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Saturday, 29 September 2018

Tydeman Reef with East Coast Angling

Trip report, by John Cahill

A couple of weeks have passed since return with life and work returning to normal but this trip report is overdue, so enough with the excuses here it is.

It was with high anticipation 6 months ago we booked our Great Barrier Reef expedition with Nick and Megan Milford's East Coast Angling.  Whilst this business is a little over 18 months old at this time it is mature way beyond that timeline with Nick’s long-standing reputation as one of the very elite guides on the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea.  I’ve had the fortune to fish with Nick in Oman also and can vouch for his fun easy-going personality and fastidious approach to finding and catching tropical sportfish, the guy is a gun in all aspects, casting, jig and fly.   Feel free to visit the ECA website here or follow them on their social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube where they have some dope videos that are well worth watching if you are planning a trip to the Great Barrier Reef or Coral Sea, regardless of who you choose to fish with, check them out.
Flying into stunning Lizard Island, the backyard of grander black marlin and rampaging geets
Initially we had planned to visit Osprey Reef but an assessment around the time of year dictated that this location was too risky with the often-windy September weather, history shows it was fortunate that this call was made.  Sadly with more Marine Park lockouts Osprey is now off the table for the forseable future, truly sad.  Tydeman Reef was Nick’s recommendation, and without much hesitation we agreed and assembled a likeminded crew of Ebb Tide friends including Daniel Xerri, Sean Farmer, Christian Georgopoulos, Seth Hartwick, Andy Smith and I.  The logistics of visiting the northern GBR must be overcome, and for us the plan was to fly into Lizard Island and meet up with the ECA crew and boats.  

The crew... including Nick, Jase and Kevvie, the decky with the most
This was relatively painless except for the challenge of a modest luggage capacity on a small aircraft, for our flight from Cairns to Lizard Island, everything can be overcome though with Nick and Megan’s cooperation and some planning ahead.  It must be said full credit to our airline, East Air, they did all they could to help, but it's a fact that 6 big rod tubes are not going to fit especially with other paying passengers on board.

After a night in the Lizard Island anchorage feeding the batfish and resident GT’s on our liveaboard come second fishing platform “Dyfken” a 51 foot Riviera, we departed early the next morning to fish our way north.  The fishing efforts that day were modest save for a couple of GT’s and late in the day the boys had a red-hot session on queenfish and smaller GT’s on the flats near Jewell Reef.  There were some really promising signs however with a small doggie ‘almost’ landed on PE 4, doggies seen busting up on top and plenty of decent trout coming in on the jig and the cast.  

First geet to greet us, a little scrapper on Adhek Ocean Dancer 2  
The next morning was a 4am start to complete our journey and get to the objective at Tydeman Reef.  To say the boys were keen would be a massive understatement, soon after breakfast and ‘Scutes’, ECA’s 32 foot Andros (a sportfishing weapon) was prepared, we were off.
Oportunities and razor sharp coral galore
Tydeman is an interesting and beautiful place, a vast area of shallow reef flats littered with channels, bommies, blue holes, sand cays, drop offs and at the right stages of the tide massive pressure points which become the hot spots for the congregation of bait, mostly fusiliers and then of course the GT's.  The opportunities are endless and it’s easy to get distracted, you could easily lose focus and chase your tail but that’s where a good guide and their experience come to play.  This trip Nick had his regular second skipper on team, Jason Preece who was running Scutes, while Nick skippered Dyfken which doubled as our second fishing platform. 

