The Captain’s crew tees up another search and destroy mission with our favourite snapper slayer Mike Bonnici. This time, we’re aboard his fresh-from-the-factory Sea Devil 620. Along for the ride is Shimano national sponsorship manager Leroy Horton with a bag of new toys. The playground is Coffs Harbour and the targets are plus sized snapper and kings.
A bait ball shimmers on the surface, living dangerously between the deep and the sanctuary of a shallow reef reaching out from the exposed edge of an island. The Sea Devil slews around in the backwash, but Mike Bonnici and Leroy Horton are undeterred, bracing themselves while they punch cast after cast into the foamy water.
The boys are hunting topwater kings. It’s late in the afternoon and these fishy hoodlums are lining up for a bluewater buffet. Mike fires a cast right over the bait ball, ripping a 175mm floating Ocea stickbait through the guts. Fresh out of the box, the Ocea features FlashBoost, a reflective mirror inside the body that gives off a definite Saturday Night Fever vibe.
The school of kings are feeling it, but the fish are sluggish, looking more like a school of koi carp in a pond rather than the badass brutes we know they can be. Mike slows his retrieve and the fish follow his stickbait to the side of the boat. He pauses then rips. A big king breaks ranks and strikes. An explosion of white water erupts boatside as the fully locked drag on a Saragosa SW 18000HG groans under the pressure. After withstanding the first run, Mike arches his back then cranks the fish back to the boat. He hands the rod to Leroy and reaches for its tail. After a few tense moments of hand-to-fin combat, the barbless hooks dislodge and the fish earns an early release. Mike is stoked with the result. The camera crew, not so much.
COFF IT UP
As you may have read betwixt these rum-stained pages, Mike is a Sydney glazier who fishes harder and longer than anyone we’ve met. A spearo in his earlier days, he has a pretty good insight into underwater habitat, currents and fish behaviour. Mike has been doing the Coffs pilgrimage for more than 20 years. “You’d think after this much time, I’d know the place so well,” he says. “Well, I do and I don’t. It’s such a big area and that’s what makes it so attractive — there are hundreds of square kilometres of fishable water.” We can see the attraction. Coffs Harbour is one of the fishiest regions on the NSW coast. The Solitary Island group goes from Coffs all the way up to Wooli and is a haven for all kinds of marine species. Cool, nutrient-rich water from the south mixes with the warm EAC currents and creates the perfect piña colada for tropical species like Spanish mackerel, tuna and wahoo, as well as colder-water species such as jews, kings and snapper.
After a long afternoon casting, with not much to show for it, we park the Sea Devil and head to the pub. Leroy joins us for a cold beer. His job is to keep Mike away from the Canadian Clubs — and to deliver a goodie bag full of Shimano gear for torture testing. Over a chicken parma, he gives us the rundown on his arsenal. “Check out these kingie winches — the new Saragosa SWs in 5000, 14000, 18000 and 20000 sizes.”
They’re paired to new Anthem rods, and for the snapper, Leroy is entrusting us with some new Vanford reels in 3000 and 4000 sizes. These replace the iconic Stradic reel and Leroy tells us the new models are smoother than a greased-up pool boy. “The Hagane Gear has been upgraded for more horsepower and new tricks are built in for high-level water resistance without sacrificing light gear and rotor rotation,” Leroy says enthusiastically. The rods are paired with Zodias and TCurve rods.
5 SARAGOSA FACTS
01 Improved handling and balance
02 Infinity Drive borrowed from the Stella SWC
03 Smoother cranking power
04 Line roller more water-resistant
05 Two new models in the range: 14000XG and18000HG
The next morning, we’re back on the stickbait program. The kings seem even cagier than yesterday, so Mike suggests we try our luck on the reds. The Captain’s crew obliges — after all, Mike’s last article in The Captain was entitled “Snapper Slayer”. We approach the first set of marks and tee up a drift. The boys throw a mixture of Squidgy Wriggler offerings. “Snapper will usually whack the soft plastics on the drop, so the key is light jig heads,” Mike says. “Cast ahead of the drift. If you haven’t caught a snapper by the time your lure hits the bottom, reel her in and cast again.” After a few small models are duped, Mike gets a solid bite. A tug of war ensues for a few minutes before a 15lb leader pops. Mike is unfazed defending his decision to run 15lb. An hour later, we spy Mike secretly tying on a 20lb leader.
On route to the next mark the Simrad reveals a small bump in the middle of no man’s land. Mike marks the spot, throttles back the 300HP E-TEC and sets up a drift. Mike and Leroy cast ahead of the boat and let the plastics sink to the bump. Meanwhile, The Captain’s crew, seized with an attack of the munchies, tuck into hot pies fresh from the pie warmer. The smell is too much for Mike, so he passes over the Vanford and starts devouring his own meat parcel. The man loves his food, but just as he’s negotiating a tricky dollop of redhot sauce, the Vanford winds up like a Datsun 180B. There’s no way Mike is getting his rod back now.
As The Captain’s crew slide a 3kg fish into the landing net, Leroy shrieks with excitement. No, he hasn’t burned his lips — he’s hooked a proper model and the Vanford is going full throttle, the long stroke spool feeding out line at a rate of knots. Ten minutes later a big red slab with a nose like an 80-year-old alcoholic slaps down on the deck. We take a snap destined for Leroy’s pool room. High-fives all-round, except from Mike, who isn’t coping with handing over a fish, or his burnt tongue.
