Sometimes Instincts Get You Over The Line

This made all of the boredom of finding fish a distant memory for Andy.  As you can see he was more than happy with the outcome!

This made all of the boredom of finding fish a distant memory for Andy. As you can see he was more than happy with the outcome!

When I say ‘Instincts Get You Over The Line’ I am referring to the use of your instincts on the water combined with previous knowledge of fish holding contour lines. Using both of these important tools together can prove the difference when exploring new territory. During a recent trip wide to my old stomping ground of Lucinda in North Queensland, I learnt a couple of very valuable lessons. The first was this – to read depth contours, research and understand what they are telling you. This, I would say, is the single most valuable tool when fishing, particularly when targeting reef species on the piscatorial Great Barrier Reef. If you understand your terrain you can then determine critical points, points which fish will hold up. The second lesson is simple, something that is done by good fisherman without thinking. Something that has been used by fisherman and hunters for thousands of years, ‘Instincts’! Trust your instincts, if you are focussed on an area which you hadn’t highlighted during your preparation the day before, don’t second guess yourself, go there! 9/10 times there will be fish there, we are genetically made up with instincts for a reason. I’ll give you a run down on why both of these lessons worked for me during the trip. First a few things that you need to know about contour lines. Contour lines, depth contours or isobaths as they are commonly referred to in bathymetry, can easily be overlooked while searching for potential productive fishing grounds. But with a bit of time, patience and persistence using your depth sounder, exploring what I refer to as ‘points or areas of interest’ can produce plentiful angling grounds. Word for word from Wikipedia, contours are one of several common methods used to denote elevation or altitude and depth on maps. From these contours, a sense of the general terrain can be determined and this is where the secret lies. They are used at a variety of scales, from large-scale engineering drawings and architectural plans, through topographic maps and of more interest to us fisho’s bathymetric charts. “Contour line” is the most common usage in cartography, but in bathymetric maps the term “Isobath” is used for underwater depths. Bathymetry involved the measurement of ocean depth through depth sounding.
It’s been done to death, but this is the most critical point of any fight.  Excitement sets in and all of a sudden gaffs, nets and nervous deckhands are grabbing leaders.  Patience is the aim of the game when fish are this close to the boat.

It’s been done to death, but this is the most critical point of any fight. Excitement sets in and all of a sudden gaffs, nets and nervous deckhands are grabbing leaders. Patience is the aim of the game when fish are this close to the boat.

Early techniques used pre-measured heavy rope or cable lowered over a ship’s side. This technique measured the depth only a singular point at a time, and was therefore inefficient. It is also subject to movements of the ship and currents moving the line out of true and therefore is inaccurate. Today, multi-beam echo sounders (MBES) are typically used, which use hundreds of very narrow adjacent beams arranged in a fan-like swath of typically 90 to 170 degrees across. The tightly packed array of narrow individual beams provides very high angular resolution and accuracy. In a nut shell, we are kissed on the ‘you know what’ that what we can see on our chart plotter map is what you get and they are fish magnets. I could bung on this whole article about the ins and outs of bathymetry, although intriguing, if I was reading this piece I’d bin it without reading the next paragraph. So we’ll get to the nitty gritty, the substance of what I’m on about. I am not the best fisherman in the world, nor am I the best writer but I love what I do and have a good old crack. For me this is particularly the case when it comes to reef fishing. I’ve had limited experience on the reef, so having the ability to read and interpret what’s in front of me on the reef is not my best attribute. But I like to think outside the box, the way I think is that it can’t be as simple as parking yourself on top of a reef, dropping a few baits and ‘WHALA’ you’re pumping and winding up coral trout or red throat all day. The visible reef itself is not the only structure that will hold fish, surely there is more. If you look at it like an estuary system the reef is like them mangroves, both house juvenile fish seeking protection from predators. So what is the trick you ask? Depth lines, contours or isobaths, whatever you wish to call them, they hold the key to opening the reef like you have never before.
Andrew having his turn of the ‘Demon Blood’.  As you can see it didn’t even get out of first gear retrieving the red throat to the surface.

