South Australian long range charters

Long range charters in SouthOz will hook you up to sometimes unstoppable monsters.

LONG range, live-aboard charters have become increasingly popular throughout the country over the past decade or so, and not without good reason. As charter boats continue to get bigger, faster and more capable of staying at sea for extended periods, our appetites for long- range fishing are expanding at a similar rate. It’s an exciting time for keen anglers looking to trade blows with big, angry fish in out-of-the-way locations, and right here in my home state of South Australia the long-range scene continues to develop at a steady rate.


I count myself as extremely lucky to have been right in the thick of things when the live-aboard phenomenon kicked off here in the early 1990s. For years the local flybridge cruiser set had been enjoying some mind-blowing action out of locations like Port Lincoln, Coffin Bay, Kangaroo Island and Ceduna, but access to the untapped wide grounds was restricted to those who could afford to own and operate big boats. All that most of us average wage earners could do was marvel at the giant kingfish, samsons, tuna and sharks the big boys were catching, and dream that one day we might join them.

Big kingies are a feature of lang range charters.

It came about as the result of a chance meeting with the manager of a rather unique charter organisation, that I would ultimately become part of a group of South Oz long-range pioneers. The “AK Falie”, a 46m, 300 tonne ketch set up for a variety of marine charter activities, had been sitting at its berth in Port Adelaide much more often than was financially viable, and its administrators were looking to broaden the ship’s horizons before the entire project began to flounder. They had tried several options without much success, including a handful of unproductive fishing safaris, and had all but given up on the angling side of things, when I ran into the organisation’s boss at a charity dinner. He knew of me through my involvement with the fishing media, and it didn’t take long for the dinner conversation to turn to matters piscatorial.

Long story short, within a month of this initial meeting I had assembled 20 keen fishos who were champing at the bit to explore SA’s offshore bounty. All it took to have the punters queuing up was a small ad in my magazine; so positive was the response to this ad, in fact, that I had more than a hundred anglers trying to pay deposits and be part of our maiden expedition. Quite obviously, the demand was there. All I had to do was find these guys some decent fish and Falie Charters was back on track.
Fortunately, I had done quite a bit of trailer boat fishing along the North Coast of Kangaroo Island over the years, so this emerged as my best option for our first four night/three day long-range adventure. The “AK Falie” was an old trading ketch that had plied coastal SA for decades before being fully restored and refitted in 1986 as a charter vessel. She was big, heavy and slow, but what she may have lacked in speed, she certainly made up for in comfort and seakeeping ability.
It took us about 15 hours steaming at seven knots to travel from Port Adelaide to Investigator Strait, the corridor of water separating Kangaroo Island and Yorke Peninsula. These were the days before GPS was part of every offshore angler’s arsenal, and all I had to rely on was a series of land marks I had accumulated over a decade of fishing this waterway. I can tell you I was feeling just a tad nervous as fishing guide on this maiden voyage, particularly with the hopes and dreams of 20 wide-eyed, paying anglers resting squarely on my shoulders!
It was a Godsend that this area was lightly fished back in the middle ‘90s, and it didn’t take long to find the motherlode of snapper, thumping silver trevally and some of the biggest King George whiting most on board had ever seen. I can vividly remember one guy reefing a double header over the ship’s gunwale – a 55 cm KG and a six pound snapper – and asking me how soon he needed to pay to be part of the next trip!
These trips regularly produce larger sharks.

From those beginnings the AK Falie quickly developed an enviable reputation for producing great live-aboard fishing. Whiting and snapper eventually gave way to kings, samsons and tuna as we moved operations further westward, and the South Oz long-range charter scene was essentially up and running.

