ver the last 5 years I have done plenty of trips chasing fish and many of them have started the same way. Hooking small boats up to cars late in the afternoon, hitting the highway and driving late into the night. Finally arriving early morning at a boat ramp, catching a couple of hours sleep before suiting up and heading out exhausted before we even start. The weather usually does nothing it is supposed to and we are flogged from the moment we leave the boat ramp. We are heading miles further than we should in a little boat to a place we have never dived before off on another adventure. To top it all off, we usually just dive until we can’t move any more and our legs can’t kick another beat. Well, the story I am about to share with you is of a trip we recently did with a nice welcome difference. Still fish and some good ones. Still adventuring and discovering diving places we have never dived before but just some added comforts. First up, an 8.00am pick up and drive through the day. (I usually feel driving is a waste of daylight), I felt spoilt arriving at our accommodation without my eyes hanging out of my head. Accommodation that is not a beach or a hard boat ramp felt like cheating. In fact, I had to give up my soft bed to one of the other boys as I already started to feel like I was getting soft just by how the trip was going. The next added comfort was the Cruise Craft 685 parked out the front complete with sink, gas stove, fridge and a 250 outboard on the back. One heck of a boat, slightly bigger and dryer (I got a splash of water on my little finger once on the trip) than my 16r Haines and a heap warmer on a chilly winter morning. We even drove all the way to our dive destinations dressed in our clothes! The final added comfort was the fact that the plan was actually to spend most of the trip diving shallower water than usual and at the end of the whole 100km trip the only ache I had in my body was the side of my leg where the soft boat seat had rubbed on my thigh. I hope I am not turning into one of those soft, old guys! One thing that hadn’t changed on this trip, was our focus on adventure and discovery. None of us had dived any of this country before and it took a lot of research to get our heads around where we were going. On this trip I was joined by my partner in crime, John Featherstone, an awesome mate. We have had some amazing dive trips together, every one of them a great adventure. We have met some great people and both of us have been able to spear some amazing fish along the way. We were joined
by Leon, a Coffs local, and a good bloke and we met up with North Queenslanders, Tony Humphries (Humper), and the Vanilla Gorilla, Mick de Rooy (or just Deroy). It was Mick’s beautiful new Cruise Craft that we were adventuring in. When we arrived, we spent 20 minutes drooling over Mick’s boat then packed our gear and prepared for the next day. From there, we headed to the local sailing club for dinner and a good catch up with the boys. Of course plenty of banter flowed and half an hour later Mick had set nick names for the rest of the trip. Johnny’s ended up having something to do with a walrus (Ed - awesome breath-hold and a Harem of chicks?). Leon had something to do with being a pretty boy. Mick ended up choosing his own nickname - McAwesome Spearo. No one, I repeat, no one should be allowed to choose their own nick name! After the banter we chatted and made plans for the following three days of diving. Day one was to be a day where we would head wide as there was to be no wind and the following two days we planned to stay closer to the coast as the breeze was expected to blow from the west. That first night we all headed to bed with high expectations for the day that was
to follow. I awoke in the morning refreshed after a criminal amount of sleep for a spearfishing trip. What was even more incredible was the fact that there wasn’t even a breath of wind. The first 50kms was with 5 knots of westerly but after that the ocean went to a sheet of glass and the sun broke the horizon to reveal a mirror all around us. The trip to the first spot went surprisingly fast. We geared up and all bailed over to find water much dirtier than I expected 100km off shore, only about 15 metres visibility. We drifted with the boat and only a small Red throat was shot. The next drift we found a school of Spanish mackerel. Tony Humper’s PDT was playing up and got trigger happy. He shot one good fish at around the 20kg mark. Mackerel weren’t on the target list so he got plenty of ridicule back at the boat. He mummbeld something about trying to beat Deroy in their club’s top ten list and I replied with, “lets move and find some decent fish”. The next couple of spots didn’t turn up the fish we had hoped for and the rest of the day followed the theme of the morning, great looking country but only Parrot fish, Trout and Mackerel to be seen. To top it
“Nippy” By Name, rather nippy by nature - big boat luxury!
