Dirk Hartog Island in Western Australia’s World Heritage listed Shark Bay is a seriously remote part of the world . 900 km by road north of Perth and requiring a capable 4WD drive vehicle and trailers to travel the last 200km on rough corrugated tracks it’s an adventure just to get to the island . The fishing on the island is world class and receives very little pressure compared to the nearby land based game mecca Steep Point to the south. Join us for a Kayak fishing ,off road and wildlife adventure all in one.
Well what an amazing and varied trip this would turn out to be.
It all started for me back in September 2014 when Joe Franco invited me to join a group of 7 keen Kayak anglers to explore the kayak fishing opportunities on Dirk Hartog Island .
Joe had done 3 trips to Dirk Hartog previously fishing land based on the western side where there are extensive cliffs very similar to the famous Steep point LBG mecca just to south on the main land. This time we were going to take kayaks and explore the fishing on the North eastern corner of the island where we would be based at Dampier’s landing on Sammy’s beach.
A little background on Dirk Hartog from the Department of Parks and Wild life Brochure and Wikipedia.
Dirk Hartog Island is Western Australia’s largest Island at approx 80 kms long and 63000 hectares . The western side consists of long sections of tall cliffs with a couple of lower ledge sections and beaches and the eastern side has a number of rocky headlands and long sandy beaches .The centre of the island is dominated by a number of large dune systems .
For a remote Island it packs a fair bit of history with it being the first recorded European landing point in Western Australia (and second in Australia. ) when Dirk Hartog came ashore in 1616 .Dirk Hartog and the crew from his Dutch East India Company Ship Eendracht explored the island for three days and left a flattened pewter plate nailed to a wooden post jammed into a crevice close to the site of the present day Cape Inscription light house .
The inscription on the plate read
“1616 On 25 October arrived the ship Eendracht, of Amsterdam: Supercargo Gilles Miebais of Liege, skipper Dirch Hatichs of Amsterdam. on 27 d[itt]o. she set sail again for Bantam. Deputy supercargo Jan Stins, upper steersman Pieter Doores of Bil. In the year 1616.”
The plate was found by Willem de Valmingh in 1697 and after being copied onto another pewter plate along with Vlamingh’s inscription detailing his ship .The original was taken back to Holland where it still exists in a Museum and the Vlamingh plate was returned to Australia in the late 1940’s from France and is held at the Maritime museum in Fremantle .
William Dampier made the first scientific collection of plants from Australia on the island in 1699.
More recently Dirk Hartog was a pastoral lease with 20,000 sheep and goats which severely damaged the islands vegetation .The island has now been destocked and there was a feral goat eradication program under way during our visit although the biggest thing we saw with four legs all week was a hand full of small lizards .
The Island has been a national park since 2009 and is being prepared for restocking with a number of small mammal species.
Trip preparation was intensive .We started a private facebook group and had a meeting several weeks out to iron out who was bringing and doing what.
Absolutely nothing is available on the island to those camping there so we had to bring enough camping gear, Fridge /freezers, gen sets and solar panels as well as food and water (and who are we kidding..booze) for seven guys for 8 days . All this and 6 Hobie Pro Anglers and a Hobie Adventure Island and enough fishing tackle to stock a couple of fishing tackle shops had to crammed into 3 4wd’s and two trailers to make the 920km trip from Perth to Shelter Bay to board the barge for the short crossing to the island .The original barge was replaced with a new one this year capable of taking vehicle and trailer combinations of up to 12M length.
The track into Shelter Bay from where the salt mine and station access roads end and also the roads on the Island can be very rough ,severely corrugated and there a number of steep sand dunes to cross so a capable 4wd with extra fuel capacity is required ( 200 odd KM on dirt roads to Steep from the Over lander Road house and another 80 km to top of Dirk and return plus extra for exploring) and trailers must be up to scratch and not overloaded (we will come back to this later…)
Finally after a day of loading vehicles and trailers we set of from Perth at 3.00 am on a cold June Thursday morning .First stop Geraldton for breakfast and fuel at the 440 roadhouse and then pushing on to the final fuel and lunch stop at the Overlander .late afternoon saw us pulling into beautiful Shelter Bay with our first view of Steep Point and the island .
