Playing doubles at Lord Howe

IT would’ve been hard to find a more impressive backdrop. In the distance Lidgbird and Gower mountains stood like giant sentries, overseeing the surroundings and beyond into the vast deep ocean from which they’d once risen. From our position floating atop the crystal blue of Lord Howe Island lagoon, the colour and shape of these towering landmarks was ever changing. Clouds drifted the sky causing shadows to dance across patches of lush green rainforest and grey volcanic rock. If there is such a thing as fishing “heaven” I reckon it probably looks like this place…

inline_833_ 2 550.jpg
Lord Howe Island lagoon.

Despite the jaw dropping scenery, the lagoon’s waters held even more interest for me – specifically its fish. And they were everywhere. At the back of the boat, well known fishing guide Gary “Crom” Crombie was ladling scoops of bread and pilchard berley over the side. The result was instantaneous. Fish came from near and far; big silver drummer mostly, as well as the aptly named bluefish, which stood out a mile thanks to an iridescent purple blue colouration. There were also loads of mullet and scatterings of other colourful reef fish, and the odd silver trevally lurked on the fringes. A metre-long Galapagos shark cruised through the trail ominously, no doubt on the hunt for a quick bite of one of the unsuspecting. It was a great introduction to one obviously very healthy fishery.

We left the free loaders to it, as Crom had a game plan. We were targeting a species he specialises in – the double header wrasse (a fish that also featured in a piece by Martin Salter in Fishing World’s August 2011 – check it out HERE). If that failed we were after bluefish, drummer and trevally, in no particular order. Crom reckoned that with a bit of luck we’d catch all four.

inline_862_ 3 550.jpg

As we motored away slowly he pointed the side console tinny through a narrow passage in the coral reef, one he’d obviously travelled plenty of times before.

“Where are you?” Crom mused expectantly, peering at the water on the edges of coral patches below us. We kept moving from spot to spot around the lagoon. As we did so Crom regaled me with his vast knowledge of Lord Howe Island history – not surprising as he was born on the island and his family connection to it spans several generations. Typically, he has an intimate knowledge of the local fishing, as his family has caught fish in its waters since the mid 19th century. Growing up on Lord Howe, Crom spent lots of time catching fish and crabs, honing his skills at a young age with handlines before eventually moving on to modern tackle. He’s also fished in many parts of the world but knows he’s very privileged to have the island lagoon in his backyard.

inline_557_ 4 550.jpg
Crom with a typical LHI silver drummer – great sport, crook eating!

“There’s one.” Crom said as we hovered almost directly above a large circular coral outcrop. I was wondering if our close proximity would spook fish, when Crom saw another. It took some time looking into the sun dazzled water before I could make out the fish he was seeing. Crom spied another double header so he decided we should stop and try our luck.
We’d earlier beached at nearby Rabbit Island and turned over rocks until we had enough crabs for a decent bait fishing session; Crom had made the task look easy. Embarrassingly, I’d only contributed two measly crabs to the total. Unfortunately for one of the crabs it was soon hauled from the bucket and impaled on a 2/0 Mustad red hook under a ball sinker. On Crom’s instruction I cast it at a break of sand between patches of coral. I didn’t have to wait long as a couple of taps telegraphed up the line. As Crom had advised, I allowed the line to slowly tighten before watching it begin to move away. As the braid sliced the surface to my left, I struck. The fish met the hook and went up a gear to power toward the reef. In my mind I was instantly back on the NSW south coast hooked to a rampaging black drummer in a wash zone. And as often happened in the latter scenario, the line suddenly went slack and came up empty. There was no mistake. I’d hooked my first double header.

After rerigging and only attracting pesky “bait stealers” as Crom called them we moved on. Next stop near to a likely looking hole provided double header round 2 as I managed to clumsily wrestle one of maybe a kilo and a half from its reefy home. A few photos and a bit of a gawk our end and it was sent back to feast on more sea urchins, crabs and such. While it’s always great to catch a new species it can also be a relief after being unceremoniously dusted on the first attempt! They are one strong customer and deservedly required the use of the 15kg spin stick and 16000 Thunnus reel Crom employs for the job.

inline_690_ 6 550.jpg
The author with an average sized double header – impressive fighters.

After experiencing double headers firsthand I’d put them in the same category as the eastern blue groper (also a wrasse) commonly found in NSW, in terms of habitat, feeding habits and overall body shape. While the blue groper is commonly known to grow to around 20kgs, the biggest double header Crom has seen was a 13-pounder, caught at Lord Howe by John Dunphy of Shimano fishing tackle fame. If double headers grew to 20kgs they’d be extremely hard to handle! Interestingly, Crom says the fish takes on its “double head” characteristic later in life after spending time as a juvenile foraging for food amongst cracks in rocks and reef outcrops. Tough customers built for their surroundings, Crom has seen them come out of the water sporting sea urchin spikes in their heads. And not unlike the knobby heads snapper are renowned for, he says the double header’s bumps are skin callouses formed as a result of this feeding activity.

We went on to catch and release a couple more double headers without too much effort and Crom spotted quite a few others that we didn’t bother targeting. The numbers of double headers we encountered bolstered Crom’s claim that Lord Howe Island has lots of them. He has long employed a self regulated one fish bag limit (prior to it becoming law) which no doubt has only benefited this unique fishery. While he has obviously done his part to protect the species the introduction of the Lord Howe Island Marine Park has seen Crom lose some of his best double header spots. Like many fishos, he concedes that marine parks have the potential to work to benefit fisheries – if based on sound science, not politics.

inline_845_ 5 MS.jpg
Crom releases the majority of his fish.

After changing tack away from double headers, we pursued the lagoon’s healthy silver drummer population and as it turned out, its elusive bluefish. We missed out on the latter despite our best efforts, but I had a ball targeting drummer to around 4kgs on fly gear and bread baits. Berleying them up and presenting a 2/0 Felty’s bread fly proved a great challenge; producing plenty of hookups, a few bust-ups and frustratingly, many pulled hooks! I also hooked what we hoped was a nice king on 6kg spin gear. It shot across a reef at speed with my 4000 spin reel zinging in its wake and a two metre Galapagos shark hot on its tail. The result was unfortunately inevitable.

inline_76_ 7 550.jpg
Silvers in the lagoon provided lots of fun on light spin and fly tackle.

My few hours on Lord Howe Island’s lagoon had been a heap of fun thanks to some challenging fishing and excellent company. It provided a great insight into the quality of fishing at one of the world’s most unique destinations. Unfortunately, the next few days saw gale force strength south westerly winds buffet the island and I never got to sample the offshore fishing LHI’s renowned for, specifically monster kingfish, wahoo, blue marlin and more. A great excuse for a return visit if ever there was one!

Stay tuned for video footage of fishing LHI lagoon. For info on fishing Lord Howe Island with Gary Crombie call +61 2 65632185;

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.