The 122 islands that form the Houtman Abrolhos group are surrounded by the southern most true coral reef in the Indian Ocean. They are a fishing paradise whose fishing potential has rarely been explored by Kayak fisherman given their location 85 KM off Geraldton on Western Australia’s Batavia Coast and no access to the islands for the public.
The Islands are the setting for one of Australia’s most notorious ship wrecks , that of the Dutch East Indies ship Batavia in June 1629 which struck Morning reef with 322 men woman and children aboard .Forty drowned before finding sanctuary although no water or shelter on a nearby island .What followed was an epic small open boat journey to modern day Jakarta. A mutiny and massacre amongst those left behind that claimed about 100 lives and eventual rescue voyage and Hanging of the guilty.
For the full amazing and bloody story https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batavia_(ship)#Shipwreck.
Enough history lets go fishing!
Geraldton crew have been raving about the kayak fishing potential of the Abrolhos Islands for a number of years and managed to organise a trip a couple of years ago but the weather gods did not play ball at all with huge swells and poor weather in general .
A couple of months ago I saw that there was another trip being organised and mentioned it in passing to my fishing widow who much to my surprise said go for it !
After joining the face book group for the trip I found out that the trip was actually a Certificate 2 course in Fishing Operations being offered through Central Regional Tafe in Geraldton and we would be using their very well setup 20m vessel called Master Class and have two marine biologists and a skipper and volunteer helper joining us for the trip and we would complete a number of units covering a range of topics including trip preparation, safety, Fish handling /filleting etc .
Cuda Kev and myself teamed up again for the trip and after meeting up Thursday morning at Kevs place in Perths southern suburbs throwing his gear in and hooking up his Adventure Island trailer we made the easy 450 KM drive to Geraldton .
We ended up with 4 Hobie Adventure Islands ,three Hobie Revolution 13s , a Hobie Outback and my Pro angler 12 which took some loading .
Cuda Kev and Jamie S loading their Adventure islands at Fishermans Wharf in Geraldton .
After loading and a last minute trip into town to attend a tackle store closing down sale most of the guys opted to stay on the Master Class overnight as Almeister with whom we had planned to stay was suffering from chronic Gastro ….
The following morning we set off about 8.30am for the 85km crossing to Rat Island which would be our base for the trip .We get into the Rat island Anchorage about 11.30 am and start to unload as quick as possible onto the wharf .
Amazingly fishy area even right at the wharf .The dark blue water in foreground is approx 30m deep dropping off from the coral out front that only has less than 2 m over it .The pale blue is coral rubble in about 4 m .Water clarity was insanely good .
A number of the Islands in the Abrolhos group have these Rock Lobster Fisherman’s shacks on them .The only way to stay on the islands is as a guest of the fisherman or one of the local business tycoons who also have bought shacks . Every one else must stay on a boat.
After unloading on yaks on the Jetty we launch to carry out our safety drill requirements for the trip which included re entering your Kayak from completely inverted in deep water . I quickly throw my Pro angler in and as I have done this a number times in the past did not expect any dramas except I forget I am wearing the PFD from the boat not my normal Hobie one ….I step off the side of the PA into 4m of crystal clear water along side the wharf and POP !!! ah for F@#@ sake the bloody PFD is an auto inflator … the man overboard alarm is going off in the cabin and the yakkers on the wharf are offering a great deal of helpful advise … the inflated PFD really was a major pain in the arse but eventually I get my act together and get her the right way up . Not happy with my performance I decide to get rid of the PFD and do it properly this time and roll the PA again except this time my center hatch comes unlatched and all my bits stored in it fall to the bottom and I spend the next 15 minutes skin diving retrieving it all except for a pair of prescription glasses .
Whilst I have been diving the Adventure Island Crew have popped just of the anchorage to get enough water depth for their masts to be inverted . A few of the guys have not actually done a full capsize recovery so its a great learning opportunity especially with a tender nearby and experienced AI drivers to instruct .Jamie S manages to clock him self in the head when the rope he was using to help right his yak snapped and he also consigned his dagger board to the depths…
Todd (Bakersfield04) heads out to start fishing
As we finish rigging our yaks with our fishing gear we head out to work our way along the island out to the west where a number of the guys have hook ups on Spanish Macks and other fish but nothing legal landed . After an hour or so we meet up with Master Class anchored off a sandy cay for a lunch of hamburgers , Potato and green salad and icy cold drinks whilst stretching our legs in the shade with a flushing toilet . Now that’s Kayak fishing luxury !