Day 1 trout on the Blaze Saththa 150
Onto the fishing!  Day 2 saw a mad jigging session with several monster cod caught and trout and epic bust offs for everyone.  Sean at one stage got half a doggie back and Cish was demolished on the drop and 2 men couldn’t manage to close the bail arm despite a lot of lost line and their best efforts!  The afternoon saw a tough topwater bite on the reef but we ended up with a yellowfin bonanza, a couple of GT’s with a few doggies hooked and lost mixed in.  The reef edges lit up as the tide ebbed off the flats created a simply insane bite with some real quality and variety coming in fast including trout, bass, jobfish and various emperors, a scenario made for PE5 casting tackle.
Mega trout on the jig - CB One XS

Massive YFT tuna schools roamed the deeper water, eager to eat and shaddowed by lots of sharks
Quite a few very big cod - this one falling to what would be the most consistent jig, CB One XS
Mega - trout.  This one falling for the CB One Z4 Vertical Motion
The 3rd day saw on the very first drop Andy nailed half way to the bottom on what turned out to be monster Spanish on slow pitch!!  The jig was very productive with fish were flying in, mostly trout but Sean pulled in a sweet napoleon wrasse.  
Now that's a lot of mackerel!  video will be live on YouTube tomorrow night.
CB One XS again - everyone want's a wrasse!
Surface action was starting to improve as the tides were getting bigger and the GT’s were starting to appear in numbers but kinda typical GBR sizes which is quite ok if your tackle suits, but then just when you are having fun on PE5 or 6 and you get demolished by a better one, this was the constant story of the trip happening to most of us totalling about 10 times!  If you are braze enough to cast right over the top of a bommie you can predict that is when you will get a bite and what is about to happen next.
Heru GT Mania - about the perfect popper for the GBR
Solid Coral Sea GT taken on the deep side of a school of fusiliers
A bit of anchorage fun, chinaman go rediculously hard
Green jobfish in shallow water on the Heru Wahoo
Day 4 was pretty rough going in the morning with the wind really starting to pick up which only built from this point sadly as the bite was improving markedly.  A heavy jigging session resulted in mackies, solid trout and XOS cod again and a few unstoppables.
Doubles on Amegari
Amegari Kaxu found loads of bites across a range of species
At times red bass were in plague proportions - Amegari Lingo
Amegari Urpekari in both sizes was just what the GT required
The arvo session was pretty interesting, casting drains along the open ocean side of the reef at low tide the crew caught a few trout and reefies on a pretty regular basis.  During this session, Andy spotted a big school of fish swimming along the reef ended coming towards us which turned out to be a school of about 30 or more massive hump head parrots all around 90cm long.  Dan fired a cast over the school and bringing his lure back towards the parrots and predictably the school split in two and at first it looks like because they were spooked by the lure but a moment later Dan’s lure was demolished by one of the biggest, blackest trout you will ever see which hightailed back home ripping GT drag untill Dan finally got a good hold on the spool and bang the hooks pull free! Devastation all round.  The days rounded out with more yellowfin tuna and the unfortunate sharks that accompany them.
Amegari Dzanga 195 Big Cup (prototype) pops way above it's pay scale
Doubles on Amegari Lingo and Jack Fin Pelagis 165S
Day 5 saw a return to Jewel as we made our way back south against a strong current which slowed our progress.  Once we got to the fishing it was on like Donkey Kong and in one word, epic!  Both boats enjoyed sensational sessions on top water mostly on smaller GT’s but also trout, red bass and Chinaman fish, it was fish a cast in some spots either hooking up, following or having a swipe, it was the perfect setting for some PE5 fishing and was a highlight session of the expedition.  Once the tide turned top water significantly slowed but the usual suspects were available on the jig but sadly the doggies continued to elude us, we had had our chances too.
Amegari Lingo v's Coronation trout
Reef  thug caught on Heru Wahoo
Cracker geet on Sea Falcon Real Saurie
Dino trout off the flats on a Jack Fin Pelagus 200F
Day 6 the wind was absolutely howling, you either needed to be up on the flats on the high tide sheltered from the significant swell or jigging the drop on the same side, you could not cast into the wind and working the outside of the reef was not on.  We still pulled some good fish despite the challenging conditions.  Early afternoon a call was made to finish fishing early and get back to the Lizard Island anchorage as the word was out that the Marlin Bar was open that night!  
It got rough, but Scutes eats that up!
Nice surprise up on the flats - a good sized tital triggerfish eating a Jack Fin Pelagus 165S
Doubles on ASWB SS40
This was a sensational weeks fishing and adventure, not least of all because of the awesome crew Nick has surrounded himself with, special mention needs to go Kevvie who tirelessly deckied for us all week, plans are afoot for the return with East Coast Angling to perhaps another reef system next year.  These trips are important for us to put our gear to use and of course some gear gets more use than other due to circumstances, the bite and sadly lure losses at times which can be high some days!  See each photo for specific comments on gear.  If you are interested in joining the list for potential future trips, drop us a line.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Megabass Downunder

