WHAT do you do when a bucket list destination – the sort of place you might just visit the once – becomes an obsession? That’s what has happened to me with Lord Howe Island, a place so beautiful and unspoilt and with such great fishing that the moment you are on the plane home you start thinking about how long it will be before you can return. This was my third visit in five years to this tiny piece of rock, stuck so far out in the Tasman Sea that most Aussies have never even heard of it never mind having actually been there. Luckily for the 300 or so hardy souls who call this corner of paradise their home there is a loyal army of LHI enthusiasts who return year after year, often bringing their grown up children and grandchildren with them, to experience a pristine World Heritage Site where time stands still.
I’ve written previously on these pages about the magic of this place and the sheer variety of the fishing available to the visiting angler so have a look if you want a bit more background. There’s a full Fishing World magazine feature from my first trip in 2011 still available online and also a report from my second trip.
So what’s left to say?
Well first of all although I caught kingfish I’m not going write about “The Kings of Lord Howe” despite the fact that these are probably what the place is best known for in angling circles. With the Admiralty Islets to the north and the famous Balls Pyramid to the south there’s plenty of habitat to attract kingies in both size and numbers and a number of the local charter boats target very little else usually by fishing deep on heavy gear. Sadly the sharks have wised up to the boats and it can be a challenge to avoid them whilst still deploying anything like sporting tackle.
I absolutely adore sight fishing and the lagoon on the eastern side of the island contains part of the world’s most southerly coral reef which teems with fish including a number of species only found in this location such as the oddly shaped Lord Howe doubleheader wrasse. And although the crystal clear waters of the lagoon can be tackled from the shore and the island jetty, nothing beats getting out on the water in a small boat with a local guide. There is nobody that can match the expertise and experience of my good friend Gary Crombie who has lived on the island all his life and runs Oblivienne Sportfishing which specialises in targeting the lagoon fish on light tackle.
The ‘grand slam’ of species that we were after included silver drummer, bluefish, double headers and silver trevally. In the past we have landed all four in the space of a short morning session but this time it took us a couple of trips – only because on the first time out I got comprehensively smashed by a turbo charged trev which rocked me and sliced my 20lb braid in about ten seconds flat. I’ve caught GTs and golden trevally elsewhere in Australia but I can honestly say that pound for pound the silvers pull harder than their bigger cousins and indeed anything else with fins that I’ve ever hooked.
Crom spends as much time drifting around the lagoon looking for fish – obviously avoiding the sanctuary zone areas – as he does fishing. That is fine by me as I like the hunt and it’s great when we spot a school of good sized drummer or bluefish and get them feeding in the berley trail of wet bread and tuna oil. Tactics couldn’t be simpler. Just a lightish spinning rod – I use a 9ft four piece travel rod from Sonik with a casting weight of 20 to 40 grams – some braid and a fluorocarbon leader of 15 to 20lbs which I sometimes grease to make it float. At the business end is a No 2 hook and a piece of bread crust for surface fishing, pinched bread flake for a slow sinking bait or a lightly weighted prawn if we need to get below the swirling drummer and down to the trevs underneath.
The silver drummer are prolific and not hard to catch if you follow Crom’s advice, although those that hang around the island jetty are super educated and need a bit of fooling to get them to take a bait. I rashly promised one of the youngsters staying at Pinetrees Lodge (somewhere I’d highly recommend by the way) that I’d catch him one if he and his mum would like to join me for a pre breakfast session. For a while they teased us by taking every piece of berley and ignoring our crusts but by scaling down to a smaller hook I eventually got seven year old Will Taylor connected to a powerful drummer that obligingly charged out into the lagoon rather than smashing us up under the timber. The smile on his face and the relief on mine in the picture says it all.
Crom and I caught plenty of drummer ourselves from his well appointed 5m side console boat ‘Bonefish’ including some chunky samples in excess of a couple of kilos. We had a crazy session on the double headers with fish after fish off the same coral bommie and I eventually brought a couple of decent silver trevs to the boat after a blistering scrap. When we tried for them we caught kingies on trolled garfish and we even found some large spangled emperor but couldn’t get them to feed in the bright sunshine. However, without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of the trip for both of us was the appearance of some super sized bluefish.
Sadly, these beautiful creatures, once found around Sydney in sufficient numbers that they named a particular rock south of Manly “Bluefish Point”, have now become extremely rare almost everywhere except on Lord Howe. In fact, in the rest of New South Wales the bluefish or blue drummer are now designated a catch and release only species.
Now I’ve had bluefish before at Lord Howe but nothing over a kilo. They are sometimes in shoals on their own but are usually to be found amongst the drummer. Fortunately, when they are fired up they can be more aggressive than their silver friends and there’s a very good chance that a bluey will beat them to the bait. In the three sessions I had with Crom during my last trip we came across two substantial shoals of bluefish and on the first occasion there were some exceptional specimens amongst them. Apparently, the big girls will put in an appearance around the big tides in the Autumn so for once I found myself in the right place at the right time which is half the battle in any form of fishing.
I’ve no idea what the official record is for a bluefish but what I do know is that some of the fish we landed that day were as big as any that Crom has seen for a very long time. We put the biggest at not far off three kilos and probably around 30 years old, which is a monster by any measure. Watching these amazing turquoise blue creatures sip a bait of the surface and then crash dive for the coral as they feel the hook is an image that will remain with me forever. Fortune was on my side that day – although a longer rod and pair of soft hands helped – and the bigger fish stayed connected. Bluefish look better in the water than they do on the boat as they quickly lose their colour in the air but hopefully the pictures will give you a flavour of what is possible on Lord Howe.
I’ve no idea when I will return to the place they call ‘The Last Paradise’ but I know for sure that I will.