Andrew having his turn of the ‘Demon Blood’. As you can see it didn’t even get out of first gear retrieving the red throat to the surface.

I had been helping my old man out knocking over the final stages of a job at Eton, 29kms west of Mackay and some 517 kms from home. After the two weeks on the fishing dry I was itching for a fish. The final day of the job I took a quick glance at the Bureau of Meteorology, which only added to the severity of the itch. Sometimes you just time the weather perfectly, not often but this time I did. The coastal waters forecast for Cardwell to Bowen of variable winds to 5 knots, I knocked off at 5pm, jumped in the car and drove straight through to home arriving just after 12 am. During my drive home I received a phone call from a good mate Andrew Towner. After I had pulled over of course, Andy asked what I was doing the following day. Andy is a copper so his roster can be all over the place like a mad woman’s breakfast, so I generally wait for him to contact me to tee up a fish. With the intention of fishing solo I was more than happy to have Andy along for a bit of company or to net my fish.
When a sounder lights up like this generally you have to compose yourself, pick your chin up of the ground and send a bait or lure to the bottom.

When a sounder lights up like this generally you have to compose yourself, pick your chin up of the ground and send a bait or lure to the bottom.

We teed up to meet at Lucinda boat ramp between 8:30-9am, to hopefully have a day of bent rods and screaming drags. I was intending on doing a loop, starting off by sounding some areas of interest I singled out prior to the trip between Trunk and Pith reefs chasing reds. Then during the afternoon heading over to a couple of marks that I have previously landed largemouth nannygai to 10kg on the way home. I was frothing at the mouth to put a bend in my virgin Daiwa ‘Demon Blood’, Seagate Hyper jigger loaded with 60lb Sunline ‘Super PE’. I had this combo setup particularly for high speed jigging for GT’s and slow jigging for nannygai. But for this trip I used it to soak a squid for bottom dwelling devils. I had it sitting in the rod rack and had owned it for a couple of months without getting an ounce of salt spray on it, so this was to be the trip to break it in. The weather was divine, perfect in fact! We made a few stops on the way out to taunt the North Queensland longtail tuna population. After 10,000 casts I managed to tempt one on a Threadybuster. These lures are one of the most versatile lures on the market, although not really designed for surface casting their action is unbearable to a hungry fish. I love chasing tuna, they are streamlined Staffy’s of the ocean. Full of drag pulling muscle and this specimen was no different. Around the 6kg mark it stretched me for a good 30 minutes on a second virgin outfit of mine. I do a lot of fishing for tackle wrecking pelagic species like queenfish, tuna and mackerel, so for me it was important to have a specific, well balanced outfit for this particular style of fishing. Daiwa fixed me up with a wicked outfit, the Generation Black ‘Super Casta’ matched with a Daiwa Sol II 3000H and loaded with 15lb Sunline ‘PE Super’, this rig handles these hard hitting species with ease. We arrived at the first area of operation between Trunk and Pith Reefs close to midday. To be completely honest I was lost!!! It’s easy to look at a map and circle a few areas which you intend on exploring, but it’s a big ocean and daunting to say the least once you’re on it. You begin to second guess yourself! I take my hat off too fishing guides, it is tough having someone on board that doesn’t get to fish often, so you tend to feel pressured to fish productive, tried and tested locations. Nobody can take it away from them; they just want to get amongst some heart pumping, bicep cramping action and who doesn’t. So spending a bit of time finding new ground generally goes out the window. Sometimes you can be sounding around for hours, even days without wetting a line. So for someone who doesn’t fish as regularly as yourself, sounding around without wetting a line or putting a fish in the icebox can seem a bit, well boring for a word. Initially I stuck to my guns, we sounded around for an hour or so. Andy sat beside me looking like a dog tied up to a tree, bored as bat poo. I didn’t find a skerrick, but while patrolling around something on Humminbird chart plotter caught my eye. Although my heart and my head fought it out for a while, my instincts (probably my heart) where kicking me in the man marbles and saying “fish that spot”! So I got the boat on the plane and travelled the short distance to this particular area, just inside Pith Reef. My instincts were on the money! As I pulled the throttle back on ‘ANZAC SPIRIT’ in 53 meters of water, the sounder lit up and so did our eyes. I instantly thought red emperor or nannygai, this sort of depth is perfect for these two bottom dwelling species. Andy and I couldn’t bait up quick enough! First drop we instantly came up tight, double hook up, Yeeeeeoooowww! My ‘Demon Blood’ made short work of a beautiful red throat emperor, not the sort of red I was confident of seeing but a very worthy table fish to say the least. Andy also converted his piece of squid into a second red throat, two fish in the esky, life was good. Several drops later I converted a further two red throat and several football sized trigger fish. These things pull like steam trains and have a set of teeth which would put Mr. Ed to shame. I’m unsure of their table quality but they were released to hassle someone else another day.
The ‘Demon Blood’ tames another red throat!  Not really the prescribed purpose of this rod but a great little workout for it.

