Wild Times in the West

West coasters enjoy amazing and diverse fishing in what can genuinely be described as the last of Australia’s real wilderness.

What’s more, they often have it all to themselves. When you consider the relative area of coastline to WA’s population, well, that equates to a lot of fishable water per person!

So, if it’s that good, is a trip to the Wild West worth it?

Even as an avid travelling angler, the west coast of Australia has largely been off my radar.

The main obstacle has been to do with my perception of cost. The beautiful remoteness of the west coast is also its nemesis. Sparse population, distance, access and logistics mean little is achieved easily or inexpensively.

However, I’ve learnt more recently that cost is a relative thing. There are definitely some very expensive – but amazing – fishing options and packages available over in the west. But there are also some that are far more affordable than many fishos – myself included – might think.

A few years ago I travelled to Fremantle to fish for samson fish. That trip was compact, productive and inexpensive. Three days on a charter boat, a modest shared unit and budget flights made it very appealing. In fact, that trip was the lynchpin for this story.

The guy I fished with was Al Bevan from Shikari Charters. I was struck not only by Al’s immense dedication to his sport but also the fish and fishery as a whole. I also liked the guy.

Probably of more interest to you, however, is Al’s approach to charter fishing. He genuinely wants to make the fishing he loves accessible to as many people as he can.

To this end, he aims to keep his trips very affordable. He acknowledges that this will not make him wealthy but he is obviously so passionate about what he does and with his place in life that that’s enough for him.

So, out of the blue I received a call to say that Al has been investigating the potential for running an affordable live-aboard charter operation out of Carnavon. Would I like to come up to check it out and maybe lend a hand?

What would you have said to such an offer?  

Anyway, fast forward a few months and I’m in Perth airport waiting to catch a plane to fly to Carnarvon.  

Al had spent the previous month commercial line fishing out of Carnarvon while at the same time scoping out the recreational fishing options.

I was part of a group of eight anglers lucky enough to try it all out. I had no idea what to expect. It didn’t help when Al told us to “be prepared for anything from snapper to marlin!”

The plan was to depart Carnarvon very early in the morning after our arrival and head straight due west to the northern end of Bernier Island.

From there, over the following days, we’d head south along Bernier and Dorre Islands and spend the last couple of nights at the very northern tip of Dirk Hartog Island, before steaming back north to Carnarvon.

We intended to fish several reef systems, troll while covering distance plus venture outside the islands into the blue water to anchorages that would allow for some decent night fishing. It looked to be a pretty full program.

This area is renowned for Spanish mackerel, wahoo, yellowfin and longtail tuna, sailfish and a couple of species of marlin.

Given that our first trolling run was well inside the island, it wasn’t that surprising that we didn’t cross paths with any of these open water marauders.

However, once we reached Bernier Island and ventured out wider, our expectations were higher. Unfortunately we didn’t raise a scale.

A report from a nearby boat of a couple of billfish coming up to the commercial mackerel lures got us interested.

Al made his way to the same area and we set a spread of skirted marlin lures.

We soon had a very interested billfish in our wake. It whacked one lure, then another before honing in on the short skirt.

It whacked it and grabbed it several times before losing interest. We guessed the lure was possibly a bit too big.

A quick rethink saw the large skirts downsized to smaller models.

Next pass over the marks resulted in one of the rods doubling over. A feisty little black marlin gave us a great aerial display right next to the boat, actually colliding with the bow at one stage!

It gave a decent fight on stand up threadline gear. However, it was eventually subdued, raised up for a quick photo and slipped back into the water to be revived and released.

The other type of fishing that we did a lot of was reef fishing. While the reefs of the north-west offer a genuine smorgasbord of species, we planned to chase snapper, aka pinkies. I have to say the fish we caught were some of the biggest “pinkies” I’ve ever seen.

The reefs we fished were between 20 and 40m deep. Al had advised us to bring a range of heavy lures and jig head weights due to the power of the currents.

We often used soft plastics with jig heads of between 70 and 100 grams, metal jigs like Jigging Master, Vexed and FC Labo jigs in the 100 to 300 gram size and octa jigs of 80 to 200 grams.

