Offshore Report

Well the snapper and pearl perch closed season for this year is now done and dusted and the overall feedback from most people is very supportive.

There have been a few negative and veiled swipes at the closure conducted through the media, but they all link back to persons who have a vested interest and or who earn good money from being participants in the fishery.

The thing these selfish people overlook is that if the fishery is not just about their bank balance and the way of the future is to have management controls such as in the spawning season when the fish are most vulnerable, or there will be a continued the reduction in biomass leaving all of the community with a poorer fishery.

A strong snapper and pearl perch fishery is what the majority of forward thinking and responsible fishers in Qld want.

Personally I enjoyed the closure period packing into the four weeks a weeklong trip to the Swain Reefs, a caravan trip to the beach just chilling out and a Turkey Beach fishing trip.

Without doubt the Swain Reefs trip with a great group of fellows I have done the trip with a few times now was the big highlight.

Rosslyn Bay Boat Harbour at Yeppoon is an excellent departure point to the middle area of the Swains and I regard the 22 metre steel hulled “Capricorn Star” as the perfect reef fishing platform for a safe, comfortable and enjoyable week on the reef regardless of the weather.

It is a long way out to the lesser fished areas of the Middle Swains, say something in the order of 250 k’s, where you must first cross the often treacherous Capricorn Channel before reaching the calmer waters of the Swains.

To be able to do the trip with an owner/operator skipper who really knows his fishing as well as his way around these reefs in a purpose built reef fishing boat for an extended period with a well-trained crew is an absolute privilege.

The extended bag limits for these trips are generous too and you still come home with plenty of fillets if that is your thing.

On arrival at Yeppoon, the “Cap Star” was gleaming from a recent refit and there were several noticeable changes from my last trip two years ago.

Scott Wilson, the owner/operator is a stickler for maintenance and Covid hadn’t prevented his standards from being maintained.

He operates within the framework of a strict Covid approved plan with all the necessary protocols in place for our safety and his.

Out on the reef we had four days straight of good weather where we fished from the dories and this sated everyone’s fishing appetite.

A typical day was 0600-hot breakfast, by 0730 skippers had been briefed by Scotty on the lay of the reef and shoals, suggested location of pressure points to fish and other options to make every day safe and a fishing success, dories were launched and we were off fishing.

Lunch at 1230 on the “Cap Star” with maybe a location change while eating and then back into the dories by about 1330/1400 for an arvo session to about 1730.

Hot nibbles served on the rear deck at the end of fishing washed down with a few beers was always enjoyable as was the ripper of a big hot meal served in the saloon each night followed by plenty of dessert and a few more drinks over a discussion with the guys or simply take in a movie.

Many of our crew opted to fish from the rear deck after dinner and there were some nice Spanish mackerel, cobia and reef fish landed.

Oh yeah, there were some big sharks on the chew too at night and there was always an interesting story from those sessions.

Somewhere along the way, the crew mange everything discretely behind the scenes for a seamless operation.

The good part is they are fully across keeping the fish in brine, doing the filleting and bagging, tagging, freezing and recording the lot.

During the day all the dories have radios so we can all communicate and keep each other updated with catch and fishing the dories has been made easier with most having good colour sounders and there was only one black and white unit remaining.

It didn’t matter which unit you had as you could make good fishing choices all day long based on what was on the screen.

This year we reckoned we caught more coral trout than previously and there was an abundance of large red throat emperor.

The Spaniards were a bit light on but there were plenty of shark mackerel caught while trolling from the mother boat and the dories.

My favourite fishing on the Swains is up on the shallows and in anything from 5 to 18 metres of water the preference is a spin outfit loaded with colour coded 50lb braid and fluorocarbon leader with a tiny running sinker or no sinker, feeding the bait out until smashed by a trout or lipper.

Personal choice of hook all week is a single Mustad octopus in an 8/0 size as you don’t get so many of the pickers and unlike ganged hooks, there aren’t as many bottom snags.

A strong but light tipped spin stick in the Venom range is ideal as you have the sensitivity from the braid and the rod tip to feel the presence of the fish and the grunt to get them before they rub you out in the reef.

George still likes his trusty handline in the shallows because of the feel it offers him and it was enjoyable watching the determination on his face as he struggled to bring in some of the more cracking fish he hooked.

Out a bit deeper on the adjacent shoals and the steep drop-offs of the weather face of the reef I prefer to use a 7’ Venom overhead rod (PE 2-5) loaded with 50lb braid and the lightest snapper lead I can keep near the bottom on a two hook fluorocarbon rig.

This trip I didn’t put loops in the paternosters, instead adding droppers with a triple surgeons knot and trying hooks on individually.

They are far stronger rigs than the paternosters we typically use at home and you will not suffer knot failure when tied properly.

The good thing about the Venom overhead rods is they have sensitivity galore and loads of grunt for when you hook good fish in deeper water and I like the way they allow you to feel the weight of a fish mouthing at the bait and then lean back on the rod to sink the hook instead of waiting for that big bite.

This year we did fish from the deck of the “Cap Star” for a couple of days of wind and some rain.

The large undercover rear deck is excellent as is the overhead shelter down the side deck.

I must admit it felt good having the luxury of two deckies hovering ready to remove hooked fish and keeping up the supply of baits, not to mention their constant cleaning of the overall fishing space in between drifts.

It is an exceptionally well run operation.

Eventually our week at the Swain Reefs came to an end and it was a big thanks to Ron Roduner for organising a very enthusiastic crew of keen fishers to share the charter with.

It was a very bumpy ride home across the Capricorn Channel arriving back at Rosslyn Bay Boat Harbour around 0330 in the morning before a hearty farewell breakfast.

Even in the air conditioned cabins you do struggle to sleep well in those conditions, but George and I still managed a good enough sleep in the forward cabin while “living the dream”.

That is when you appreciate the good watch keeping practices on board and the standard the vessel is maintained at.

If anyone is considering a Swain Reefs trip for a small or large group, google the “Capricorn Star” and email or give Soozi a ring and she will take you through the process for an amazing experience and some fantastic fishing.

Written by Bill Corten for Bush n Beach Fishing Magazine September 2020 edition.