A group of Sandgroppers head north from Perth for some hot-action fishing off Thevenard Island,in the Mackerel Island Group. Convoy organiser, Bob Slight tells the tale in words and pictures.
We bumped into each other in the pre dawn darkness of the car park offering and receiving names that we tried to store in the memory bank. As we were to spend nine days in each other's company on Thevenard island it was important that we got to know each other if this, the first "Mackerel Islands" convoy, was to be a success.
Soon all ten of the trailerboats that were leaving from Perth had made their way to the departure point in the northern most part of the suburbs. The craft ranged from 5 to 7.1 metres and were towed by a variety of vehicles from the latest four wheel drives to cars which were pampered and serviced ready for the trip. Three more were to meet us en route from the country and Shark Bay. Our first night's destination was Carnarvon around a thousand clicks up the road.
On the Road:
As the first rays of sun lit up the road ahead we were underway, settling in for the long haul north, the overnight stay, and half a day away. Onslow... our launching point and from there only 40 minutes to Thevenard Island, our destination for a week of superb fishing. The Mackerel Islands as they're called have a reputation for being the hunting grounds of big baitchasers like golden and giant trevally, mackerel and tuna. Bottom bouncers were rigged for red and spangled emperor, coral trout and large cod. Thirty six anglers had joined us for the trip, mostly boys on the loose and a goodly number of husband and wife teams. Hopefully no one was to be disappointed.
Garry Shugg a local tackle shop proprietor and top fisherman was hosting that part of the week, whilst I was brought along to look after any boating of handling problems. We drove into the sea port town of Geraldton stopping only for fuel and a cup of coffee to wash away the first four hundred kilometres. Geraldton is, amongst other things, a very important commercial fishing centre with the nearby Abrolhos Islands, scene of one of early Australia's most horrific shipwrecks and massacres by the crew of the ill fated Batavia.
Sleepy little hamlets such as Northampton went past in a blur. Truly one of the prettier country towns Northampton lies quite near the coast, but sits placidly amidst some beautiful farming country. This looks like a place you'd want to stop and look around, but we don't have time and so press on. Now the towns and fuel stops were greater distances apart giving us a taste of the hours we would travel between fuelling and refreshment breaks. The land turned to the low scrubby saltbush which would dominate the scenery for most of the rest of the first day's driving.
The flat scrub country finally succumbed to the red hills and dirt of the true North West. The rotting carcasses of kangaroos, emus, goats and cattle which have been hit by vehicles line the road verge whilst the ravens and wedge tailed eagles feasted on their misfortune. It is actually good to see large numbers of the great eagles, once shot indiscriminately as lamb killers, lazily climb into the sky as your car approached. Their massive wings spread out to easily lift them into the blue only to drop back unperturbed to their meal as you passed by.
We drive past the turn off that would take us to Shark Bay, home of some of the best snapper fishing available anywhere. Nearby is Monkey Mia, famous for its dolphin visitors. We are now 900 kms from Perth as we arrive at the town of Carnarvon sitting beside the Bascoyne River. It is a welcome sight as you enter the streets bedecked with multi coloured bougainvilleas streaming over fences and banana trees neatly arrayed along the fence line. Carnarvon was first discovered by Europeans in 1839 but not settled until 1876 when Aubrey Brown and John Monger drover 4000 sheep up from the historic townsite of York, 100 kms east of Perth. Quite a feat when you consider the vastness of the land and its inhospitable nature to those walking.
The first day's journey was over. Tomorrow we would be at the Mackerels, but tonight a meal and a drink before bed at the motel. That night was a riotous affair with people retiring early, exhausted from the first days driving and preparing for the five o'clock breakfast and early departure. A guard stood watch on the boats overnight in the motel car park whilst one car owner organised for a transmission to be repaired which had erupted in clouds of smoke. Fortunately one of the boat crews had driven up in a second car not towing a boat and offered to take his boat to Onslow.
Next day the stops were few because there were few stops to make. Fuelling intervals now stretched to over 300 kms and some of us ran out just 15 kms short of the Nanutarra road-house our last stop before the 1400 km distance to Onslow, our stepping off spot to the Mackerel Islands, would be behind us. The red earth plains, punctuated by thousands of termite mounds took over from the blue green saltbush. The road was so straight you could almost lock the wheel in place and sleep between the curves which lead into the Pilbara country.
