Luck of the Irish - a big bluefin is pulled aboard Irish Eyes, wide of Bermagui. Image: Greg Barea

REPORT: Luck of the Irish in big tuna quest

WE arrived at Bermi late on Saturday arvo. After checking into our cabin at the Zane Grey Tourist Park, parking the boat and unpacking a bit of gear, Guy and I grabbed a couple of beers and walked down to the boat ramp to check out the action. There was a veritable forest of trailers and 4WDs covering the slope above the ramp – many cars and trailers had Victorian number plates. It was a Mexican invasion!

Just as we arrived at the ramp, a boat pulled up and the crew onboard started unloading a massive southern bluefin tuna. This fish weighed 122kgs and had been caught by a Victorian angler named Bill Price. Bill landed the huge SBT on 24-kilo tackle using a skirted lure made by my mate Dave Venn of JB Lures fame.

Guy and I were blown away by the size of this blue barrel and I quickly texted Chris Yu, who'd gone to the local supermarket to get supplies, to get down here ASAP to check the fish out before it was turned into sushi.
As the sun started to sink over the mountains behind town, more boats came in. Some had school fish in the 20-40kg range aboard, others reported zeroes. A rumour began to spread about a couple of really big fish coming in aboard local gameboat Irish Eyes. These fish, magnificent beasts which weighed in at 97kg and 127kg, were caught way out on the 55 line. The general consensus seemed to be that the big fish were wide with only a smattering of school fish in closer around the seamounts over the shelf east of Bermi.

Bermi tuna deck 3Bermi tuna deck 550
Irish Eyes are smiling - the lucky crew with spoils of a very successful trip. Images: Greg Barea

Over dinner and a beer at the pub we laid out a game plan. The weather was looking pretty much perfect so we'd head out wide in company with Doughboy and his crew on Double D. The goal was to hook up on a trophy sized SBT so all the light gear was left at the cabin. We were locked and loaded with four 24 kilo game outfits, two 15s, a Fin Nor Santiago loaded with 80lb braid and a couple of Stella 20,0000s spooled with 50lb braid on heavy jig rods. The Bar Crusher's 200l fuel tank was filled to the brim, we had spare fuel in tote tanks, spare DI oil for the E-TEC, all the appropriate safety gear, plenty of food and drink, 50 kilos of bait and berley, a wide selection of proven skirted lures including Pakulas, JB Lures, Hollowpoints and Meridians plus a swag of X Raps and Laser Pros all rigged with Shogun singles and heavy-duty Owner split rings.

Our fourth crewmember, Andy, arrived later that night and we all hit the sack, ready for an early start and hopefully some big tuna.

We were on the water before dawn and out past the shelf before the sun had even risen. East of the seamount was a bit of a current break so we set the lures and began trolling. Double D hooked up on a 30 kilo fish not more than 300m away from us and another boat a bit to the south reported a three-way hook-up on big fish (as an aside, two of the fish were landed with one later weighing in at 133 kilos. The third fish was fought for more than three hours before popping the line right at the boat. It was reportedly even bigger than the 133kg beast that was landed.)

After seeing and hearing about this we were psyched and continued a zig-zag troll run in search of a school of feeding tuna. After an hour or so with no sign of any action, a bit of radio chatter inspired us to head out wide to where the fish had been caught yesterday. We motored out for an hour or so until we again found a temp break. This area was being worked by Irish Eyes and another gameboat and the radio chitchat between these guys revealed that we'd just missed a bust up by big fish.

We trolled for a couple of hours without even looking like finding a fish before gradually heading west along with the two big boats. After a while we heard excited radio traffic detailing a massive bite back in near the seamount. We were miles away and decided to gun it back in. We weren't catching anything out here so we had no other choice. I was kicking myself for heading out wide when the bite was back where we'd started. It took about 40 minutes going as hard as I could before we saw what can only be described as a "conglomeration" of boats. I have to say that it was a bizarre sight – we were 10 miles over the shelf in 2000 fathoms of water looking at maybe 150 boats of all sizes all concentrated together in one little patch of ocean.

As luck would have it we arrived just as the bite was tapering off. A few fish were caught near us but competition was fierce. Whenever someone hooked up, other boats would immediately move over behind the hooked-up boat and start cubing. The constant boat traffic put the fish down – I marked numerous fish at between 40 and 80 fathoms on the screen of my Simrad NSE8 but we couldn't get them to bite. (See screen shot below) I jigged like a maniac but had no luck. Guy, Chris and Andy cubed constantly but we just couldn't get the fish to swim up our trail. Radio chatter revealed most of the other boats were experiencing the same problems and gradually the assembled boats dissipated.

