Unmistakably the best fishing destination in the world for giant black marlin.

The Cairns giant black marlin fishing season runs annually from September to December.

Every year the big black marlin return to the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef from all over the Pacific. The biggest of them, the female fish, can weigh up to and over 1000lbs. Along with them are the smaller males which range up to 350lbs.

More black marlin have been released by recreational fisherman in this area of the Australian coast than anywhere else in the world.

During live aboard season, we fish along approximately 150 nm of reef edge stretching between Cairns in the south, and Lizard Island in the north, following the fish, with anglers from all over the world who gather here to catch the giant black marlin.

Key locations on the reef

Linden Bank / Opal Ridge

Linden Bank is a series of underwater shoals that rise to within 10 metres of the surface with the outer edge dropping off to 200 metres. It is a prime fishing ground and one of Cairns’ most productive black marlin fishing spots.

After all, Linden Bank produces big fish year after year. And given its only 35nm from Cairns, it’s very fishable on a day trip from either Cairns or Port Douglas for both the private and charter boat fleet.

Overnight, Opal Reef is nearby and a very secure (and therefore popular) anchorage in any weather conditions. Even during the dreaded northerlies that can set in late in the season, you can find a comfortable anchorage at North Opal.

Fishing your north way up Opal Ridge in the late afternoon, after fishing Linden Bank throughout the day and the fishing will take you almost all the way into the anchorage. You can always expect the late bite here!

Tip: Be aware of the green zone behind South Opal Reef = no fishing on anchor here!

As one of the closest fishing grounds to Cairns itself, Linden Bank is a popular destination among the private boat fleet. And its not uncommon to see trailer boats here fishing among the larger charter fleet. Here trailer boat Pelagic fights a big fish they successfully released and estimated at 900lbs.
Boats on anchor behind Number 5 Ribbon Reef.

Ribbon Reefs

The Ribbon Reefs are a ‘ribbon’ of reef that run from east of the Daintree in the south all the way up to Lizard Island in the north. The Ribbon Reefs provide an almost continuous break-wall of reefs with small openings no more than a mile wide separating them.

These reefs are a favourite for the boats doing extended live-aboard charters as the safe anchorages behind them are without question, some of the best in the world and keep you very close to the fishing – often you are anchoring less than 10 minutes from where the marlin are!

The marlin fishing occurs on the outside edge of the reefs where the water drops off significantly.

The protected (land) side of the reef also offers some great opportunities for sport fishing and snorkelling in the mornings before the marlin fishing begins!

Cooktown

The fleet popularly uses Cooktown most often as our departure and return location for a number of reasons. Foremost because of its proximity to the fishing grounds. Located exactly west of Numbers 3 and 4 Ribbon Reefs, it’s an easy departure point to fish anywhere along the Ribbons from Number 10 in the north to Lena Reef in the south.

The saying ‘Fish where the fish are’ always holds true! And a departure from Cooktown is often the best bet to get you where the hot bite is at that moment with minimum of travel.

Cooktown is also an easy location for re-supply (check the links in the resources) for both fuel and provisions, and, for the trailer boats, a very good ramp. The road is also now bitumen all the way up from Cairns.

Flying in, it’s only 50 minutes from Cairns and Hinterland Air offers flights twice a day week days. Although the airline takes every second weekend off so beware!

Cooktown is named for Captain James Cook who is credited with discovering most of the east coast of Australia. Cook beached The Endevour in Cooktown for repairs after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef.

The marlin fleet rafted up in Cooktown.
Lizard Island is home to the exclusive Lizard Island Resort - an option for anglers wanting to day trip or for those traveling with family who prefer to stay ashore. And yes! There are lizards (see photo below).

Lizard Island

For the keen fisherman, Lizard Island’s proximity to the giant black marlin grounds at the top of the Ribbon Reefs is unrivalled. In its heyday, hundreds of grander black marlin were weighed on the island’s marlin gantry. And in the era before live-aboard capable vessels, the fleet spent the vast majority of every marlin season fishing out of Lizard Island where crew dined at the famous ‘Marlin Bar’ of an evening sharing stories of the fishing days.

Number 10 Ribbon Reef is just 12 nautical miles from Lizard. Number 10 Ribbon is by far the largest of all of the Ribbon Reefs, and some will say the most consistent for the giant marlin. With close to 18 miles of hard edge to the reef, it does not suffer as much from fluctuations in water quality due to the tidal influence between the breaks in the shorter reefs.

In foul weather, island guests also have the option of fishing at Day Reef to the north. Day Reef, being north-west facing, forms an almost natural weather break from the relentless south-easters.

Aside from the marlin fleet, the island is frequented by ocean going yachts and other vessels who at this time of the year also come to enjoy the pristine blue waters, coral gardens and sparkling white beaches.