Rarely does the opportunity to explore truly unfished waters arise. But six anglers had that privilege this fall. Joining two of Yellow Dog’s team members were four intrepid anglers game for exploring a new fishery off Australia’s east coast.
Yellow Dog partnered with East Coast Angling to explore the open ocean flats and the remote mainland flats. These flats lie just over two hundred miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea and rumors of large and aggressive Giant Trevally, Indo-Pacific permit, and Blue Bastards have grown louder and louder each year. The time had come for us to explore this unique fishery.
Starting in Cairns, we had a great night preparing and making new friends at the Cock and Bull Tavern—Aussie to the core with cold local beers and huge marlin on the walls.
Invigorated from the previous night’s fun and in anticipation of the week’s fishing, we then flew by charter plane to the Lockhart River. Our route over the Great Barrier Reef provided us a preview of the sand and reef flats we were soon to be exploring. Anticipation was high and everyone leaned hard against the windows.
Once on the ground in Lockhart the crew was greeted by the professional crew from our hosts. If felt like minutes before we were on the mothership prepping rods, reels, leaders, flies, and packs for tomorrow’s fishing.
For rods, 10-weights were the lightest set-up recommended for the week. 12-weights were rigged for GTs and other large fish we may encounter on the flats. Because this was unexplored backcountry fishing the possibilities were wide-open. From grouper to sailfish, anything that swam on the flats on near the coral heads would be pursued. We primarily rigged with floating lines, but had a few intermediate sink-tip lines.
As for flies, flexo crabs and heavy shrimp patterns were tied on for the expected permit and blue bastards, and large black brush flies for GTs. Now that we were rigged and ready it was relaxation time and a good night’s rest before tomorrow’s first day on the flats.
Over the course of the week the fishing was incredible—each day seemed to top the previous. Even with unexpected winds and periods of cloudy skies limiting visibility, we found fish and they were hungry. Some days on the tide-push waves of fish were coming onto the flats and multiple hook ups were more common than an unbent rod.
In shallow water we often found tailing GTs feeding on the sandy flats. Spaced throughout these tailing fish were small schools of permit, making the choice of which to target a very pleasant inconvenience. When GTs and permit moved off the flats, we found Blue Bastards around the deeper rocky bottoms. These aggressive and hard-fighting fish served up excitement and a new species for many of the anglers.
Most fishing was done on foot and to sighted fish. When we did blind cast, our casts into drop-offs and holes yielded a variety of species, nearly all of which gave line-ripping runs into backing when hooked.
If the GTs were not on the flats, we found them patrolling the deeper edges. This was time for the 12-weight and the sink-tip line. A blind cast and a fast strip usually resulted in a hook-up and brow-sweating fight.
Each evening as we boarded the mothership from our skiffs, our hostess greeted us with cold towels, cold drinks, and appetizers. From sashimi and fried fish bites to antipasto platters before dinner to fresh mackerel for dinner, the food was plentiful and delicious. Watching the sunset before dinner each evening off the top deck was the perfect ending to each perfect day.
Over nine days we sailed over 300 miles exploring unfished flats. The wildness of this area is still being discovered. In addition to the amazing diversity of fishing we experienced we saw saltwater crocodiles—from a very safe distance—and witnessed a hammerhead shark gorge itself on stingrays.
As the trip ended and we arrived back into Port Douglas, we found a pub and watched Game 7 of the World Series. But as we enjoyed a few pints and some fresh meat pies, it was obvious many of us would be back on the mothership soon. This is too good a location to not fish twice.