SORRY for not contributing an article in last month’s edition of Bush ‘n Beach. I hadn’t been out much as I was preparing for my Hinchinbrook Island holiday.
Over the September school holidays, our family made the annual journey for our Hinchinbrook Island holiday, about a 19-hour drive from Brisbane. The fish species we target at Hinchinbrook are predominantly mangrove jack and barramundi with by-catch of cod, trevally and fingermark. Our fishing is hugely tide dependent, so when the tides aren’t ideal for snag bashing, we try to explore new ground out on the reef, bottom fishing for trout and throwing poppers for pelagics.
We arrived at about 1.30pm and the tide was a cracker, so we put the boat in and started fishing by about 3pm. My second cast of the trip resulted in a quality goldspotted estuary cod inhaling a Z-Man 3” Scented CrabZ. Throwing these crabs was new to me and considering that an estuary cod’s diet consists of mangrove crabs and other crustaceans, it proved successful. Something else new to me was skip casting. For months I had practised in my pool, watching people on Facebook and YouTube skip casting plastics deep into the mangroves and catching jacks and barra. As we drifted up the creek, no opportunities for skip casting presented themselves but ordinary lure casting was quite a good option.
Ticking off a few jacks around the 40cm mark, with one coming in at 43cm, we were calling the afternoon a very good start to the trip. After fishing for about two hours, the sun started disappearing over the beautiful Cardwell Range and it was time to head in.
The next day we went out for an afternoon session but the water temperature had dropped so the fishing was a bit slower, with only a few cod caught for the day. Everything changed for me the following morning, with Dad and I heading out before dawn and fishing in the moonlight. I was hoping for an early surface bite and I had at least three barra hit the Z-Man Pop FrogZ. Unfortunately, the weedless 3/0 hook I was using was too small for the strikes and didn’t expose itself when engulfed. So after a couple of choice words I changed it up to a 5/0 ChinlockZ from TT Lures.
It was slightly frustrating watching Dad convert a few strikes from jacks, and I was undecided about whether to stick with surface or change to the lure that boated me a solid jack on the first afternoon. After swapping lures I managed several decent cod and a pup jack, and then I saw an awesome opportunity to put my skip casting practice to good use. The enormous pile of snags under numerous overhanging trees was too good to resist. I quickly had the Pop FrogZ ready to skip into the strike zone, brandishing my weapon of choice, a Wilson Venom PE2-4 Crankbait and Daiwa Tatula HD200.
I let fly, watching my offering disappear deep into the sticks. With a few turns of the handle the water erupted and I saw a flash of Aussie chrome tear across the surface. After several nervous seconds of the fish swimming beside the boat, my first surface-caught barramundi hit the deck. At 60cm, it wasn’t the biggest barra in the world but being my first one on surface it will be remembered for a long time. A tag was quickly inserted and after a quick picture the fish was returned to the water unharmed.
The next three days were a blur of multiple cod and the occasional jack. Another huge thing on this trip was getting my first jack on surface, and what an experience that was. After persisting with skipping the frog all day, I was starting to lose confidence but it all changed in about five minutes. I delivered a cast into some mangrove roots that didn’t even look that fishy and began winding my Pop FrogZ back to the boat when I noticed a large bow wave behind my plastic. A solid jack was after it, and with its shoulders and back exposed on the surface, it smashed my frog with so much aggression that I thought it was larger than what it turned out to be.
After a short fight, the jack slid into the net, followed by high fives and smiles all round. Again, the fish was released after a photo and tag. Around the bend of the creek, I saw what I thought was a few small jacks sitting together under overhanging mangroves. I put in a skip cast and managed another jack on surface. I was stoked to say the least. On the next day we tried something we hadn’t done before, which was throwing poppers and plastics around shallow coral bommies targeting coral trout.
While it was a very cool experience sight fishing around the beautiful reef, it was very frustrating getting busted off repeatedly. In one instance, my mum, who only fishes once or twice a year, hooked a very large trout on a Halco Roosta Popper I have owned since I was about six. The fight was all over in about 30 seconds, with the fish swimming under a large bommie and busting the 40lb leader on the edge of the coral. By this stage I had been smoked twice on 30lb braid and 40lb leader, so I was getting annoyed. I decided to tie on a Z-Man 5” StreakZ and cast it out on my new Wilson Magnum 15-40lb rod running 40lb braid and 60lb leader. I said: “They’re in trouble now!” How wrong could I have been…
On the first cast another large coral trout ate my plastic and swam straight into a bommie. I have never felt so out-gunned when using such a high calibre of gear. After hits and misses, a few little reefies such as stripey seaperch, a spanish mackerel and various sweetlip, we left the area with a score of coral trout five; Baker family zero. The next day we headed back into the river system where we’d had success on the first afternoon. On the first cast I managed another solid barra on the Z-Man Pop FrogZ. The next cast resulted in another barra eating my frog but unfortunately it put on the trademark aerial display and shook the hook from its mouth.