by Tim McDonald
Mick ended up choosing his own nickname - “McAwesome Spearo”. No one, I repeat, no one should be allowed to choose their own nick name! 19
off, the visibility deteriorated throughout the day until it was down to less than 10 metres. I was so surprised considering the distance from any river systems. Later in the day we found a nice ledge with a large school of Red emperor on it. Most were small but two legal specimens were shot from amongst them. Johnny shot a nice Wahoo there as well, making me eat my words after I said that I hadn’t heard of anyone shooting one there. I also spotted on one dive a Blue spot trout bigger than any I had ever seen before. On first glimpse, I thought it was a Queensland grouper and was so surprised when I realised it was a big Trout. About 2.00pm we were all a little disappointed and had decided to pull the pin and make the run in early but stopped off on one last bit of ground for a quick look. The visibility was rubbish. There was only around 5 metres but we found a really good piece of ground. A nice drop off and crack, full of Hussar and Surgeons. I speared a nice Red throat and was lucky it didn’t get eaten by sharks. The current really started to run and time was starting to get on so with 100km run to home and a few fish to clean we headed home. Getting changed back into the clothes and going home warm should be illegal! That night we enjoyed another meal at the sailing club and the boys put away a lot of food and I felt like a child after not even finishing one plate. Early the next morning we headed to the boat ramp and the plan was to stay inshore. We added a crew member for the day, a central Queensland diver, Kevin Hamilton. We all piled in and headed out. Our target fish for the day were Black jew, Barramundi and Finger mark. With Black Jew being top of the list as most of us had never shot one before. The first spot we headed to was reported to be a spot where Black Jew frequent. It was here I got a lesson on North Queensland dive etiquette. It is get half the crew (aka Southerners), take them to the least likely area, tell them how “good” it looked where you are going to drop them, then go straight back to where the fish will be! Very effective, highly unethical but very effective!! I was still in the boat with the boys when the plan was being unravelled and I wanted none of it so I talked them into driving 100 metres further than they wanted, a decision I regretted 30 minutes later. We dropped the anchor and hopped over the side. When we hit the water I was surprised to see a good 6 metres of visibility, so much better than I was expecting for this part of the world especially with the fact that 100km East the day before it was the same. I tried to keep up with the boys who were swimming straight for the area that looked most likely. Along the way I did a couple of dives and was trying to adjust to the cold water and the extra weight that shallow water and a 5mm suit requires. On one of the dives a school of big Barracuda parked beside me. In the hazy visibility they looked huge. The area was quite fishy with gutters full of Blubber lips and I started thinking about our intended target, the Black jew. Mick kept
John Featherstone - Wahoo, not a common fish, but very welcome
powering forward so I tried not to linger in case I fell too far behind. Many of the holes I checked along the way had Crayfish but my focus was elsewhere. I finally caught up with Tony and we had a chat and scanned for Mick who had disappeared momentarily. I spied him about 50 metres ahead and we both started swimming that way. 30 seconds later I heard a shot go off and moments later Mick hit the surface yelling JEW!! I dived without even taking a breath as I neared the bottom a nice Tusk fish cruised by but I wasn’t here for a Tuskfish. I scanned to my right and saw what looked like a big black bombie in the hazy visibility but the bombie was moving and headed my way. It was a ball of Black jew. I can remember thinking that school moving along the bottom blended into the environment so well with that black weedy bottom and dusty water. I wasn’t greedy. I subdued my biggerfishitis and picked the closest one as I had never seen a Black jew before let alone shot one. With the school already a little spooked I just lined up the closest one and hit him in the back of the gill plate. He took off and I was surprised by the power. I tried hard to lock the reel off and headed for the surface. I could see him trying to get to the bottom as it went out of sight so I worked it hard to keep him from reefing me. I surfaced right between Mick, who was fighting his fish and Tony, who was on the surface and asking what I had seen. My reply was, “Big ball of Jew! Get down there!”. 