Joel Ryan has caught more fish this year than most of us could dream about catching in a lifetime. His 2017 hit list includes jumbo bluefin off Sydney, double digits of marlin and swordfish, and he’s even put Tait Missen, his good mate’s son, onto an Aussie junior record with a 119kg swordie out of Lakes Entrance in Victoria. So, what’s his secret?
I’m lucky enough to fish with some of the best anglers in the country. The thing that sets them apart from other fishermen is not their boat, sounder or even their Maori bloodlines. Nope, it’s something you and I can easily do. It’s the attention to small details. In footy parlance, they call them one percenters.
RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB
Most of us have the right gear or can get our hands on it. But how many of us could pack the rods tomorrow morning at 3am if we get a call tonight, for that once-in-a-lifetime bite? There’s no time like right now to rig your game-fishing gear with fresh lines, new leaders and terminal tackle. Sharpen those hooks, too. There are thousands of things you can’t control when targeting game fish so make sure you control the things you can. Prepping your gear is one of them.
IN THE KNOW
I make a big effort to keep in touch with people from different ports and backgrounds. Sure, we talk about ending world poverty, but we also share information about bait and water temperature — or even fish that have come through the commercial boats. They can be a key indicator of an imminent hot bite. Remember, though, it’s a two-way street. If you want the good oil, maybe you should think about returning the favour when the time comes.
HIT ‘N’ RUN
Getting the inside word on a hot bite is one thing, but dropping everything to get there is another. When you hear the fish are running hot, get your arse there! Now! Call in sick to work, abort on the baby shower and drive through the night if you have to. The fish won’t hang around until you’ve finished your Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation. (Although, I’d be keen to see how that works out for you.)
Facebook has its pros and cons, but one thing you can’t deny is that fishing memories from 12 months ago are highly likely to be repeatable, given the cyclical nature of fishing. It’s a great way to pick up seasonal trends and a damn sight easier than trying to find that fishing diary your grandma got for your 16th birthday. Just last month, Facebook reminded me we’ve caught jumbo bluefin in Western Victoria during the same week for the past three Octobers in a row. Guess where I’ll be mid-October 2018?
One thing that sets the pros apart is their commitment to catching a certain species. Sure, they may change plans when on the water — and that’s a skill in itself — but too many anglers go out into the deep blue hoping to catch anything. Instead, filter, and focus on something.
We’ve all done ’em, The Captain’s crew more than most. Joel reckons they’ll cost you the fish of a lifetime. Here’s a list of game-fishing habits to avoid.
- Sleeping in: The name of the game is catching fish, not zeds.
- Leaving the bite zone: You see birds and you’ve marked fish — so don’t leave.
- Going in under-gunned: Don’t think about anything less than 24kg for big blues.
- Not having a plan when hooked-up: Avoid the chaos by having a military-like plan when the Tiagras go off.
- Not staying focused: Stopping at your favourite FAD to fill a 44-gallon drum with dolphin fish won’t help you land that big blue
- Leaving the spot early to make the pub meal: Once all the boats turn and head for port, the fishing can come alive and save the dreaded doughnut.
Most keen fishos own a good set of gaffs, but these days they seem to collect more rust than they do fish. So when the moment comes to sink the meat hooks into a sea monster, Peter Pakula reckons you’d better be well practised…
If you want to be good with the gaff, remember this: the art of good gaffing is to learn that gaffs are placed — not swung — at the target. You line the point of the gaff up exactly where you want it to go, close to the mark, then pull it into the fish using the fish’s weight to set the hook. Never lunge at a fish with a gaff or stick the gaff underwater and chase the fish around with it. To put it bluntly, if you can’t place the gaff where you want it, you’re not ready to gaff the fish. The same goes for tagging.