Arriving in Shelter bay with Dirk Hartog Island top right.
After checking in with the Ranger we threw down some swags on the beach at the barge loading point and ate our dinner we had bought at the overlander with a few refreshing brews.
Up at first light the next morning we quickly packed up and got ready for the barge .
John had the longest combination and used every MM of the barges 12 M capacity and had a few dramas backing off which resulted in the barge backing out from under him and having to drive through the water for a short distance to turn up the beach .
Huddo’s cruiser leaving the landing to start the trek to our camp.
The road from the landing point would take us up and across the centre of the lower part of the island before joining up with the eastern coastline .The track varied from steep sandy dunes to very rocky and large sections had severe teeth and gear rattling corrugations.
The eastern side of the island alternates between headlands ,sandy beaches and rocky fringing reefs .
About two thirds of the way up the island we get a call from Huddo and Dave to say they has a severe problem with the trailer.. they had stopped to take a picture and have a wee and looked back at the trailer and the axles come off the springs and skewed around .The decision is made to send the other two cars on to the camp site and unload and then send one back to get as much stuff as we can off the trailer. By the time Joe and I are back in radio range a couple of hours later Dave has pulled of a major feat of bush mechanicing and managed to attach the axle directly to the trailers frame with u bolts after pulling off the mud guards .Joe and I after stopping to admire their handy work continue back to where Huddo and Dave have lightened the trailer and bring back the water they had off loaded .
Back at camp we finishing setting up ,get the kayaks down to the water for the following morning and have dinner and just a couple of drinks
The following morning we are greeted by a stiff easterly blowing straight onto the beach causing very nasty choppy conditions so we have a leisurely breakfast and set up for rock fishing on the western side of the island .After checking out the fishing camps at Urchins and the Block where we could see guys ballooning baits out off the cliffs we keep driving down the western side when we see this magnificent Brolga (bush turkey) strutting up and down displaying.
The Aquarium is very aptly named with large numbers of bait fish and a large turtle visible in the clear water as we hurriedly set up .
We have only been there 20 mins or so and Dave has already lost a solid fish when Joe calls he can see a Spanish mackerel following in his large metal lure .Next cast Joe hooks up to a good size Mackie that gives him a good fight .
Joes the only guy with cliff gaff experience and he is on the rod so there are several nerve wracking attempts before John gets the cliff gaff to bite .
Nice fish Joe and what a great way to kick off the trip!
Within minutes I have a Mackie swooping in on my 5 inch Z-man paddle tail at my feet .Sadly he does not connect but its an absolute blast watching them attack. A few casts later my Z-man gets taken by something in full afterburner but the braid goes ping in seconds even though I am running a very conservative drag setting…bugger! retying with single strand wire leader I get another good take after 20 mins of casting and again the braid parts in seconds .Inspecting the end of the braid I cant see any sign its breaking at the FG knots I am using and I am starting to suspect its the braid on the reel as its a reel rarely use .
The rest of the morning is spent tossing a variety of lures at a number of large schools of fish busting up just past casting range .The guys pick up a few bottom fish but no more pelagics so we call it a day and head back to camp .We stop to check out the Cape Inscription light house on the way back and spot a path down to some very promising low rock edges over looking prime Baldchin territory which we note for later exploration .
The following morning its blowing hard again so once again we rig for rock fishing and decide to give the ledges in front of the light house a go .
I do a quick recce with out any gear to ensure there is a viable track down and then we load up and head down being very careful as the nearest rescue is several hours away .
We soon find an awesome flat rock with lots of reef and sand patches right in front .the swell is very low and water clarity excellent .Joe rigs up with octopus on a heavy hook and bean sinker and I am throwing a 5 inch Z-man glow white grub . Within a few minutes we are all catching Spanish flag and a variety of colourful pickers including this beauty that was released .
Whilst bringing in a small Spanish flag I spot a couple of shapes following it that look like baldies and I call Joe over and as I hold the fish in the water he drops his octopus bait right on the nose and its inhaled ! A short but brutal fight later Joes landed this ripper !