20 seconds later my Jew just rolled over and came easily to the surface. The shot was through its gill plate and had hurt it badly. It didn’t fight again until I put my hand in its gills. Then it decided to go crazy. Even as I type, my fingers are still healing from the gill rakers that made real quick work of my cotton dive gloves and quicker work of my soft little fingers! A quick iki jimi and the job was done. I turned around to see Mick. He had his fish in his hand too. Both solid fish, with Mick’s looking a bit thicker through the shoulders. After a quick high five Mick and I headed back to the boat. I refer back to the regret of 30 minutes earlier as now the boat is 150 metres away and the current is running slightly against us and we are both dragging fish. Half way there I grabbed all the gear and fish off Mick and sent him to swim back to the boat. He freestyled back and made quick time without the added weight. I kept swimming but was getting over heated and was running out of energy quickly. Mick came straight back and grabbed me. We hauled the fish over the side and looked at them on the deck for a moment and took it all in. One of the key fish for the trip and there they were! The Black jew are very different looking to their Southern cousins, the Mulloway. They go black soon after death and have smaller heads and tail wrists. I was so stoked! We headed straight over to the other boys to get them back to where we had seen the fish. Leon had speared a couple of nice Finger mark. Kevin had a huge Pennant trevally and a Fingermark as well. Leon shared the story of John finding the school of Finger mark and instead of just shooting one he
Tim Mc and McAwesome (aka Mick De Rooy) with some beautiful NQ Black Jew
waited for the really big one at the back to come in close enough. He took a long shot and only managed to take a scale. Apparently he was a bit upset and was trying to find the school again. We drove over to check his mood. Mick helped it by holding up his Jew! I am unable to add to this article John’s reaction as Spearfishing Downunder is not R rated and the words I heard would have even exceeded that! John jumped in and we headed up the coast about a kilometre to find a beach to pull up and take a photo. On the way past Tony and Kev, Mick quickly yelled, “Were going to take some photos. Will be back in a second.” About an hour later we returned to Tony giving us all a spray about leaving him there. I wish we took it well and just let it be but on spearing trips the banter just flows and Tony being cranky just became cannon fodder for the next two days. We dropped the anchor again and all piled over. I swam past Kev’s float. It looked a little loaded. I pulled my way along the line to reveal four nice Barramundi, Tony and Kev had been busy whilst we were away. They hadn’t seen the school of Jew again but had found a school of Barramundi instead! I was inspired and headed off on my own search. I spent 30 minutes looking in every nook and cranny but there were none to be seen. I was just thinking to myself that I would never see a Barramundi when I swam over a ledge and there were three sitting in the entrance of a cave. I took aim at the closest one and as I was shooting he flicked and I smashed the rock beside him. I thought I had blown my chance but quickly reloaded I turned around to see them waiting patiently for me and the second time I made no mistake. I headed back to find Leon who had never shot a Barramundi before but by the time we got back there the others had disappeared and all he could find was an under sized fish. We all headed back to the boat and decided on a move of position. The next spot Johnny was up on the North Queensland boys’ tactics and picked his own spot to hop in. Mick and I were relegated to anchor boys and we drove the boat 500 metres up the reef and had to swim back. Most of the swim was fairly plain and I finally decided to grab a couple of the Crayfish that were so plentiful. I was taking my time and checking every hole and crack when one of the holes I looked in I came face to face with what I first thought was a Barramundi but instead ended up being another nice little Jewfish. I let him be and got my bearings, hoping he would still be there when we all swam back past. I caught up with the boys about 150 metres further along. They had found a nice school of Jewfish and Finger mark. They had all got Finger mark and John had a nice Black jewfish as well. Tony and Kev found the school a bit later and picked a couple of small Jewfish as well. Leon was the only one not to find a Jewfish so I grabbed him and we went back in search of the one I had seen earlier. We headed along and I lined up where I had seen it and found the hole. I sent him in and the fish was there. Leon made no mistake and we all had our Black jew!
