Report & Video: GBR odyssey

I WAS recently invited to join old and good friend John Toohey, better known as JT, on a maritime fishing adventure aboard his 65 foot Grand Banks Aleutian Nooroo V from Hamilton Island to Bugatti and Saumarez Reefs.

I had fished with JT in the seventies aboard his 53ft Hatteras Nooroo III – the most comfortable game boat I have had the pleasure to fish from – but a 65ft Grand Banks is not exactly an ideal fishing platform when one is targeting any of the pelagic family, but what it lacks in cockpit space it sure makes up for in comfort.

Keeping in mind we released two black marlin in the Capricorn Channel last year (whilst in transit to Swain Reefs) without much difficulty, I was keen to get going. Also with us for the trip were JT’s, daughter Amelia, grandsons Oliver and Peter and two good friends Bill Buckle and Laurie Brereton, along with JT’s skipper.

We departed Hamilton Island and set a course for Hydrographers Passage (Lat. 20 deg. 50 south, 150 deg., 25 east) then on to Bugatti Reef (Lat. 20 deg. 05 south 150 deg. 18 east). Within half an hour of arriving we had a meet and greet by nine of the locals – GTs of approx 20kg, and a couple of sawtooth sharks.

The next morning our welcoming committee was still around so we launched our tender, a 4.5m Boston Whaler. Oliver, Peter and I took to the Whaler as the GTs were chummed from the mothership, and at the appropriate moment, fed the GTs a bait with a circle hook. The Tiagra 50 Wide screamed into action and the line cracked off the reel as Oliver increased the drag. I kept the boat right on top of the GT so it could not reef the line around a bommie. This tactic worked as Oliver had the fish alongside the boat for Peter to tail within 10 minutes. A quick photo, a kiss and this beautiful fish swam away.

This was repeated time and time again, at other uncharted reefs near Bugatti Reef over a period of seven days. We just changed angler when our arms told us, “no more!” Apart from GTs we caught Spanish mackerel and enough coral trout, red throat emperor etc. to feed us every second night, and the abundance of painted crayfish amazed us all. The reef in this area is pristine.

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Along with plenty of GTs there were also some big Spaniards to be caught.

After some R & R at Hamilton Island we moved south to Swain Reefs where JT set a course for Saumarez Reef, one of the southernmost reefs to be located in the Coral Sea Islands and part of the Coral Sea Shelf. Located 46 nautical miles east of Swain Reefs, and 178 nautical miles north east of Gladstone.

We trolled some big lures in 350 metres of ink blue water towards Saumarez, hoping for a big blue or black Marlin, but we had no lookers. The sea bed came up from 350m to 30m within two miles of Saumarez, so I changed over to smaller lures with wire traces and all hell broke loose. As we passed over a sea mound, mahi mahi, albacore, wahoo, jobfish, mackerel tuna were all over the lures – talk about a hot bite! Double hook ups were common; as soon as you put the lures out and set the drag it was on again, even a shark took a lure as we made a sharp turn. Peter had the Go Pro working overtime.

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This nice wahoo no doubt provided plenty of tasty dishes!

That night we toasted Saumarez Reef with champagne and sat down to our usual four course meal with Laurie matching each course with a variety of Beelgara wine … no we never rough it on JT’s immaculately kept Grand Banks.

The next morning Murphy’s Law kicked in and the weather forecast had winds at 25 knots from the north for the next few days. As the reef only gives protection from the south, JT made the right decision to move back to the Swain Reefs for protection. A few more days of fishing the Swains was highlighted by one day seeing Laurie circumnavigate a 65ft Grand Banks at anchor attached to a 20kg GT … a tussle which the fish usually wins. This day though the angler was the winner and with a grin from ear to ear Laurie gave the fish its freedom.

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A win for the angler – Landing GTs is never easy!

Now the long trip back to Broken Bay gives us time to reminisce about the seventies when JT skippered his 53ft Hatteras, which caught world record fish and black marlin over 1000lb. These days, like myself, JT enjoys just being there to see a younger generation enjoy the sport of game fishing.

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