The author with a coral trout from the reef.

Winter trip to Swains

George Baumber with a nice red to start the trip on day one.
Dan Howard got this cobia up past the sharks on the rear deck during an after dinner session.
The author got lucky with this red emperor from the dory that tested the rod and triple surgeons knot rig.
There is always that contented feeling and a few jobs to do at the end of a good fishing session.
Derek Greenough was all smiles with this blue Maori cod.
Derek Greenough persisted with slick moves across the rear deck and up the side of the boat before landing this Spaniard after dinner.
Dave Bremen landed this nice red throat from the deck on one of the windy days.
John McNicol was all smiles under the pump out on the side deck.
Ivan Mapp with a double hook-up of red throat and coral trout.
Bob Graham was happy with this blue Maori cod.
A gleaming Capricorn Star ready to depart for a magical week to the Swains.

THE snapper and pearl perch closed season for this year is now done and dusted and the overall feedback from most people is very supportive. There have been a few negative and veiled swipes at the closure conducted through the media, but they all link back to people who have a vested interest or who earn good money from being participants in the fishery.

The thing these people overlook is that if the fishery is not just about their bank balance and the way of the future is to have management controls such as in the spawning season when the fish are most vulnerable. Without it there will be a continued the reduction in biomass, leaving all of the community with a poorer fishery. Winter Swains

A strong snapper and pearl perch fishery is what the majority of forward thinking and responsible fishers in Queensland want. I enjoyed the closure period, packing into the four weeks a week-long trip to the Swain Reefs, a caravan trip to the beach just chilling out and a Turkey Beach fishing trip.

Without doubt the Swain Reefs trip with a great group of fellows was the highlight, and I have done the trip with a few times now. Keppel Bay Maina at Yeppoon is an excellent departure point to the middle area of the Swains and I regard the 22m steel hulled Capricorn Star as the perfect reef fishing platform for a safe, comfortable and enjoyable week on the reef regardless of the weather. Winter Swains

It is a long way out to the lesser fished areas of the Middle Swains, something in the order of 250km, where you must first cross the often treacherous Capricorn Channel before reaching the calmer waters of the Swains. To be able to do the trip with a skipper who really knows his fishing as well as his way around these reefs in a purpose built reef fishing boat for an extended period with a well-trained crew is an absolute privilege.

The extended bag limits for these trips are generous too, and you still come home with plenty of fillets if that is your thing. On arrival at Yeppoon, the Cap Star was gleaming from a recent refit and there were several noticeable changes from my last trip two years ago. Scott Wilson, the owner and operator is a stickler for maintenance and COVID-19 hadn’t prevented his standards from being maintained. Winter Swains

He operates within the framework of a strict COVID approved plan, with all the necessary protocols in place for our safety and his. Out on the reef, we had four straight days of good weather, where we fished from the dories and this sated everyone’s fishing appetite. A typical day was 6:00am hot breakfast, and by 7:30 skippers had been briefed by Scotty on the lay of the reef and shoals, suggested location of pressure points to fish and other options to make every day safe and a fishing success.

Dories were launched and we were off fishing! Lunch was at 12:30 on the Cap Star and usually featured a location change while eating, and then back into the dories by about 1:30-2:00pm for an arvo session until about 5:30. Hot nibbles served on the rear deck at the end of fishing washed down with a few beers was always enjoyable, as was the ripper of a big hot meal served in the saloon each night, followed by plenty of dessert and a few more drinks over a discussion with the others, or a movie. Winter Swains

Many of our crew opted to fish from the rear deck after dinner and there were some nice Spanish mackerel, cobia and reef fish landed. There were also some big sharks on the chew at night too, and there was always an interesting story from those sessions. Somewhere along the way, the crew manage everything discretely behind the scenes for a seamless operation.

The good part is they are fully across keeping the fish in brine, doing the filleting and bagging, tagging, freezing and recording the lot! During the day all the dories have radios, so we could all communicate and keep each other updated. Fishing the dories has been made easier, with most having good colour sounders, and there was only one black and white unit remaining. Winter Swains

It didn’t matter which unit you had, as you could make good fishing choices all day long based on what was on the screen. This year we reckoned we caught more coral trout than previously and there was an abundance of large red throat emperor. The Spaniards were a bit light on, but there were plenty of shark mackerel caught while trolling from the mother boat and the dories.

My favourite fishing on the Swains is up on the shallows and in anything from 5-18m of water. The preference is a spin outfit loaded with colour coded 50lb braid and fluorocarbon leader with a tiny running sinker or no sinker. The trick then is to feed the bait out until it gets smashed by a trout or lipper! Winter Swains

My personal choice of hook all week is a single Mustad Octopus in an 8/0 size, as you don’t get so many of the pickers and unlike with ganged hooks, there aren’t as many bottom snags. A strong but light tipped spin stick in the Venom range is ideal, as you have the sensitivity from the braid and the rod tip to feel the presence of the fish and the grunt to get them before they rub you out in the reef.

George still likes his trusty handline in the shallows, because of the feel it offers him and it was enjoyable watching the determination on his face as he struggled to bring in some of the cracking fish he hooked. Out a bit deeper on the adjacent shoals, I prefer to use a 7ft Venom overhead rod (PE 2-5) loaded with 50lb braid and the lightest snapper lead I can keep near the bottom on a two-hook fluorocarbon rig.

This trip I didn’t put loops in the paternosters, instead adding droppers with a triple surgeon’s knot and trying hooks on individually. They are far stronger rigs than the paternosters we typically use at home, and you will not suffer knot failure when they are tied properly. The good thing about the Venom overhead rods is they are very sensitive and have loads of grunt for when you hook good fish in deeper water.

I like the way they allow you to feel the weight of a fish mouthing at the bait, then you can lean back on the rod to sink the hook instead of waiting for that big bite. This year we did fish from the deck of the Cap Star for a couple of days while there was a bit of wind and rain. The large undercover rear deck is excellent, as is the overhead shelter down the side deck. Winter Swains

I must admit, it felt good having the luxury of two deckies ready to remove hooked fish and keep up the supply of baits coming, not to mention their constant cleaning of the fishing space in between drifts. It is an exceptionally well-run operation! Eventually our week at the Swain Reefs came to an end, and we gave a big thanks to Ron Roduner for organising a very enthusiastic crew of keen fishers to share the charter with.

It was a very bumpy ride home across the Capricorn Channel, arriving back at Keppel Bay Marina around 3:30am before a hearty farewell breakfast. Even in the air conditioned cabins, you do struggle to sleep well in those conditions, but George and I still managed a good enough sleep in the forward cabin while ‘living the dream’. That is when you appreciate the good watch keeping practices on board and the standard the vessel is maintained at. Winter Swains

If anyone is considering a Swain Reefs trip for a small or large group email them at info@capricornstar.com.au or give Soozi a ring on 1800 792 467 and she will take you through the process for an amazing experience and some fantastic fishing.

About Bill Corten

Bill Corten
Bill has been spearfishing, fishing and surfing for all his adult life and now runs a business specialising in teaching people how to cross coastal bars and fish offshore. He also runs charters for people who fish for the right reasons and whose company Bill thinks he will enjoy. He’s been running his bar crossing business successfully since 1996 and hopes to continue doing so for years to come as he grows old disgracefully.

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