By John Cahill

I have always had a fascination for Japanese quality lures and especially the tackle brand Megabass.  Having been associated with Viva fishing Australia since 2011 as an associate rod tester for Lox and Mursame blanks, I was delighted to recently with the news a year or so ago that Viva were now the Megabass distributor in Australia.  Great news for me as a fan boy who now got to extensively play with the gear and expand my small role with Viva to be a Megabass field tester here in Australia especially in the growing Murray cod tackle market.  Using rods, reels and lures I have found that there are numerous products designed mostly around large swimbait fishing for North American large mouth and smallmouth bass that have a direct relevance to the Australian Murray cod.  We have been fishing the lures hard and enjoying success on some great existing products such as the Vatalion, Magdraft, Garuda and V9, I am sure one day soon I will invest more time in the I-Slide as well!  

There is a small team of guys all inputting, fishing the lures often, trying them in different situations and conditions and we regularly give feedback to Nick Bailey at Viva and Megabass Japan with ideas on what we think could be good concepts for improvements or even new models.  It's been a worthwhile process with Japan taking notice.  The Murray cod scene is a tiny market globally, but it is recognized as important.  Recently at the AFTA trade show in Queensland, two Megabass executives came for a look, bringing with them some new toys including a lure in the latter stage of development, the BIG M. 
 Following the show, there was a small window of opportunity which allowed Nick and I to show Naoki Haruta and Kiyoshi Sugiura (lure designer who works with Megabass founder and design genius Yuki ITO) a little bit about cod fishing, a 24 hour hit and run mission to Victoria's Lake Eildon was on the cards.  Whilst the goal was to show the guys what cod fishing was basically about, it was of course in the front of our minds that we wanted to show them a fish, so our 'A' grade spots were rolled out.  Anyone who knows cod fishing in Eildon will know that producing fish on demand is just not a thing, so we definitely felt the pressure! As fortune would have it, we got lucky, or Nick was just good - nailing a stunning example of Eildon's potential; a fat 85 cm cod on Megabass Vatalion no less.  We look forward to what may flow from idea's at Megabass for our now famous fish.  