The best place to go for your gaff shot is in the shoulder of the fish or, in the case of a tag, just below the dorsal fin, as this allows a large open area of target, the bulkiest part of the fish, to offer resistance to the hook. The bone structure running down the fish’s back under the dorsal fins also helps hold the gaff in place. In the case of smaller fish for the table, a head shot with the gaff will save damaging the flesh. Allowing for the fact that you’re going to rely on the bulk and resistance of the fish to sink the point of the gaff, it’s important to keep the size of the gaff relative to the size of the fish. If you use too big a gaff, the diameter of the hook will require considerable resistance in the target to be successfully driven home. And you’ll probably just move a light fish sideways through the water.
As a rule of thumb, a gaff with a hook gape roughly around a third the depth of the fish would be ideal. A 10cm gaff, for example, is about right for a 5kg–30kg fish. Looking at this selection of gaff heads, it’s obvious that it will take a lot more effort to drive in the point of the largest flyer than it will to sink the smallest hook. It’s best to only use big bastard gaffs when you really need grunt.
Flying gaffs are not required on billfish under 90kg. Yellowfin don’t really require flying gaffs at all, although you’d better be ready to hang on! All sharks are best handled with a flying gaff due to their habit of rolling once gaffed. Think carefully before tying a flying gaff off on your cleat and sinking the hook into a big shark. If weight and power goes in favour of the shark, it can very easily get a stern quarter under the water. At that point, the ocean rushing in will tip the odds in his favour. You could find yourself on the losing end of the struggle in a big way!
A fixed-head gaff is a hook on the end of a pole — and it’s the easiest to use. When using any gaff, gloves with a non-slip grip should be worn, as most species will try to surge away. A good kit includes several gaffs of various head gapes for different-sized fish. That is: 10cm for fish up to 25Kg, 15cm (up to 35kg) and 20cm for bigger fish.
A flying gaff is a rope with a gaff hook connected to one end and the boat to the other. They are used on fish likely to be hard to hang onto with a fixed-head gaff, regardless of the size. Flying gaffs are available in small sizes of around 10cm, but the average sizes are 15cm and 20cm.
For Justin Duggan, predicting which colour of lure will be on the hook-up money on any given fishing day will never be an exact science.
We all have a “nutty professor” angling mate. His laboratory is the deck of a boat. Bunsen burners and flasks are replaced with an assortment of coloured lures, hooks, lines and high-tech fish finders. Experiments are conducted with every cast, pass of the boat, retrieve, hook-up or missed bite. Our crazed scientist gathers data, not on a computer, but in his mind.
More than 20 minutes without a bite on the pink lure is hard evidence and becomes the latest law of fishing physics: “Pink won’t work”. Within two casts, a chartreuse lure buckles the rod over and we have the new law: “If it ain’t Chartreuse, it ain’t no use”. A simple success often sees the nutty professor broadcasting his discoveries far and wide for every angler to hear — perhaps even written into fishing print, etched in hard copy and burned into anglers’ minds as “fact”.
Here’s why I have so many issues with hard rules about lure colours from nutty fishing professors.
Firstly, it takes thousands of carefully designed and controlled experiments to build hardened data. It’s simply not possible in most fishing situations to control the environment anywhere near the degree needed to build conclusive rules about lure choice. The angle the sun hits a lure at a precise moment can be the difference between bite and refusal.
Was the fish above, below, behind or in front of the lure relating to the light when it bit? Did you record that evidence? Of course not. You were not underwater and you couldn’t interview the fish. Was the fish that ate your chosen colour the only hungry one in the school while the other five fish were full and didn’t want your previous lure colour (now destined for the bottom of the tackle bag)?
I could write a book on factors that prevent us being conclusive when it comes to lure style and colour. There are no absolutes, just educated guesses and a healthy dose of “nutty professor” folklore. I’ll back presentation over lure colour most days of the week, with the rarest exceptions. Next time you catch 10 fish in a row on a specific- coloured lure, remember: in angling, just like science, correlation does not equal causation.