Tim secures a nice little Barramundi after some hard searching
Despite the ribbing , John decides that this Mackie is coming home
Local “Kev” makes short work of a massive Pennent Trevally
Leon finds his first Black Jew
Kev with a nice FIngermark
Leon Gray with some class Fingermark
Tony with the spoils of wreck diving in dirty water - Fingermark
We pulled up on another beach for a couple photos and some lunch. Most of us were pretty content but we had a couple of spots we were keen to check so the fish list was nailed down to only a couple of species we were allowed to shoot. No Mackerel, Trout, Jewfish or any other pelagic species. Mick volunteered to be boatie and dropped us in on a nice show of fish. I hit the water and was mobbed by Golden trevally, Mackerel and big Snub nosed dart. The place was just on fire. Black-spot tuskfish were all over the bottom, Cod, Trout and even a really lost Yellowtail kingfish was seen but I didn’t pull the trigger as we had taken some nice fish and the only thing I wanted was a nice Fingermark. One last stop that was a mark I had been given for what was thought to be a wreck. We sounded around and found it after a bit of effort. The water was dirtier there and only three of us were keen for a look. We dropped a marker boy and I jumped over for a quick look. I did an exploratory dive to see what was
there. The visibility was only three metres as I came to the bottom and I nearly ran head on into a school of big Fingermark that patrolled it. As slowly as I could, I headed back to the surface so I didn’t spook the school. I politely asked for a gun and Mick and Tony joined me on the surface. A dive each later we all had a big Fingermark so we decided to call it a day. I did one final dive just to look at the structure on the bottom. As I kneeled there the whole school came in really close and circled me. A truly magical sight and I was glad not to shoot another and just leave with the one. We headed home and weighed our Jew. Mine went 19.8kg and Mick’s weighed a kilogram heavier at 20.8kg. From there, we spent the next couple of hours filleting fish before icing them down, followed by another meal at the sailing club. The mood was a far bit higher than the night before and we all headed to sleep with high expectations for the following day. The next morning dawned with fog and 9 degree
temperatures. McWally was impossible to get out of bed. The rest of the crew were dragging the chain as well and I was getting very annoyed! By the time we got to the boat ramp the sun was up and I was so over it. The boys’ reaction was move slower. I thought I was back in the Solomon Islands! We finally got going and had a fair trip ahead of us. We were headed to some areas I have looked at on charts for years but have always been that bit far out of the way. We past the areas we had dived the day before and headed on. An hour later we pulled up at what looked to be an awesome spot. We drove up the reef further and I watched the North Queensland boys work there magic again. It goes like this, ”Wow! This spot looks good. John and Leon jump in here.” Then when they pile over, “Take us over there to the good spot!” Dogs, they have done it again. I was on to them so I dropped them in just short of the good stuff and headed over to pick up John and Leon so I could drop them ahead of team North Queensland. I was
John bags a nice Fingermark after some frustrations
giggling as I saw the look on Mickâ€™s face as I drove the boys ahead and dropped them on the best of the country. GOLD! I sounded around some more and found a nice show of fish. I dropped the anchor and jumped over as the tide had just stopped running. My first
dive I found a nice Fingermark amongst a school of Blubber-lips. I called Mick over who had caught up to the boys and swam past them. He had a nice Tuskfish and I told him about the Fingermark below. He dived and picked up a nice fish to. Next dive there was a big school and I waited on the bottom to see if I could
find a really big fish. As I waited there, I was joined by two big, friendly Queensland Groper. They rested on the sand right beside me and at one stage I had to push one away as it was so close it was making me nervous. By this stage the school was so thick around me and a couple of really nice Fingermark came in
