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Offshore Adventure - Aussie LBG Trifecta
PAUL & MONIQUE EMBLING - MARCH 2009
Paul Embling will be well known to readers of NZ Fisherman magazine, as he was a regular contributor to it. Since then he has travelled extensively, with his passion for fishing and other outdoors activities taking him to some wild and wonderful locations.
Thirteen years ago, fishing the rocks at Cape Karikari, I hooked and then lost a black marlin.
Losing it was, of course, a disaster, but at the time, being such an optimistic dreamer, I thought, “No worries – I’ll pin one next year.”
However, with so many worldwide piscatorial possibilities ahead, land-based escapades, while not forgotten, were cast aside in favour of other finned treasures.
This all changed recently when Monique became pregnant. Remote, exciting places were now out, and we were forced to find an easy destination for our six months’ fishing, herping and birding trip. Australia’s east coast fitted the criteria.
Our first destination was the famous ledges of Jervis Bay. Having read and dreamed about this place for 20 years, it was a surreal feeling to actually stand on spots where phenomenal captures had been made. There was a lot of history made on these ledges, and seeing all these cool but crowded spots over a few days really rekindled the LBG bug, but not my intentions to actually fish them – crowds I can’t handle. Besides, the water was green, and by all accounts things had been very quiet for six weeks fish-wise. However, after talking to a local, who’d scored a stray skipjack tuna the previous day, I decided on a dawn skippy spinathon.
Jervis Bay is not only legendary in terms of its unbelievable rock captures, its scenery is also equally up there, the true magnificence really hitting home as the first shafts of light seeped over the towering cliffs. It’s the best time of day bar none, and having bottlenosed dolphins frolicking about as we descended onto the ledge provided an even more delightful setting to the day.
What really amazed me – in fact, totally blew me away – was that there was not a soul here. To have perhaps the most famous rock platform in Australia, if not the world, all to ourselves was a scenario that I just couldn’t comprehend.
Monique saw the tuna first, porpoising some 80 metres out. Somewhat startled, as I didn’t expect to see anything, I started casting. The confident strike came on the fourth cast, but the pulled hook came seconds later. Bugger! Typically, the spasmodic school was beyond range on the following cast, and a further 20 minutes of blind spinning only stirred up the local kingfish.
With the sun now up, taking the glare off the sea, I could for the first time take in the water colour. Green yesterday, now it was blue as blue. And the current lines? What current lines they were! No wonder there were fish moving.
Another tuna shot was now unlikely, but I just knew that if I could get a bait out in that current, big things would happen. Luckily, I had brought my heavy gear with me. As for bait, Monique solved that problem by effortlessly spinning up a samson fish.
Deployed under a balloon for two frustrating hours, it hugged the rocks until a score of rat kings pursued it out to sea. Horizon-bound, the poor, harassed samson didn’t get far before an explosion of white water notified me of its demise.
Adrenaline surging, I flicked the lever up and wound down hard, meeting solid resistance. Thirty metres crackled off the spool before the adversary turned and surged towards me at such pace I had trouble keeping tight. Hooking up out wide from a ledge of this calibre is always going to be mega exciting, because you never know just what you’re connected to – kingfish, cobia, shark, marlin or perhaps a plesiosaur?
At first sight I, rather embarrassingly, called it for a big king, but couldn’t have been more wrong when the unmistakable form of a smooth hammerhead slid into view. Despite having encountered a substantial number of smoothies in New Zealand, I still get off on them. They are a beautifully proportioned predator, and not only do they have exquisite eyes, but the way the water runs off their hide like oil droplets is amazing.
The 30kg hammer was no match for my 37kg tackle and, with little fuss, my first east coast capture was quickly subdued, photographed, drooled over and released. I was more than elated.
Monique only had to look at my glazed expression to see our original plan of leaving Jervis at midday was now out of the question.
Luckily, the staggering mass of kings in front of the ledge proved easy to catch, and in no time at all I had one bobbing around in that wicked current line. To confirm the good water, a manta ray and a turtle cruised past.
