Steve Hunt and mates get lucky with the weather and the tuna when they make a return trip to SA’s Port MacDonnell.
In a previous edition of TBF I penned an article entitled “The Winter Blues” which was focused largely on a charter boat chasing bluefin tuna at Port MacDonnell. It wasn’t a bad charter in the end, however only after we sorted out why we weren’t catching fish. You see, somebody had brought some bananas on board which every fisho knows is bad luck!
After my mate Wally threw the offending fruit overboard our luck changed dramatically. It was as if a switch had been flicked as the long hours of fishless trolling changed as soon as the bananas hit the briny. Immediately after throwing the bananas overboard Wally hooked an 18kg bluefin and we all started to catch fish.
We still laugh about that trip over a beer today. And meanwhile we’ve been had a trip back to Port MacDonnell, only this time without bananas and aboard a trailer boat. I took my own boat, a Classic Craft 5500 powered by a 130hp Yamaha. Ever since I bought this fibreglass trailer boat I’ve been planning to use it for a crack at southern bluefin.
After spending some money on quality accessories like a Raymarine A70D sounder/chartplotter combo, rod holders and even some extendable outriggers, Great White was ready to roll. But Port Mac as it is affectionately known can be a foreboding place to fish with winds wiping up very nasty offshore conditions. So you have to keep an eye on the weather if you’re a trailer boater.
With all this in mind we’d booked a cabin for seven days in May at the Port MacDonnell caravan park. We figured we’d at least get two days trolling in if the weather was true to form. However, Mother Nature smiled on us during our week with weather just about perfect for five of the six days we visited. The seventh day was calm but it was a real pea souper with a large swell so we fished at nearby Nelson for bream on that occasion.
Port MacDonnell has all the basic requirements for a fishing holiday. The town has a general store, take away shops, a service station and a pub. The meals at the pub are excellent and are very reasonably priced, which can be a godsend for a bunch of hungry blokes on a fishing trip. We also met plenty of fishermen there from all over Australia keen to share their experiences of the day.
But the best thing of all about Port Mac for the trailer boat fisho visitor is the excellent launching and fish cleaning facilities. You’ll see a photo of these hereabouts in this story.
The whole harbour is encompassed by a massive semi-circular breakwater that protects the local fishing fleet. By the way, this is the largest Southern Rock Lobster fleet in Australia. So no matter the weather you can always launch and retrieve your boat.
The ramp is a dual lane all weather affair and it is easier to launch and then motor around to the nearby landing to pick up the passengers. Similarly it is easier to drive the boat onto the trailer at day’s end which is easily achieved with a quality drive on/off trailer. The latter saves getting the feet wet and is well appreciated in the depths of a southern winter.
And as I said, Port Mac also has great fish cleaning and boat washing facilities right at the ramp so it’s a keen fishos dream.
So how was the fishing at Port MacDonnell? Well the first day we were flying blind and didn’t really have any idea as to where the tuna would be feeding. We did the obvious thing and headed out to the Continental Shelf which is around 30 kilometres offshore. The water depth drops off very quickly here from 1000 metres deep to 3000 metres deep in a relatively short distance.
We trolled up and down all day long along with plenty of other boats without even seeing a feeding school of tuna. We tried all sorts of different lures from diving minnows, skirts, jets and bibless terminator style lures but all to no avail.
Our poor luck we put it down to the weather being too calm as the baitfish would be down deep. It was a similar tale of woe from everybody we talked to in the pub that night.
The second day looked like being a carbon copy of the first as we were still fishless until lunchtime in the calm conditions. We had moved inshore to the relatively shallow water of 60m to try our luck at bottom bouncing. We had been there a while when all of a sudden a north-easterly breeze sprung up and tuna began jumping out of the water all around the boat.
Battle stations! The bottom bouncing gear was stowed in double quick time and three trolling rods were sent out the back with a variety of different styled lures. But the tuna still would not take the lures we were offering which frustrated us no end.
Just another ball of baitfish exploded in front of us it came to me what we were doing wrong! The tuna were only feeding up on the surface on big schools of very small Sauries around 10 to 12 centimetres long. We had been trolling larger lures like CD 18’s and terminator vibes which were double the size of the bait they were actually feeding on.
The answer was to switch to lures that “matched the hatch” and as I searched through my lure boxes I came up with the perfect solution.
I had three Rapala X Rap 12’s sitting in the lure box that I had originally bought for casting to barra in shallow water. They were the same size, same shape and with the base colour of silver were the same colour of the Sauries they were feeding on. And because they were only shallow divers they would be wiggling that deadly action right on the surface where the tuna could eyeball them.
We tested this theory on the very next school as tuna busted up the baitfish ball on the surface amidst a confusion of diving gulls, terns and gannets. As we trolled the little lures passed the feeding school at seven knots the red head/silver X Rap got smashed on the surface.