Unfortunately, the AK Falie is now out of service some 25 years on, moored full time in Port Adelaide’s upper reaches and no longer suitable for charter work of any kind. She’s old, tired and well beyond repair without a multi-million dollar injection of funds, which doesn’t appear to be coming any time soon. Her legacy, however, is rich in the overall scheme of charter fishing in SA.
With so much ground broken by our early adventures and an obvious plethora of offshore possibilities out there to be tapped, it was inevitable that other long-range operations would pop up to expand on what we had created. Port Lincoln was the ideal base for tackling the ocean waters south of Eyre Peninsula, and after a few years away from the long-range scene, I decided to team up with an old friend of mine and get back into the game.
Rolf Czabayski owned the 55 foot “Calypso Star”, a fast, comfortable and nicely equipped rig that was already in survey and would be perfect for live-aboard groups of six plus two crew. Based in Lincoln Cove Marina, we could collect punters who had flown into Port Lincoln from Adelaide in the morning and have them fishing well offshore the same afternoon. Alternatively, they could fly in the day before and overnight in Rolf’s waterside townhouse before a dawn start. Naturally, this style of long-range charter would be more expensive than the “cattle boat” AK Falie days, but the whole package would be way upmarket and, hopefully, even more productive on the fishing front.
A big King Land blue morwong.

Now legendary offshore locations such as the Cabbage Patch and Rocky and Greenly Islands were our usual stomping grounds in the early days of Calypso Star Charters. Most expeditions were four day affairs, which provided enough time to visit many of the lightly fished offshore reef systems, and offered a fair cross section of fishing styles and target species. We explored and fished dozens of previously untouched locations, steadily building a GPS database of true blue water hot spots.

