West Coast Wonderland
Late last year I was lucky enough to be involved in the capture of a wild trout that weighed over 17 pounds. I've caught some big fish over the years but I had never seen a fish of such huge proportions with massive golden flanks, thick powerful tail and broad backed.
It all started when I was asked by John Haenke from the Wildfish Series fame to film a segment with Peter Morse on catching makos off the North West Coast for his new fishing series aptly called The Fishing DVD. These DVDs are fantastic, they have 4-6 segments that covers various forms of fishing all over Australia. These films provide great entertainment that run for about an hour and a half and are available from newsagents and tackle stores for only $12.95!. That's great value.
Anyway the crew turned up after fishing with east coast guide Michael Haley and I had already pre-arranged my good mate and fishing companion Mason Paull to fish with us from his boat Terminator. Mason is renowned around the state as a respected game fisherman but more so for the target fish, the mako shark. The first day out was a waste of time as we were blown off the water within an hour and when we got back to shore it didn't take long to find out that Tuesdays forecast wasn't going to be any better.
I gave them the options. We could head up to the lakes and film the same old stuff everybody else has filmed or we could head to the west coast and fish the Arthur River as no one to the best of my knowledge has ever filmed a fishing show here for a national production. Peter Morse readily agreed as the option of a good sea run trout seemed appealing. On the drive out of Devonport I rang Mike Stevens to tell him my plans and he suggested I speak to Stuart Smith as he was a regular there and see if he had been catching any.
After speaking to Stuey he gave me a better insight into the river and told me he had caught some good fish at the mouth to about 7 pounds in the last couple of days and the river was full of whitebait. Peter was salivating when I relayed what I just heard, so with great anticipation we headed to Mason's place to meet him as he would travel with us and we could have two boats on the water, one for the camera crew and one for Peter to fish from.
When we arrived at the Arthur we found the tide was running out which wasn't what we wanted so we found our accommodation, unpacked and readied gear whilst we decided what to do. The decision was made to head up river so Peter could fish a set of rapids where Stuey had told me we may catch some grayling. We made it a slow trip up enjoying the warm afternoon sun and gave John opportunities to film parts of the river.
We started fishing a fair way up the river and it didn't take long for Peter to find a rhythm with his 5wt Sage and soon had a lovely little brown trout, with incredible markings, on the deck of Masons boat. As we drifted down the river we saw small schools of whitebait showering, giving away the positions of the trout that were hunting them. Peter caught more trout and things were looking promising so I transferred the camera crew into Masons boat so if Peter hooked up to something good they would get better footage - and hook up he did. We had drifted around a corner and Peter saw some whitebait scatter so he put in cast and delivered the size 10 Fuzzle Bugger fly to a snag near the bait. A short pause to let the fly sink and a single strip saw him hook up. Instantly he knew he was onto a big fish as the rod loaded up and the fish began to pull hard staying deep. The fish rolled near my boat about 20 metres from Peter and I had to be reminded we were filming as I swore when I saw the size of the fish.
Several tense minutes passed but Peter is far to experienced to let a fish like this beat him and it wasn't long before Mason finally had a good net shot and the monster was dragged on board. Back slaps, laughter and whoo hooing carried down the river in the quiet of the day as some very happy anglers realized that the whole thing was caught on film from cast to landing.
Peter decided to take the fish to be mounted as after such a long struggle it unfortunately did not survive, so we found a spot to bank the boats and proceeded to take pics whilst Mason and I debated whether it was a sea runner or not.
Peter, John, Mason, Peta the sound person and I enjoyed a couple of celebratory drinks that night and to top it all off Mason managed to burley up a mako of approximately 200 kilos that Peter also landed on the following Friday.
The Arthur River is a big estuary with a tidal influence extending from what I could tell about 8-10kms up river. Even up this far there are small salmon mixing with the trout. You will find the majority of the river to be deep and slow with dark tannin water that makes polaroiding almost impossible. This is truly a wild west coast river and even though there is a regular population of anglers fishing here I suspect it really doesn't get fished all that hard for the size of the river.
Most anglers will be seen either fishing at the mouth for the ever present salmon or trolling the lower to middle reaches for the sea runners. If you get the tide right its well worth working the beaches at the mouth as this is a good a place as any to pick up a good sea runner when the whitebait are in the river. Fly fishing as well as spinning with small lures or soft plastics will all work well. It sometimes pays to not flog the water blindly but to sit back and watch and see if whitebait are skittish or showering and this will give the sea runners away.
Further up river trolling the deep edges with jointed Rapalas and other big deep diving lures such as 90mm RMG in silver mullet, Rapala Tail Dancers, Strike Pro Galaxia 2s in colors 905, 205 and 553 work well at times but other lures in natural colors are best on dull days and on bright days lures with a bit of shine to them can work well also. Basically when trolling I like to keep to the middle reaches and get the lures working at about 15 feet which is where I tend to get most of the hook ups. All the lures mentioned work at this sort of depth give or take a foot when trolled approximately 50-60 metres from the boat.
Soft plastics in 65mm Gary Glitter fish and Flickbaits in Evil Minnow, Firebait minnows in colors 61,21,22 and Berkely Powerbait Minnows in Casper Clear, Pearl Olive and Ginger Beer all will catch fish. I fish these rigged on a TT 1/24th - 1/16th #1 or #1/0 hook.
Fly fishing is obviously worthwhile but I would advocate using a gutsy 6wt or a 7wt because these are big powerful fish and they know where every snag is. Flies in whitebait patterns and sinking flies such as the bead head Woolly Buggers and Fuzzle Buggers and Olive Matukas or Hamills Killers are all worth a shot.
But as far as I'm concerned the most productive way to fish the river is to drift spin the edges. Just let the tide or wind carry you along the river whilst you pepper the likely looking snags with a few casts as you go. Suspending lures are great for this sort of work as they hover in the water and you can just twitch them out along a snag. Strike Pros new Bass X lures are perfect for this as they are fitted with quality hardware and are in mostly clear opaque colors.
Make sure your gear is well serviced and lures are fitted with quality split rings, hooks and trebles as a big double figure fish, if your lucky enough to get one, will soon sort out any inferior tackle. I find a 7 foot rod an advantage here not necessarily for casting distance but the added length helps control fish around the snags. I use 4-6lb braid and a full rod length minimum of Fluorocarbon leader material in 8-10lb.
Persistence is the key on this river, spend the time to learn whitebait movements and tide influences on the fish and you will find each session being more productive than the last.