Friday, 3 August 2018

The Golden Days

Words and images by John Cahill
The start of spring spells the end of the Murray cod season, allowing the big green fish to do what nature demands in peace.  For many native fish anglers, this is a great time to step back from fishing for a while, winding down and gearing up, awaiting ‘cod opening’.  For others it’s a chance to shift gears and zone in on another native species that shares a similar habitat; the highly anticipated spring run of golden perch.  Golden perch, yellas, yellow belly, callop, whatever you call them are a prolific freshwater species that have a massive distribution in South Australia, Victoria, New South wales and Southern Queensland that have an important place in recreational fishing.  They are  a lot easier to catch than cod and provide great sport on light to medium tackle.  I personally love spring for the yella run and highly anticipate the bite that will hopefully come.  It really is a change of pace from winter cod fishing and in some cases change of location enabling a more finessed approach to native freshwater fishing compared with the big lure, sometimes maximum noise and presence of the modern cod scene.
For backwaters it's very hard to beat a slow cranked spinnerbait.  This chunky Vic yella nailed a Megabass V9 with a Hazdong Shad trailer, one of several caught on a hot afternoon when the fish were very active
Emerging from the dead of winter
Goldens are a very temperature sensitive fish and there is no doubt that the dead (or dread) of winter slows down their metabolism and the need to feed often is reduced significantly.  Don’t get me wrong goldens will eat in cold water, however it seems a lot more selective and it is a lot less likely that they will chase down a lure with enthusiasm; more likely to casually give it a lure a peck than inhale it kind of thing.    Added to the difficulty of getting goldens to eat in winter, they often suspend mid water on large flats or in standing timber to find the right temperature and can be tricky to find.  Deepwater impoundments are not a natural habitat for golden perch so they are basically looking for more lowland river conditions which can be tough on the poor golden just looking to keep warm!  I am telling you all this because when you first start to look for these nuggets in September this still might be the exact situation depending upon your local waterway and the water temp.  It’s not all doom and gloom though, as the water warms the need to feed kicks in and slowly the yellas start to resemble their normal aggressive selves as they fatten up prior to the eventual spring spawn.  As the days lengthen and water warms above 12-14 degrees the fish start to move and school up, by 16 degrees they are firing and by 20 plus degrees they should spawn.  Once waters really warm post spawn yellas can get a bit more difficult but are accessible all summer long.  mentioning specific temps is a tricky thing as triggers for Eildon for example are different to dams further north, the trick is to know your own waterway.
In early spring Chuan nailed this chunky yella in Copeton Dam from fish sounded up hanging in stranding timber
 The spawning event
Spawning is pivotal to spring yella fishing.  The behavior they show can be quite interesting.  As the females become ready they will be harassed by a number of usually smaller male suitors who compete for the chance to be ‘the one’ and the numbers that surround her can vary from a few to lots!  I have seen it in Victoria’s Lake Eildon, usually in late November or December where you can get a scenario where what you might think is a couple of carp slurping on the surface, on closer inspection reveals to be a ball of goldens doing their thing on the surface, it’s a crazy sight.  There have been plenty of documented cases where a hooked female can be netted along with all her male friends, so occupied with proceedings they don’t seem to notice the people, boat or the net scooping them up!  What is almost as interesting is that in these circumstances that it’s not uncommon to get a fish to stop and eat (or attack) a lure, surely a territorial strike for the little fish to stay away? who knows but it’s pretty cool.  Fisheries sources tell me that while spawning events occur in impoundments every year it sees that largely they are unsuccessful save of some locations where specific requirements are met, crucially, they require running water.
Lyds scored this Eildon golden whilst in 'search mode' using a Megabass Dive Elbo.  Shoreline searching in early spring is a great way to find the schooling fish
The gear
In rivers I like to use smaller low profile baitcast outfits as accuracy is paramount in the confines of a tight waterway and casts are relatively short, flicking under overhead cover, landing between logs and precisely controlling cast depth.  Six to seven-foot rods capable of casting ¼ to ½ ounce lures and run 8-15 lbs line suited to smaller spinnerbaits, small crankbaits and lipless crankbaits.  Rivers see me often run 15lbs braid or similar and a 20lbs leader.  A chance meeting with an out of season cod can always be on the cards and I would sooner see it quickly boated and released than a drawn-out fight especially when we want that fish back guarding it’s eggs. 