My bait behaved itself out wide for a good hour before a splash alerted me that something was harassing it. The predator was unidentifiable from the fleeting glimpses I got of it, but appeared to be not much bigger than the bait. Certainly the flashes and splashes around my balloon were firing me up. Finally, after what seemed an age, the balloon skidded across the surface. Cranking line like Billy-O, things tightened up briefly, but then suddenly slackened as the hook pulled out. Damn! Thinking I’d blown it, I whacked the lever to freespool and hoped I still had bait. A big splash, followed by line pouring out under a controlled thumb, told me I did. A second chance. Wind, wind, wind... Yes! Yippee! I’m on!
Whatever I was connected to was small, zippy and very fast. Unable to pull line, its identity was revealed rather quickly as a rat mako. You little ripper. Unbelievable. I rate hammerheads highly, but makos are another thing altogether. They would have to be one of the most striking fish in the sea, surpassing all billfish in looks. As a LB target, they are highly prized in my books, but having caught a handful of makos off the stones, I will never take another intentionally.
Having used a large hook on account of the large bait, I hoped the hook was not mortally deep, so it came as an immense relief to see the 10/0 lightly lodged in its pectoral.
The high tide was a blessing, since I could get onto the partially submerged lower ledge and pick up the mako without its belly touching the rocks. Cradling it gave me that special connection: it’s always good to look, but it’s much better to fondle!
You have to work quickly when releasing these highly-strung, pelagic beauties, so it was fortunate that hook-up to release took barely five minutes. As it powered away, the mako looked absolutely magnificent with its bright, cobalt-blue back. As for me, I was on a super, super big high. What a day!
Putting another king out, I was expecting another strike, but really the mako capture was more than enough for the day. Then, when late afternoon came around, bringing with it a group of seven young blokes, the serenity of the place was broken. It was time to go.
Releasing my king in preparation to leave, a large fish, almost definitely a marlin, leapt into the air. Thankfully no one had seen it. Selfishly I kept it to myself, as in this day of pesky mobile phones, news spreads too fast. With the marlin sighting I was keen to have another crack the following day, but after greeting another six fishers on the track out, that idea quickly evaporated.
The next day both of us mucked around the peninsula spying on birds and chasing reptiles, but my mind kept revolving around that ledge. By three in the afternoon my curiosity was out of control, so we found ourselves, without rods, heading back out to the ledge to check on the day’s action. From the cliffs the conditions looked excellent, and I expected the boys to have had a cracker, but out of the 14 young blokes fishing, only one rat king had been caught.
However, the walk here had not been fruitless – a mako pup free-jumping made sure of that. That was the cruncher. The following day we would put a big day in, people or no people. A week ago LBG was a thing of my youth. Now it was ruling my mind.
Whilst walking out, I jokingly said to Mon that I wanted the trifecta: hammer, mako and marlin.
You’ve got to praise a wife (a pregnant one at that) who gets up at 2.30am, cooks you breakfast and then verbally drags you out of the tent to go fishing. In fact, if it wasn’t for Monique, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. To this day I will be forever in her debt, for today was to be one of the highlights of my life.
Expecting the worst people-wise, we were pleasantly surprised that there was only one other bloke on the ledge. After exchanging pleasantries with Chris, we set about catching bait. Fortunately, slimies (which you can only catch at night, hence the early start) were in plague proportions. It felt good, really good, to be here.
With high expectations I sent out the first slimy of the day, just as the faintest glint of morning sun appeared. Chris followed suit, and before long two balloons were dancing about in the fishiest looking water you’ve ever seen.
Chris was ecstatic. In the 20 years he had fished here, the ledge was always packed. To have only the three of us perched here with such perfect water just astounded him. All day, whenever we crossed paths, he raved about the lack of people, the sensational water and the excellent currents. He was having one of those special/unique, cherished days – as was I.
While the two of us were totally absorbed in our balloon party, Mon biffed a lure around, coming up trumps with a samson and a bonito.
Mid morning, Chris’ brilliant day was made complete when his bright blue balloon was unceremoniously yanked down as some denizen picked the wrong fish for breakfast. I was hoping for an elasmosaurus, having decided this species looks cooler than ichthyosaurs and tylosaurus. Chris, more realistically, was hoping for a marlin, but called it for a hammer, which proved correct, and I wasn’t disappointed with that. At around the 120-pound mark it was a nice fish and, as I helped Chris release it, my day, too, already felt complete.