GO THE GOSA
With enough snapper to feed the troops, it’s off to the deep water to put the Saragosas to the test. Leroy opens his bag of surprises and produces some shiny new jigs. We could get used to having Leroy around — the bloke is a walking, talking tackle store. Mike lines up another a drift, and we ask him about his preferred reel style. “The gear ratios are the first thing I look for,” he says. “For jigging, I like them slow. For casting, I like them fast. Smooth drag systems are also critical along with cranking power.”
As we come onto a patch of fish, the jigs are deployed and after a few pumps, the boys are buckled. Metre-long kings come over the gunwales like a Port Lincoln tuna poling session in the ’80s. “So what’s the verdict on the new Saragosas?” we ask Mike. “I’ve had Saragosas for a long time,” he says. “I’ve caught lots of blue marlin on ’em, which I thought they wouldn’t handle, but they’re still going strong — and that was the old versions! With these new Saras, you’re getting a lot of high-end reel tech in a superaffordable package.” Warming to his theme, Mike says that while Saragosas have always been a super-versatile reel. “ the new sizing (14000 and 18000) helps fill the gap in even more fishing scenarios. My first impression on this trip, was the sheer strength of the reels. They apparently also draw on a lot of the Stella SWC tech, like Infinity Drive, which translates to epic crank power — perfect for my style of fishing.”
Mike reckons the fishing has been tough, even though we’ve boated a dozen snapper and donkey-sized kings, most of which would be a good fit on anyone’s bucket list. If this is a slow trip for Mike, we’d love to see a fast one. Looks like we’ll have to head back to Coffs.
FLOODING THE MARKET
When it comes to the Sea Devils, both the 520 and 620 model run an aggressive 23.5 degree deadrise at the transom (for history buffs, that’s about the same as a Formula but 1.5 degrees more than a V19). This shape has the potential to create stability issues at rest however, on both models this is counteracted with a ballast system, or flooding keel, which fills with seawater at rest then drains when the hull is on the plane. It effectively adds about 300L of water to the hull weight at rest on the 620 model, and 200L on the 520 model. Water flows into the hull, assisted by two air vents at the fore end of the ballast system near the bow. The vents expel air as the water fills the cavity and assist water flow during the draining process.
When the Devils go backwards, water exits the front vents, creating two horns of water. That’s how the Sea Devil got its name. The pocket rocket 520 has a BMT weight of 1450kg. This model ended up being Bonnici’s second Sea Devil. Fitted with a 135HP Evinrude, it’s a dynamic and super-responsive hull that loves to be driven hard — just the way Mike likes it. The 520 offers bulk cockpit space for its size, which is ideal for spearos. Not surprisingly, most of the models we’ve come across are customised with extended or widened side pockets for spearguns, built-in eskies and longrange tanks.
5 VANFORD FACTS
01 Replaces the iconic Stradic Ci4+
02 Much lighter to turn compared to a standard rotor design
03 Gear upgraded for added strength
04 Better water-resistance without sacrificing performance
05 Casting performance improved with new long stroke spool design
RASING THE DEVIL
Jon Wiltshire from Northern Beaches Marine is the man responsible for bringing the Devil back to life. Seven years ago, he bought the Sea Devil name and moulds. Since then, he’s made a number of changes and introduced a new console model. The 620 has just gone through an evolution, with many of the design updates made by Mike and Jon. The hull is the same, but the internals have been given a full makeover as Mike explains. “The plan with this boat was to upgrade all the bits and pieces that are 20–25 years old. We put a new floor mould in, so the section from the transom to bow is now one-piece and sits 80mm at the chine level.” So, now the floor is one single level with room for bigger fuel tanks underneath.
The top deck features bigger gunwales and a slight step down to the flush-mounted slimy tubes. The step-down stops water lapping into the hull. There are also built-in side pockets adjoining the top deck. The windscreen has been lifted and a live bait tank built in at the stern. It features a large, rounded internal liner for keeping plenty of slimies fresh for battle. Mike kept the recessed corners adjacent to the live bait tank as that’s his favourite spot for fighting big fish. The batteries now also have their own fully enclosed dry compartment, rather than resting on the floor.
The lads have brought the dash into the 21st century with room for a flush-mounted 12-inch screen, plus all the usual switches and gauges. There’s still enough room to bracket-mount a 16-inch screen and still have a glovebox. All up, she’s put on 250kg of weight. In the electronics department, Mike is running with Simrad gear again. He’s got an NSS16 evo3S and an NSS12 evo3 fed by an S5100 sounder module. The B275LHW transducer is fitted inside a custom fairing block.
“It’s all glassed in during the build,” Jon says. “The block sits in a pocket in the keel, all within the flooding ballast tank — exactly where you want it. The tranny face sits about 8mm outside the hull and reads at full speed.” Mike reckons he can mark tuna while on the plane at 20 knots and read bottom at 40 knots. On our trip, we could see our soft plastics drifting down and snapper coming up to grab them in mid-water. Mike was doing the countdown — “Three, two, one…” — and we’d be hooked up at one. Even The Captain rates that as “pretty damn impressive”.
BONNICI’S BEASTS AND WHERE THEY WERE BORN
The Sea Devil shape was originally developed by waterski race boat champion Peter Williams from Ulladulla. During the 1980s, he was looking to steal the mantle of best 17-footer in town. His first incarnation was a 5.1m model (now known as the 520). The big girl was scaled up by a naval architect and named the 620 (known by some as the 21, as in 21ft). The 620 was the first Devil Mike owned, but you needed keen eyes to spot it as he’d usually launch before sunrise and was home after dark. You might have heard him though, his rig was fitted with an Evinrude E-TEC G2.
Northern Beaches Marine 33 Mitchell Rd, Brookvale, NSW.