In the lakes I like to use spin gear for longer, easy casts with no fuss.  2500 sized threadlines are perfect for goldens.  Here I use 4 to 8lbs braid mainline with 1.5 to to 2m of 8 to 12lbs lbs fluro leader.  My rod will usually be a 6’8” to 7’4” graphite rod with a medium action.  As I will use a variety of lures there will likely be a few options in my arsenal each a match to the lure types I intend to use.  I tend to be a tad light on my drag settings for goldens in lakes as it’s not uncommon to get either lip hooked fish pulling hooks, or rampaging fish bending open fine hooks and I find a more moderate setting gets more fish to the net.
The small but telescopic nature of a goldens mouth lends them to slender profile lures
Lures and how to use them
There are many lures that will catch you a slab of gold, but some are better than others.  In the last year we have had goldens hit massive cod spinner and chatter baits, top water paddlers and surface swimbaits, but I would not recommend them!
Lipless crankbaits - my all-time favorite yella lure are lipless crankbaits, they are pretty much fool proof straight out of the packet.  Whilst not being snag proof, I believe that they can be nursed through most situations with the angled head good for hopping over a lot of underwater obstacles.  I like to fish my lipless cranks with a hopping retrieve with plenty of time dedicated to the pause.  In rivers or the more shallow margins of lakes a very slow roll and no sink time can easily see the lure work well in water as shallow as 1.5 meters, perfect to work over the top of a lot of weed beds. 
There are a lot of cheap lipless cranks out there but not all are made equal, some need to be worked far too fast to be effective so be careful where you spend your money.  My favorites include Megabass Vibration X, Mazzy Vibes, Jackall TN 40’s and 60’s are also good as well as many other options out there but be warned some of the cheap options may not deliver satisfaction.  Most lipless cranks come in rattle and non-rattle versions.  I use both, but more reach for the noisy versions when fishing deeper, the water is dirty or nothing else is getting a bite.   
Spinnerbaits - in rivers I have caught more goldens on spinnerbaits than any other style.  I like smaller profile fine gauge wire baits with medium to light gauge hooks with a small trailing soft plastic tail and willow blades get the nod from me.  Usually 3/8 to ½ oz do the trick and quality counts where the blades turn at the slowest speed which is dynamite on river fish.  As these lures generally, won’t run that deep they are not a big part of my approach in lakes most of the time unless I am working shallow weed beds.  The finest lure I have found that fits the bill is the Megabass V9 simply by virtue of how slow you can work it and the blades still turn, Japanese quality.  TT Lures Vortex and Striker, Gan Craft Killers Bait, Outlaw, Yella Magnets and OSP High Pitchers are all good and proven.
Soft plastics are dynamite in lakes and rivers and have a special place when goldens are mouthing hard lures and spitting them out just as fast.  Fished quite similar to the lipless crankbaits (hopped or slow rolled) they can be a game changer on a slow day.  I always have a good supply of 1/16 to 1/2oz jig heads with a hook of size 2 to 1/0 depending on the plastic I am using, I love using Hayabusa FPJ960 jig heads for their compact size, strength to wire diameter ratio and sharpness.  Grubbing tree’s is the domain of the soft plastic but that would be a whole other article!  80-120mm Squidgy Wrigglers, Berkley 3-inch Gulp Jigging Grubs, 2.5 inch Atomic Prongs and 3 inch Megabass Hazdong Shads are all great choices.
Crankbaits or hardbodies (everyone has a different name for them) are awesome on yellas! In rivers more goldens are probably caught as cod bycatch on crankbaits than any other type of lure.  It is also my go to lure when trolling lake edges when I am searching for schools.  I prefer to down size and go for slimmer profiles when specifically targeting yellas, it certainly helps with the hook-up rate as the yella doesn’t quite have the bucket mouth a cod does.    Megabass Dive Elbo, is my absolute go-to with its slim profile and tight vibration that for some reason seems to get smashed over many others.  Kuttafurra Therapy and the 75mm Mudhoney and the smaller Stump Jumpers are all good.  
Super sharp and fine hooks allow some missed hits into hookups
Where (locations)
Pretty much any river, backwater, large dam or billabong north of the great divide up into southern Queensland will have a great chance of holding a population of goldens, some of these are local gems that need not be written about but are best discovered by your own adventures.  Well known and extremely popular hotspots include  Windamere, Hume, Eildon, and Blowering.
Where (spots)
