfortable outfits. Jigging is not only kinder to the angler but also the fish as 99% of all jig hook ups are ideally in the mouth allowing anglers to release unwanted or undersized fish with a much greater success rate than with bait rigs.

Gone are the days of cumbersome, multi tray tackle boxes, buckets of lead and heavy 50 – 80lb bottom bashing outfits that weigh a tonne. Now we can go fishing with merely two light jig outfits, some leader and a wallet full of jigs. Taking jigs home ready to use over and over again is also an added bonus and saves refreezing or throwing away all that smelly left over bait at the end of a day’s fishing, such a waste. As with the old style of bait fishing for bream and snapper has given way to the new, highly effective finesse style of artificial luring so will bottom bashing be slowly transformed into the wonderful world of artificial.

Light fluoro carbon leaders of 40 – 60lb are practically impossible for fish to see and cope exceptionally well with the rugged punishment most reef environments provide. Longer lighter leaders are more necessary in very calm, clear conditions and heavier leaders are generally used around rough terrain such as caves and pinnacles. Bimmini twist knots are still preferred to double and strengthen braided lines before connection to leader with an improved Albrite knot.

Ocea Wing jigs come unrigged to offer anglers a custom rigging option of either single, double or even wire assist hook set ups depending on their own individual preferences and requirements. Double assist hooks with coloured or lumo rubber squid are most popular here. If you can’t find them in local tackle stores yet you can order them online from Shimano’s excellent website http://www.shimanofish.com.au/

 These jigs come in sizes 110 – 350 grams in an assortment of proven fish catching colours that are sure to impress. A rule of 1 gram per foot of water is generally a good gauge as to what jigs to use at certain depths. Example calm to moderate conditions with little current, 80 – 90 gram jig in 30 meters of water. As for colours everyone seems to have their own preference but for here around metropolitan W.A orang/gold in morning and afternoon and silver/blue/pink for the middle of the day are most popular. Gold/lumo is also a great colour combo on a dull cloudy day or early morning/late afternoon.

For anyone wanting to learn more about demersal jigging techniques? Fish-On does provide an exclusive, professionally guided jig charter out of Lancelin W.A. with yours truly on board, For more information please contact me on nick@nullfish-on.com

Calm seas, clear skies

Nick Hocking

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The year that wasn’t

Well after arriving home from a week of solid fishing at Harvey Dam I am sorry to report nothing but bad news. It seems there has been a stocking incident resulting in the loss of the prestigious and highly sought after Brown Trout the area has been so famous for over previous years. Apparently they all went belly up in the release tanks during a hot spell before they could be released into Harvey Dam. Oops! Western Australian fisheries did manage to release around 1100 brood stock, rainbow trout into the dam successfully however these fish seem to be extremely difficult to find and catch this season?

Opening day of the 2015 fresh water season saw Harvey Dam literally covered with competent fresh water anglers of all shapes and sizes, shore based anglers lined every likely location as deep water sections were scanned and searched by all manner of water craft imaginable. With opening day this year falling on a Monday it was extremely surprising to see so many lucky anglers venturing away from their work places to target trout. It seems half of Perth managed to chuck a sickie? It just goes to show you how popular a decent fresh water fishery would be received here in the west. Dare I say it again AUSTRALIAN NATIVES!!!

With many seasoned and competent fresh water anglers now scouring every nook and cranny of the dam it soon became evident that this year’s fishing was going to be poor compared to the previous? After speaking with many seasoned anglers and hearing the same disappointing results it soon became clear that this year’s season was shaping up to be a real dud. Like most other anglers I managed around a dozen yearling rainbow trout from 26 – 30cm and a heap of redfin perch around the same size range during each trolling session but alas no decent sized trout. Although these smaller fish were quite plentiful and moderately entertaining the satisfaction of hooking and landing that one good fish unfortunately eluded me for this trip.

