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2010 Cairns Marlin Season Recap


Read the full Bluewater Magazine Season Report with pictures

Each year captains and crew as well as anglers from all over the world congregate in North Queensland for the opportunity to fish for giant black marlin. They fish from September through December on the 150-mile stretch of reef between Cairns and Lizard Island. There is no question this is the best place in the world to catch a giant black! Because the fishing is so seasonal, few boats are based in Cairns year round. But once September rolls around, the numbers swell daily as captains and crews from the south steer their charges through the leads. And we eagerly await a catch up and our introductions to the new members of the professional charter fleet.

2010 saw a few new additions to the Cairns charter fleet, most notably if I may say so, the very boat that I rode on all season! The brand new Kekoa, the first O’Brien 56, has spent its shakedown season on the reef and come through with flying colours. Handling especially well in the rough that we experienced through much of 2010, many a smaller O’Brien boat skipper was heard lamenting on the radio that they would be appreciative of 56 feet themselves about now. Captain Luke Fallon attests she goes just as good backwards as she does frontward in any type of weather, giving plenty of big fish a chasing already its first year.

Another newcomer to the reef this season was the 57 foot Assegai, Amokura, which has just been returned to Australia from NZ by the new owners. Captain Chris Jolly, who is more comfortable fishing the waters off the central coast of NSW than on the reef, made his first trip north on the boat and enjoyed some really good fishing, with two grander black marlin in short succession. Chris was learning the Cairns ropes from a couple of veterans in the form of Colin “Wombat” Grimes on deck, and Captain Jim Dalling on the bridge. Jim, recently retired off Reel Chase, made a couple of cameo appearances during the season to expound some knowledge and enjoyed some big fish himself – three over 950lbs in four days!

Every year there’s something about the season that particularly stands out in comparison to years gone by. This year, the key words were “big” and “south”. With the best fishing consistently reported at Linden Bank since the end of October, many in the fleet have spent a lot of time here at the southern end of the reef, none more than Captain Darren “Biggles” Haydon. Biggles himself is at the helm of a new rig, ‘upgrading’ to the 49 foot Riviera Allure this year, to the best of my knowledge has never left the Bank all season, finding good fish and staying south for the entire time!

As for the “big”, you know the saying, “if you’re not catching a lot of fish, at least let them be big fish”. This year they certainly have been. While in past years you could expect 2-3 of size out of every 10 fish or so – this year, it seemed that almost every second was a big one! And having a great run of luck in the big fish stakes in 2010 has been Captain Tim “Mackerel” Richardson on his boat, Tradition. Tim has reported big fish after big fish this year, and has converted a couple of marlin novices into 1000lb club members, including George Kristas from Spraytime on the Gold Coast who released one at 1000lbs straight off the bat in early October.

Likewise, Captain Hayden Bell on Release has seen plenty of big fish again in 2010 and even left his usual haunt at Number 10 Ribbon Reef to join the crowd down on Linden Bank for a spell. Hayden weighed a fish at 1027lb on November 2nd, and then a few days later, let one go he called even bigger! Fishing alongside Hayden on that trip was Captain Craig “Sparra” Denham at the wheel of the newly refurbished Square Bear. Square Bear is now green, and happily missing the smoke trail behind her that we’d become accustomed to. Because of the refurbishments, Sparra joined the season late this year but it wasn’t too long until he found the fish. One memorable day with partner in the boat Greg Sims on board and partner in life, Tara Thompson on deck, they released four including an 800lb-er, and one that Sparra put up there at about 1100lbs!

One of the smallest boats in the fleet, the 41 foot Cool Runnings based out of Yorkey’s Knob, has enjoyed the close-to-home fishing at the southern end as well. On one early season trip, Captain Troy Dallman put owner John Clayden onto his first grander black marlin – on only his second time in the chair! Rob Bonser’s Pirate is even smaller again at 34 feet, but Rob likewise enjoyed some good fishing south, ex-Cairns. On one trip with ex-Carins regular crew Gavin “Groover” New on deck, they put their lady angler onto her first marlin, a great first fish at a whopping 850lbs.

The Port Douglas based members of the fleet have also been able to take advantage of the hot fishing on the southern reefs. Captain Brett Thomas on Gorilla spent most of his time ex-Port on the bottom Ribbons with some great stats from his 2010 fishing further exemplifying the “big” in 2010 with exactly 50% of his fish released this season exceeding 600lbs! Captain Tim “Too Nice” Ryan, newly in charge of the Port Douglas based Joe Joe, spent a lot of time this year enjoying the other splendours of the reef – namely snorkelling and bottom fishing – but still found the time to get some big fish too, releasing three in one two-day trip including two big fish at 700 and 800lbs.

You may have gathered already in the reading that there was some bad weather around this year. If you came fishing any time in October, you probably got to experience it first hand, especially during the Lizard Island competition where anglers and crew were ‘treated’ to day after day of 25 to scary knot winds. One standout night during the competition saw boats dragging anchor on Number 3, Number 5 and Number 10 Ribbon Reef. Those that made the decision to return to the island that night were very lucky indeed – and got some sleep. My captain, and many others made his bed in the helm chair until I sent him downstairs to his bunk at 5am.

Captain Trent Visscher on Iona was one captain who endured a sleepless night that night, having to reset his anchor in the minefield of reef bombies behind Number 10 Ribbon Reef, not once but twice in the dark! But kudos to him and his lady angler Sue Ahlers who put the lack of sleep behind them to tag one of the very few fish released on the next day of competition, in very trying conditions.