In impoundments, as a rule I like to target the windward side of the lake especially if the water is not quite optimum temperature yet as it will usually be warmer.  My favourite area’s are rocky points as these spots seem to hold warmth first, next best being weed bed areas and standing timber on the western (sunny) side of a lake in sub 10 meters.  My little secret it to target windswept points in particular, as these usually create a milky or silty slick that the fish often can be found right in the middle of!  Another hot zone are freshly covered grassy banks.  The worms and critters that come out of these locations create a feeding zone that the perch cannot resist and are synonymous with spring rains and rising dam levels.  In rivers and creeks in spring I like to work the deeper pools especially if there are backwaters present.  Weed beds and laydown timber are of course worth prospective casts as well as my favourite area in rivers with goldens, undercut banks where multiple fish can often be right under your feet; these spots are actually best fished from the bank.  
Golden's thrive in shallow water and deeper impoundments, but wherever you find them they are temperature sensitive fish
Finding the fish
In the impoundments I see three main ways of finding the schooled-up fish and I use all three.  Firstly, when it’s early season and I do not have a fix on where they might be, I head to likely banks with a mindset on covering ground.  I slow troll a couple of crankbaits close to the bank in 3 to 8 meters and actively search for them.  I keep a very close eye on my sonar and of course I am looking for bites as I go, usually this is done on the petrol motor to cover ground.  Down and side imaging is awesome for searching for schools and they will stick out like a sore thumb on some of the more exposed banks that I search on.  If I get a hook up or locate a school on sonar down goes the electric and it’s time to start casting.
Secondly, I will try and work my favorite area’s where I have caught yellas before, either historically or perhaps last time I was out.  I always plot wherever I have caught fish before and it doesn’t take long for rough patterns to emerge.  Cruising slowly on the electric, prospect casting as I go.  If they have taken up residence there is an excellent chance I will be among it, if not I will be pretty much wasting my time. 
Finally, I will bank hop from point to point, only working the most obvious and best spots and cherry pick, this will not get you many friends if the points are busy and you appear to be dropping in so be aware and cruise in on electric motor rather than at speed.
In rivers it’s more of a case of using sonar to locate the deeper pools and weed, usually there are a lot more signals above water in rivers more so than you get in lakes.  
A final word on sonar, the advent of down scan technology and upsells like Lowrance’s Fish Reveal are a god send for yella anglers, enabling amazing target separation between timber and fish, amazing for when goldens are hung up in trees mid water.
The authors Lowrance HS9 lights up with a few yellas ripe for the picking in 35 feet (10 meters) in Victoria's Lake Eildon
Gentleman’s hours
Possibly the best thing about golden perch in spring is that there is absolutely no point to getting up early!  You do not hear that in fishing too often do you!  I find especially ‘early season’ that the fish seem to respond best as the sun is well up and the water is warming as the day gets longer and late afternoon sessions in bright sun can be quite amazing.  As spring wanes into summer early mornings do start to become the way to go however and night sessions can be amazing as the bait soakers will attest.  I find that following the same concepts as spring but a tad deeper can work, but just look a bit deeper - 15 even 20m when it’s truly hot.  Nothing beats the spring sessions where you can sleep in, the fish are shallow and are truly on the job.

Catch and release or keep
Goldens in impoundments, especially relatively clear water ones are magnificent eating especially the smaller models.  Larger trophy goldens are not to my taste as they get a high degree of gelatinous fat that sits along the gut cavity and backbone, I find it pretty poor.  You should not however feel bad about taking a couple for a feed as there are plenty of them and fisheries seem to have them as a priority stocking species assuring good future numbers.  This is a stark contrast to many years ago.  Whilst goldens are a great catch and release species, It is a bit of an unknown truth that golden perch are really a low land shallow water species and their success as a stocked impoundment species is a little at odds with this.  No problems so far until you learn that they can suffer the effects of barotrauma from being caught out of deeper water.  NSW Fisheries conducted studies which found that goldens were susceptible in waters in deeper than 10 meters, in fact fish angled from 20 meters had an almost 20% mortality rate within three days of capture.  This figure can be significantly reduced by using a release weight, or by limiting catch and release in water that deep.  There is no point releasing them to their death!
Don't be afraid to keep a feed of golden perch, the smaller fish are sensational eating