Shortly after I land two just legal baldies and Andy also gets a nice mid 50 cm specimen and Joe another decent Baldy whilst I am exploring further along watching two enormous bright orange and green Parrot fish ? in water over reef so shallow they have their backs out of the water at times .About midday we decide its time to head back and see if conditions have improved enough to put the yaks in .
Joe making the long climb out with the fish whilst Andy and I carry tackle and rods .
Back at camp conditions are much improved so we head out for a brief session to the reefs in 5 to 6 m of water straight out from camp catching every sort of small Emperor known to man at almost fish a cast . Leigh and John who did not go rock fishing in the morning had already launched and we can see them going back and forth up at the northern end of the beach but don’t think much of it at the time …Meanwhile its now late afternoon and Joe (yes that bastard again…lol) has hooked a very solid fish and is being towed up the beach towards where John and leigh are still going back and forth so I follow to get some pictures .Joe soon realises that the fish he hooked has been sharked but tries to land it anyway eventually losing it a couple of KM from the camp .
With the sun almost down we are both asking each other what those crazy bastards John and Leigh are up to as they still are a long way from camp and its getting dark when we notice them go straight to the beach at the northern tip . Bugger they must have a had gear failure we thought so on landing we send a 4wd drive up to bring them back and the story that unfolds is that they had found some good ground and landed some good fish but had been trapped in a strong current line for hours and could not make any progress back to camp and in the end exhausted had to go to the closest safe landing site whilst there was light .
The next morning its still blowing but its now swung a bit and its knocking the waves down so we hit the water as fast as we can .
Once again heading straight out from camp we push on out towards 7m line when Joe calls me over as he is sitting in a big school of Spanish Mackerel by the time I get to him he is hooked up big time!
After a good battle this monster is landed on a soft plastic with no wire…
By this stage I have Mackie fever big time ! With a red head Halco scorpion out the back I start trolling back and forth seeing big returns all around me on the side scan .After an hour or so of this torture the rod bucks in my hand and line is pouring off the real at a great rate . After a couple of solid runs it suddenly goes slack NOOOOOOO!!! winding backing I am faced with the heart breaking sight of failed leader to swivel knot .Argggh !!! Bloody rookie mistake .The rest of the morning passes with me trolling madly back and forth looking for another hook up that does not come . Back to the beach for a re think and late lunch .
That afternoon there is so much bait busting up right at the waters edge we decide to spend the late afternoon walking up the beach with light bream rods flicking small lures. That afternoon turns out to be one of the best light tackle sessions I have experienced . Small paddle tail soft plastics are hit almost instantly by good size dart and several types of trevally including plenty that are no match for 10lb braid .
Huddo getting worked over by another good fish as Dave offers encouragement…
As I am walking up the beach I see can a large floating band of weed only a few meters out with dozens of good size fish tailing in it so thinking it might trevally that like to eat crustaceans and bait that hide in the weed I flick a small gold atomic paddle tail in and its eating by a Silver Drummer (I think) which certainly fough like his close cousin the buff bream.
The Following morning we follow John and Leigh out to a area they have located in 11 to 12 metres of water to the north of camp and we soon are sitting over enormous numbers of various reef fish including cod ,coral trout, coronation trout ,pink snapper and once again its fish a cast although nothing boasting size . With the conditions being excellent John is keen to go out to the Levillian shoals which is a large area that’s jumps up to 3m deep from 12 and is only another Km from where we are so we reckon why not! We eventually cross a large barren area which suddenly jumps up to a large barren area 3 m deep…We work our way across it to the far side and other than a school of possibly tuna John spots in the distance its all quiet . We decide to turn back and I have covered 500m when the trolled Sanmar on a DDR rig (A type of snub nosed gar on the local name yakkers name for South African dead bait rig or feather duster rig) behind me is hit hard but the hooks don’t find a purchase . looking another few hundred meters in I can see rest of the guys grouped around Dave and as I get close I get to see the closing stages of a great battle he has been having with a very solid Northern Blue fin or long tail tuna .
getting really toey now that other guys are getting great fish and I keep dropping them . I stay wide heading south back towards camp and catch up with John who calls me over as he is surrounded by Spanish mackerel and also sharks he has attracted by using poppers to trying to get the Mackies to bite .
