Want to become a fishing immortal? The first step is to acquire an arsenal of high-calibre fishing equipment. Next, get yourself a tiny but tough fishing rig. “WTF? Tiny rig?” I hear you say. But think about it — that 100kg bluefin will look a shit-ton bigger sitting next to a 15-footer as opposed to a 42ft Steber. Finally, after you’ve picked up your baby boat from the dealer, head straight to the hot bite and hook up. Then hang on like all fug. That’s what Ben Zebic did.
It’s a misty winter’s morning down at Barwon Heads boat ramp in southern Victoria. The Captain’s crew is on the scene (unusually) early, huddled around the struggling heater vents of a little hatchback hire car.
A lowered blue Commodore ute approaches, towing a mini Stabicraft. This is a far cry from the $500,000 rigs we usually investigate in the pages of The Captain, but we’re excited nevertheless, because we’ve heard a lot about the skipper of this tiny tinny, 22-year-old motor mechanic Ben Zebic. He’s wearing a black hoodie that reads “Just Send It” and his set-up suggests that’s what he plans to do. His ride is a Stabicraft 1410 Explorer with a Yamaha F40 tiller steer. Proudly racked in the rod holders is enough Shimano bling to make even a game boat skipper blush.
We introduce ourselves to Ben and ask him about the plan of attack. “I’ve got all the gear to do anything, but it’s low tide so I reckon we have a crack at the gummies — we’ve been getting some solid ones lately,” suggests Ben while rigging up his rods. We agree and get to work prepping the 1410 for launching. The Barwon River is a shallow system and at low tide is pretty much a no-go for bigger boats. This is good news for Ben, as it means the boat ramp is empty — as are his favourite fishing spots.
We make our way out of the Barwon to be greeted by a solid little swell breaking over the scattered reef around the river mouth. Ben’s obviously been watching too many Captain videos, because the first thing he suggests is, “Jumps?” We give him a big smile before commandeering a camera boat and getting out the slow-motion cameras. In our experience, Stabis are bloody hard to jump. Their large footprint on the water combined with modest powerplants means they stick to the sea like a seagull in an oil slick. But this doesn’t deter Benny and before we’ve even got the lens caps off, he’s launched the 1410 into the stratosphere. He then circles back and launches again — and again. It feels like watching equestrian jumping at the Olympics so when we’re convinced Ben’s back can’t take it any longer, we give him the thumbs-up and call him over for a debrief. “Jesus, mate! What’s the secret to getting airborne like that?” we yell. “Get the lightest boat, put the biggest engine possible on it and then send it!” Ben shouts back.
BEN’S TACKLE BOX: BLUEFIN SET-UP
Reels: Tiagra 50W with 37kg line
Rods: Tiagra Ultra 24–37kg
Lures: Tornado 10” for barrels and Tornado 4” for schoolies
SNAPPER AND GUMMY SHARK SET-UP
Reels: Saragosa 6000 with 40lb braid
Rods: PE3 and PE4 casting and jigging Grapplers
Rigs: Reedy’s Rigs paternoster
With the photo shoot done and dusted, it’s time to wet a line. We load into the 1410 and head for Ben’s secret gummy grounds. Apparently the only reason The Captain is being taken to this spot is because we’re from NSW. Even so, we’re sworn to secrecy.
The drive gives us a chance to hear where it all started for Ben. “I’ve been fishing my whole life with my old man and brothers,” he says. “We never had a boat, but we’d go down to the jetty all the time. When I was 18, I bought a 3.8m tinny with a Yamaha tiller steer. I’d go from one side of the bay to the other and catch 7kg snapper out of it. People used to think I was insane — don’t know why. Eventually, I thought it was probably time for an upgrade, as I wanted to get out in the ocean chasing tuna and kingfish. I wanted something a little bit bigger, while still being compact, cheap to run and easy to maintain. It also had to be safe and stable. That’s when I found this Stabi, and it hasn’t let me down.”
BEN’S TOP FIVE GUMMY/SNAPPER TIPS
1. Spend time searching for ground with ledges and pinnacles. These are the spots that always hold fish.
2. Tides are bloody important. Make sure you’re fishing two hours either side of high tide.
3. Fresh bait is key. I always like to catch bait while I’m anchored on the gummy grounds then send it straight back down.
