Report by Damon OlsenI’m going to start by saying that I cannot adequately explain with words how good the fishing was at Ashmore reef on our most recent trip in December, i’d need to invent some new words. However, I’ve never been one to let the fear of failure stand in the way of giving it a crack, so lets see how we go….
Flying into Horn Island I was about as excited as I can remember being for a fishing trip, maybe not quite as excited as I remember being at age 11 the night before my first Moreton Bay longtail trip with my Dad, but it felt good. I had missed the 2013 initial Ashmore Reef trip due to a freak issue involving a dentist and a little less jawbone than I started with, which stopped me flying the day before I was schedule to leave on the trip. Watching the video that Ben Godfrey filmed in 2013 and listening to the stories of fishing chaos from the previous year left me convinced that we could never experience anything that good – it’s nice to be wrong sometimes!
We landed at Horn Island with a group of mad fishermen, led by Brandon Khoo, whose groups have been on many many trips over the years, and experienced some of the best of what the Great Barrier Reef has to offer. The excitement levels were high as we walked across the scorching hot tarmac to the small planes that would fly us near the eastern most extremity of the Torres Strait. Taking off and then looking out the left hand window and seeing the distant mountains of Papua New Guinea reminded me just how far into the middle of nowhere we were really travelling. And keeping in mind that we had at least another 60 nautical miles to travel by boat once we landed and met up with our mothership Odyssey, I can say that the adventure was feeling real!
Flying over the Torres Strait Islands at 500 feet on a glass calm ocean was special enough, but the overnight steam to Ashmore Reef and pulling up in the bay to glass calm seas and fusiliers rippling on the edge of the reef was just a little exciting. The boats were unloaded, towlines detached, and within a few hours we had eaten breakfast and were skimming over a glassed out ocean to the edge of the reef. The First few casts did not result in the chaos we had hoped for, and we spent the first few hours looking around, with a few airborne dogtooth and GTs to keep us entertained. It was a good little session really, but pales into insignificance compared with what was to come.
By lunch time on the first day we decided to head to where the chaotic action had taken place the year before, and after a little run we pulled up to an area of reef that looked similar to most other areas we had fished – the difference being that we had parked on top of a GT production factory that just manufactured 25-40kg, and bigger GTs, on a schedule that seemed like it had not stopped in a hundred years. This is the bit I struggle to describe, where every cast for hours and hours on end to wherever you wanted to throw was met with foaming black rage on the surface courtesy of the packs of GTs, sharks and the occasional dogtooth tuna, although the doggies did like to smash the lures boatside just to keep us on our toes. It got to the point where the guys would just take turns casting because they were so worn out, literally every cast was met with a GT ranging between solid to serious. How many did we catch? i have no idea, but it was as many as we could physically catch, and in the searing heat with no wind, the weather was as hot as the fishing. The guys commented that the fish were bigger than what we saw in 2013, and that they were even more plentiful. To be perfectly honest this was the marine version of a cow shoot, there was nearly too many fish, and it just got a bit silly in the end so we left them biting to see if the doggies wanted to play on the jigs. In fact, i believe that we removed hooks from lures for a while and just watched the carnage unfold on the surface.
hmmmm what’s the definition of crazy? Punishing yourself in sauna like conditions for 3 hrs non stop on big GTs only to leave them biting so you could relax with some frenetic dogtooth jigging in the still sauna like conditions? maybe, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The dogtooth were also relentless, although we had to work a little more for the bites, with a handful of hookups on each drift. The major difference with the dogtooth session was the distinct lack of any landed fish. I guess jigging along a vertical wall that goes from 15m down to 200m vertically is unlikely to ever end very well, but we got a good dose of ass whipping in the hour or so before it was time to go home.
Travelling back to Odyssey across a still glass calm ocean we saw big yellowfin tuna busting in the distance, but they could wait for tomorrow.
On returning to Odyssey all the other boats had seen similar action, and everyone was a little in shock at the fact that history seemed to be repeating, with fishing as good or better than the previous year. The sense of relaxation, combined with anticipation and satisfaction is hard to describe when you have had such a day, and are in such remote and beautiful location, with the prospect of so much more to come. The weather forecast for the next 6 days was the same, and it seemed our biggest concern was how to carry enough water on the boats to cater to the 8 litres of water we all needed to drink each day. The air was so thick you could cut it with a knife at times in the day, but with fishing this good, who cares.
