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Sensational Action on the Southern Stones.

Member John Jardine published this report in the Club magazine "Reel Talk" May and June 2001.

The Cape to Cape field day was coming up and we planned a quick recce to see if the salmon were about yet. I drove south to the winelands and the rocky headlands of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park on friday afternoon. I passed by Dunsborough by 4pm and was on the rocks before five, after setting up my tent and making things comfortable in my small camp.

It was a great evening with a brisk southerly breeze blowing and a modest swell running from the south. The rocks I was fishing were protected by a small headland to the south and the swell ran across rather than head on. The water out in front was clear and deep and as I was fishing alone on the rock, I took good care not to end up in the drink.

I set up only my long spinning rod and 8 kg gear and proceeded to methodically cast and retrieve the bright metal lures until the tension of the previous weeks ebbed slowly away. No strikes, no swirls and more strangely no herring. These small fish are always around in almost plague proportions and will harass the lure, swivel and swarm the bubble trail on most casts. Their absence suggested the presence of predators and I started swapping lures in the hope of enticing a strike. Metals were replaced with bibbed lures. First a Rebel Windcheater brought no success. I changed to a Nilsmaster in redhead and white. With the strong offshore wind it cast out well and felt right in the water. In thc lowering light my anticipation ran high.

The Club owns an air conditioned holiday house at Kalbarri which is available for rent to the public and club members at competitive rates

At last a strike came and a blistering zig-zagging run ensued. A 2.5kg bonito flashed and glittered in the evening light and was subdued, landed and dispatched in short time. I went back to the rhythmic cast and retrieve with less fervour now and stopped to watch a glorious red sunset flare across the sky and quickly fade to dark. The wind felt cold and I packed up and retired to the camp.

Damien and his father, Derek, had driven down after work and joined me in camp after midnight So the next morning, in the chill pre-dawn, we collected our gear and headed for the rocks. I stuck with the spinning gear and got out quickly onto the rocks, Nilsie at the ready. I was soon back into the swing of cast and retrieve with a rising pulse rate. Damien and Derek arrived a few minutes later and I was warming up nicely. A strong south easterly wind was blowing and it was cold in the silver light.
As the visibility improved Damo noticed a disturbance close into the shore below the steep rocks to our left. Closer inspection revealed fins sticking out of the water and a small pod of salmon holed up in the shadows. Within seconds we had cast out and were both tight into good fish. Once disturbed the pod was on the move again and dispersed before Derek could get a cast off. The familiar surging runs of the salmon were punctuated with splashing, shaking leaps but our luck and hooks held and soon we had two salmon on the rocks and things were looking good. We persisted with lures and scanned the waters but could not locate the pod again So we headed back to camp for breakfast, full of enthusiasm for a great day ahead.

On our return we settled down to prepare for the day. The bonito frame and the salmon gills were put into an onion bag and dangled into the water's edge as burley. Buckets of water were collected, gear unpacked, rods rigged and preparations made for the anticipated battles ahead.

While absorbed in these chores, a huge school of salmon arrived and was almost past us before we got over the shock of the spectacle and fired some lures into the water. Typical of these fish they jostled one another to reach the lure with the most eager fish hitting their prize in a boil of white water and the battle was on. Derek cast out a popper and within a few turns of the reel he was into his first lure caught salmon. Damien and I were running about having a blast, not caring if a fish jumped and shook the metal spinner loose as this was often nailed again by a nearby fish. Within minutes we had three of these solid silver torpedoes up the rock and out in the shade. The shoal stayed close in and moved to the right. We followed them and the Ds then landed two more huge (6kg) fish hooked again on poppers. Damo was blown away when an unstoppable grabbed his lure and peeled 8 kg line from his reel and broke free. Not a salmon that time, we suspect.

I grabbed the chance to get a fish on lighter gear and set off with the light Graphcast rod, spinning reel and 4kg line. The fish were just in range but were close inshore among the bommies and I got three fish on only to lose each of them to line cut on the rocks. Realising that my gear was inadequate for the situation, I went back for the bigger rod only to find that the school had followed me! The fish were all around in front of the huge rock we used as a base. With clear water all around I decided to risk one more shot. On with a 20 gram Twisty, knotted direct to the main line and I was on within seconds of touchdown. This fish stayed clear of the rocks and despite a spirited fight was fairly quickly slid up the sloping rock and landed.

As the fish moved off into the distance, I decided for one last shot. The big rod was rigged with a heavy Scoobs popper and sent out to the edge of the school. The obligatory chase and heavy strike resulted in another solid hook-up and repeated jumps. As this fish was brought close to the base of the rock, a large yellow-brown shadow loomed up behind it. Suspecting a bronzie I yelled out to Damo to get his big stick and a big bait. As the salmon tired and came to the surface its pursuer came clearly into view. A huge samsonfish, all of l.5m and in excess of 30kg, was poised to have a chew on this 5kg+ salmon. The sambo was all revved up and ready for action but the "bait fish" was probably too big. Damo quickly lobbed a roughly-hacked piece of salmon on an 8/0 rig into the water at our feet and this huge fish casually sucked it in as if it was eating peanuts at the pub. As it turned away Damo struck and was summarily blown away within seconds as the sambo lit the afterburners, power-dived and contemptuously broke free leaving three gobsmacked fishermen and a very unlucky salmon in his wake.