After the hammer action, things were slow, but far from uninteresting. There was always something to look at: rays and kingfish cruised the ledge, and Monique took great delight in feeding not only a longtail ray and a wobby, but a cheeky native mouse.
Apart from helping Chris with his hammer, I had not put my weighty game reel down for some eight hours. Keeping the baits in the best possible position required constant tending to the line. This, combined with the early start, began to take its toll. Several times I found myself nodding off.
Therefore, when Chris and Monique, at an elevated height to me, yelled “Marlin!”, I was oblivious to them. I’d heard a yell but didn’t register the word due to the wind. I sleepily gazed seaward and spied a tiny fin bearing down on my bait. Thinking hammer I whacked the Penn lever up to strike. Far better to pull out than risk a gut hook-up. A split second later my ‘hammer’ engulfed the bait. Already in gear, the hook-up was instantaneous. Monique was quickly beside me.
“It’s a marlin!” To which I replied, “Eh?! Whaddya mean, marlin?”
As yet the fish hadn’t moved. Indeed, I was steadily gaining line. But as the words left my mouth, the fish, only 30 metres out and seemingly in slow motion, rose in the water column to reveal its dorsal and tail. I vividly remember saying, “Hang on, that’s not a hammer. It’s a ... no ... it’s not ... hell’s teeth – it’s a bloody black!”
With that, the shoulders, head and bill broke the surface as the first of some serious head shaking began. Bloody hell! This was it – a black marlin.
Chris, having cleared his gear, jumped down beside me with harness and gimbal. “Didn’t you hear me yelling?” he said.
It transpired that he had watched the marlin pursue my slimy long before the eventual hook-up. By now, having decided it was getting nowhere by flailing its bill, the black departed the scene with a series of greyhounds that had all of us yelling and whooping. With 11kg of drag, the marlin never took more than 200 metres of string, but boy did she do some aerials. She was airborne almost constantly throughout her struggle for freedom, and was exhilarating to watch.
Chris called it for 100kg-plus, whilst I, being more conservative, said 80kg, and Monique said, “Holy moley! I dunno, but it’s a big one!” The black spent most of its time bounding around the bay, but at the ten-minute mark she powered off towards the point. If she rounded it the outcome would definitely be in the fish’s favour. Thankfully, a quick drag reduction triggered a change in direction, with another series of ballistic greyhounds plotting her rapid return into the bay, the taut line singing in the strong breeze.
This last series of jumps spent her, allowing line to be gained easily while Chris prepared the landing gear. Unfortunately, the fish was coming in way too deep. This was not good. Expecting the worst, I tried a couple of things that didn’t work, and was not surprised to feel that sickening rasping sensation of jagged rock. Aaargh, the stress. Freespooling a good 80 metres freed it, but, not knowing the state of the line, I couldn’t risk upping the drag again.
This was extremely tense stuff. Although leading the exhausted fish toward me was relatively easy, the long leader now breaking the surface, the marlin was mere metres from us, but deep down and weaving slowly through some horrible, soul-destroying bommies. If only she would surface, I would have her.
I had a difficult decision to make here: increasing the tension almost certainly would raise the marlin, but equally might bring the trace in contact with the jagged rocks. Under tension this was very risky. Do I take this chance or play it safe? I decided on the latter – far better to land the billy by any means than risk a separation.
Luckily it worked. Fifteen minutes from hook-up and, only 20 metres from us, the marlin stopped moving. Sadly, the once majestic beast had perished. Strangely, I never felt guilty though. The sheer adrenaline and excitement of having done something you’ve dreamed about for years seemed to overpower the guilt factor and, being realistic, there was no way my willpower was strong enough to make me release it. I just had to have the chance to fully appreciate and examine every inch of this splendid fish.
After a lot of effort, and a couple of tense moments that aged me considerably, we eventually got the fish onto the ledge. The emotions I felt at that moment are impossible to express verbally. They completely overwhelmed me, and Chris was the same, if not more so. Better than winning Lotto? You betcha. You can’t buy experiences this good.
In many ways the whole day was perfect. To have had even a couple more people on the ledge would have spoiled the sensation.
The black hit the scales at 110kg – not that that means anything; I would have been just as happy if it had been 20kg.
- © Fairfax NZ News