One who enjoyed the absolute pick of the weather on seemingly the only really calm day we experienced all October, also made the most of the fishing that same day as well. Captain Tim Dean on his boat Calypso, filming an episode of iFish with Paul Worsteling on board, released a fish that he put at over the 1000lb mark. If you’ve seen the episode, and I have, you’ll know that they got some awesome above and below the surface footage on an absolutely glamour day on the water. We wish every day was just like that!

As we came into November, the weather eased as expected (for a brief period anyway) and we really started to enjoy the calmness fishing in proximity to one another, at this stage mostly at Linden Bank. One afternoon in particular, my camera caught the tail end of double-header with Captain Ross Finlayson on the 43 O’Brien Top Shot, releasing this nice one right next to us (. One turn later and a 43 O’Brien was on again, this time it was Captain Ian “Wobbles” Ford, at the wheel of the similarly named and similarly looking Hot Shot, chasing down a nice fish for his lady angler.

Although for most, the fishing was very much a one-day hot, one day not affair. (You catch fish one day, and watch the others catch them the next before you get your turn again.) But when it was your turn, it could be very good. Captain Jared Weir on Shaka started one such day with an early bite releasing a nice fish at 900lbs before he’d done much more than left the anchorage at Opal Reef. He quickly followed that one up with an even bigger fish that he put at well over the mark. That’s a good day to be catching them! Likewise Captain Bill Billson, on his 46 foot Woodnut Viking II, ended a string of a couple of quiet days for his guests with a ripper, releasing three at 400, 800 and 1000lbs.

Captain Ashley Wallis on Karlira staked his spot at Spur Reef, just south of Linden Bank, where he caught a number of nice fish including one he put at 1050lbs on a day he also went three from four. Ashley got more bites out of big fish on that particular spot as the season progressed and was last seen still trolling circles and waiting for another go at the beast. Captain Brad Craft on Reelistic had success at Spur Reef too. Brad released three on one day late in October and then a couple of days later, at that spot, another in the category of huge putting it as ‘the biggest fish I’ve ever seen”.

Captain Chris “Sharky” Miles fishing on Sea Baby IV caught the beast (he weighed the first grander of the 2010 season at 1177lbs on October 31st). But he also raised another nearby. Sharky told me about a fish that he raised at Onyx Reef, just south again from Spur, on his trip with light tackle legend Mike Levitt in the middle of November, and he was keen to give that fish a go on full strength tackle!

Our very own “Mouth from the South”, Captain Peter B Wright, who has been at the helm of Sea Baby IV for the past few seasons and a distinctive feature on the reef for many years (since the start in fact!), did not make it to Australia in 2010. And the crews who have certainly missed him and his distinctive drawl on the radio, were perhaps feeling just a little bit cheered up upon hearing the broad southern drawl of Captain Randy Hodgekiss on Dreamin’ On on the radio this season instead. Another long-term Cairns skipper, the ever-consistent Captain Bob Jones, was keeping under the radar for most of the early season. But even Bob steered his boat Iceman to the south by mid-November when it became apparent it was the place to be.

Captain Dan McCarthy on Moana III had some good fishing up the top of the Ribbons at Number 10 with three in a day to 950lbs before the bite went south. Perhaps he was haunting that spot where he hooked the 1100lb-er for Andrey Grigoriev during the Lizard Island Tournament. A couple of days later, another regular at Number 10 this year, Captain Ross McCubbin at the helm of Cjig (the 48 Riviera Express, formally Fascination IV) released one he put at a conservative 950+. The Island boat, Fascination, is almost tethered to the “Rock” and cannot venture far, but this did not stop Captain Craig “Brutus” Newbold from marking his second grander of the season – he almost had the entire Number 10 Ribbon Reef to himself as the fleet moved to the south.

On Iona 2, Captain Adam Jordan ventured away from the “Bus Stop” at Linden Bank for a change and found a new big fish haunt at Lena Reef. He pulled a big fish from there in October and returned again the next month to give it another shot. And it worked, releasing a 1000lb fish for his US angler on the late bite after a 2 hour fight.

By late November the good weather had disappeared again as the rains squalls came through, the winds picked up. Even Captain Daniel Carlson on one of the biggest boats in the fleet, Little Audrey, couldn’t convince his guests to give the weather a chance. The day after releasing four from five fish, they made a token appearance on the grounds before retreating back to the relative comfort of the anchorage for a day behind Opal Reef.

Castille III’s owner Mark Ripper, likewise, is having his run with bad weather. Twice he ventured north to spend some family time with daughter Katie and wife Stephanie and Captain Dean Beach on the reef – these two weeks could very well have been the two windiest weeks of the entire year. Like others, Sunshine Coast husband and wife team Rene and Ian Walker on their Riviera 51 Phantom, on only their second year on the reef, put a smile on their faces and made the most of the bad weather spending much time harassing the sport and bottom fish behind the reef when it was deemed too rough!

Usually in late November (at the time of writing), members of the fleet often wander out wide in search of the marlin that congregate on the tuna aggregations. Captain Corey Hard on Askari has already been there and done that, making the trip out wide to Bouganville and Flora Reefs, 100nm from shore, before the weather turned sour again. They had their best fishing nearby on the Sea Mount where the marlin were indeed congregating, releasing 6 from 8 to 700lbs in a couple of days. Weather permitting, there will be many more boats heading out wide in the coming weeks as the season continues through December.

All in all it’s been another great season on the reef. Although the numbers of small fish haven’t been as high as recent years, there have been good numbers of good quality big fish around instead. And that’s what people come to fish for. As Captain Luke Fallon explains “Anyone who has spent a week on the reef in 2010 has had their shot, no matter what boat they fished on. I know there hasn’t been a week out of our season when we haven’t seen or caught big marlin. And that’s what its all about!”

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