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Road trip to remember

WE’D seen the photos and heard the stories. The tales of monster fish, unstoppables lurking on every ledge, drop-off and bommie. It sounded like paradise, a place that would truly test any angler.

To us, heading to Queensland’s Coral Sea seemed a pilgrimage, a rite of passage we just had to undertake.

The common misconception with venturing to “exotic” destinations is that such trips are prohibitively expensive. The sheer distances involved, let alone the cost of charters, tackle upgrades, lures and all the other associated incidentals, add up to create a hefty price for even just a few days fishing.

Surely it doesn’t have to be that way? There must be a way to gain access to arguably some of the best fishing this country has to offer without parting ways with all of your hard-earned coin, right?

That was what this road trip set out to achieve, a barebones assault on the Coral Sea to challenge the preconceived notions of what’s required to fish one of the world’s premier sportfisheries.

But what inputs are actually required to get the most out of your road trip? How do you plan for a trip into unknown territory? What are the must-have supplies and spares? What fishing gear do you need? How much gear should you take?

These are just a few of the questions that pop up at the thought of an adventure into the unknown. Hopefully, this article will help you plan your own DIY fishing trip.
 
Preparation
I’m sure you’ve all been told that preparation is the key to success in these types of endeavours. Well, it’s true.

According to the great and all knowing Oprah Winfrey, “luck is preparation meeting opportunity”. Inspirational stuff, however these wise words do ring true.

Before we packed everything into the car and hit the road, weeks were spent patrolling online forums, distant friends of friends who’d fished the areas we were interested in became close acquaintances and magazines were scrutinised in the quest to collect up-to-date-reports, weather forecasts, tackle advice and in some cases even GPS marks.

Persistence at this planning stage meant we were no longer forced to fish blind in a new and distant environment; instead we were armed with a myriad of knowledge on locations, techniques and tackle.

Thanks to our research, we knew what gear to take and what minor modifications to make to our Sydney orientated outfits so as to be adequately prepared to take on the tropical brutes. In short, the time we spent preparing meant that our chances of success were significantly increased.

First and foremost in the preparation category are the compulsory vehicle, trailer and boat checks.

The further you get from suburbia the more isolated you become and generally the worse the conditions of the road get. You don’t want to spend your precious time off stuck on the side of a lonely highway with a blown wheel bearing.

Before undertaking this trip we had the car, boat and trailer all serviced to ensure they were in premium nick.

Over the years I’ve also learnt that it pays to explain to the people servicing your vehicles where you are intending on heading and that you will be towing a boat and/or trailer.

They just seem to take a bit more care when doing the job once you tell them your plans. And who knows, fishing may just happen to be a common interest and they could have some tips for you on where you’re heading.

Getting There
Flying to the northern Queensland coast from Sydney is not a cheap exercise, not only because of the costs of the flights themselves but because flying leaves your boat at home in the garage where it isn’t much good to you.

Driving is the way to go, hence the road trip. Yes, it’s more time consuming and, yes, the cost of petrol is significantly more than it used to be. But a roadtrip still has a major appeal, mainly due to the freedom associated with doing your own thing.

Hailing from Sydney this trip saw us trapped to the confines of the car for a casual 17 hours before we arrived at the town of 1770, our destination, followed by a return trip.

It’s not the most pleasant way to travel but it does have significant benefits. Firstly, and most importantly, there’s no limit on the amount of gear you can take along so you can throw in that extra spin stick, popper rod or box of sinkers.

Secondly, with a couple of mates in tow your travel costs are divided by a factor of three or four, significantly bringing down costs.

The fuel cost for the return trip on this journey came to $950 or a measly $237.50 each, mere pocket change compared to the cost of a return flight, plus we had the flexibility of a car and the luxury of a boat that we were already familiar with.

Thirdly, you have an advantage in that you’re able to adapt to last minute changes in weather or fishing reports prior to leaving.

The Experience
A 23ft centre console was never designed to be a live aboard vessel. We knew this before we set out and we undertook numerous preparations to try and overcome this fact while still attempting to minimise the amount of non-fishing related gear brought onto the boat.

In the end the list of what came out to the reef went something along the lines of the following:

• Rations: bread, salami, fruit (no bananas!), muesli bars, plenty of water, baked beans, sweets and so on.
• Sleeping: one sleeping bag/bed roll each and two tarps.
• Personal: basic toiletries, a single change of clothes, sunscreen and a towel.
• Miscellaneous: A $15 butane gas stove on which a flurry of delicious reefies would soon be converted into gourmet feasts, extra rope, ice, hole repair kit and compulsory safety equipment.

Despite all of the preparations, four people living on a trailer boat for four days is never going to be the most comfortable experience.

It’s cramped and there is nowhere to escape to, so you get to know your crew very intimately. But when you are a million miles from everywhere in the middle of a coral atoll none of that seems to matter all that much …

The Fishing
We chose to primarily target reefs in 20-40m of water for coral trout and a plethora of other species.

Applying the same principles as we would have in our local waters off Sydney, we would start the day on the shallower reefs and edges before progressively moving into the deeper grounds as the sun rose.