Davey Marine go the extra mile (about 50 miles, in fact)
Davey Marine just went next-level with its customer service. Their blue-chip customers were invited down to Refuge Cove for a fully catered weekend of swell jumping and horsepower thumping. The rigs that rolled into the ramp at Port Welshpool, Victoria, would put any boat show to shame. There was a supremely appointed Haines Hunter 675 Hardtop from Tathra, owned by John McGilvray. Edencraft was well represented with Black Label, a pod-mounted Formula 233 with twin 250 Hondas. Owner Chris Casey had converted the rig from a “Malibu-style, go-fast boat” back to a gamefishing beast. Praise the Lord! Other Edencrafts included Aaron De Groot’s 400HP APX Suzuki-powered 233, Eden Raft. Aaron was determined to win the high-jump category. Alongside Aaron was Matt Jones highly specced, Suzuki twin-powered 280HP 6m Offshore.
A few veteran rigs from the Battle of the Big Vee rolled down for old time’s sake. Matt Webb showed he could still wave-slay it with the best in his Edencraft Formula, Salty Dog. Ziad Mesto dropped in after dropping another $20k on Westgate, his Cam Strachan-built Formula. Sadly, Ziad’s mate Mohamad couldn’t make it. Dang, we were looking forward to midnight lamb cutlets by the fire accompanied by stories of shotgun incidents.
Big Vee winner, the Bass Strait 24 Offshore owned by Dan McLeod, didn’t make it, either (sold for top dollar), but he climbed aboard his brother’s twin rig. John Woollard towed his black 6.5 Smuggler down the coast. The boat has undergone a full makeover and features an E-TEC 250HO. It pranced around the cove at full noise to steal the show. You can read all about it on page 82.
The Davey Marine alloy class was represented by Salt Shaker, a 30ft Sailfish. And Adam Davey brought along his Blackdog Cat, a 5.1m cuddy powered by a 100HP Honda. The tin cat was perfect for nosing into the rocks to launch landing parties to recover lost drones.
Adam said the weekend will become an annual affair, although the location may change. “It’s a perfect chance for like- minded boat owners to get together and use their boats in fair-dinkum waters.”
To book your ticket next year, all you need to do is buy a turn-key fit-out from Davey Marine and throw in a couple of hunji for catering, which, by the way, was exceptional. The Captain’s crew dined on chilli and coriander creamy chicken with rice while waiting for a ride on the next rig.
Are you a bit confused about the catch-and-release code these days? What species are socially acceptable to fillet? What species should be set free? It’s enough to leave you holding your limp gaff in hand on the back deck, paralysed with uncertainty. Never fear, The Captain has written a new code so you know what to do when that billfish or bluefin comes alongside. It’s based on the world’s leading standard in social research – Facebook likes.
Image: Joel Ryan
All swordfish must die. After all, you woke at 3am, spent $400 on fuel and haven’t had more than 100 likes on a Facebook post for 12 months now. If you happen to catch one, kill it, then jump in its mouth if possible and start snapping away. Send the photo to as many editors of fishing and boating magazines as possible. There is a downside to killing one of these goliaths – your boat will be heeling to one side. In this event, it’s OK to kill another one to trim out the boat for a joyous ride home.
Note: Be sure to include words like “beautiful beasts” in your Facebook posts and definitely reference the “life-changing experience with best mates” as well as “tributes to my long- suffering wife”. By Facebook standards, emotional posts outweigh ethical posts by at least 20 to one.
All marlin must live. Even though you’ve been fishing for 20 years to catch a marlin, resist the urge to kill one and bring it on board. If you succumb, and have to post your marlin murder to Facebook, make sure you mention that the fish died “of natural causes” or that it “came up backwards”. Follow that post by mentioning that you and your starving family consumed every piece of meat, including the eyeballs, on the very same night. Under no circumstances ever freeze a fillet of marlin or you will go straight to Facebook fishing hell.
Image: Joel Ryan
All bluefin must die. Hanging a bluefin from the gantry is a guaranteed 100 likes on Facebook. A photo of you and your buddies bringing one over the gunwales will score an instant 300 likes. Hell, The Captain’s crew would – if only they could. Plus, you’ve got to have something to prove to Mrs Captain and your boss that the 24 hours of trolling on the weekend were 100 per cent worth it. If that’s not enough justification, just mention that those greedy Japanese long-liners have stopped plundering the Southern Oceans – which means, er, that you can.
