At the start of the year keen fisho Ben Allen aka Pies put a call out to friends and family to join him for an adventure to help him celebrate turning 40. Chasing Black Marlin in Cairns was what Pies had his heart set on. I threw a few boat names in the hat, having followed Zane Fluteys adventures on the Hellraiser II. It looked like they knew how to chase the big girls and after some enquiries Ben settled on that boat, with captain Steve roping in a second boat the Iona II.
The boys tried to keep it low key while we waited for Nov to come around, and it wasn’t until driving to the airport that things really set in – holy, we are off to Cairns to chase Black Marlin!!
With two boats locked and loaded we split into two team - on Iona was Pies, Flavz, Big Keats, and Ma, they shot off out of Cairns, while team Hellraiser was myself, TJ, Badge and Troy got a shuttled up to Port Douglas where we met skipper Steve, wife Sue, Tony and the other decky Muzz (from Peak Sportifshing).
The plan was to meet up and raft up out on the reef each night weather permitting (and we lucked in there with a cracker forecast).
Steve’s plan was to head as far north as we could the first day so that we could fish Ribbon Reef No 10 off the infamous Lizard Island the next three days fishing baits for big blacks. We had big tides and Steve told us Riboon Reef No 10 was the longest reef and would ensure we had the clean water that the Blacks love. What that meant was a big travel day straightlining it up there day one. So we put the hammers down for 2 hours and then trolled lures for most of the rest of the way.
On the way up Tony and Muzz had been sorting through all their collection of baits from the big freezer in the cockpit – there were a LOT! It was really interesting learning about how the boys prepared their baits, a mixture of scad (a lot like a Koheru with a harder head), scaly mackerel, queenfish and mack tuna. All these baits had been gutted and gilled, brined and individually frozen in bags. Some were already rigged and others were waiting to be rigged.
As we got further up the reef and hit some nice water, Tony and Muzz got some baits in the water, and we got to see their pattern, with a big scaly mackerel swum as a splash bait on the left short rigger, another one on shutgun/long splash bait in the middle, and a weighted Scad swim bait swum off the long right rigger.
It wasn’t long before a bit shape got spotted to the side of the baits – actually it was MASSIVE – not a marlin though, a whale shark, Steve slid the boat in to neutral and the whale shark swum right into the back of the boat sniffing up over the transom! Here we are at the back of the boat looking in to the eyes of one extremely inquisitive Whale Shark. Surreal!!
It was pretty impressive to see the team work going on this well oiled machine, the boys had the deck covered, Steveo was hunting the fish, and Sue (Steves wife) was working tirelessly inside, whipping up crazy good meals through the day, and in between editing all the video footage and SLR shots that she was capturing as well.
Nothing for us this first day, but rafting up to the boys on Iona they had a big smile on their face and Big Keats had caught a 250lb Black Marlin – his first black and he was stoked. Nice one Big Keats!! Game On!!
The second day was to be an absolute cracker for both boats where we got to see just how special this fishery is and five more black marlin virgins had their cherries popped.
We missed three fish first up, with the first an aggressive crash bite on the short splash bait – mind blown - oh yeah this is going to be a good day!
Then we had one which stuck and TJ warmed in to the day with a 200lb Black which nailed the short splash bait again.
Steve was hard after it, these guys don’t muck around, they want to get the fish to the boat as early as possible for release to give it the best chance of surviving and Muzz had it on the leader in under 3 minutes - going Nato!
The lad's are on the board with lots of day and glamour water in front of us. Badge leant in to a nice 200lb Black which did its best job of trying to sneak up the starboard side on the leader and into the cockpit – awesome display!
The baits were only just set and I was in the chair when a bigger model came in and nailed the swim bait. Buckling up Tony called it - ‘Big fish Carlos’ and sure enough a 500 pounder came up and put on a mean show for us.
Straight up to 20kg of drag for this one – HELLO – first fish I have fought from the chair and it was a pretty mean feeling to get pulled up on to your feet as a big fish pulls off 20kg of drag!
After about ten minutes Tony had a shot at the leader and hung on as a big black went nato!
Big T doing some awesome work on the leader
Over on Iona the other crew were also having an awesome day today, Big Ma got a 700lb+ / 350kg taking the yellow jersey and getting dubbed 350chev and we got to see this fish in its full glory dancing around close to us, it looked SOLID AS and never gave up at the boat dancing around everywhere,
Just awesome to sit back having a coldie watching it from next to them – Nice one Ma!! Pies the birthday boy was on the board as well with a 200lb and Flavz had done the job as well with a 400lb – all in all a BIG DAY!
