The Captain’s crew discovers a gamefishing wonderland in a land (and sea) that time forgot.
As the plane flew low over Hobart I glanced out the window at the shimmering water beyond that southern city and wondered, is there such thing as gamefishing heaven? In the fantasy world inside my head, huge birds work the surface all day long and the sea showers schools of baitfish in blue, green and silver. The surrounding landscape is ancient and jagged, and the boats are lovingly handcrafted by silver-haired men with piercing blue eyes and hands of leather. The crew is battle-hardened, dry of wit and rich in spirit. The fish are as big as barrels and when hooked in the jaw, charge to dark blue depths to which no man has ever been. Could such a place exist? Suddenly, I awoke from my daydream as a rainbow emerged from the clouds and kissed the Tasmanian mainland. Maybe, just maybe.
Nestled in the south-eastern corner of the Apple Isle, lies a remote stretch of coast guarded by an army of vertical cliffs standing proud against the Tasman Sea. Those stoic rocks are showing their age, limestone cracks animating the cliffs like the lines on an old man’s face. The tallest of their kind in Australia, these ancient sea cliffs decorate the brochures that sit in magazine racks at the quaint hotels and cafes dotted along the winding road in, which meanders between bays fringed with huon pines and bookended by rocky headlands. Timber boats rise and fall at anchor in the swell, their gunnels scarred, ironwork rusted. Their paint is chipped away, telling tales of a long, hard life at sea. This is the doorway to our game-fishing wonderland, Eaglehawk Neck.
TRUSTY STEEDS AWAIT
Bluefin in Australian waters grow to 170kg, but it’s not size that it’s renowned for, but rather its reputation as a world-class table fish, sashimi the dish of choice. We heard that fish over 100kg had been caught in the area, but it appeared the weather gods cared not for our optimism. Five-metre seas, 35-knot winds and snow above 300m greeted us. Not exactly the stuff of idyllic days on the high seas. But nonetheless our steeds awaited us at the ramp: two spectacular White Pointer boats armoured in silver and grey, lances at the ready. One was a 730 Sports Hardtop named Cray Nomad; its older brother, a beautiful 800 Sports Cruiser, affectionately dubbed Lie-ability. Aboard the 730, a wise old salt called Barry (the Barrel Buster) murmured softly through cold, thin lips. “Big tuna love this sordid weather.” Our spirits were filled.
RUMBLE AT THE ROCK
As we motored out of our limestone fortress, a stormy orange sunrise filled our squinting eyes. The ocean was alive with large, yellow-toothed seals and spraying baitfish. Massive sea birds worked the surface, dive-bombing their quarry. This was the fishiest water we had ever seen. After 20 minutes of trolling we had a quadruple hook-up on 15kg southern bluefin tuna. Seals caught and mauled our fish, reminding us we had some competition in this fishing paradise.
After losing two more fish to lustful seals, Barry suggested we push south. “We’ll catch a big one near The Rock”, he offered, with gentle confidence. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the skirted lure on the short corner screamed off. The TLD 50 offered little resistance to the blue-water beast. Robber seals lurked on the surface. If we got the big fish to the boat, they would be on the case. After a 45-minute battle that brought a man to his knees, a goliath eventually came to the surface. Seals pounced. The big White Pointer heaved to, giving the crew a chance to fight the seal invaders. The flipper gang were subdued and four grown men hauled a behemoth 100kg bluefin over the gunwale. Those same grown men then embraced. Stories would be told for years to come. Reputations of boat and men had been forged.
SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED
On the second day, we mounted the 800 Sports Cruiser; a true stallion of the sea, finished in charcoal metallic paint. We only trolled for 20 minutes before the hook-up. Our driver, David Krushka, kept the White Pointer in gear. Another reel screamed off, then another. Three rods were buckled over, blue-fin charging for freedom en masse. We manned the rods as the White Pointer slipped into low gear, bow to the sea. After 15 minutes, Jack was the only one with a fish still connected. One had pulled the hooks; the other was ‘sealed’. He battled on for another 45 minutes, dropping to his knees several times. The fish neared the boat, a big southern bluefin. A single seal then appeared, quickly diving down to inspect the trophy. The tuna ran hard with his our adversary in hot pursuit. Although no one saw the deep-water battle between tuna and beast, visuals of a mythical kraken-versus-sperm-whale tussle spring to mind.
To salvage the prize, Jack cranked the last 100m of line back onto the tired TLD 50. The last slithers of adrenaline pumped through his shaking arms and throbbing lower back. When the barrel bobbed up boat-side, the seal attacked again, angrily snapping at its tail and barking between breaths. We jumped into action like a SWAT team, grabbing the leader and sinking the gaffs before hauling the oversized tuna onboard. Jack collapsed, exhausted and ecstatic. In two days, two White Pointer boats caught two barrels, in a trip forever remembered as ‘Double Barrels’.
TASSIE LOCAL, BARRY THE ‘BARREL BUSTER’, PICKS HIS TOP 5 BLUEFIN TUNA LURES
1. River2Sea, Killer Vib
With a blue and white body and yellow belly, Barry reckons the Killer Vib is one of the best bluefin lures going around. They take a beating though, and as such Barry has replaced the rear hook eyelet with a D-shackle! Super versatile, they can be trolled from 3-12 knots.
2. JB Lures, Little Dingo
Pink and purple with streaks of yellow, the Little Dingo is the lure that caught the barrel bluefin tuna on the first day of our Tasmanian adventure. The lure was also used in the World All Tackle Record capture of a whopping 167kg southern bluefin tuna.
3. River2Sea – Killer Vib
Similar to lure number one, this bigger Killer Vib in a stripy blue and pink pattern is another must have. Not as battered and scared as it may seem, Barry actually scuffs the paint off these lures to bring out a more natural silver sheen.
4. Lively Lures, Mac Bait
Another vibe style lure, the Mac Bait in a ‘Blue Bait’ pattern is great on the bluefin tuna and albacore, according to Barry. A smaller profile lure, the acute angle of the nose causes an erratic swimming action that proves irresistible to zippy pelagics.
5. Halco, Laser Pro
Affectionately known as the ‘Brown Dog’, the Laser Pro in Kingbrown pattern is the one lure you’ve always got to run when chasing southern bluefin tuna. With the ability to be trolled at seven knots, they can also keep up with a spread of skirts.