The Editor, Mike Stevens, recently took a trip to Cape York to have a look at what Queensland and salt water fly fishing in that State offers.
Recently I was forced to involve myself in some serious saltwater fly fishing. I've done a bit in the past and caught tuna, flathead, Australian salmon, mullet and those sorts of fish, but I hadn't considered any of it too serious. This was a serious trip though, to northern Australia - the home of saltwater fly fishing - as much as Tasmania is the home of trout fishing.
Preparing for this sort of trip was daunting - although I found out later it needn't have been. A few solid basics will get you through, but I didn't want to be caught out so I had the works - plenty of rods, reels, lines, flies, leader materials and more. This trip was organised by my friend, Rob Sloane. Many of you will know Rob through his magazine - FlyLife or perhaps as a former Inland Fisheries Commissioner.
Weipa, a mining town on the western side of Cape York Peninsula was the initial destination. We were to meet here with our guides Peter Morse and Alan Philliskirk. On this trip were four Australians and four New Zealanders - all of whom Rob had brought together for what turned out to be one hell of an experience.
We flew to Cairns first and then on Ansett's once a day jet service across to Weipa. It is around an hour or so flight north west. Peter and Allan had chartered a 50" catamaran "mothership" and this was to be our home for a week. On board was Peter, Allan, two more guides - Gresho and Lumpy, a skipper - Captain Dick, and a cook - Anne, plus eight anglers. It was cosy, but as we were mostly fishing or sleeping it was fine.
We set off north out of Weipa on an overnight trip to an estuary where we would base ourselves for a week. Behind us were four runabouts that the guides would operate from. We had a guide per two anglers and everyone rotated their partners and guides. I spent the first session with Allan "Fish" Philliskirk and we were only a few hundred metres from the "mothership" when he spotted some queenfish. "Get some line on the deck and get ready to cast" he warned. I was ready and as my first cast of the trip hit the water I was "on'. It was only a small "queenie" and later on in the trip we wouldn't even bother casting to fish this small, but first cast, first strip it was pretty exciting. Photos taken we moved on.
Everyday held something different and I think all eight anglers caught a fish close to, or over, fifteen pounds. One highlight was me hooking a permit, and under the circumstances, I was lucky. Peter Morse spotted three of them "tailing" off a sandy dropoff and as I tried to get out of the boat trying to get to them I fell over. As if that wasn't enough I had a surf candy fly on - not the required merkin crab. Nevertheless after a few casts one grabbed it and for five line burning seconds we hooted and hollered, but then a slack line signalled the end of our "permit" experience.
My first "Barra" was a reel hoot - with Lumpy - the expert Barra guide putting us into several of them. We had tied weed guards onto some "pink things" the night before so we could cast right into the timber. The place to be, Lumpy assured, if we wanted Barra - he was right.
I won't bore you with all the details of the trip, but we caught thirty one different species, broke five rods, burnt out and destroyed four reels, cut off flylines and generally had a ball. I managed an eighteen pound longtail tuna on a six weight fly rod and a twenty pound giant trevally on a nine weight. Both these were awesome fish to catch and took nearly half an hour to get into the boat. If you dare to stick your finger over the line as the fish goes into top gear you'll soon find out what line burn is.
Trevor Hawkins, the angling artist, got his fly line butt wrapped when connected to a longtail tuna and it nearly pulled him in. We had nearly all gone to 10 kg tippet at this stage and if you have tried to break this stuff you'll realise why Trevor nearly took a swim.
Queenfish were a dime a dozen and we stopped fishing for the smaller specimens by day two. By the end of the trip the record queenie was around 27 pounds - caught off the beach by Kiwi, Dave Band. Also off the beach we caught blacktip sharks, giant herring, blue salmon, several different trevallies and plenty of other fish. Up the estuary we caught barramundi, mangrove jack, tarpon and pikey bream. As I said earlier there were thirty one different species caught.
On a typical day you could travel for an hour up the coast in the runabout. The water was flat calm inshore with an offshore breeze of 15 - 20 knots. It is all sight fishing and the sand flats go on forever. It was nothing for a wadeable flat to go for half a kilometre from shore and extend many kilometres along the coast. Wading is not recommended past your knees as there may be a crocodile around. This is usually only a problem when around river mouths and Peter Morse did get concerned when I was up to the family jewels near a river - he came rushing over in his boat and suggested I get back in the boat. We only saw one croc though the whole time, but it is the ones you don't see that are the problem.
As far as gear goes you could easily get away with an eight weight rod, clear intermediate line, 10 kg tippet and a handful of flies such as surf candies, clousers and deceivers in 2 to 2/0s. To be on the safe side you'll need spares of all that as well - you are not in contact with anyone from when you leave Weipa until you return. A good reel is a must - I used Penn International 2.5s. These were terrific and despite the hype about large arbour reels the Penns performed as well as any others. Buy a rod with an unconditional guarantee - you will probably need to claim when you get home.It was a fantastic trip and one every angler should do. Whether you are a fly or lure angler this is saltwater heaven.