Gary’s Saltist 6500 screamed as our first tuna of the trip scorched off on its first run.
It was Gary’s first ever tuna and he was suitably impressed with the raw power on that blistering first run. Because the little lures had fairly small trebles I told him not to horse it and take his time getting the fish in. Gary certainly did that as the drag was a little too loose but the tuna was well hooked and before long we gaffed a 12 kilo bluefin, the first tuna to be brought on board Great White.
There was much rejoicing and backslapping as we scanned the horizon for more working birds as we noticed the same school was a hundred metres away. I clipped on the red head X Rap released it 30m back into the wake and took off after the highly mobile school. Gannets were plummeting from a great height as the activity from below the surface built to a crescendo.
My Saltiga 63s slammed forward as the Saltiga Extreme Maverick 4500 screamed in protest as a lit up southern blue again hammered the little red head X Rap. I never tire of catching tuna; I reckon that first run is a real ball tearer as they hit that little pulsating piece of plastic at 60 kilometres an hour. After a great fight our second tuna of around 12 kilos was secured.
And so the afternoon went on as Skinny landed his first tuna for the day which was also taken on the red head/silver version of the X Rap. It certainly was a hot item with all three of the fish taken so far smashing the little lure from pillar to post. But Wally caught the next fish on the blue mackerel patterned X Rap which was our last fish for the day.
As we cleaned the four fish at the ramp we were all pretty chuffed with our tally for the day, especially after the lean start to the morning. Rumours were circulating that a very big fish had been caught in only 70m of water today and several minutes afterward the monster of 120kg was slid out of the back of a Ute and onto the cleaning table. It was absolutely huge!
Our plan for the next morning was clear, we would troll the same area as yesterday as most of the fish seemed to be caught in the shallower waters between 60m and 80m. As we neared our GPS waypoints from yesterday conditions looked to be absolutely perfect with a 15 knot northerly ruffling the surface sufficiently to click the tuna into feeding mode.
And there they were almost dead on the mark of the previous day as the early morning sun illuminated the dive bombing gannets. We set the three X Raps in a staggered trolling pattern with my rod towing the “Shotgun” lure at only 10m back from the stern, with the other two back 25 metres.
Tuna are very inquisitive and have no qualms in smacking a lure so close to the boat.
In fact the shotgun lure is quite often the first one to get hit as it was to be today. Again my 63S loaded up on another good tuna but I just let it run out on the drag whilst I trolled a further 50 metres through the feeding school. We found this a very successful way of achieving double hookups on this trip and the tactic worked beautifully as Wally got the second hookup on our first run for the day.
Two fish of 10kg set the scene for the morning as half a dozen schools of feeding tuna could be seen around us at any one time. With the tuna going nuts like this it didn’t take long before Gary and Skinny registered our second double hookup for the day amidst a chorus of screaming drags. Again they were nice fish of 10 to 11 kilos all taken on the little X Raps.
BAGGED OUT EARLY
Sprays of panicked silver baitfish erupted all around the boat as we achieved our third double hookup for the day. This time a matching pair of 12kg fish came aboard which meant we had achieved our boat limit of six Southern bluefin before 9.30 in the morning.
We continued to fish for the rest of the day and caught and released plenty more hyped up tuna.
Although the X Rap 12’s dominated when the tuna were on the surface we did manage to get several other lures connected to rampaging tuna. But they all had one thing in common they were all small and all were taken on or near the surface. I had a small 12 centimetre pink skirt that took several fish whilst Gary’s small Pakula Dojo Peche soft plastic went well.
Over the ensuing days we tried all the normal lures like Yo Zuri Hydro Magnums, Rapala CD18’s, X Rap 20’s and 30’s, larger skirts and River2Sea Terminator and Killer vibes but all without success. Every tuna we caught from then on were taken on small lures on or near the surface; they were adamant, they weren’t going to touch anything that didn’t resemble small Sauries.
So that was our week at Port MacDonnell, if you had said we’d get this many tuna before we had left I would not have believed you. And the best thing was we did not have to travel out past the Continental Shelf. All of our fish were caught in 60m -70m of water. Indeed, as I sit and write this article the fishing reports are suggesting the tuna are going off at Port Mac in just 30 to 40 metres of water. This would put the fish within eight kilometres of the breakwater end creating the therefore well within the safe range of the smaller trailer boat.
So all I can say is, if you get the chance take a trip to Port Mac. If you get lucky with the weather like we did you’ll enjoy day on day of sport fishing excitement. I know I will be towing Great White back to Port MacDonnell again soon especially with the lure of the odd 120 kilo fish on offer.
Hell, life is way, way too short to let the chance go by!