Another fresh Sanmar over the back on a DDR rig and I am soon watching the mackerel swimming under my yak often several big ones at once mixed with shark and school mackerel as well . Its nerve wracking as I take to jiggling the Sanmar over the side of the yak with serious fish following it in but veering off at the last second .Eventually I locate the stupidest one and its on again and after a couple of long runs being very aware that I cant waste time getting the fish due the large number of sharks I make another unforgivable rookie mistake and grab the spool… and it all goes slack again arggghh!!! winding in this time its a the haywire twist on the aft treble that’s let go .
I am really annoyed with myself now as the weather is due to go to hell the next day and I have blown it again .
A Sanmar on a Salti or DDR or South African dead bait/ feather duster rig .
Most evenings we had been having an occasional shower but that night it pours and its blowing its arse off again .In the morning wake to find all the benches and cooking gear blown over and covered with sand .
So with yakking off the agenda for the Morning Joe ,Andy and myself again pack the rock fishing gear and decide to go well down the western side of the island to Mystery Beach which is one of the few beaches on the western side . It is a cool place to a look around and do some beach combing as it accumulates a lot of flotsam .
Andy and Joe find a perfect safe spot to toss occy over the edge of a ledge into white water in the pouring rain but I wuss out and sit in the car nice and dry reading and watching the fun.
Its quite a trick fishing these ledges for baldies and spangos as it is so snaggy you almost instantly get caught on the bottom .According to Joe the trick is to let the fish pull the hook off the rocks for you and it certainly worked for him with good sized spangled emperors landed .
By 11ish the weather is definitely on the improve so we make the hour long trek back to camp load the yaks and head out again in the early arvo . Once again I am towing DDR rigged Sanmar and late in the afternoon after losing several baits I am fishing near John again when my sanmar suddenly takes off . Making sure I have a good hook set and my shark shield is on I am soon chasing a really good fish up the coast . After two really good runs I have the worked the Mackie up to the yak and its a cracker !! At least as big as Joes from a few days ago . John has followed me and taken a few pics and given me some tips on what to do .Having never gaffed and brought a big toothy fish into my yak before I am taking it easy and asking John the best way to land it when it makes a final lunge under the yak in 12 m of water . At this point the fish seems to have got a new lease of “life ” and again I am being towed at a steady rate to the north and no matter what I can do I cant get the fish to come up off the bottom .After a few minutes John says Mackies don’t do that… you have been sharked! still in denial I keep fighting the fish for another twenty minutes but I have now been pulled almost up to the current and breaking water between the Levillion shoals and the sand bar on the point . Lights running out, the waters getting way too rough for comfort so I go hell for leather in a final effort to bring the fish up but I cant do it .Screaming with frustration I point the rod at the fish and break him off .
Turning back to camp I am pedalling flat out and at times I am only making 1.6 kmh an hour towards camp .Eventually I get close to the beach out of the wind and current and pick up some speed …after 40 mins flat out pedalling I finally hit the beach right on last light and a couple of guys have to help pull my yak up as I am shagged.
Thursday morning dawns and its likely to be our last full days fishing as we will need to spend Friday breaking camp and travelling down to the barge landing . With the last of the Sanmars shared out we head off again . Once again there are mackerel every where . At one point as I am heading out I pass over a huge school of trevally and the whole ocean around me is glowing green and gold ! Once out at my mark I am looking over the side and once again I have big Mackies following my baits up and not taking them .After a few minutes over fooling around bouncing the Sanmar right in their faces there is suddenly big fat torpedoes mixed in with the Mackies .I madly start ripping a Sanmar up and try to get a berley trail going to get the tuna on the bite but they along with the Mackies are just not interested . I have spotted Joe heading out and waved him over to join the fun and start trolling again watching the fish on my side scan . After ten minutes or so the Sanmar gets belted and once again I come up tight ! After the regulation two long screaming runs and a few minutes playing circle the yak I have another beast of a Mackie yakside and this time don’t waste a moment getting him on board . You bloody beauty!!!!! monkey off my back, trip made ! Joe takes a bunch of pictures for me and still buzzing I head back to the beach to get him on ice .