This day happened to be my mum’s birthday, and all she wanted was a birthday barra. The fishing gods must have been smiling on her because about 10 minutes later she got what she wanted, even though it was only 50cm long. The rest of the day produced numerous large cod as well as a few jacks on surface plastics. At the end of that week my family and I had to fly back to Brisbane for a wedding, but we were on the earliest flight back to Townsville the following morning.
By that afternoon, Dad and I were fishing again. I was back into the jacks and nailed three on surface. Through the week we managed about 100 fish between us. One particular session was a big learning curve, with Dad and I fishing for about four hours, catching minimal fish and having a close encounter with one of the unfriendly local crocs. But it all changed during a crazy 15-minute surface session where barra and jacks were caught by skip casting the Pop FrogZ deep into structure on shallow flats. As well as landing a few fish, I jumped off a large barra and got destroyed by a big jack. What had shaped up to be an average day quickly turned into one of the most successful of the whole trip.
With our trip drawing to a close, we still managed good numbers of fish, with an average of 20 per session. A close mate of ours and his family had also come up for a week and they too were racking up the fish. My little sister even managed two jacks, which was good to see. On our second-last afternoon I scored another little barra on surface. The surface strikes, even from small barra, are awesome!
Our last day had finally come and we decided to go exploring up the outside of Hinchinbrook Island and throw poppers for giant trevally. My dad has always wanted to have a serious crack at a big GT, so I handed him my new heavier setup while I opted to try for a trout on a plastic. On the first cast, a trevally of about 20kg chased Dad’s popper out from behind a rock but didn’t hook up, and I thought that was a big one. About five minutes later I hooked a stripey sea perch and as I was winding it in I noticed a large dark shape coming up behind it. My initial call was “shark on him”, but once it got closer to the boat I realised it was something just as scary as a shark in a big, black GT that was easily 30kg.
It tried to eat the poor little fish beside the boat, as well as Dad’s popper, but the hooks didn’t stick. The trevally disappeared, so I dangled the stripey in the water, planning to lure the GT back to the boat and then pull the fish out and drop the popper on the GT’s head. What I didn’t realise was the monster had been sitting just under the boat. It appeared so fast that I just stared in awe. It grabbed the little fish and tore off back towards the bommie. I grabbed the spool in an effort to slow it down but not only did this result in a burnt hand but the hook pulled.
I lifted the mangled reef fish into the boat and looking at the teeth marks in its side, I felt sorry for the poor thing… it wasn’t my intention to feed it to the GT! The stripey was dead when I dropped it back over the side, and again the beastly GT had been hiding under the boat. It raced out and smashed the stripey off the surface with a scary ‘boof’.
A few casts later, Dad ended up sticking the hooks into a much smaller model of about 7kg. After that we sounded up good-looking country and dropped down plastics and vibes, catching the odd small coral trout and cod, but eventually it was time to head home. I had the opportunity to try some of the new Zerek 69mm and 89mm Tango Shads, which I found worked very well on the jacks, cod, trevally and pikey bream. As mentioned, I had success on the Z-Man 4” Pop FrogZ and also the 3” MinnowZ and 3” Scented CrabZ.
In the creeks I was using Wilson Venom rods such as the PE2-4 Crankbait and 8kg baitcaster, paired with a Daiwa Tatula HD200 and Daiwa Coastal TWS, respectively. Fishing in the blue water, I was running a 4000-size Daiwa Ballistic reel with a Wilson Venom 12-30lb rod and a new ATC Valour spin reel in the 5000 size in combination with a 15-40lb Wilson Magnum rod. I chose to use entirely artificial offerings consisting mostly of plastics. The Z-Man 5” StreakZ in Bubble Gum colour was a standout and caught the most fish. The Zerek 110mm Fish Trap accounted for a couple of fish, as did the 140mm Zerek Thermite Popper.
All up this was our best Hinchinbrook Island holiday numbers wise, tagging 213 fish over 10 days. Hinchinbrook is a fantastic destination with a massive variety of fishing opportunities. It’s definitely worth the long drive as well as the many sandflies and mosquitos. Always keep crocs in mind too, because they are certainly around. Though you may not see that many, one did get very cheeky with us and belly flopped off a 2.5m-high bank and into the water after photobombing one of Dad’s fish. If you would like to see the footage, don’t hesitate to contact me via Facebook and I will be happy to share. Tight lines and sore arms.