Having four people on the boat gave us the advantage of being able to cover a variety of different techniques at any one time ranging from poppers and stickbaits, soft plastics and vibes through to traditional bait rigs.

During our time on the reef, soft plastics accounted for the majority of our fish, thoroughly out-fishing all of the other techniques that we employed.

There were a few variations that we found significantly increased our soft plastic success rate. When fishing for snapper and kingfish around Sydney we normally try and use the lightest possible jig head that the depth and conditions will allow.

On the reef, however, upsizing to a significantly heavier jig head and working the plastic much harder and more vigorously considerably improved our strike rate.

Fishing light (30-50lb braid) meant that we attracted a lot more pelagic interest although this often came at a cost with a number of fish winning their freedom.

It also made the taste of success that extra bit sweeter, with lots of long intense fights and the boat often being called into play to chase down a pelagic that was racing off into the distance.      

During the middle of the day the fishing slowed considerably on the shallower reefs which sent us out to explore for new grounds in 60-80m of water.

After considerable sounding and searching a series of small pinnacles holding some decent bait appeared on the sounder and baits were rapidly deployed down to the depths.

A mixed bag of maori cod, pearl perch, hussar and spangled emperor began to come over the side in amongst numerous dustings on the heavier gear (80lb braid) we were using.

Rigs were kept simple to a basic paternoster set-up although the addition of a flasher or saltwater fly to the bait seemed to significantly improve the amount of attention it received when dropped down.

Late afternoon saw life on the shoals and shallower reefs reactivate and hence were often spent throwing lures across shallow reef platforms or blooping poppers on coral fringes to entice a GT or red bass.

The number of options and the variety of techniques that can be employed in an environment like the Coral Sea are just endless. Even anchored up in the lagoon for the night, barracuda, slatey bream, coral trout and a myriad of other species are more than willing to jump on a bait or a well presented plastic.

Tackle Breakdown
We chose to use 10-20lb rods with 4000 size spinning reels spooled with 30lb braid for the majority of our time up at the reef.

The main reason for this was that it was what we already owned. It’s easy to get carried away with the concept that you need top-of-the-line heavy gear to fish these waters.

I guess if you can afford the latest and greatest, then go for it. Doubtless this sort of tackle will come in handy. There were a few occasions on this trip where we found ourselves significantly under gunned, but for the most part we found our gear to be more than adequate for the task at hand.

We also had heavier jigging and popping outfits available that could handle 80lb braid. These were utilised for popping and fishing the deeper reefs although we did manage to pull quite a number of fish from the deeper reefs up to the boat on the lighter outfits.

The take home message is that you don’t need to acquire a whole new arsenal to venture out in these waters.

By just knowing your gear and putting in the time and preparation to work out what fish you want to target and the best/most appropriate means of targeting the desired species, most gear can easily be made more than adequate for the task at hand.

Conclusion
For five days spent fishing in paradise, our travel expenses, fuel, food and all tackle and fishing gear came to a grand total of just under $500 per person. Not bad for a trip from Sydney to one of the most desirable fishing destinations Australia has to offer – and significantly cheaper than almost all of the alternatives.

As many fishos already know, venturing out onto the open road with the boat in tow is one of life’s greatest pleasures. With proper planning and preparation, that long awaited trip that you thought was out of reach may actually be well within your grasp.

What are you waiting for?

Trip Summary
We drove for a total of 38 hours and covered 2900km in the car on this trip. We used 1050l of fuel between both the boat and the car and fished for a total of just under 60 hours in four days. We travelled a minimum of 60km offshore during the four days and covered a total of 142nm.

Budgets & Planning
If it’s fishing there are always going to be costs involved (bait, tackle, fuel, etc), so while this trip and the accompanying article outlines ways to minimise these costs, it would be naive to think that a trip like this isn’t going to cost a dollar or two.

So ensure you have the budget needed and add extra for unexpected costs. In terms of planning, the internet is your best friend, especially in regards to sussing out local knowledge, getting up-to-date reports and finding out what techniques are working around the time that you’re aiming to go.

When it comes to the actual trip, be flexible, the weather is a key factor and one of the few that you can’t control. If the weather looks crap have a contingency plan. And remember, preparation is key to success!

Car, Boat & Trailer Prep
Car: Before you leave, get a general engine service with specific attention to the lights, brakes and discs. Check the spare tyre and the wheel jack, there’s no point having a spare if it isn’t in working order or you don’t have the tools  to change it.

Boat: Get your mechanic to give the engine a once over, paying particular attention  to checking the spark plugs, fuel lines, fuel separator, bilge pumps and fuses.

Check your batteries and wiring and ensure you have all necessary safety gear  onboard. Take spare fuses, spark plugs, bungs and other basic items on the  road with you. Ensure you have a comprehensive tool
kit onboard.

Trailer: Check the wheel bearings, lights, brakes (if applicable) and the spare tyre. Carry spare bearings, grease and necessary tools to carry out roadside repairs.

This story was first published in the Fishing World September 2013 issue.

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