After lunch The AI crew explore further out to sea trolling skirted lures and minnows looking for Pelagics .
Paul in his outback and my self in my PA12 are the only two not using sails and out riggers on this trip and we set off together chasing working birds towards the north near a long line of coral bombies .
Paul soon calls me on his radio that he is sitting on a big bait ball with fish busting up . By the time I catch up he has landed a Dhu fish which is usually a prize capture but the Demersal Ban still had a week to run so its out of season and must be immediately released using a demersal release weight .
PIC courtesy of Paul Bowen. Pauls WA Dhu fish about to go on a release weight and be returned to the bottom mucho pronto courtesy of about .5 kg of lead .
Pic Courtesy Paul Bowen Another stonking Abrolhos snapper takes a Mackerel trolling rig.
I pick up my rod with a Storm So-Run Sinking stick bait and bomb a cast into the baitfish boiling on the surface but its immediately grabbed by a boasting size Pink Snapper …. bugger I don’t want you go away … I quickly get him on a release weight and back down to the bottom in 30m where a sharp tug on the cord attached to the weight pops it out of his jaw and away the fish swims swim bladder now correct size again .
I do another lap and can see beautiful iridescent Pink blue fish swimming up to check me out. Even more boasting size snapper !!! I really need to target Tuna , Spaniards , Samsons or Kingfish so I head off chasing more birds on what definitely looks like tuna on the surface . I miss a couple of hits on a trolled Halco Lazer Pro and as the afternoon is now getting on and the wind has picked up I decide to troll back towards the wharf where we will spend the night .
Its hard work pushing up into a stiff wind and moderate chop heading back and about half way across the open water the Salti rigged sanmar goes off . After a couple of minutes of fighting a decent fish it suddenly gets really strong and I almost lose the rod and then its not fighting anymore … reeling it in I found half of a most likely mid 70’s pink snapper .Bloody sharks ..don’t they know snapper are out of season …
My stress level is pretty high at this stage as my shark shield battery died only two days before the trip and the front of the yaks pretty bloody . I toss the head , rinse out the cockpit and keep heading for camp
Another twenty minutes of hard peddling and again the Salti rigged sanmar goes off .I pick the rod out of the holder and sure enough there is classic snapper head shakes .I don’t mess around and soon have another decent snapper on the surface .I put him on the release weight and send him down but he falls off after a metre or two and is back on the surface . I start peddling hard to scoop him up with my net when suddenly there is half the normal effort on the Mirage Drive . Shit!!! done a mast … after whipping the fin off I manage to get the fish back on the weight and back down on the bottom . I can see Master Class on the horizon and can hear it on my VHF but I know a number of the guys are well out sea from it and may need towing back to meet our sunset curfew so I decide to keep slogging along on one fin back to the wharf .I meet up with it about a KM with from the wharf and get a ride in as the wind is really stiff now and I am rooted . Trent got a nice Longtail tuna and a few guys also dropped Mackkies .
Day one ends with a lovely feed of Crayfish caught by the crew whilst we are fishing .
Day two .
Saturday morning we are all up early re rigging and getting the yaks back on board for a short cruise out to a reef system on the far side of Rat island .
Chasing Master Class in the tender as it carries us out to our first spot for the day
Master Class anchors up near a line of reef with waves breaking over it from the couple of metres of swell and I am first off as my Pro Angler was being carried on the transom .
I decide to head off straight away as I am the slowest yak and taking it easy as my spare drive is pretty tired .We need skirt around the edge of the reef out to sea heading for an area which is a long channel 20m deep whilst avoiding areas that are too shallow as waves can break unexpectedly .Unfortunately my GPS on my sounder has been intermittent for some time and I have no mapping so I am going off mk1 eyeball and from memory after looking at Masterclass’s plotter . After heading out along the reef for a KM or so I turn into where I hope the deep water is but end up crossing a long shallow stretch that has waves that are not far off breaking coming through which is a little hairy in a PA12 but I get through OK even picking up a Spangled Emperor on a Mackie rig which is also a dermersal so it went back .
I had been hoping to follow the AI gang out but had not allowed for long it takes them to get going … worse than the missus …
Eventually Jamie and Kev whiz past towing all sorts of teasers and lures and the fun begins as there is working birds scattered all over the place and all sorts of stuff to go “ohh and Ahh ” at on the sounder .
Jamie “why did I not get one of these years ago ” S working it in 20 m of amazing cobolt clear water .
