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By Justin Willmer

Flights booked, bags packed and a quick check of the weather report showed wind warnings for our planned destination of Missionary Bay, Hinchinbrook Island, a couple of hours north of Townsville. We needed a Plan B and the opportunity arose to join Vinnie from Aquaventure Fishing for a couple of days chasing sooties, with the chance of encountering a small headed grunter... a new species for me.

Aquaventure... aqua, I love the water and adventure is right up my alley, so it sounded like an excellent option and I couldn't wait to land in Townsville, catch up with my fishing partner for the trip and old mate Richard, crack a coldie, rig our gear and then hit the sack ready for Vinnie from Aquaventure to pick us up at 5am.

After reaching our destination we loaded the Argo 8 wheeler, climbed aboard and we were off on what would turn out to be an awesome adventure. A couple of water crossings and we were cruising the sandy riverbed, hopping a few rocky sections and we arrived at a section of faster running water, with plenty of fallen timber that created shade, eddies and shelter for fish. The anticipation built as we rigged our ZMan 2.5" GrubZ on a 1/6oz 1/0 TT HeadlockZ HD jighead with a Jig Spinner attached. The Jig Spinner adds a bit of flash and vibration that fires the sooties up, helps them hone in on the lure and also helps reduce snagging. The gear we were using was made up of 6'6" - 7' spin rods, 2500 size spinning reels loaded with 10lb braid and 10lb leader.

A couple of casts in more open water, toward a large laydown on the other side of the river, soon produced a couple of rattles and a solid hookset. I had only chased sooties once before and now it came flooding back to me; the brutal strike and first run, quick rod work required to keep them out structure, stubborn fight and the reflex sounds that flowed from us as these brutes struck our lures, much like a boxer receiving a heavy blow. Fish on!

Vinnie was directing traffic, 'get a cast in that pocket under that log', boom, 'fire a long cast along that edge, fish on! Rich and I had pulled a few from the running water and Vinnie had captured a few photos of this early morning bite, before we told him to get a cast in and he landed a few quality sooties. We were all pumped and Vinnie suggested we follow the river upstream further to fish some sections of slower moving water, targeting numbers of sooties around submerged rock bars.

These slower moving sections of water took a little more finessing than the moving water, which had been all about getting the lure on the spot and then getting it moving. We peppered unseen rock bars with small TT Vortex spinnerbaits, Jig Spinner rigged plastics and 1/4oz Switchblades, mixing it up between a slow roll and small hops on the bottom. The hits were sometimes subtle, but more often brutal and we landed plenty of sooties, with an average size that was pretty impressive.

After fishing a few more sections and getting some tips from Vinnie on using the variety of lures in his kit, including retrieve techniques for different lures and structure types, we pulled up along a magic section of river for some lunch. The plan after lunch was to work over one of Vinnie's favourite sections of water... an area where there was a chance of landing a small headed grunter. I couldn't get my lunch down quick enough, I had seen photos of these fish and after fishing virtually my entire life it's rare to get the opportunity to target a new species. Game on!

Vinnie suggested we tie on 1/4oz TT Lures switchblades to wake them up and we opted for a variety of colours, including Golden Boy, Gold Noggin and Purple Minnow. The bite started slowly until we found the areas where they were holding, the style of retrieve they were after on the day and then the bite was hot for a while, with several double hook ups.

Vinnie landed a small head, soon followed Rich with his first and it was high fives and photos as Rich admired this unique species. For me it was all sooty grunter, although I wasn't complaining as they were quality fish and I spent some time wading the sandy river, targeting visible rock bars and others that were only located by bumping the lure across them. The bite slowed and we made the most of this period to refine our techniques with different lures, working a bit harder for the bite but enjoying the rewarding feeling of making the cracker cast and working the lure in a way that triggered a strike from these balls of muscle.

A few more subtle taps closer to the end of the retrieve and I had hooked my first small headed grunter. It fought differently to the sooties, holding deeper, not spinning or twisting and pulled even harder for its size... something I wouldn't have thought possible! I admired this new species as I slid it into my hand, lifted it up to show the boys and then readied it for a photo in the water... where it kicked, dislodged the sticky little trebles that I regularly struggle to get out with pliers and was gone in a spray of water. The peanut gallery burst out laughing and I was soon told that they saw nothing and it didn't count unless you had a photo. I was still stoked and would just have to catch another one.

As it turned out we caught a few small headed grunter each, along with plenty of sooties and if our trip ended there I would have been totally satisfied with the environment we were fishing in, fish we had landed, what we had learnt from Vinnie and the great day that we had shared cruising in the Argo, fishing, laughing, sharing plenty of stories, sledging each other and escaping the hustle and bustle of life. Our plans though were to set up a lightweight camp on the river for the night, cook over the fire, share a few coldies and fishing tales, and just enjoy the stars and the serenity. We even managed a couple of fish from a dozen casts while dinner was sizzling over the coals.

A late wake up was soon followed by a short walk to a rock bar that produced some nice sooties and some epic bust offs as the sooties tempted you to cast further and further into a wild mix of timber and rock bars in search of those brutal strikes and bigger fish. It was then time for a late breakfast and a journey further into the wilds aboard our 8-wheel offroad vehicle and boat as it turns out, fishing some sections and then boarding the Argo for river crossings.

Vinnie made the call to fish one more section of fallen timber snags before making the run back to the car. I can honestly say that this session was one of the best fishing sessions I've ever encountered, producing fifty plus quality sooties, including double hook ups, triple hook ups and 'fish a cast' action. The standout presentation was the ZMan 2.5" GrubZ in natural colours such as Black, Pumpkinseed, Watermelon and Motor Oil, rigged on a #1 HeadlockZ HD jighead and rigged with a TT Jig Spinner for added flash and vibration. Cast this presentation close to structure and if it doesn't get nailed on the drop start a slow roll to get the Jig Spinner blade spinning and the GrubZ tail working and buckle up!

On the return journey we used the water flow to hitch a ride downstream in the Argo, navigating through deeper sections that we had previously fished and 8-wheel driving over the sand and rock bars. The aqua element had been awesome, with some breathtaking scenery, wildlife and fishing... and the adventure element is something that I believe we all crave, escaping the digital world, the crowds, the rat race, the hustle and bustle... and just returning to the simple things like mateship, Mother Nature and exploring this beautiful country. Where's your next Aquaventure going to take you...

See you on the water...
Justin Willmer

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