Samson fish had long been at the top of the bucket list for many keen South Aussie anglers, and as we gradually discovered samson populations akin to those of Western Australia, they started to dominate our long-range planning. We found them in vast numbers and at prodigious sizes on the reef systems between Coffin Bay Peninsula and Greenly Island, targeting them first with live and dead baits, but later moving on to heavy jigs. Our tackle had to improve rapidly to handle big, bruising sambos of up to 40kg, and before too long we were catching them in numbers rivalling charter operations out of southern WA.
Greenly Island became Calypso Star’s second home, and once word began to spread of the fabulous fishing we had uncovered, a couple more long-range boats started to fish alongside us on a regular basis.
Apart from the ubiquitous samson fish, Greenly and nearby Rocky Islands held some of the biggest yellowtail kings in the country – maybe in the world – often surpassing the fish taken by New Zealand long-rangers. Greenly’s night time kings quickly turned into a main attraction in their own right, drawing heavy tackle anglers from all over SA and interstate. Once news hit the Victorian fishing grapevine that there were genuine hundred pound kingies on offer through Calypso Star Charters, enquiries from over the border started matching those from the domestic market. Getting a spot on board soon became as tough as boating one of those big green and gold bruisers!
This Greenly Island nocturnal fishery was, and still is, quite unique. It all happens in a protected bay on the Island’s northern side, where the fishing is about as user friendly as you hope for with opponents as notoriously tough and dirty as big kings. The boat anchors overnight in around 25 m of water over a pure sand bottom with absolutely no rocks, reef or any other potentially line-cutting structure. The big kings come in after sunset in pursuit of baitfish like slimy mackerel, yackas and sauries, as well as arrow squid and cuttlefish, all of which are used as live baits. 
The technique is really quite straightforward, but due mainly to the average size of the kingies encountered, all tackle and rigging has to be spot on. Two baits are deployed off outriggers and sent down to within five metres of the bottom. The reels are set in strike drag, the rods are placed in gunwale holders, and the waiting game begins. At least 80 per cent of the giant kingies hooked come between dusk and dawn and, due to the lack of reef in the bay, most are successfully boated, tagged and released.
I can vividly recall one calm, cool May night anchored at Greenly Island a few years back when every live bait we put down was annihilated by kingfish that ranged from 24-38 kg. By 3 am every angler on board had caught a kingy of 30 kg or better, and the entire crew was fished out and unwilling to lock horns with another. This was as close to live-aboard mayhem as I’ve seen in many years of guiding.
Bluefin tuna of various sizes are nearly always on tap in this area as well, with the majority varying between 15-25 kg. In the early times we trolled these fish exclusively, but these days many charter clients prefer to drift through the surface schools casting stickbaits at them. This is a whole lot more fun and naturally more spectacular, as strikes often come within metres of the boat. We do get the occasional fly fisher on board who wants to target surface-feeding tuna, and I can see this angle becoming increasingly popular as SWF expands.
However exciting it may be to tackle big kingies, samsons and tuna, there are plenty of long-range punters here who are happy chasing smaller varieties like King George whiting, pink snapper, red snapper and blue morwong. For the past few years I’ve been taking groups of eight anglers down to Kangaroo Island for five-day live-aboard expeditions with considerable success. Kangaroo Island Fishing Adventures operates a 65 footer out of a private marina on the Island’s western end, providing access to waters that are rarely fished by anyone else. Most of owner/operator Gavin Solly’s charter fishing comes in the form of day trips, but I like to hire his operation for a couple of weeks in May when SA’s often fickle weather is usually at its most stable.
Fishing and accommodating eight punters on board Gavin’s “Island Lure” is no problem at all, and the variety among the usual catch is generally second to none in this state. After leaving the marina near Western River Cove, we spend five full days circumnavigating Kangaroo Island, fishing both day and night in a host of different locations. The action varies from medium tackle whiting and snapper to heavy tackle kings, samsons and bluefin for those still keen to chase larger species. It’s a true mixed bag scenario, where a lot more emphasis is placed on catching high quality table fish to take home than tag and release. Among the more desirable ‘by-catch’ on these circum-KI expeditions are species like blue morwong, red snapper, blue groper, harlequin fish and school sharks, all of which make superb eating as well as being fun to catch. 
Our overnight anchorages throughout these trips regularly produce larger sharks for those with the required gear and stamina. Hefty whalers, hammerheads, blues and makos are the usual toothy customers, some of which have proven unstoppable – even on well assembled 24 kg game outfits. Without the ability to chase big sharks down while anchored after dark, there have been several ‘spool jobs’, which always cause plenty of excitement until the line load inevitably runs out!
I guess it’s the great variation in opportunity and overall catch that has made these Kangaroo Island live-aboard trips so popular. Punters can be anchored up and pulling 50cm-plus King George whiting to their hearts’ content after breakfast, then throwing stickbaits at tuna or jigging for samsons before lunch. Kangaroo Island’s offshore reefs and islets offer an amazing diversity of fishing options, many of which can be sampled in a surprisingly short space of time.
The recent implementation of Marine Mark Sanctuary Zones, particularly off the State’s West Coast, has unfortunately curtailed live-aboard visits to Pearson Island – one of SA’s true remote fishing gems. I was fortunate enough to take many live-aboard charter groups to Pearson in the early 2000s, where we were treated to what is undoubtedly the best King George whiting fishery in the country. KGs to over 60 cm and 2 kg were caught regularly on our four-day charters to Pearson out of Coffin Bay, as well as Australian salmon to 7 kg, giant blue groper and the usual tackle busters like kings, tuna and samsons.
I’m still at a loss to understand why the entire Pearson Island Group was declared a no-take zone, as it saw just a couple of charter boats and maybe one or two private recreational boats annually. It’s close to 40 miles offshore from Elliston, the nearest port, so its remoteness alone will always protect the Island from over exploitation or environmental degradation. 
Long-range charter options in South Australia are currently confined to a handful of big boat operations – a situation I can’t see changing dramatically in future. The guys who run these boats are well informed, highly experienced and environmentally aware. They are also right in tune with what South Aussie anglers want to catch when they spend their money, which is probably most important of all.
So, while we may not be able to cast big stickbaits at giant trevally, switchbait billfish or troll for wahoo down this way, there is plenty to keep long-rangers happy. It’s certainly a different style of live-aboard fishing, and one I have been blessed to be part of for close to quarter of a century.

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