Just back from my second Mother shipping trip to The Houtman Abrolhos 80 km off the Mid West WA town of Geraldton . The 122 Islands stretch over a 100 km north to south and are the southernmost true coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and amongst the highest latitude in the world.
My co driver for this trip was one of my regular fishing buddies Deryck who had been on the previous years trip I had missed .
I met up with Deryck mid afternoon on Thursday to load his Hobie Adventure Island and gear onto my Ute and trailer .
The 4 hour trip from Perth was uneventful except for the amazing homemade Jalapeno Sausage roll from the BP servo in Dongarra and we finally were backing the trailer down the narrow wooden wharf in Geraldton fishing boat harbour about 7pm to unload onto our mother ship for this trip Master Class.
like my previous trip this was a Certificate 2 course being run by Central TAFE College and our instructor Colin Johnson, a Marine Biologist who would be delivering a number of units during the trip to the 12 yakfishers/ students.
This trip had been timed for the final week end of the Demersal season in WA which finished at midnight on the Sunday that we returned to Geraldton so this time we would be able to keep two fish for the table if we so desired (1 days bag limit of demersal) . The final few yakkers rolled in throughout the evening and we all camped aboard which allowed us to depart nice and early Friday morning .
The weather forecasts prior to departure were not not great so we were dead to keen make the most of our two and half days .
The trip over was in good conditions and as soon as we cleared the port there were whales broaching all around us in the distance.
As we started to thread our way through the islands and coral bombies we are joined by this friendly local and also spot a number of good fish including a large Samson in the crystal clear water.
Once we reached our first fishing spot out behind Rat Island in the Easter Group we had a briefing, unloaded and rigged our yaks and did our safety checks.
We All then headed off into overcast but calm conditions and light to moderate winds .All that is except for Jack, our youngest yakfisher on his first expedition who has dropped his $700 Hobie Mirage Pedal Drive into 13 metres of water as he boarded his Adventure Island . Thankfully the skipper dons his scuba gear after several attempts to skin dive for it fail and manages to find it.
The guys spread out and after within an hour had worked what sort of ground were holding the baldchin grouper with a number of the guys landing this hard fighting and very tasy fish .
Andrew Jenkins sorting out a double hook up on Baldchin Grouper
Deryck with one of half a dozen baldies he caught.
About 1 pm I have a good hook up on a trolled Sanmar on a Salti rig and soon land a solid snapper that I decide to keep for the BBQ that night.
Heading back to the Master Class for lunch I catch up to Jack who is having good tussel with a lovely baldchin Grouper . Whilst I am filming him my sanmar bait starts to exhibit typical snapper inhalation signs and the bait runner is slowly peeling off drag . I wait about a minute till Jack has gaffed his baldy and then click the reel into gear and “Oh! that’s not a snapper anymore! ” as a big shark I suspect teaches me a lesson in short order
A short pedal back to Master Class and then several minutes of manoeuvring through all the moored yaks at Master Classes stern to step aboard for a lovely BBQ lunch and a leg stretch .
After lunch we all launched again with some deciding to fish back to the mothership which moved back closer to Rat island and others directly back to rat island wharf.
I elect to head down towards Master Classes new position as once I get back on the water I am struggling to see the Island through the scattered low cloud , a few small showers and cant be find it on my charts. As always I have a dead bait trolling rig out the back as I travel which is taken half way to the boat .I hook up to a another solid Abrolhous snapper on my heavy rod which is soon on board and released.
Trent meanwhile has found some good ground close to the stern of masterclass that’s holding baldies so I break out the 4 inch Damiki Paddle Tails from my Master Angler KFDU Trip Report Prize pack and in quick order land my first Yak caught Baldie also quickly released.
At this point my back is very sore so I catch a lift back to Rat island on the mothership.
After stowing my kayak on the wharf for the night its time for one of the highlights of these trips, feeding the pet Samson fish .
Luke AKA “Flippers ” jumps in with a mask to join the fun with 3 Samson in 20 kg range racing to the fish tid bits that were thrown overboard . I put my go pro on its Rail Blaza boom into the water and a Samson fish tries to smash it within 2 seconds.
Paul Bowen having a filleting session under the watchful gaze of Sammy The Seal
Sammy eventually could not hack watching my mediocre filleting and leaps up to show me how its done but the poor filleting station ergonomics and lack of opposable thumbs defeated him….
Picture courtesy Andrew Jenkins
Colin Johnson our trip leader and Marine biologist assisted by Deryck an Equine Vet gave us a Snapper dissection demo of how the otolith bones that give snapper age info in the same way tree rings do are extracted from the skull . Normally Colin would do this with a Sawsall Recip saw .