All flathead must live. The humble and plentiful flathead has been a staple of Australian diets ever since Joseph Banks flicked out a Gulp! in Nuclear Chicken from the back of the Endeavour in 1770 and landed a nice 75cm dusky. Unfortunately, flathead is no longer a staple. Any flattie bigger than your forearm needs to be released. The main reason is this: it has babies. Yep, those ones breed – unlike giant swordfish, which as everyone knows are mysteriously created from seahorse dandruff. We recommend you spend over $10,000 on an Aquatech housing and a DSLR camera to get a shot of the friendly flattie boat- side, then post to Facebook for a solid 80 likes. Satisfied with your social-media handiwork, head to the fish market and spend almost $40 per kilo on some sweet flattie fillets. Go figure.
Time to rip and strip Nub Tub, e Captain’s Haines Hunter 445F, back to bare bones before building her back up to survey class, courtesy of Erick Hyland from Whitepointer glass boats in Cann River, Victoria. Erick shares his version of events…
The moment The Captain’s Haines Hunter 445F rolled into Eden, I knew they were in deep shit. They claimed it had a new floor and gel coat, but I reckoned if it was riding on its original stringers they’d be rooted, along with the transom. They weren’t built to last 40 years. I know this because I was taught in the Haines Hunter factory. Don’t get me wrong, they just built them to the standard of the day and nobody expected them to be sought-after classics 30 or 40 years later.
All the same, a well-rebuilt boat will last a lifetime. When it comes to materials and construction below the floor, there are plenty of options, many of which I’ve tried. These days, I only build a dozen boats a year, so I’ve got to get it right. If I screwed up just one boat, abalone divers Australia-wide would let me know about it – they make up 90 per cent of my customers. They’re known for being particularly rough on their boats, loading them up day after day, operating in huge seas and carrying huge horsepower. They work them to death. I reckon most abalone divers could fuck up an anvil with a cork hammer. So I think The Captain’s project boat is in pretty good hands. Anyway, I’ve used almost every boat building material (alloy aside) and this is what I’ve learned.
There are three main materials to consider when rebuilding a boat floor and stringers. Before composite and fibreglass, bond wood was the most commonly used material inside and outside the boat. I still use timber for the floor because I reckon it holds a screw better than the composite materials, but to be honest, plywood is only really good for building dog kennels. Many builders still use timber for stringers. They say it reduces noise and vibration and if treated right will never rot out. That may be true, but there’s a bigger reason: time and cost. I switched to ‘glass 15 years ago. There’s no worry about noise and vibration in a Whitepointer 263 hull that tips the scales at almost two tonne when it’s dry.
By the time the project boat arrived at the Whitepointer factory in Cann River, it had been well and truly scraped out. In fact, I think I saw daylight in a couple of spots.
First we masked areas we didn’t want ‘glass on then wiped with acetone before hitting with a gun pass of 600g. Then we laid two layers of 800g gram rovings overlapping at the keel, then another layer of 800g roving over the top, dusted with a light layer of chop strand in between. For a bulletproof finish, we hit it with a final gun pass of 600g chop over the top. In some areas, it’s now double the thickness of the original glasswork.
The stringers for The Captain’s project boat are based on the ones I use for the 5m Whitepointer Super Hornet and big 263 model. They’re a C-shape, forming a full box section when ‘glassed in. They’re made up of five layers of ‘glass using 800 roving and 600 chop. Once shaped to fit snugly into the 445, we glass them in around the outside edge with chop strand, two layers of roving and chop again over that, applied with the roller. Essentially, it doubles the thickness of the sidewall of the stringer. The commercial survey assessors like it that way. On my bigger boat (the 263), the stringers are also glassed on the inside section of the join, just for extra strength. The stringer box sections can then be foam-filled or left open to drain. On the project boat they’ll be fully enclosed and watertight buoyancy chambers, but with a bung for draining.