The ‘Demon Blood’ tames another red throat! Not really the prescribed purpose of this rod but a great little workout for it.

Andy was having drama hooking fish because of the extra stretch mono has. So like a good citizen I handed the ‘Demon Blood’ over for him to land a couple more fish for the icebox. That he did, he added a further couple of red throat to the esky. With 6 fish in the icebox I suggested to Andy that we had enough fish to feed his family for a while. He agreed, we pulled up stumps, leaving the fish still on the chew. I’m not big on slaying your bag limit of fish. I completely understand that anglers are legally within their rights to catch their bag limit, but I just think the current bag limit per person and some minimum length for reef species in QLD is excessive and needs to be overhauled. We need to fish for the future, not rape and pillage. I think it starts with education, understanding species life cycles, growth rates etc. of reef species to break that mindset. Enough of that, the next couple of marks I hit on the home run didn’t produce the big nanny’s like I hoped, but we had plenty of fun nailing small largemouth nannygai up to 50cm. They were in plague proportions; I don’t think the sounder has displayed so much red in all its life. The rest of the afternoon was a blur. Perfect conditions, plenty of dolphins heading into a gorgeous sunset, the run home was divine and something you’d expect to see on a poster. An absolute post card view! Wrapping up, it’s important to remember regardless of how knowledgeable of an angler you are, you’re always learning. As I said earlier, I am a mere ‘L’ plater when it comes to fishing the reef but I am always willing to explore, listen and learn. The best way to do this is read articles, look at maps, watch fishing shows, but most of all time on the water is essential. During this trip trusting my instincts was the difference between a productive day and a fishless one. Trust Your Instincts, they may get you over the line. What have you got to lose?    
Ben Weston

About Ben Weston

Ben Weston has had a long fishing journey till now starting at the age of 3, fishing with his father in some of fish rich waters around the Townsville. take it away Ben ... "I cut my teeth fishing under the Australian National Sportfishing Association (ANSA) pushing myself to consistently raise the ‘angling ability’ bar and learning my craft fishing ultra-light mono. "Over the years I have fished for both impoundment, estuary and blue water species throughout from Victoria to North Queensland, Northern Territory, Christmas Island and Fiji. I am just as thrilled to be walking a wild freshwater stream flicking for jungle perch as I am bouncing the bottom for nannygai or trolling a spread for marlin. I just love it all! "Fishing out of a 175 Scout and now residing in Central Queensland my ability has been pushed further than ever as I strive to unlocked the code of CQ barra in the mighty Fitzroy river or popping for GT’s around the majestic Keppel Isles. In the last 3 years ‘a late bloomer some would say’, I have developed somewhat of an addiction for flicking soft plastics or hard bodied lures for some of Australia's toughest tropical species. With fish like mangrove jacks, fingermark, salmon and the iconic barramundi at my doorstep I’m in luring paradise. "Photography has become somewhat of a side hobby of mine, always trying to get that perfect pic for the world to view what I do through the lens. I love sharing my experiences through social media while continuously developing and honing my article writing skills through written media. I have been fortunate enough to have contributed to some of the North’s finest publications like NQ Fish and Boat, About Fishing NQ and now regularly contribute to the Daiwa Australia website blog."

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