Our intrepid South Aussie correspondent, Steve Hunt, tangles with mighty sampson, bluefin tuna and even a shark when he revisits the remote Wedge Island.
Several years ago in the hallowed pages of TBF magazine I wrote about the wonders of a magical place called Wedge Island. After first setting foot on this fisherman’s paradise as a keen 17 year old I have had a long running love affair with this place ever since. And my latest sortie to the island in May 2010 reinforced just how good this place really is.
Wedge Island is situated in the lower Spencer Gulf, midway between Marion Bay on Yorke Peninsula and Port Lincoln on Eyre Peninsula. It is a very long run through open ocean waters to get there and that’s the very reason that the fishing out here is still so good. It is this isolation that ensures once you are here you will enjoy untouched waters, alone.
Couple the above attraction Wedge also has some amazing bottom topography that also enhances the fishing opportunities. These deep blue, offshore waters feature a plethora of shoals and reef systems that are a magnet to pelagics and reef species alike. For that reason Wedge Island really does have it all and deserves the wonderland tag.
Herbie Glacken of SA Fishing Adventures (0407 619 197) has opened up a whole new world down here. Operating out of Marion Bay he takes small groups of fishing enthusiasts out to the island onboard his boat Apache for extended fishing charters. But the best thing is you don’t sleep on the boat but within a magnificent holiday home on the island’s protected northern coastline.
This is the ideal sportfishing holiday being based on Wedge Island because you are only minutes away from the action. Just take the amazing fishing we experienced on our second day on Wedge for example. After a hearty bacon and egg breakfast we assembled on the beach and waited for the rubber ducky to ferry us out to Apache.
After slipping the mooring line dozens of dolphins playfully swam and dived in our wake as Herbie put the hammers down and blasted along the spectacular western end of Wedge Island.
As we approached the awesome southern side it was clear where Wedge got its namesake as sheer 200 metre high cliffs taper away to a calm sandy beach on the northern side.
THE STRENGTH OF SAMPSON
Herbie said he was taking us to one of his favourite samson fish haunts and I couldn’t believe it when Apache came to a halt just two nautical miles to the southwest of Wedge Island. “Samson’s, shitloads of Samson’s!” was the call from an excited Herbie in the wheelhouse. Yours truly needed no extra encouragement to release my first bait of the day into the 70 metres of water.
We had timed it perfectly no tidal movement and little wind, which meant that our bait would stay on the bottom where they needed to be. Although I have caught big samson’s before it had been a long time between drinks but that bite of the samson was unmistakeable. For such a big fish they have a very timid bite, just a couple of small taps followed by a slow pull and then a third tap.
That’s when I hit it with all I had and that’s when the fun started! Instantly my Saltiga rod loaded up as the Saltiga Extreme 6500 screamed into life as 50 pound braid sizzled out to sea. These fish are one of the true powerhouses of the sea and can be dirty fighters too; They often bulldoze you into a reef system. It’s therefore imperative to get the sampson away from the bottom fairly quickly.
Once you have the fish in mid-water the job is half done and any ensuing runs will now be without the perils of the razor sharp reefs below. Just as I was starting to feel confident about the situation two more rods on board buckled forward as two more samson put their heads down and blasted off in separate directions on the other side of the boat.
Now one charging Samson is bad enough but when three are hooked together it can lead to absolute mayhem on board. At one stage the two other fish came together tangling both lots of braid together. However, after some frantic rod juggling both fish were free swimming in open water again and order was soon restored aboard “Apache.”
After some back breaking work trying to gain that last 20 metres of line I lead my prize to the waiting landing net. I was absolutely stoked; 30 kilos of ball tearing Samson fish lay before me and I jubilantly held it up for the camera with adrenalin still coursing through my veins.
The other two fish of 22 and 24 kilos were soon on board as well and after the photo shoot all were released back into the briny.
But I wasn’t finished just yet! I had a brand new Daiwa outfit I wanted to try on these brutes, a Saltiga 63s rod coupled to a Saltiga 4500 Extreme Maverick reel. I also opted for a green and gold River2Sea knife jig rather than bait. Although jigging can be taxing it can also be one of the most exciting ways of targeting these denizens of the deep.
As Herbie repositioned the boat for the next drift I locked myself into the gunwales of “Apache” salivating at the thought of the impending action. The sounder screen showed a huge school of big fish lurking below with sinister intent. Three anglers on the starboard side of the boat hooked up immediately on rampaging samson’s and it was every man for himself!