Onslow is a small but very industrialized town as it is the nearest support centre for many of the offshore rigs. Busy or not that does not stop the local hardware store from closing its doors whilst the owner has lunch. We launched into the river abandoning the vehicles and trailers to be taken back to the storage compound by the Mackerel Islands people. Not having been to the islands before I was told to leave the river and head out on 330 degrees and look for the three oil storage tents which stand out on the low islands profile.
As we approached Thevenard the boats were guided by radio into the moorings behind a reef with a turning buoy marking a huge and hungry bombie named "beastie". Beasties favourite meal is a smorgasbord of props and skegs on which it has satiated its hunger over the many years the resort has been operating. The boats are brought on to the beach and we unload the bags and non-fishing equipment including enpugh cans to stock a good sized pub onto the back of Bernie Taylor's four wheel drive tray top. From there we were taken to the cabins which were to be our home for the next seven nights.
A quick chat with the Mackerel Islands hosts and we were back to the cabins to continue sorting out what we needed in the way of food provided by the delightful Dot Taylor for the evening meal. A very hot shower and a comfortable bed washed away the days travelling whilst some of us went to the jetty to jig squid for the next day's fishing.
Tuesday started windy kicking up a sea far too sloppy to contemplate going out. Disappointed faces looking for a break which would allow us out were very much in evidence. Garry suggested we try some poppers along the shore so three of us trailed down to the coarse sand beach and cast out into the warm waters of Thevenard. One small giant trevally came ashore and was returned to fight another day. By 11 am the weather changed quickly with a lowering of wind and sea conditions. We raced back just in time following out behind one of the local boats which showed us the way to some good ground.
We headed north with the sea abating further and finally becoming quite comfortable to travel and fish. We passed huge schools of predatory pelagics chopping up the water accompanied by the ever present sea birds wheeling overhead. This much action so soon proved too much for many of the boats who broke away from the convoy, lures streaking through the boiling water. The razor gangs were out in force with tuna, golden trevally, barracuda, dog, Spanish, and shark mackerel soon gaffed in over the side.
Eight miles north and the search for good ground had transducers pinning messages back to the screen. It was almost impossible to find bad ground, though a few managed. Back far too late on the first day, mainly due to our reticence in leaving this amazingly good fishing spot until the very last moment. The sun was nearly down as we picked up the moorings and waded back to shore. A nearby relative of "beastie" claimed its first meal when one of the group swung in too near. Regardless of the late hour, it took a lot of effort not to feel the excitement of going out for fish and coming back home with species never before taken by many of these mostly southern fishos. The board was chalked up with those species which we had targeted as being worthy of a prize.
One of the main problems with being on an island living with four or five others you hardly know is that you could end up in a house of horrors. Fortunately our cabin was blessed by the presence of Bill Lekias who is a natural fish chef. There was little question about who controlled all our gastronomic requirements. About the only thing that could get Bill stirred up was the presence of a bottle of tomato sauce on the table. Squid was cooked so many ways that you never became bored of it and the fresh fish dissolved in your mouth, tantalising every taste bud you owned.
Bill had another advantage of knowing a fair bit about every subject you raised and would argue knowledgably on anything. It was a bit like living with a computer just push the right button and all you needed to know delivered in such a way as you never tired of hearing it.
Wednesday mirrored Tuesday's morning, but this time the weather did not abate sufficiently until around 1 pm and the direction we headed was southwest, this time to a placed called the supermarket. Wednesday never really came calm all day, but even so we still managed to achieve some great fish from trolling and bottom bouncing.
Thursday and Friday turned glassy smooth with the group having a good idea where to go now head out by themselves retracing their steps to known ground, or exploring new country. So rolled the rest of the week with most boats bringing in fish each afternoon to what became a very social gathering around the fish cleaning tables on the beach. Problems were small for so large a group of boats. We had a few bent props and in one case leaking bungs filling up the underhull of one boat which had to be dragged up the beach by a front end loader for an hour and a half draining.
One of the group misread the minimum length of fish and threw back heaps of beautiful spangles until on the final day he topped the cobia catch with a beauty. But as each new day came the problems dissolved until finally the dreaded Sunday night arrived. Everyone took home fish, not great swags but a respectable reminder of one of the best week's fishing most will have enjoyed if not ever, at least in a long time.
This is definitely a place worth visiting if you are ever over on the west coast. The Mackerel islands provides dinghies to those that either don't own, or choose to leave their craft behind. Take my advice take your boat, take your gear and camera and visit a place where you don't ever want to leave. There is no need to stay out late as we did, on Thevenard it appears the fish are always there tomorrow. I only wish I was.