The salmon school retreated and we regrouped to assess the situation. Nine salmon in total had now been landed and kept and there was the possibility of more huge fish in the vicinity. We quickly organised ourselves and the salmon were cleaned, filleted and placed on ice in the waiting eskies. The frames were added to the burley trail and we set about trying to catch live bait. To say small fish were scarce was an understatement. The first small fish landed were small western king wrasse; they were quickly hooked up and sent out under balloons until we could find "better" fish.

Before we could catch anything else Derek's rod went off and his Abu 7000 lost 20lb line at an alarming rate. He leant into the fish putting a deep curve into his rod. Line melted off the reel and there was a distinct prospect of being spooled first time up. The pressure was increased to the red line. Inevitably something had to give and the line popped. After the obligatory expletives, the long torture of reeling in miles of line started.

Damien was next to be tested when a lively skippy was monstered before the ripples from its splashdown had subsided. The fish peeled off 40lb line from the deep spool Alvey against a murderous drag setting. Encouragement was offered from all quarters. The fish went for the reefs and the telltale sawing of line on rock foretold the worst. The end was decisive. Another gangster found refuge in a dark alley and made its escape.

And so the pattern for the afternoon unfolded. Desperate bait fishing with light gear; deliciously-prepared baits dangled in front of fish at the base of the rock. Oh, the frustration! We would have paid good money for a few lively herring. One bright moment came when a marauding bonito inhaled a whitebait meant for smaller targets. The light rod bent to the task, the reel sang but the constant pressure eventually had this prime game fish come to hand and it was dispatched for later use.

Eventually the persistence paid off and the supply of small baits of skippy, wrasse, herring, tarwhine and even small buff bream was improved. These were pitched out under balloons on the edge of the white water. Each in turn were vacuumed in with a large, swirling strike and a skittering balloon fluttered away in the breeze while the drag screamed and we dashed to grab the rod and begin the struggle. Seven times we hooked up. Not once did we turn a fish. Some ran 200m or more while others were locked up tight close in, but the end was always the same, freedom for the sambos and frustration and increasing despair for the anglers.

Only with the setting of the sun did we begin to gain the upper hand. A herring was caught and quickly returned to the strike zone. A small skippy followed. The red balloon above the herring danced and bounced erratically before moving purposefully from right to left in front of the rock. I waited, suspecting a surging run at any time when this fooling was over. My nerves were on edge, I could wait no longer and struck, coming up solid and a sudden surge of speed signaled a hook-up. The fight was not as expected. It was brisk, fast and short as a beautiful 4kg bonito was quickly subdued on the heavy tackle and unceremoniously landed. This fish had not even sunk the balloon. Damo's other line then went off with a strike and a similar result, solid hook-up, sudden surge and a good run that was quickly turned under the serious strain of the heavy gear. A 6kg salmon was the surprise capture in the fading light.

We set about spinning again but the sport was over for the evening and the lighter gamefish had come and gone again after a final fleeting visit. In the gloom we tidied up and put the spinning tackle aside, cleared the decks and re-rigged. Now was the time for the big baits to go out. Fillets of fresh bonito were hooked onto traces fitted with 8/0 Gamagatsus, at least 30cm of single strand steel and a foam strip held together with ghost cotton.

The first bait was cast out while we sorted out the mayhem we had created on the rock. Within minutes the first strike went off as something very large wolfed down a quick appetiser before heading for Yallingup for the evening. I struck, applied pressure but was cut off before getting any sort of control.

The next strike was again within minutes of the bait settling into the dark waters. This was another story. I called it for a large ray, possibly one of the enormous black doormats that had vacuumed the edge of the rock below the burley bag all day. The strike was casual and the response to my strike as dismissive as if I was attacking Moby Dick with a toothpick. The D9 moved off at leisure looking for another feed, towing my line along and hardly picking up speed. I leant into it, increased pressure again but to no avail. The thought of a tortured struggle with this denizen of the deep was not what I had in mind. I opted for the do or die lock-up with the inevitable - and now familiar feel - of a light pop at the other end and a tedious reeling in of the limp line.

Damien was next up when he was reefed by a mystery fish and despite trying all the tricks the result was another break-off. The next player into the ring was called for another ray but smaller. I managed to turn this one within five minutes and had it close in before long by straining the gear to the limit. This time it all held and Damo went down to the low ledge for a gaff shot. The fish came into the narrow beam of torch light and was identified as an eagle ray with a wing span of l.5 meters. Not wanting to damage the fish, it was then broken off and released rather than gaffed.

We had eventually come to the end of our day. We were too exhausted to try again and too weary to re-rig and risk more gear to the unknown gladiators of the dark waters. We packed it in having caught 10 salmon, two bonito, one eagle ray, too few live baits and been thoroughly whipped by the Sambos 7:0. What a day.

The next morning we were still too shell-shocked to fish hard. The obligatory first light session saw only a single snook landed on a Twisty but we were there long enough to see that the herring hordes had returned. As the sun rose in a clear sky and the breeze was strong at our backs, somehow the sea felt less threatening, the predators were resting and we had had our day. The road home beckoned. What a glorious trip! When are we going back?

John Jardine.

Copyright © 2001 Surf Casting and Angling Club of W.A. (Inc.)

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This page last updated 4 August 2001.

Display of this page was updated on 21 January 2013. Contents updated as above.

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