I was still yo-yoing the knife jig up and down when a lit up samson chased it down and smashed the metal jig. Alongside me another big samson decide to join the party resulting in five out of control torpedoes dragging five animated fishermen all around the deck. This situation could only end in tears! Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the two fish created a tangle and won their freedom amidst a volley of expletives.
But at least now the rest of us had more room to play with and we all managed to steer the fish away from trouble for the remainder of the fight.
My second fish for the morning was another ripper at 28 kilos and I was ecstatic at landing the fish on the much lighter 63s Saltiga rod. Two fish of a similar size soon followed and again all were released.
I put my rod away and opted for the camera instead to record some images of the mayhem on the next drift. A double hook up resulted in another two Samson’s putting the hurt on the anglers and one was a big fat 30 kilo fish. After the sixth drift for the morning we had hooked 14 Samson’s with 11 landed and all were between 22 and 30 kilos! How can you top that!
TIME FOR A TUNA
But it was still only 9.30am in the morning and our second target for the day awaited, southern bluefin tuna. The waters here are alive with these speedsters from February through to late May with most of the larger specimens coming through earlier in the season. We set course for North Neptune Island where Herbie had been doing very well of late.
It didn’t take long to find them as working gulls, terns and gannets flagged the position of the first feeding school of bluefin for the day. Skirted lures were released and it soon became clear that the tuna were only interested in green and gold lures today. Every other colour was duly ignored as they swam passed these to crunch the green and gold skirts.
We had a ball with double hookups once we got the colours sorted out and they were all pretty good fish too ranging from 12 to 15 kilos. I never tire of catching these ballistic missiles of the Southern Ocean and that first run is always a real screamer. We pulled the pin after catching 12 bluefin in less than two hours and released six of these to fight another day.
We had ticked our second box for the day but were in no mood to give in just yet as Herbie set a heading for his favourite Nannygai reef to the south of the Neptune Islands. It was a big pinnacle that rose out of 80 metres of water and flattened out at 60 metres. And the best thing was the sounder showed it was absolutely loaded with fish.
My first drop with the 63s resulted in a lovely double header of a 3 kilo nannygai and a 2.5 kilo snapper. This set the scene for the next couple of hours as nice sized nannies, swallowtail and snapper came over the side with monotonous regularity. As well as these awesome eating species a couple of hard fighting blue morwong came aboard also.
My Saltiga 4500 screamed again with something that was obviously a bit larger snaffling the bait from the waiting throng down below. After my initial thoughts of another Samson or perhaps a school shark on the other end, Herbie called it correctly. It was a nice blue groper that materialised alongside the boat and after the obligatory photo session it was released to fight another day.
After ticking the third box for the day achieving our boat limit of 30 nannygai we found it very difficult to ignore the tuna that were leaping all around the boat. With seven of us on board we broke out the “Aussie” coloured skirts again and trolled through the mayhem of birds, baitfish and leaping tuna until we had caught and released another tuna each.
As we blasted our way back to Wedge over a very comfortable two metre swell we were all amazed at just how many schools of tuna were working here. This has to be one of the premier locations in the country to tangle with these blue nomads of the deep Southern Ocean. As we neared the island the tuna were replaced by leaping schools of dolphins and barracouta scattering baitfish in all directions.
DONE SHARK ALLEY
We anchored offshore from nearby North Island so the boys could fill in the rest of the day catching the big whiting and squid that this area is famous for. But I had other ideas, this area has been called Shark Alley and I was keen to test this theory as the sun dipped slowly in the western sky. I loaded the 10/0 Gamakatsu on a wire trace with a big chunk of tuna meat.
With all the berley from the gutted fish flying overboard it didn’t take long at all to raise some interest. Again the sweet sound of a screaming Saltiga filled the late afternoon air as something big grabbed the tasty morsel and scorched off into the setting sun. It was a very lively fight indeed with several screaming runs before a brilliant eating Whiskery shark close to 5 feet long was gaffed.
What an amazing day we had just had, 14 Samson hookups, 18 Bluefin tuna, 30 Nannygai, 12 swallowtail, 12 snapper plus groper, blue morwong and a whiskery shark. But that is the way Wedge Island is, everything you try just works beautifully. It was one very tired but very happy crew that celebrated an amazing day with some fine food, some fine wine and more than a few beers.
There were smiles all around at the dinner table that night, which was hardly surprising; you see we would do it all again tomorrow!