On the brag mat he is just longer than the 150cm Getaway Outdoors brag mat I am using . John is on the beach and gives me a hand to quickly knock it into a couple pieces so we can keep it on ice until that afternoons filleting session .
Not far off the beach I run into Andy making his way in with his first yak Mackie as well so after a few pics I keep heading out.
Not long after leaving Andy the Sanmar I am trolling again is hit and after a short fight with one good run I add another member of the mackerel family to my list of yak captures .A shark mackerel ?
With my Mackie fever now in remission I decide to join Huddo and do some bottom bouncing . As usual a long string of small Charlie Court Cod get in the way but Huddo hooks up a nice Reefie that then transmogrifies into a shark …
Andy finding a pretty Cod amongst the Emperors and Snapper
Inshore Mulloway were in plague proportions .unfortunately all 50 odd cm “soapies” so all swam away for another day .
Friday morning dawns and the weather is outstanding…. unfortunately we have to get going as we need to be at the barge landing by last light and there is a lot of gear to pack and redistribute with one trailer being less than 100%.
There has been a lot of rain whilst we had been on the island although we did not cop half what steep point did .
At a number of places along the track south are these water tanks and yards from the pastoral days.
Mid afternoon two thirds of the way back down the island Joe realises there is something wrong with his Triton as he suddenly loses power as it goes into limp mode and he has an engine warning light. John and Leigh stop to help and run through some basic trouble shooting but there is nothing obviously wrong .Dave and Huddo eventually catch up but there is little more Dave can do with out a box to read the fault codes .After losing an hour or so we have to limp on and its terribly slow going with only about 1500 rpm available .Max speed is a bit over 30 kmh and as soon as there is any type of hill we are down to a crawl.
Its only as we get down the bottom of the island we get an inkling of how much rain there had been . Steep had 120mm in one night that week and the track out had been closed twice
We finally get into the Barge pick up point on last light and with a another storm rolling in we grab a quick bite to eat and roll out the swags .
after about twenty minutes in my swag in the rain I hear scratch ,scratch, scratch on the side of my swag .Some thing wants in….
turning my head lamp to red I look out the mesh at the head in to see a a number of yellow legs . Its the yellow crabs that that were all over the beach and set up home in our camp at Sammy Beach .Seems like I have rolled my swag out in the middle of crab route one …
Next morning its up at first light and we barely got the swags on the trailer when the barge arrives .We are informed not to waste any time getting out of steep as the rangers shutting the track first thing this morning .So Joes car is first on so we can get well ahead of the faster vehicles although Huddo with the broken trailer will be going slow as well .
Its a long slow grind over the sand dunes out of steep often in low first going so slow the speedos not indicating .Thankfully the heavy rain and the Ranger grading the track with a piece of steel dragged behind his land cruiser ute has made the sandy portions track a lot better than we when we came in .The ranger pulls us over after we get over the dune section and informs us the normal track out is under water and is closed but lets us go out via an alternative route . Shortly after Huddo catches up and we make the decision to tow to the Overlander as it will be faster and now we are rocketing along hitting 60 kmh at times on flat sections!
We pull into the overlander about 12.30 having left steep at 7.30am and have lunch and Joe does a ring around to try see what our options are . Turns out there are not any short of a very expensive 265 km tilt tray ride to Geraldton so we decide to tow the triton to Geraldton and get hold of a code reader .Joe goes to start and it won’t .. 45 minutes of hard work by Dave later its just running again . So off we go By the time we get to Geraldton its after 5 on a Saturday arvo , everything is closed so its then on to Perth .
Just after midnight and 17 hours of towing we pull into David’s Myaree Workshop .What a relief .
I would like to thank all the guys on the trip for being such excellent company and as always for guys like me who are not accomplished saltwater yak fishos these trips are just one learning experience after another .The guys are just so generous with knowledge and assistance its great .
The 4wd and camping side of the trip was a great experience as well as although I have a basic 4wd ute I really have not done anything of note with it so the chance to go out with fully setup and experienced guys was priceless .
One day I will return !