What do you do when you’re catching zilch? You do the only thing possible – go harder for longer. Eventually you’ll come good!
EVER heard that stupid saying “it doesn’t matter if you don’t catch anything, it’s just great being out here”? Well, that only happens when you’ve caught bugger all fish and some lame duck is trying to make excuses. I hate catching nothing, it really disappoints me when the game plans fail to come together. But a few weeks back I was thinking of renaming my boat Fresh Air Safaris. The general consensus is that a run of outs can happen to anyone but that means little when you are in it. Even worse is when you find boxes of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts left on board your boat, or your long-term crew starts to go out on other vessels in the hope of catching something.
Catching blue marlin wide of the continental shelf from a six-metre trailer boat is a challenging way to fish. The main problem is that there’s a lot of water between the fish. A while back I would have measured that water in cattle terms. I reckon there’s one blue marlin to about a hundred million acres of ocean. They show themselves occasionally jumping behind big game boats while Fresh Air Safaris goes about the usual business of burning large amounts of fossil fuel while ploughing the big lifeless blue paddock. I was recently asked the question by a female non-fisho as to “why would a seemingly intelligent adult spend most of their days off dragging five plastic fish things hundreds of kilometres through the ocean without catching anything?”. Rather than go through the usual “it’s just great being out there” crap, I had a bit of a reflective moment. The moment wasn’t about how I’d stuffed up my carbon footprint, bought over 500 litres of “biteless” fuel or spent too much time away from home. It was about the “plastic fish things”. Lures are a thing of beauty that can’t be demeaned as a “plastic fish thing”, but she was right. It was time to troll real fish. Live striped tuna and big rigged dead baits may be the way to get Fresh Air Safaris back on track.
In the “Doughnut Crisis” on board my boat in early 2012 the less we caught the harder we tried. A typical three-day mission began with an early start, a great run 50kms offshore to the edge of the shelf and a spread of lures set with eager anticipation. This particular day was not a pure bred 100 per cent doughnut as we actually got a bite when a billfish of unknown origins ate the lure on the shotgun and was on for probably 10 to 15 seconds before falling off. But all moments before and after that 15-second highlight were spent staring at the big blue. We saw birds, tuna, flying fish and other boats fighting blue marlin but failed to turn another reel. We trolled baits and lures. The other boats all got their bites early on the change of high tide, so our plans for the next day were to leave early to get the dawn blue marlin bite. During the night we had a 20-knot southerly come through and few boats went out. We bashed our way out to the shelf and trolled from 6.30am to 3pm for a pure 000 doughnut. The highlight was when a rubber band connecting the lure to the outrigger broke through fatigue. A couple of the game boats hooked big blues in depths of 160 to 180m. I changed lures in the hope of finding a better “plastic fish thing” but it was all to no avail. The next day the conditions calmed right off and there were flying fish everywhere in massive flocks. They looked like marine budgies. It all seemed great as tuna, flying fish and flocks of mutton birds were everywhere. Most boats around us were having a fantastic day with blue marlin with reports incessantly coming over the radio. There was so much radio chatter about fish from the boys from the Surfers Paradise Gamefishing Club I had to change VHF radio channels as they were interrupting the cricket coverage with their constant banter about the marlin they’d just hooked on some new bloody thing called a “Larva Lure”. Fresh Air Safaris ploughed on through an ocean full of marlin and tunas and never heard a ratchet click. While we got no bites or hookups, it technically wasn’t a complete doughnut as while we were winding the lines in a flying fish crashed into the boat. So in three days we had trolled 459kms for one bite that jumped off straight away, and got into the rare triple doughnut club.
It was a midweek trip when the “doughnut crisis” finally ended. We headed out on a calm sea and there were once again birds and tuna everywhere. I set the shotgun a long way back, put my favourite Joe Yee Apollo out on the long ’rigger and was fiddling with the next lure when there was a loud crack on the ’rigger followed by the scream of my new Okuma Makaira 80. My son was on to the rod in a flash and about 40 minutes later we had a nice blue of about 140 kilos at the boat for release. The Makairas seem to be a very good reel from our initial experience, but it is hard to assess gear when you’re in Doughnutville! After that initial hookup we missed another two nice blues that didn’t hook-up properly, and on our next trip young Tom Ryan caught a nice blue, his first, about 120 kilos on a lumo white lure trolled from the shotgun position. The bycatch also returned with three dolphin fish, and the “doughnut crisis” was over.
So the message is, when you catch stuff all, go harder for longer. It definitely builds character, and while my personal best is six doughnuts in a row, it teaches you that fishing is a great leveler, and the only anglers who never catch nothing are liars! Anyone care for a doughnut?
IN this video from NT Fisheries, the effects of barotrauma on golden snapper (fingermark) caught and released in depths of 10m and deeper are clearly visible...