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Jason Preece

On a trip up to Bligh Reef, out from Lockhart River in far north Queensland, I was lucky enough to take a group of guests to experience what the remote outer Great Barrier Reef has to offer when an 8" soft plastic is dropped to the bottom....mayhem!!!

The trip started with a few hops in a light plane from Cairns through Coen, then arriving at the bustling Lockhart River Airport. An oversized 4x4 bus to transport us up to Portland Roads, where Nomad Sportfishing's mothership, 'Odyssey', was anchored for the night before our journey out to the reef, met us at the gate.  The anticipation and excitement started to build as we bumped our way down the dirt road. Where the palm trees parted at the end of the road, we could see our home for the next week sitting in the mangrove lined bay.

The next morning involved getting the mothership and all the sportfishing boats out to the hardline of the reef where we could start to fish. The guides drove the smaller boats out as it was a bit lumpy. We only just beat the big boat out but there was definitely time for a quick cast. I drifted over one of the shallow flats and cast my ZMan 6" SwimmerZ rigged on a 1/4oz TT War Head and wound it across the surface, just to see what it looked like in the clear water.....boom! A Maori wrasse bolted out and smashed the little red SwimmerZ and managed to make it back to its hole, as I wasn't really expecting it! After a bit of persuading he came out and I was able to get a quick pic before slipping him back into the water.

We had the guests in the boats by about lunch time and it was game on! A stiff southeaster was blowing, but with the protection of the maze of hard reef edges and channels, there were plenty of places to get out of the chop. The deep, cobalt water rose up from the depths onto the expanses of sheltered aquamarine reef flats that were home to large numbers of angry reef dwellers and pelagics alike. These fish found it veryyy hard to resist a lightly weighted plastic! Actually, they couldn't resist and up in the shallows the ZMan 5" Scented Jerk ShadZ was nearly producing a fish a cast. Most of them were smaller emperor and trevally, which were great fun on the light gear, with the odd freight train like a 50kg Maori wrasse that decided to slurp the little placky in and depart at warp speed across the shallow bommie encrusted flat, until we found ourselves tying on a new HeadlockZ and trying again.

We were just drifting over the shallow flats, in maybe 2-4m of water and casting in the direction of the drift, with just enough weight in the jighead to get to the bottom. HeadlockZ HD jigheads in 1/2oz were working a treat, as we were using 50lb line we needed a little extra weight. After the cast, the boys were keeping in contact with the plastic on the drop, as they frequently got smashed prior to reaching the bottom. If not whacked on the drop, then erratic hops off the bottom with large lifts of the rod tip was doing the damage. The boys managed to extract a few nice Maori wrasse and some thumping emperor, as well as a few jobfish over the shallows, but the fun really started when we reached deeper water.

Between all the fingers of reef that surround Bligh reef, there were deep channels where the current pumps through with the tide as the water from the lagoons empty out into the deep blue. Every little corner or lump on the bottom had a huge pressure edge on it and these held stacks of bait... and as we found out bigggg Coral Trout.

I had a show on the sounder that looked like a school of pelagic fish, active and off the bottom, so we put on a few 4oz TT Tournament Series XHD jigheads and ZMan 8" StreakZ XL plastics and the boys were still struggling to find bottom in around 40m of water... the current was pumping! I held the boat in reverse as we drifted over the lump to slow our drift and boom! Double hookup on some substantial fish that tore 100LB off the big Stellas as they tried to make it back to the bottom. The boys managed to get the fish under control and I was expecting a couple of dogtooth tuna, as they ate a fairly fast retrieve. As they came to the surface though they were both fat and red... bigggg coral trout!!!

We spent the next few days using this same technique in the numerous deep channels and drifting the deep edges saw double and triple hookups on a regular basis! The coral trout ranged from 10 - 15kg, which is no slouch when it decides to latch onto a plastic that is getting jigged to the surface at a fair rate. Some fish were hitting the big StreakZ only metres under the boat, as they were following them all the way up to the surface! There were other reefies and a few pelagics in amongst the onslaught of monster trout, including numerous coronation trout, some monster flowery cod, long-nosed emporer, giant trevally, gold spot trevally and a few macks to round out the mix.

The boys were basically dropping the big 4oz jigheads to the bottom, hopping them once or twice and then starting a fairly brisk jig and wind retrieve, not unlike what you would use for kingfish in the cooler Southeast QLD waters. Most of the fish smashed the plastic within a few seconds of starting the fast retrieve. The hops were getting them interested and the darting action, as the 8" StreakZ took off towards the surface, got the fish very switched on! The boys had caught some awesome fish, it was nearing the end of the trip and with the plastics supply dwindling it was time to return to "Odyssey" for a cold beer and to relax after another awesome days fishing.

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