close. I made no mistake on a big one. I hit the surface and called the other boys over as well. We all picked off some nice fish out of the school before deciding we had enough well short of our bag limits and with still a hundred Fingermark schooling under the boat. Back on the boat we took some photos and had a feed. After this the tide really started to run again so we did a drift in another area. As soon as I jumped over I was mobbed by huge Queenfish, some of them well over 10kg. Not being good eating we left them and the school hung with us the whole drift. Also on this drift we found big schools of Pennant trevally and Snub-nosed dart. We didn’t take any of these but it was really good to just swim with the fish. The next spot had less run so we dropped the anchor again and spread out. I found some Lobster in the shallows and decided to grab a couple. This spot was also really fishy with heaps more huge Queenfish and one Giant trevally. I think he would have weighed 60kg. We hung around for a while before heading towards home. The weather was supposed to blow up in the afternoon and we didn’t want to be caught out if it did as we had a long way to go. We headed back to some of the places we had looked at the day before with the thought that we already had some good fish in the tub. The fish list was really small only on Barramundi and Johnny was keen on a couple of Black-spot tuskfish. We jumped in at the first spot and the boys took some nice Tuskfish. I saw a couple of Fingermark but they were off the list as we had already taken some nice ones in the morning. After a couple of Tuskfish were shot we headed to the final spot of the trip. The place where we had found the big Jewfish the day before. Mick and I were relegated as boat boys for the first 10 minutes. Both of us ran out of patience and dropped the anchor after only 5 minutes. None of the boys had seen a Black jewfish. I jumped over and caught up to Johnny. He hadn’t seen a Barramundi on the trip so I took him in to where I had seen the school the day before. He looked in the first cave. No Barramundi. At the second cave he dived down to look and I swam a bit further over the cave into really shallow water and there was a nice Barramundi sunning itself on the sand between two rocks right in front of me. I backed up quietly and grabbed Johnny’s leg as he was still in the cave looking. I pointed the fish out as it swam in behind a rock. Johnny making motions with his hands like I was spoon feeding him brought a wry smile to my face. He dived, the Barramundi backed behind the rock and he followed it in. It shot around the rock and stopped right in front of me. I looked over and John was still looking behind the rock. The Barramundi just sat there for a couple of seconds looking at me before swimming off slowly not to be seen again. We swam back down the gutter and John checked the caves again to make sure it didn’t hole up in the caves before we headed on looking for others. I found another cave and five big Blubber-lips sat at the entrance. I called Johnny over to have a look. He looked up the cave and a Barramundi came out and looked at him before heading into the shallows well above him. He aimed up and shot. The spear went through the Barramundi and popped out of the water. It all looked so cool. He grabbed his fish
Tim makes the perfect shot with his reel gun
and we exchanged a high five before heading back to the boat. Back in the boat we all changed into our clothes and warmed up. The wind that was predicted was non-existent and it was an absolute glass out. We fired up the motor and headed back in. I sat back and admired the sun that was slowly sinking into the hills, turning the sky that beautiful shade of red you see on those North Queensland winter evenings. We arrived back at the ramp as the sun disappeared and after another fillet session we sorted the fish, iced them, packed the car and headed for a short sleep before an early rise for the long trip home. The trip home
actually flew by as I thought of what we had seen over the previous couple of days, I thought about the fun we had, the laughs, the adventure and even Tony giving us a spray and all of it brought a little smile to my face. All in all, it was a great trip. It is one I will remember for a long time! Thanks Mick, for the use of the boat and teaching me about dive etiquette (like I needed any help with that, hey Johnny), thanks Tony for the laughs and getting Mick motivated, thanks Leon for making this ugly group at least a little prettier and Kev for the guiding day two, thanks Johnny for another great trip and here’s to plenty more in the future!
Queenslandâ€™s Finest! Do not buy a used car from these men!