It was good times, with a few drinks under everyones belts and sailing past each other with a few dances and fist pumps to salute what was just an awesome day on the water.
Stevo was keen for us to spend a night at the infamous Lizard Island and so it was a pumped team arrived back and rafted up next to a just as pumped Iona team under the shadow of Lizard Island. What a day! 6 Blacks to the boat and we finished it off with a few quiets as 3 metre Lemon and Bull sharks swum through the light at the stern of the vessels.
Each night Badge - the self appointed Grand Poobah - had a few festivities planned in honour of Pies 40th tour, best cocktail comp, hawain shirt night, wine night, rugby story night, court sessions where any indiscretions from the day were judged, ah yes equally big nights as they were days.
Bit rusty to be fair on day three, I sat back and watched Badge, TJ and Troy have a ball catching bait on Halco deep swimming lures, as we straight lined it from Lizard out to the reef – there was bait galore, first of all scaly mackerel, then out further mac tuna and a horse of a Spanish mackerel (which Sue turned into one of the most amazing fish meals– Spanish is really good tucker!)
Then it was scad fishing, which the guys deployed planers down with about 6-8 little squids in formation similar to a sabiki set up, but trolled behind the boat on big alvey reels. Often we’d catch multiple at a time.
The team on Hellraiser fished a bit further north today looking for a horse but all we found were sharks. Poor old Muzz, he was just fizzing after Badge caught the biggest scad of the year - Muzza wanted to get swimming right- big bait, big fish! Muzza worked religiously like a man possessed on this bait for an hour. Add a bit of weight to the head, back in the water to check, back out to flex the backbone a little, back in to test...on it went until Muzza and Tony were 100% happy. Sign off was given and the swimmer was bought in to replace with this highlight engineered bait. In it goes and they start to feed it out before bang! Shark bait before it was even in the rigger! Note to oneself – DO NOT FALL IN! We gapped it down to the dogleg in the reef where the rest of the fleet was and found Iona going backwards very quickly on a big fish, and then they stayed out off the reef for a long time.
Big Keats had hooked up and spent 30 mins on a 1150lb Black marlin which he got to the boat quickly and Troy their deckie nearly got the leader but the big girl took off and Big Keats busted his foo foo so Team Iona had the front row super sub Pies to settle into what ended up to be 3.5 hours and Pies managed to get her within 20m of the boat six times before each time she took another half a spool off. This was the GRANDER we’d come for.
Unfortunately with the fish the closest it had been - right by the boat the main line snapped, what an experience!!
Pies had always wanted to catch a 1000lb grander – he’d had the opportunity and just so stoked even though the boys lost it they got photos and some great footage! The Iona boys dropped a smaller one today too that Flavz had on so it had been a big day for them! Team Hellraiser rafted up with bottom lips on the ground having been skunked, but hey there is always tomorrow!
And tomorrow Delivered!!!
The great thing about fishing the Great Barrier Reef is it is not just about the fishing. Day four was no exception and we spent a leisurely hour first thing snorkeling the infamous Cod Hole – huge groper swimming around us, white tips sharks, red snapper and coral trout and the bluest water ever.
Then it was Fishing time. No sooner were the baits in the water and Troy our last black marlin virgin was hooked up to a 250 lber.
How unreal is that – who would have thought eight boys would go on tour and everyone would come away with a Black Marlin under their belts.
Soon after Badge was man-handling his second, a 200lb Black to the boat.
We got hit again only moments later but this one didn't stick. We missed the next three bites –man the fishing over this tide was HOT!. The fishing then went a bit quiet in between the tides, but I had a feeling as we came to the top of the tide again things were going to change and go ballistic again, I went and sat in the chair with a quiet JD and willed on a big one – so magic!
The calm before the storm was brought to an arupt halt when the swim bait came out of the Clip, “I’ve got a feeling this is a big one” was the call from Tony as he free spooled the bait back to him , coming up tight – YEP, a solid beast came out of the water in a frenzy of white spray
“It’s a big one alright – F###!” We were hard in reverse, water filling up the cockpit – Yew!
