Destination Guide: Cairns, Cooktown & Lizard Island

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

Every year the big black marlin return to these warm waters from all over the Pacific, the biggest of them the female fish which can weigh up to and over 1000lbs, along with smaller males to ranging 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.

Along approximately 150 nm of reef edge stretching between Cairns in the South and Lizard Island in the north, following the fish, anglers from all over the world gather to catch a giant black marlin.

But 150nm is a lot of area to cover.

Where exactly are the best spots to catch a giant marlin?

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’ best 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.

Opal Reef is a very secure (and therefore popular) anchorage in any conditions. Even the dreaded northerlies (at North Opal). Fishing your way up Opal Ridge after fishing Linden Bank and the fishing will take you almost all the way in!

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

Ribbon Reefs

The Ribbon Reefs are a ‘ribbon’ of reef that run from east of the Daintree all the way up to Lizard Island. The Ribbon Reefs provide an almost continuous break wall with small openings no more than a mile wide separating them. These reefs are a favourite for the boats doing extended live-aboard trips as the anchorages behind them are without question, some of the best in the world.

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

These reefs also offer some great sport fishing and snorkelling in the morning because you will be anchoring less than 10 minutes from where the fish are.




The fleet use Cooktown most often as our changeover location for a number of reasons. But mostly 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 is “Fish where the fish are” and a departure from Cooktown is often the best bet to get you where the hot bite is at that moment.

Cooktown is also an easy location for resupply (check the links in the resources) for both fuel and provisions and for the trailer boats, a very good ramp and its bitumen the entire trip up from Cairns.

Flying in, its only 50 minutes from Cairns and has flights twice a day weeks days although the airline takes every second weekend off so beware!

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.

Number 10 Ribbon Reef is just 12 nautical miles from Lizard. It is 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.