If you’re keen to do a trip to Carnarvon, make sure you include heavy vertical lures. Above all, make sure the hooks are strong. Some mean critters live in these waters.

Fishing soft plastics was no different from standard east coast snapper techniques. Whether at anchor or drifting, an up current cast was the best way to get the lure to get down to the depths.

For the most part we were aiming to get our lures to the bottom. However, any avid snapper fisho will tell you that reds are predominantly a mid water species. For this reason, you want to constantly keep in contact with your lure.

Octa jigs have forged a pretty solid foothold in the snapper fishing scene, certainly around my area at least, and they proved to be just as effective in the west.

They proved especially deadly when dropped to the bottom and fished with a stop start retrieve, then paused for a moment and sent back to the bottom before repeating the action.

Perhaps surprisingly, this worked best with the heavier jigs. I used one of 200 grams in 40m of water, with a decent current and was able to get the bites because I could hold the lure in the strike zone. Unfortunately, I lost it to some unknown marauder!

What really spun me out was how successful we were with a range of metal jigs, especially in the smaller sizes of under 200 grams.

I know they catch plenty of fish like kings, samsons and trevally but I was very surprised how effective they were on snapper.

The key seemed to be in the retrieve. Rather than the vigorous action associated with deep-water jigging for kingfish, the successful technique was more of a “hang and quiver”.

In other words, drop the jig to the desired depth, engage the reel then just quiver and or gently pulse the rod tip.

This is a technique Al employs on the big samsons with great success. It certainly worked on the snapper – and many other species.

Speaking of which, the range of fish we caught reef fishing was impressive. Some notable ones included coral trout, several species of trevally (including the magnificent diamond trevally), amberjack, spangled emperor, rankin cod and, of course, snapper.

The final form of fishing we did was overnight at anchor. While the weather didn’t allow us to fish prime waters every night of the trip, we managed to park ourselves over a motherlode of fish at least for a couple of nights.

Our last night was especially memorable. The weather was great and the fishing was equally hot. We caught shark mackerel on surface lures on dusk followed by a procession of snapper, spangled emperor, cod and ooglies right through the night.

Many were pan sized but we also caught a couple of emperor and snapper well over four kilos. This night fishing wasn’t just about the fish either. We also had some very productive squidding at night at just about every anchorage we stayed at.

The thing that surprised me the most on the trip was the amount of other sea creatures. Al had said that there were quite a few whales about while he had been commercial fishing in the days before, but none of us were prepared for just how many whales we saw.

It seemed there was a whale appearing every 30 minutes or so, often right next to the boat. Another novelty were sea snakes that seemed to be intrigued by the lights of the boat at anchor.

Sea turtles, pilot whales, dolphins and a myriad of sea birds made up the balance of a pretty impressive wildlife hit list.

So, after all that, was a trip to the Wild West worth it? Absolutely. The range of fishing options and mix of tropical and temperate species makes the trip a real lucky dip. Definitely the kind of trip to suit someone who likes variety in all its forms.

Fact box: Fishing With Al
The trip we undertook was not a true representation of the packages Al Bevan will ultimately offer.

It was more of a trial run to see if the fishing would stand up to the big reputation of the West and to give Al a handle of whether the larger vessel and live-aboard arrangements were to be his cup of tea.

Restrictions on our vessel’s survey ticket also meant we couldn’t venture more than 30kms from shore. Sadly for us, this put the outside run down Bernier and Dorre Islands out of the question. These grounds put you right in range of wahoo, mackerel and several tuna species as well as most of the billfish.

However, the next time I go Al expects to have resolved this issue.

He is also keen to have at least one smaller vessel to use as a sportfishing craft. This would allow anglers to venture into some of the inshore edges that are famous for massive tailor and snapper.

There’s also potential to get out on a beach and do some land-based fishing. That would add a couple of new dimensions to an already varied trip.

Trips are proposed to run between April and September each year. This corresponds with both good fishing and decent weather (by WA standards anyway).

Contact Al Bevan on 0412 131 958 or at for more details.

This article was first published in the Fishing World February 2014 issue.

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