Fishing on the Wild Side
Mike Fry doesn’t only live on the Wild Side of Tasmania, but also goes fishing in probably the wildest boat ever to troll for trout—certainly in Tasmania.
When your mate says ‘What are you doing tomorrow, want to come up the Gordon for the night?’ it would be pretty hard to say anything else except “you bet” and start checking out your tackle box and packing your overnight bag. But if your mate was Troy Grining and he wanted to give his new 52ft, high speed cruiser a run across Macquarie Harbour, test the new onboard dory with a chance of landing a nice Gordon River Brown you would have to feel privileged. I didn’t say anything about getting on my hands and knees and kissing his feet…just having a lend of ya’ but I did feel very appreciative.
I would like to say that I spent the whole evening choosing the most appropriate rods, reels, lines and selecting a range of lures, salivating at the thought of immersing myself in one of the most pristine fishing environments that Tasmania has to offer, but I didn’t. As it turned out I was working that evening and in the morning, although up with the larks, I had a number of last minute jobs looking down the barrel of a 10.30am departure from the Strahan wharf.
“Xzet” was waiting for me at its berth with a few passengers from the Horsehead Ski Club. Troy and Guy used their massive cruise vessel Eagle to help the club break the world ski record with 114 skiers. Check it out on You Tube. We were going to head out through Hells Gates for a spin before dropping them off at the back channel jetty at Macquarie Heads. Now most people familiar with the size of Macquarie Harbour would be thinking how are they going to do all that and get up the Gordon and start fishing before setting up for the night in a suitable anchorage. When the vessel is capable of over 40kts I would say not a problem.
The west coast put on a familiar act as we went out through Hells Gates with a lumpy swell and a metre of sea on top which was going to make dropping a lobster pot in a bit tricky. Our plan was to drop a pot amongst the kelp on the north face of Cape Sorell. We did manage it but let’s not talk about the result.
We headed in to Pilot Bay with a view to latching onto a few flathead. Some of the locals were drifting and I am not sure if the sight of this big fishing cruiser was too much for them but they left the bay to us. Maybe it was because the flatties were not around. I tackled up my two rods with soft plastics and we did a drift which usually works here. One of the ladies that I gave a rod to hooked two rats but lost them on the surface.
I had forgotten about the mozzies in Pilot Bay…they’ve got two engines on each wing….bring the Aeroguard!
Then it was time to drop our passengers off and get down to business.
Once clear of the back channel Troy pushed the throttles and we climbed up to the plane and sat on a comfortable 32.9 kts. Troy explained that at that speed we were chewing up 99 litres per hour on each engine and if we took her up to top speed of 43 kts we would go through about 170 litres per hour.
Our travelling time to the mouth of the Gordon would be 20 minutes and once there we would be restricted to around 6 kts.
This vessel has two supercharged high performance Detroit diesels. Troy and Guy Grining bought them from the USA and reconditioned the donks themselves. The V8, 92DDEC 3s are two very mean machines and at 760 hp each this rig flies. The propulsion system is a surface drive from Sea Fury in NZ. It captures air and reduces cavitation to put it simply. Just a footnote the US military uses the standard version of these motors in their Patriot Missile prime movers; and that is just one!
As soon as we slowed down I rigged up two rods with Rapala minnows. One was a clear 4” which I was hoping would resemble a recalcitrant whitebait survivor from the annual carnage and the other was a 4” brook trout pattern with an orange belly. I had always done well trolling the edge of the reeds where the large browns lay in wait.
Given that we were not in a tinny but a massive 52 footer may have been the reason that we probably did not latch on. We turned off the port engine and idled with the starboard but I could see that stealth was not going to be our long suit. We persevered for about 45 minutes although I had trolled before in a 50ft sailing cat but today the trout were shy. It could also be that the troops staying at the Boom Camp had taken a fair percentage of the residents out in the previous six months from late August when the first whitebait start showing up.
We anchored just above the Boom Camp and Troy’s young son Alex and I headed off in the Quintrex 430 Dory to take a quieter look at the reed banks. One technique that I used previously was to tie a large whitebait saltwater fly about 40cm above a 4” Rapala Minnow. This has worked well in the past but I decided to persevere with what I had. One rod each side with the boat about 2 metres away from the reeds. Troy had mentioned that he saw fish echos on the sounder but down a couple of metres or more.
The rain was starting to set in so first evening no fish, we returned to the mother ship for a comfortable evening. With three cabins and a large lounge this is more than just a fishing boat. Around half of the length of the boat is fishing area with the dory on a tilt ramp with the pot hauler conveniently located to double up as a winch to bring the dory back up. The large duckboard provides a great fishing spot, safe boarding and use of the dory to boot.
The next morning the weather broke so Alex and I headed off with the promise of a hearty cooked breakfast after the first session. Young Alex did a great job of steering the boat as I worked the rods. Snags were regular and I lost the 4” clear Rapala and I decided to go deeper using a JJs StumpJumper. I hadn’t trolled with one of these but I decided to give it a go as I felt that we could get down a couple of metres.
JJs have been around over 20 years and initially John Ellis used timber handmade lures. These days the new lures are plastic but have an effective action around snags where they tend to float up backwards in a snag. I chose a dark green frog pattern. We were in frog territory and these Gordon Browns would no doubt be familiar with the little critters.
I got Alex to head back downstream a mile or two where I had previous catches. Fly fishing in this area can be good casting experience but the water drops off very deep with parts of the river approaching 100 ft deep. The reeds are in about 1.5 metres of water on the edge of the drop off to about 4 metres. I could have brought my fly rod as there are some shallows behind the reeds in places that could be rewarding. If I had more time I am sure a well postioned fly with a dropper could have done the trick. The reeds are thick with a lot of smaller weeds which make for difficult manoeuvring. The trouble is that the Gordon is so isolated and you can’t get across the harbour in a small tinny. Hence “Xzet”.
Then bang! I got a huge hit and then nothing. I took a couple of turns and my first thought was that I must have a lump of weed or a snag. Then it took off again but only for a short burst. I kept the tension on and slowly pulled in and close to the boat the fish made its presence known as it tried to do a runner. I was surprised when it broke the surface when I saw what a good size it was. Alex handed me the net as it gave one last effort at evading capture.
The force of the strike had knocked one of the eyes off the lure but I was impressed with both the fish and the performance of the JJs. My scales said 6lb but I reckon they were wrong.
It was a case of quality being more important than quantity as I made the decision that the Gordon River had given of itself more than I had hoped for. Alex and I congratulated ourselves as I administered the last rites and headed for a well earned breakfast.
This is one area of Tasmania that you can truly say that the beauty of fishing this river is just being there. Catching a fish is a bonus but there are some majestic fish in this river and with just a few hours trolling we landed a beauty.
Tips for the Gordon River:
Based on my recent experience try a JJs. Halco have a similar pattern but I find they don’t troll particularly well and twist the line. Troll the edge of the reeds and if you have a fish finder look for returns on the drop offs. Spin the cliff edges where the trees overhang. Rapalas have always been my favourite but watch the snags. There are many submerged trees and loosing lures is an expensive exercise. If in doubt move further out. I had a Glass Shad Rap GSR4 in my kit and would have tried that next if I was going to continue to fish as they are recommended down to 11ft. As it happened I used it on the Henty a few days later with a nice sea runner the result.
Stay at the Boom Camp from February onwards or by appointment with clubs from August until end of January. Or do as I did and hitch a ride on a larger vessel as a mothership and stay in comfort. If you stay at the Boom Camp please treat it with respect and leave something there for the next people and make a donation to the upkeep.