Sounder screen Fisho

Those who'd cracked the peak of the bite headed in to clean their catch and enjoy a cold beer back at the ramp while those like us who'd missed out kept searching for a fish. For an idea of what it was like to experience a red-hot SBT bite, check out Anthony Raco's trip report HERE. He and his Band of Brothers mates were in the melee described above and they had a fat time catching (and releasing) plenty of solid tuna. Well done, fellas!
We trolled until dusk and headed back across a dark ocean into the rich glow of the western horizon. We were all pretty despondent – we'd made the wrong call. Instead of heading out wide, we should have stayed in close.

That trip back took nearly two hours at 22 knots. We were out a bloody long way. Just as we passed over the shelf line we passed another boat getting a tow in from the coastal patrol. These poor buggers had engine problems and had been forced to call for help. I later heard the tow in had taken more than four hours. When they finally got back to the ramp they discovered their car was out of fuel ... all the local servos had long since shut and they were unfortunately stuck. Catching no fish is bad enough, catching no fish and having those sort of dramas is another story!

Guy and Andy had to head home back up the coast due to work commitments. After 12 hours at the helm of the Crusher I was too shagged to drive back home so Chris and I stayed on to give it another go the following morning. We only wanted one decent fish. Surely that wasn't too much to ask?
We again launched at dawn and made the long run east to the seamount. I'd jarred my neck during the mad full noise run back into the seamount the previous day and was feeling pretty sore and sorry for myself. Water temps were much the same as the previous day but we just couldn't find the fish. Only a few boats were out – the bulk of the fleet had obviously headed back to Melbourne or Sydney after the weekend – and the radio traffic revealed there were no tuna to be seen. Where had they gone? North? South? East?

We pulled the pin at 11am and headed back over a calm sea. It took one hour and 45 minutes to get back in at speed ranging from 22 to 25 knots. I was glad it was calm – my crook neck was killing me. As the Crusher flew over the water during the long run back to Bermi I thought about this amazing SBT fishery which starts in SA, Victoria and Tasmania before heading up the NSW South Coast to as far as Sydney. A reduction in exploitation by international commercial interests has for the past several seasons seen SBTs again become a viable angling target. While there's no doubt that anglers need to practice responsible fishing for these great gamefish – we need, for example, to take the initiative re setting sustainable bag limits and practicing C&R if we're to play our part in helping SBT stocks to fully recover – the socio-economic benefits of this fishery also need to be explored.

It seems apparent that little towns like Bermi in NSW, as well as Portland in Victoria and Eaglehawk Neck in Tassie, along with various others, are definitely reaping the rewards of this resurgent fishery. Think of the money spent by visiting anglers in Bermagui just last weekend. There was at least 150 boats at the ramp on Saturday afternoon. By my rough reckoning, the Fisho crew spent $260 on accommodation, $250 on boat fuel, $150 at the pub (meals and drinks) and $100 on groceries. Extrapolate that expenditure over 150 other crews and you end up with a total of $114,000 going directly into the local economy. That's just one weekend and I reckon my calculations are pretty conservative. Looking at it from a wider perspective, think of the investment by anglers in boats and tow vehicles. Take the average worth of the 150 boats and trailers, plus the 4WDs, trucks and utes used to tow these rigs, at a very conservative $120,000 each. That's $18,000,000 worth of boats and vehicles. Then you've got all the tackle. Say each boat had six 24kg stand-up game outfits. They're roughly $600 a pop. Total tackle value: $540,000. I'm no economist but surely it must be realised by the powers that be that fishing is a major contributor to regional economies up and down the coast?

Sadly, I don't think that message has yet got through to politicians, either state or federal. If it had, I think we'd see angling being given the sort of respect that it deserves instead of always being treated like some poor relation to the commercial fishing sector.
Hopefully the various campaigns being launched by the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and Keep Australia Fishing (see related story HERE) will go a long way towards putting rec fishing front and centre from now on.

FACT BOX: Fishing Bermi

The SBTs are definitely still an option on the NSW Far South Coast. If you'd like to give Bermi a go, the Zane Grey Tourist Park (http://www.zanegreytouristpark.com.au) is very angler friendly, centrally located near the pub and boat ramp and boasts well-appointed cabins at very reasonable rates (especially in the winter low period). I'll definitely be staying here next season when I again hit town for another crack at the SBTs.
As far as local fishing info goes, Scott Bradley at Bermagui Bait & Tackle is a minefield of up-to-the-minute detail on fish movements, weather, sea surface temps and lure selection. Give him a call on 0264 935 444 0r check out http://www.fishbermi.com.

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