Day 2 dawned and the mixture of relaxation, anticipation and satisfaction was now laced with a good dose of pain, just to remind the intrepid anglers what was about to come. We had identified 2 hotspots the day before and we now had 2 boats heading to each area. I think that we all thought that the fish couldn’t possibly bite like that again, and that it was just that good because it was the first day and they had not seen a lure all year. WRONG – they went even harder. We ended up with 4 boats drifting the same spot at one point in the day, and they just kept biting every popper, stickbait, jig and whatever else we threw at them. There were some really solid fish in amongst them, but of course the mid 20kg sized ones usually beat them to the lures. We had to downsize to just 1 x single hook on each lure pretty quickly because 2 hooks on any lure just meant 2 fish hooked up, and i can tell you that a pair of 25-30kg GTs both hooked on the same lure will destroy just about any and every hook/lure combination that exists – in this situation, something fails – guaranteed!
The entire 2nd day was spent mostly caught up in some of the most amazing big GT casting any of us had ever seen, we had guys literally having arms and legs seize up while fighting fish. But generally it was just amazing to be in a location with so many fish that just never shut down and just kept biting. I never knew GTs could do that!
The plan for Day 3 was to try a little bit more jigging, and after a few more hours of GT chaos in the morning, we moved out off the edge of the reef and started jigging for some doggies. They were out to play, and we hooked some absolute monsters that were just unstoppable, with guy being spooled a few times. There were the usual sharks in attendance and they took their toll on the jigs, but the best we could manage was a few doggies around 40kg landed. Some of the guys decided to have a cast in the shallows and the coral trout and re bass were in plague proportions, just heaps of fish everywhere.
Our 4th Day was very interesting because we had all decided to head for a seamount to try some jigging for the morning, just to have a break from the GT carnage that was in full swing and on tap whenever we want to catch them. All 4 boats travelled south to this seamount and after taking some time for us to all find it, the first few drops made us realise that we had found Jurassic Park Dogtooth Tuna V1. Within 40 minutes of finding the seamount there were triple bendings, empty reels, serious bent rods, snapped rods lots of groaning and even a few melted drag knobs. The drag knobs literally fused onto the spool in a charred mess of furious braid ripping destruction. Spools were heated to the point where we could not touch them. Dogtooth were lost to the depths, braid was lost, but some MONSTER dogtooth tuna were subdued on this day. Casey Leong landed 2 fish over 60kg, with the bigger estimated around 90-100kg, absolute monsters. Nick managed to figure out a way to hook the fish just off the edge of the seamount and then drive like crazy away from the edge to try and pull the fish into deep water, and this worked a few times, but not often enough.
I think the day at the seamount has burned a solid memory in the minds of everyone who visited. It was something special that none of us will forget.
The next couple of days provided similar insane fishing, but seemed like a bit of an anticlimax after the dogtooth session. We spent the 5th day messing around with the still frothing mass of big GTs on the reef edges, and we found some 40-50kg yellowfin that wanted to eat poppers as well, which was crazy good fun for several hours. Our last day was spent on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, at the far northern end, and even on a day with bugger all current, we fished the shallow reef areas for big GTs, with a few 40kg specimens landed, and we had some awesome fun finding a few reef patches that held some big Maori Wrasse, and they gave us a serious workout on the light gear, with a few nice ones landed.
The outer reef edge we fished on the far northern Great Barrier Reef was amazing, so full of life, so many fish swimming under the boat, and such perfect coral. We arrived back at Murray Island on the last day of fishing, and you could easily imagine that not much has changed in the Torres Straits for a very long time. The islands are stunningly beautiful, and to have such big islands right near the reef edge is amazing. I can understand why the local islanders have no concern with the mainland and essentially would like to be left to live as they have. It would not be an easy life, but living in such a place would certainly be rewarding. As we flew back to Horn Island and i saw the mountains of PNG again out the right hand side window, i had to ask myself if I would ever see better fishing anywhere in the world, for any species ever again. I have asked myself this question on other trips before, and the answer seems to keep on being yes, so i guess i’ll just have to keep fishing and wait for the trip where we find something even more amazing, but it’s a pretty big mountain to climb after what we saw at Ashmore Reef in December 2014. I cannot wait for the 2015 trips to happen, they should be something special.