I get a decent strike on a hard body trolling lure and whilst I slow down to deal with it the Salti rigged Sanmar gets a bit lower in the water column and off it goes … I have dropped the fish on the HB so pick up the other rod and soon have another big snapper on the surface bugger… its a pain as each one of these costs me a rig, a bait and the time to deploy and recover the release weight.
Pic courtesy Paul Bowen. Paul finally lands our first Pelagic for the day a nice Spanish Mackerel.
The Boat calls to say it will bring lunch out to where we are outside the reef which suits me as I was going to need some navigational help to get back around the breaking waves that are quite hard to see from behind.
Paul then calls me to say he is sitting near another big bust up so I head his way. By the time I join him he is having a great scrap with 2 m of hammerhead shark which was going bonkers each he got it yakside until I asked if his shark shield was on…. With it now turned off he gets it along side and then it bolts towards me and shoots under my yak and thankfully I get the fins out of the way and soon he has the trace in hand which then breaks saving him having to unhook it. It swims lazily on the surface for a minute or so then moves off at which stage Paul spots a big tiger that had been watching the fun. Shark sheild back on!
With lunch calling we start to head back to the boat that has anchored at the furthest upwind yak an AI. The winds is now down right fresh now and the PA12 kicks my ass for the next 40 mins that it takes to grind upwind to It.
I am shagged by the time we get up to the boat so I decide along with most of the others to stay on board and go with the boat to a reef closer to Rat Island and have a go at snorkling for Rock Lobster.
Jamie S hunting for Lobster
Enormous silver drummer prowled the reef.
After a refreshing swim we decide to see if a we can grab some fresh squid from the local squid hole. I think this bloke beat us to them….
Paul stealthly swings past Dad on the beach to get a pic.
Colin Johnson (Wrassseman from the AKFF days IIRC )one of two Marine Biologists on the trip throwing lures into a deep channel between two islands.
After a quick down wind run I meet up with the boat at the wharf and stow my yak on the wharf for the night.
Paul fulfilling the fish filleting component of the course.
The fish scraps soon had 3 20 kg plus Samson fish swimming right up to the boarding platform. We had a highly entertaining 15 minutes feeding these protected pet fish that would come right up and try to eat your go pro right off its pole…
After another excellent dinner featuring fresh Lobster and Spanish Mackerel cutlets we settled in for the evening. Sunday morning dawned and as we needed to be on our way home by 11.30 we decided to forgo the kayak fishing and pack all our gear on the wharf and go in the Master Class to a reef where there was a better chance of the first timers to get a Lobster snorkelling. Once we anchored a direction was pointed out and I swam off. After 15 mins of not seeing much and finding myself alone I decide to head back to the boat and find that Paul and Todd have found an awesome little Bombie only 30 m off the boats bow. We spend the next twenty mins exploring it and see several Lobster but they are too deep for us rookies to stay long enough to grab them with loop or gloves.
Jamie S and myself learning about how to check for female Lobster in breeding condition, size them and clip tails to show they were amateur caught.
We go back to the wharf load the tender and all our gear and head for our final stop, another dive this time at the Anenome Patch dive trail.
All the guys are quickly in the water and we soon are surrounded by absolute horse Spangled Emporer, Baldchin Grouper, parrot fish and wrasse whilst floating over a large area of plate coral
The smiles say it all .A great way to end an excellent adventure!
All too soon we are back in Geraldton Port and unloading our gear onto our vehicles.
Well what a trip. It certainly took a toll on gear with 3 radios killed, two rods broken, one dagger board lost, one AI sail rubbed through against a wharf whilst furled leaving 4 holes in it, and one sounder replaced back in Perth on top of my broken mirage drive mast, lost pliers, prescription glasses and inflated PFD….
A special Thanks to Colin Johnson and the crew from Central Regional TAFE , Ben ,Tim and Al for running a fantastic course and trip. The crew donated their time on the weekend to put on the trip and we appreciate it very much.
Almeister for his efforts in getting it up and going and getting the word out to us all. (unfortunately Al had to be flown out Saturday morning as his gastro flared up again ) and thanks to Bakersfield, Cuda ,Cuda Kev, Jamie S, Kev ,Noel , Paul and Trent for being great company and sharing a bunch of knowledge.
Would love to return in Demersal season or when the water temp was a bit higher. The bottom fishing would have been unbelievably good judging by our bycatch and what we saw on our sounders.