There were however plenty of good trout to be found around the local feeder streams and rivers leading to and from the dam itself but unfortunately I was there to film a trolling for trout segment and these fish were not going to help my cause. Stand out lures for the trip included Halco RMG Scorpion 35 and 52 in classic rainbow trout and gravy train patterns. These two lures out fished anything else I put in the water during the week long period by far and are now my go to trolling lures for Harvey Dam, thanks again Halco.

These lures were fished over short, ultra-light graphite rods coupled with 1000 – 2500 class SHIMANO spin reels loaded with 4 – 6lb braided lines attached to around 1 – 2 rod lengths of 6 – 10lb fluoro carbon leader material. With local fresh water anglers restricted to trolling with one rod per person it helps to also have a mate in the boat to allow the use of two separate outfits. One is usually set back at around 30 – 40 meters with a small, shallow running lure (HALCO – RMG Scorpion 35, 1.6m sneaky suspending diver in classic rainbow trout pattern) and another closer to the boat at around 20 – 25 meters with a larger, deeper running lure (HALCO RMG Scorpion 52, 2.5m diver in gravy train pattern). Staggering lure distances not only avoids tangles during strikes and turns but also allows anglers to cover much more of the water column in search of their prey. This technique has worked extremely well for most fresh water anglers over the years with most rainbow trout taken on the smaller, shallow running lures and larger brown trout and red fin perch preferring the deeper running lures closer to the boat.

Harvey Dam is strictly an electric motor only option and does not allow the use of petrol engines at all! Most electric motors have around 5 speeds with the most popular speed for trout trolling proving to be the number four setting which produces a boat speed of around 2-3 knots depending on the vessel to which it is fitted. It does sometimes help to vary your boat speed to induce strikes when fish become lazy due to extremely calm or warm conditions.Gel cell batteries are a key factor in maintaining motor power for a good days trolling and need to be charged with a specified gel cell battery charger run by a decent 1 – 3 KVA generator system.

Echo sounders also help in locating fish and structure; once you have located good showings of fish in a certain area simply troll your lures around and through them until you start achieving results. Echo sounders with temperature readings are also handy for finding thermoclines; trout will often sit in a certain temperature of water rather than hanging around structure. Once the favoured temperature of water is located simply attach a lure capable of swimming at this desired depth/temperature range. Landing nets are also handy when fishing for trout from a boat and not only aid anglers in the landing of their fish but also prevent hooks in fingers, a fairly common occurrence when trying to hand lift lively trout attached to treble hooks.

Barometric pressure plays a very important role in fresh water angling and generally determines whether fish will be feeding of not. High, steady barometers are preferred for most fresh water angling situations, this generally occurs during warm, sunny conditions. Fish will often sit deeper in the water column or in shaded areas during these conditions. However calm, overcast conditions are also ideal for tempting trout into shallow cooler waters.

I’ve been fishing Harvey Dam for quite a number of years now and have enjoyed watching the fishing steadily improve to the point it was at a couple of years ago. Large, healthy brown trout to the magical 10lb mark used to be a real possibility back then and after having released so many of those beautiful fish over the years I am now left to wonder what became of the fish I was once so hopeful would remain there thrilling anglers for many more years to come? Now I do fully understand that Harvey Dam like most of our south western fresh water impoundments is stocked with brood stock trout and that it is respectively a put and take fishery system only. But it still to this day leaves me wondering where do all those trout go each year? Surely some must survive the angling onslaught and remain, grow and become semi wild? Why would this ever improving fishery suddenly take such a downward spiral? These are the questions that need to be addressed to ensure our Western Australian freshwater fisheries remain protected and improve. Perhaps some funds invested into building fish ladders to retain our trout in the dams to which they are released would be a good start? Rather than having them take off up the cooler, oxygenated feeder streams running into and out of the stocked dams to end up in areas totally inaccessible to most anglers paying good money for a freshwater fishing licence.

Trolling for trout is a relaxing and enjoyable form of fishing that is slowly growing more and more popular with the fresh water angling community, fingers crossed our fishery here in the west improves with age offering Western Australian anglers the diversity of fishing for some of Australia’s most popular and iconic fresh water species. Fingers crossed!

Calm seas, clear skies

Nick Hocking

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