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MAD DASH TO THE ABROLHOS

Luke Ryan

The Abrolhos Islands group is situated off the Midwest coast of Western Australia and they consist of three main island groups surrounded by fringing coral reefs. Being an A-class reserve and heavily regulated by government departments has helped to keep the islands in pristine condition. The weather also plays a huge part in protecting the area from over fishing and limits the amount of traffic that is able to make the journey over.

For fisherman with smaller trailer boats it can be very difficult to plan a trip and set dates to head over and experience this amazing place. You have to be extremely lucky with the weather and flexible enough with work to be able to make the split decision on whether to go or not. Throughout the year there is not that many opportunities where the weather is calm enough for an extended amount of days.

I am constantly watching and waiting for the right weather to be forecast in order for me to make the call to pack the boat and head up the coast. Primarily the best months to visit the Abrolhos is from March to May, as generally throughout those months we experience calmer weather and because the water is warmer the pelagics are firing. However, if I notice good weather throughout the year, I try to make the effort to get over there.

I had been watching the weather recently and noticed the forecast on the Wednesday was looking great for the next four to five days and my roster was looking like it would line up perfect for a quick weekend run up to the islands. I spoke with my friend Ben Chambers about making the four hour run up on the Friday night, fishing Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning, before coming back that same afternoon. We waited until Friday morning before we made the decision that we would go. That Friday afternoon was a mad rush to get everything packed and ready for us to hit the road.

Prior to this quick trip Ben was a dirty bait fisherman who had never done any soft plastic fishing or jigging for that matter and he seemed quite excited to head out with no bait and just a bag full of ZMan plastics. I don't think he really realized just how much fun lure fishing can be, not to mention how well it works. Abrolhos is one of those places where it seems that lures tend to work so much better then bait. I have found you tend to get away from a lot of the smaller picker fish and always hook into the larger predators that are hanging around.

We woke up early Saturday morning, after sleeping at the boat ramp for a few hours, to a dead flat ocean... it was absolutely stunning. As the sun was rising we were making the 30nm cruise over to the islands and the Simrad autopilot was in its prime. About 15nm into the journey we were greeted by a pod of about forty dolphins and numerous amounts of humpbacks... it was a sight to see. We took a number of photos, soaked up a bit of Mother Nature and to be honest we could have stayed there all day and watched them, but there was fish to catch!

Arriving over to the islands, I headed straight to a cluster of spots that I had marked from a previous trip and never had a chance to fish. Driving over the marks, the sounder looked as though it had gone into overdrive... there were fish everywhere. A nice ledge with a big bait ball that was being harassed by some larger subjects saw the first drop and we were both hooked up. It was great to see Ben drop is first ZMan down only to have it smashed by a big fish. A nice pink snapper came up to the surface with a ZMan 6" SwimmerZ hanging from its gob!

Meanwhile I was still getting towed around by a large Samson fish on light tackle, landing this fish not long after. We continued to fish this cluster of spots before making the call to head south to a number of other little areas where I had caught good fish on previous trips.

We were fishing the lead up to the high tide and judging by the readings that the Simrad was displaying you were able to tell that the fish were definitely in feeding mode. Big blobs raised off the seabed harassing bait balls.

We were fishing a mixture of soft plastic lures and metal jigs, in particular we fishing with the ZMan 6" SwimmerZ, matched to 2oz and 3oz HeadlockZ HD jigheads. After trying out a few different styles of soft plastics and jigs we found that the SwimmerZ, with their big paddle tail, were the standout lure. As the plastic sinks, the weight of the head pulls the lure down making the tail swim side to side. With this action as the lure sinks it actually reduces the speed of the sink, therefore making the lure look a lot more realistic on the drop. Most of the bigger fish that we caught were on the drop.

Being made with extra strong stretchy material we barely had to change plastics. We were catching multiple fish on the same lure, which is a big bonus.

After moving around and finding a few new spots we decided to check out an area that looked quite good on the charts and by the time we arrived there the tide had changed and the current was visible on the surface, swirling around. It was very unpredictable to set up a drift with the boat as each time we would drift in a different direction. As with most of the other spots, the sounder was loaded with bait and big blobs on the screen. Positioning the boat on top of the fish and dropping straight onto their heads was the best option.

At this particular spot pink snapper were the main predator feeding off the bait ball. Every time we set up a drift there was constant double hook-ups on big snapper. We also hooked a number of fish that were simply unstoppable. Whether they were XOS sized snapper or something else we will never know, but they felt big!

Fishing this spot I was noticing a number of larger subjects on the Simrad DownScan imaging that were sitting a bit higher in the water column just above the bait. I started working my plastic higher up off the bottom and it wasn't long until I hooked up. The fight was quite different, which made me think it wasn't a snapper. Long runs and the line angle coming up had me thinking it might have been a mackerel or tuna. As I managed to work it closer to the boat I realized it was a descent sized cobia. Cobia were not something that I expected to catch.

Where the Abrolhos Islands are located is at a crossover for northern and southern species, so it's not uncommon to catch two completely different fish that you would think would never cross paths on the same lump.

The rest of the day continued with non-stop action, double hook-ups and big fish. For the night we anchored up in a protected bay surrounded by coral reef.

The next day we woke early and after cooking up a feed for breakfast it was time to find Ben a new personal best Dhufish. I had a couple of spots marked not too far from camp that I wanted to check out. Last time I was up here they produced some really nice Dhufish.

As usual the Simrad was glowing with fish readings and it was a race to get to the bottom. Almost instantly both lures were smashed and we had another double hook-up to deal with. Ben's fish was giving him a bit of curry on the PE3 Saltiga outfit and looked as though it was going to be a reasonable fish. I managed to land mine and it was a Dhufish of about 8kg, not a bad eating size but I would have liked something bigger. Meanwhile Ben's fish had started to come up and judging by the colour it looked to be a good sized Dhufish. Surfacing moments later was a nice fish of about 11kg and Ben's new PB.

A couple pictures and we decided to do another drift... again we were both hooked up to solid fish. Ben was using a pink ZMan 8" StreakZ XL with a 2oz TT HeadlockZ HD jighead and the last fish he was fighting looked big... but this fish looked even bigger. Big head shakes and a few bursting runs I was calling for a big Dhufish. Meanwhile I had hooked another cobia, which was of a good size. I managed to land the cobia while Ben was still fighting his fish. As Ben's fish started to surface I noticed the size of the fish and it looked bloody huge! When it broke the surface there was a few loud hoots coming from Ben as he had just upgraded his new PB to a 14kg Dhufish! A number of photos were taken and this fish was dispatched into the icebox to bring home.

The rest of the day consisted of big hook-ups, bust offs and fantastic weather. The Abrolhos Islands truly is an amazing place to visit and it is not just about the fishing. If you get the chance then make sure you book a charter or bring your own boat, just make sure you stock up on ZMan plastics before you go as you're sure to lose some to the big fish that call the place home!

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017