Deryck is pretty handy with a knife and turned both Silver Trevally and Squid into sashimi for pre dinner snacks.
Picture courtesy of Paul Bowen
Skipper Hayden running the BBQ .
Jack showing off a good sized Baldchin Grouper probably the most prized table fish in WA .
After another great dinner of freshly caught Snapper, Baldchin Grouper, Crayfish, steak and salads we dragged out the squid jigs and caught a couple Northern Calamari off the boat before turning in .
The weather forecast for the day had the winds turning unfavorable by lunch time so we were all keen to get going early .As loading the yaks on the mother ship was a long winded affair we decided to head out from the jetty and fish out front of the lagoon where there were an extensive area of coral bombies called the Maze and a couple of markers sitting in shallow broken ground .
Flippers headed off first out to the closest mark and was soon reporting snapper schools on the radio.
Meanwhile Deryck had spotted a stonking Northern Calamari off the stern and soon got it to take a jig.
I launched almost last taking my time to put in all the things I forgot the day before and meet up with Jack and Deryck out side the lagoon. It was only 5 mins pedal out to the first marker where we soon could see good schools of fish and bait on our sounders . After several passes and dropping a couple of strikes I once again hear the Sanmar on a dead bait trolling rig go off behind me resulting in this solid snapper .
Picture courtesy Deryck Tan
Which I released.
Jack caught his first snapper on a soft plastic .
After fishing the area for a while we decided to work our way east along the Maze towards a second marker also on broken rubble ground . One of the things that I was told on this trip was that the stag horn coral of which a lot of these bombies were composed makes poor habitat for bigger fish and this was certainly borne out in practice with areas of broken rubble or sandy bottom and areas of plate coral holding more of our target species plus the Stag Horn was appalling for snags.
On reaching the second marker we found Paul Bowen waving the fly wand and eventually getting his first snapper on fly . I caught my first snapper on a soft plastic for the trip on a white Damiki 4 inch paddle tail.
Whilst we were fishing this area we could hear AJ on the radio calling in that he had just been sharked bringing a Samson in but had still managed to land it full of tooth marks.
The Master Class had moved to a nearby sandy cay for lunch so we started working our way the last km to it .
The guys who had headed straight up towards the cay and beyond had done well on Baldies and also got a few coral trout on surface lures.
The Lobster season was basically closed for the pros as they had already caught their quotas so the Eco Abrolhous Cruise boat and its two tenders where the only boats and people we saw in the 3 days we were at the Easter group
Getting 12 kayaks tied off so that we could come aboard was still something we were working out .
Whilst we were having the lunch the wind strength really started to pick up so we decided to fish back to the island wharf.
Trent Auld trys out Luke’s Stealth Kayak for a change a pace from his Hobie Revolution pedal kayak.
Once we all made it in we took the Master Class out to a reef edge that dropped into 40m where the guys lined the rail and got their Jig on with the second drop seeing a number of snapper landed and Paul landed a nice Samson on light tackle.
Flipper getting bent.
One of two nice snapper Flippers landed .
After a 3 or 4 drops we left to go to a nearby fish sanctuary for a snorkel but it was very quiet fish wise compared to our last visit with only a Spangled Emperor and Baldchin grouper coming out to say hello from the large expanse of plate coral.
Back at the wharf we once again were joined by the pet Samsons and the Seal .
“Hey buddy no need to fillet that I will take it as is”
As the trip was a TAFE training course that meant there was course work and assessments to be done .
Unfortunately Colin who ran these trips/courses has taken a job on the East coast and this will be the last of these great trips he leads.
The Fisheries Jetty was very difficult to walk in bare feet due to the large number of shell fragments on it and on the last morning I caught the culprit in action . A pacific Gull dropping sea snails onto the jetty to break them open to get the meat inside.
The morning of the last day its blowing hard and everyone except Jack and Deryck have opted not to fish and take the opportunity to pack up in a leisurely manner and get back to Geraldton early in the afternoon as most have a 4 hour drive down to Perth that evening.
Deryck and Jack are back within an hour as its unfishable so we finish packing and depart.
Back in Geraldton Port we say goodbye and thanks to Master Classes great crew Skipper Hayden , Kevin and Colin for another great adventure.
Don’t you love it when you spring your fishing buddies at the fish shop on the way home… Heh Heh Heh.
Finally a huge shout to all the Kayak Anglers on the trip for making the trip such a pleasure .Till next time!