Straight up well over 20kg of drag, I got to feel the full power of this beast on multiple occasions, getting pulled up on my feet and line smoking off YEHEHEHEYEEEWWW! – did some hard yards on it, with the fight going on for over 20 minutes, before the fish decided to roll over with a couple of sharks in pursuit it gave itself a chance I think of getting away from them. Muzz did the honours on the leader with a lot of weight on – and Tony cut it off and we said goodbye to an 850lb black.
Thankfully with a good kick of her tail, the Sharks were left to wander off looking for a feed elsewhere. BOOM! Stoked to get a solid one.
But we weren’t finished there! The end of the day is looming when the skip bait out the back pops on the shotgun clip. Then it happens!! Tony goes nuts screaming "Get the F###ing gaffs, get the gaffs, it's a f**king horse!!". He's screaming and yelling and charging around the deck. Then we all get a look. It had to be 100m out but it may as well have been sitting on the back deck with us chopping a Crowny. It was HUGE!!
Troy settles in to the chair, and line is smoking off at 20kg drag, then it is over as soon as it began. Heads drop for a minute, then the superlatives begin to flow. Deckies and skip start to swap notes on its size. "Biggest ever seen"; "had to have gone over 1200lb"; "we'll be lucky to see a couple that size all season". Whatever way you look at it, we'd witnessed, albeit briefly, a very impressive Black Marlin.
Convening at the end of the day it is a bit of a role reversal from yesterday Iona have had a tough day but had their chance with Flav losing a couple, including another potential Grander, Needless to say, stories of lost opportunities and successes are shared well in to the night with Badge again leading the festivities. The wine, tequila, JD and crownies are flowing well tonight.
Day five, our last day unfortunately and the plan today was to get half a day fishing in as we worked our way back to Cooktown. Sue, our resident chef, photographer, IT manager and anything else she had time for, bought us back to life with a continuation of the magic food we'd had all trip. Lamp rump wraps, Spanish mackerel fish bites, a few crownies, and a steak sandwich, the sun beating down and the prospect of more big fish – do we have to leave?
It wasn't until the afternoon that our chance came. The swim bait got smoked and TJ was on the end of a predicted 950lb Black, this is the most line we saw off a reel all trip, and TJ had some hard work cut out for him bringing it back from a long way out to within 40 metres from the boat. The fish gave us a good look at her and she danced around on the surface before slack line greeted us. Bugger! Upon inspecting the leader, the verdict from Tony and Muzz was that the fish was never hooked, just got tangled up in the leader as it came into the bait.
We saw Iona cruise backwards on a big girl, after 2 dropepd fish they had turned it up and Big Ma was on, leading the charge for the Iona boys once again, after some quick work from the big fella - 10 mins and some aeronautical displays as we cruised passed and very nearly collected this airborne missile on occasions The crew had her on the leader and she was a beautiful 550lb of Black Marlin which puts Big Ma with his first 2 marlin both being Blacks at 700lb and 550lb, awesome effort my bro!
Soon after it was time to wind in the lines and make waves for Cook Town, where we caught a couple of small charter planes back to Cairns. What a great way to finish the trip, with a magic flight on dusk over the reef!
Big night tonight at the Salthouse – awesome feed, good sounds, and the boys took off to the Pier Bar – nicknamed Pies Bar for the trip
Cruisy day the next day feed on the waterfront, and afternoon session at the Cairns Game Fishing club which is part of the legendary Cock and Bull hotel. This is a must stop, and a good recommendation from Muzz, so much nostalgia, huge marlin mounts and memorabilia. It was a good way to reflect on what we had been and done and what an amazing place the GBR is. Then it was off back to the Salthouse and of course Pies Bar to wrap things up.
If you’ve always thought of fishing Great Barrier Reef for marlin but haven’t done JUST DO IT! It is something every Kiwi has to do once. The thing I loved about it was that it is a completely different way to fish than anything I’ve done before so I learnt a lot, not to mention the fishing when it is on is just crazy. Combine that with the Great Barrier Reef presenting lots of other opportunities like diving and the marine life, and some great hospitality on land back in Cairns and you have the perfect fishing holiday.
A huge thanks to Pies for the invite. It was the perfect way to celebrate the 40th year of someone who does not do anything by halves. Chur my bro! Big thanks to the other boys for plenty of laughs and good times, and to the crew of Hellraiser/ Cairns Black Marlin Charters – legends!
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