The mackerel weren't in town, but John Harman found Carnarvon waters still jumping with emperors, snapper, cobia and lots of other suspects when he returned after a four-year absence.
"C Day" had arrived! At last we could point the wagons north and head for warmer weather leaving the cold beginning of winter behind. Heading to Carnarvon after a four-year break had us wondering if it would once again exceed our fishing expectations Why Carnarvon? For me there are many reasons to revisit this spot not the least being its laid back, relaxing ambience. Previously on my first visit the fishing had been stunning. This time with nine new members making up our fishing party, I was just a little apprehensive about what we would encounter. I wondered if the place wouldn't live up to all the hype and they'd be disappointed.
Even if take a look at Carnarvon purely from a fishing point of view there's much to recommend the destination. Just take a look at the marine chart AUS 747 and you'll see what I mean. To the north, an hours drive will have you casting from the world's greatest land based game fishing platform; Garths Rock, etc. Even a half-day's drive will see you in Coral Bay, yet another brilliant fishing spot. However, for me going that far would defeat the purpose. To the south you have the great catchment area of Shark Bay. To the South West, Dirk Hartog Island and due West, Bernier and Dorre Islands.
Not surprisingly Carnarvon supports three very different and diverse commercial fisheries. The main one is prawning with quite a number of boats working this prolific area. The wet line fishing is just as well established and has been in existence for quite a number of years. Then there's the crab fishing with mainly blue manna with mud crabbing making up only a small percentage.
To service all of this activity the new small boat harbour has been a Godsend to the recreational fishermen with the protected launching ramp. Also, radio coverage and other assorted facilities have sprung up around the perimeter to further make it a great destination for the trailer boat fisho. Carnarvon really is central to this great piscatorial catchment. With the Leeuwin Current running, the resident stocks of northern species are replenished each year, making the fishing a real pleasure bowl of goodies. Although this trip had to be up there with the best, the number of different fish species was down during our stay. Mackerel were noticeably absent, however they were to turn up in good numbers later in the month after we left.
Having left Perth in cold blustery winter conditions it wasn't until we had cleared the 26th parallel that the warmer air and sunshine kicked in. About an hour out of Geraldton we started to peel off the heavy winter woollies. Towing the boat is a 12-hour trip and arriving in Carnarvon at 6pm we were instantly struck by the number of people going about their business in Tee shirts and shorts. You just have to love these warmer climes!
We chose out of town accommodation at Pelican Point, which is actually just across the river, but seven kilometres by road from town. With four boats and eleven crewmembers it soon become obvious that parking might cause some concerns. However, this was quickly sorted and we were soon spending the evening being briefed by some of our group members who had arrived the day before and had enjoyed their first days fishing.
The Lady Joyce wreck was holding plenty of small snapper just undersize with only one or two legal. However, the mulloway had shown up and several had been brought in for the evening BBQ. Later during the week the Lady Joyce was to turn on the action we had experience four years earlier. However, on day two the snapper upped the anti with the average size jumping to the four to six kilo range consistently for each boat. Add in the unpredictable mulloway blowing away the light line purists and it was beginning to be quite a day.
One species worth mentioning are the Cobia. Although not as numerous as previously, their size certainly made up for the lack of numbers. One fish hooked and eventually brought boat side by my deckie, farmer Bill was estimated by all concerned to be about 40 kilos.
One That Got Away:
I say brought boat side only because yours truly muffed the gaff shot, cut the line and the big fish swam away, probably wondering what the fuss had been about. For me, it was fortunate that farmer Bill was completely knackered or I may have been over the side in pursuit. On ten-kilo line it had been quite a spectacle and farmer Bill acquitted himself very well. I say "farmer Bill" as my other deckie was also named Bill, so we needed to differentiate one from the other so we all knew who was being addressed.
City Bill was to cover himself in glory with his experience coming to the fore catching big mulloway. Although he was using 6-kilo line he managed to boat all his mulloway hooked in shallow water of less than ten metres. It was great fun clearing the deck as Bill was taken from side to side. Late surges when the big fish came close to the boat would have Bill wishing for heavier line, or more physical strength.
There is no doubt fresh mulloway on the BBQ with a cold beer can be a fitting end to a days fishing. All the aches and pain pass merrily on their way as the amber liquid flow and so does the conversation. This is a time when new ideas are floated, different rigs recommended and the value of line strengths discussed in earnest. Certainly line strength is the subject that claims the most discussion on these evening sessions. Not unusual either as we all turned out to be members of ANSA.
The only time line heavier than eight kilo was put to use was the day Polly One and ourselves made our way to Kocs Island at the most northern tip of Bernier Island. This had been on our agenda previously but not achieved. However, this day it happened. The thirty odd sea miles was a little bumpy with a ten knots of north-easter keeping our two boats on a zigzag course. However, the trip home was on glassy seas. Fishing the northern end returned only one fish of consequence, a nice bald chin groper of about 4 kilos. Moving around to the west of the island we found ourselves amongst several local pro boats that all seemed to be trolling for mackerel.
Our time here was spent bottom bouncing, looking for red emperor. However several Charlie Courts and the odd black snapper made up our catch. City Bill had put a floater out on 6 kilo and this was destroyed minutes after hooking some unseen predator. All other floaters remained untouched for the duration of the days fishing. Poly One with her crew of three opted to fish the snapper grounds to the North West some two-mile from the north tip of Berrier. The likely lads managed four pink snapper of reasonable size around the four-kilo mark.
Not much else came along to ruffle the days outing. It was only after we returned and mentioned the situation to motel staff that they told us of the Red emperor grounds a further four miles from Kocs Island. Sadly their news came too late to act on; perhaps we'll check it on our next visit? However, isn't it always the case with fishing - the information you want always comes too late? Seems to happen no matter where, or when you fish.
Hot Fishing Session:
Returning to the Lady Joyce wreck on our last day did turn on the fishing as expected. Large pink snapper bigger cobia, even larger mulloway came aboard during this trip. In fact, it seem the fish were hell bent on being taken and it didn't require much finesse to catch for a feed. Tossing out floaters returned the best fish and consistently out-fished those who were bottom bouncing. Keeping in mind all four boats were within shouting distance from each other, it was easy to see what the competition was landing.
Having four crews so close also had the commentary running hot. And heaven forbid if you dropped a fish, or worse didn't connect with one because you soon copped a ribbing from the others who were busy de-hooking, or re-rigging. With all this fishing action it certainly didn't take long for the day to end. After all, only so many fish can be eaten and these fishos were not in the habit of fishing for the freezer.
Creeks Show Promise:
One aspect of Carnarvon fishing that I will explore with more vigor next time is the shallow water flats and creek system, just outside the small boat harbor. With sticks marking the channels it would be too difficult maneuvering the boat through this waterway. Clearly defined by the darker color we managed to pull some small pike, tailor and estuary cods from these waters. And this was on a falling tide, next time I'll make sure it is on a rising tide.
Although we fished in and around the Great Jetty our efforts from the broken ground only produced some small (real baby) snapper and occasionally very small black snapper. I might mention fishing from the jetty also has its devotees. Some people had travelling solely for the chance to fish for the famed mulloway and XXOS tailor. Again, this is something to do on those days when the weather is on the nose. Carnarvon is well worth a stay over. So if you find yourself in the happy position of being able to get up this part of the world, you won't be disappointed.