4. Patience is vital. If you’re moving between spots all day, that’s a lot of time you’re not fishing.
5. Just send it.
Ben twists back the throttle to idle as we come onto the gummy grounds. A small rocky ledge with a few red squiggles materialises on the sounder. “There’s a channel that runs next to this reef.” Ben explains. “The gummies run up and down it like a highway. We’ll position our baits right in front of their noses and hopefully get a sniff.” After dropping the anchor, we’re straight into action catching bait. Ben reckons the key to catching good gummies is circle hooks and fresh bait. We haul some big slimy mackerel over the side and Ben’s eyes light up. He cuts them into large chunks, slides them onto paternoster rigs then sends them down still twitching on his Saragosa 6000. “I personally think the (Sara) gosa range is the best bang for buck reel on the market!”
As the top of the tide approaches, the fishing fires up. The PE4 Grappler buckles in the holder and line peels off the tight spool. Ben calls it for a gummy and after a solid fight, 10kg of flake is twisting and turning boatside. We haul the shark over the massive Stabi gunwales — yep, they’re still huge on the 1410 — and onto the deck. But before we have time to finish high fiving, another rod goes off and we get stuck into big gummie number two. The Captain’s crew can’t believe how well these things fight.
SHOOTING FISH IN A BARREL
After the gummy action finally goes quiet, we ask Ben to tell us his famous barrel story. If you follow any bluefin Facebook pages, you’ve probably seen Ben’s catch – it broke the internet. He takes it from the top. “The whole plan, before I even bought this boat, was to get a barrel out of it. I spoke with the guys at Stabicraft for a while and then ordered it off MY Marine. When it finally arrived at the shop, I already had all my skirts rigged and my Tiagras ready to go. I towed it out of the yard and shot straight over to Portland. I trolled all the next day, hooked a barrel and landed it after a 2.5-hour fight. It went 107kg (bled). Talk about the stars aligning!” We’re as impressed as we are jealous. Avid readers of The Captain will know we once spent more than a week off Portland trying to catch a barrel out of a Stabi. We failed.
BEN’S TOP 5 BARREL TIPS
1. Find the birds, find the bait. The fish won’t be far behind.
2. If you find a whale, stick with it. Barrels will often hang with them.
3. Invest in a good sounder and know how to use it.
4. Be prepared to troll all day long with a variety of different lures.
5. People think teasers are just for marlin fishing, but they’re also deadly on tuna.
BACK TO BASICS
After an epic day on the gummy grounds Ben fires up the Yammy and cruises back down the coast. The run home gives us a chance to reflect on just how awesome this little set-up is. The 1410 has all the big boat construction features wrapped in a small package. Things like high freeboard and stability are big-ticket items on The Captain’s hit list and we’ve never seen a 14-footer that ticks those boxes so well. Ben gets weird looks at the servo with his full suite of Tiagras — and even weirder looks when he’s 25km offshore trolling. “People always have their phones out recording me when I cruise past,” he laughs. But in our opinion he really isn’t that crazy. The boat feels bloody safe and we’re definitely down for a marlin session off the east coast in one.
Speaking of long-range missions, we ask Ben about the fuel factor. “Economy wise, with the 45L tank, I can launch at Portland boat ramp, travel 25km out to the barrel grounds, troll from 6am to 6pm then punch it back at full throttle and still have fuel remaining,” he says.
In terms of custom stuff, Ben got the extra gunwale rod holders fitted to hold all the big boy reels. He dropped in the bigger fuel tank and installed a seven inch Garmin sounder with a GT51 transducer. When trolling for bluefin, Ben also uses rod riggers to give his spread a little more width. Spending the day on the 1410 really got The Captain’s crew thinking. About five minutes after saying goodbye to Ben, we were already on the Stabi website looking at how much one of these little rippers would set us back. Most people think tinny fishing is for estuaries and glamour days on the bays. Ben is proof you don’t need a 233 Formula for big game hunting.
+64 (3) 211 1828, www.stabicraft.com