The Captain’s crew head back to the Great Barrier Reef with a new mission: to catch the first giant black marlin of the 2018 season. We’re aboard Hellraiser II and equipped with a new special weapon. This is one of the first game boats to be fitted with a thru-hull StructureScan system. Our other secret weapon is Dan Rodriguez.
Whenever the calendar strikes September 1, The Captain’s crew start to squirm — but not because of the longer daylight hours and sprouting foliage. This is the time that black marlin in excess of 1000lb storm the Great Barrier Reef, ravenously swallowing anything that’ll slide down their gullets. Instead of picking wildflowers, The Captain books the next flight to Cairns and sets about finding the slickest marlin crew in town.
We contact Daniel Rodriguez from Simrad, who has some kind of covert role that is never quite explained. Nevertheless, he’s often found loitering around the game-fishing boats sporting the latest digital tricks. Dan tells us that Steve and Sue Ahlers, owner/operators of Cairns Black Marlin Charters, have just finished a massive install on their boat Hellraiser II. Steve and Sue have more than 20 years’ experience fishing the Great Barrier Reef and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Their specialty is heavy tackle and they’ve notched plenty of 1000-pounders over the years. Steve has also been involved in many winning teams — as skipper, angler and deckie. He even competed in the Offshore IGFA World Championship in Mexico in 2010. Sue is also not one to lie back with the Piz Buin in tropical climes. She took out the champion female angler category in the prestigious Lizard Island Game Fishing Tournament in 2010.
To pay our way, we promise a case of rum and the cover of The Captain, should we be lucky enough to connect to a 1000lb B-double. Not totally persuaded, the Ahlers insist we catch bait for them — no mean feat. When it comes to corralling granders, you can’t just run down to the local Caltex and chisel out a 1kg block of pilchards. The kinda bait fish they use up here are giant Spanish and shark mackerel, rainbow runner, queenfish, scad and any other shiny morsels that will skip or swim behind the boat — typically rigged with a large circle hook. We accept the payment terms, then make a B-line for the nearest air-conditioned hotel where we spend the night frantically googling “how to catch big bait for marlin”.
RUN TO THE REEF
A few days later, The Captain’s crew dawdle down the gangplank, camera gear and OtterBoxes in hand, sweat dripping from eyebrows in the Cairns humidity. Steve and Sue greet us, but behind their cheery looks we can see they’re not quite sure what kind of motley crew they’ve let aboard their duck-egg blue O’Brien 43. Muzza the decky offers us a “Super Coke”, but with collective raised eyebrows, we crack a few beers instead.
After a quick rundown on the three-storey O’Brien, we’re off. Steve pushes the throttles on the twin Cummins shaft drives and the crew hurriedly get to work rigging lures for bait fishing. In next to no time, the Shimano TLD 25s are screaming like mating banshees and by lunchtime, we’re fully stocked with a variety of baits.
Our anchorage for the evening is Fitzroy Island. Steve suggests we fish light tackle for the rest of the afternoon. We hand Muzza a couple of Deadly Tide skirted lures to run in the spread. “Thanks mate, ready for that Super Coke yet?” he asks.
“Nah mate, I’ve got a beer, thanks,” I respond, still curious as to what this particular concoction might be.
The sun is going down as we zig and zag between the Ribbon Reefs. We finally get a bite and Dan jumps into action, getting stuck straight into the little black marlin — we’re now belatedly connecting the dots between this tricked-out boat and Dan’s ability to be on first strike. The little black is putting on an aerial display to rival a Russian gymnast. After a hearty battle on light tackle, the miniature marlin is hoisted from the water for a quick photo shoot before being sent on its merry way.
“Definitely time for a Super Coke now!” Muzza insists.
I give in. “Alright mate, hit me.”
Five minutes later, he reappears with a can of Coke. “That’s it?” I query.
“Just try it mateeeee!” says Muzza.
After one sip, it was immediately clear that a “Super Coke” was, in fact, three-quarters Captain Morgan and one-quarter actual Coke. Although The Captain can drink rum like any salty sailor, if he were to critique the Super Coke, he’d recommend some ice, a fancy glass and maybe a wedge of pineapple to boot — with substantially more Coke. (Yes, the Captain is mellowing in his twilight years.)
The next morning, we’re woken at an eye-rubbing 6am by the sound of a chugging generator, our tongues dry and mouths parched with the fallout residue of those damn Super Cokes. Fortunately, Sue feels our pain, quickly handing us medicinal coffees. Soon, the cabin is full of the smell of fresh bacon.
We’re anchored in the lee of beautiful Fitzroy Island and a swim in the cobalt-blue water is tempting. Or it would be, if the same large whaler shark we were teasing with fish frames last night wasn’t circling the boat, waiting for breakfast.
Today we’re headed for the outer reef. The pressure is off after landing a marlin yesterday. Now we just need to find one 980lb bigger.
We’re on the troll to the outer edge, Muzza rigging baits intently. Sue is cooking up another amazing meal in the kitchen and Steve cuts a solitary figure on the tuna tower. There’s nervous excitement on board. The season hasn’t really kicked into gear yet, so if we catch a grander today, we’ll be the first boat in the fleet to do so.
With the big baits in the water, we settle in for the long haul, eyes peeled for the familiar sign of a dorsal fin and thick bill. There’s something hypnotic about watching a rigged Spanish mackerel swim in the short corner that sends you into a trance and we spend the whole day hypnotised, waiting for a bite.
However, it seems we might be too early for the big girls. Nevertheless, we’re still in one of Mother Nature’s biggest natural playgrounds — the Great Barrier Reef. We spend the next day spearfishing for coral trout, bottom dropping for reefies and throwing giant poppers over shallow bommies. There are no complaints from The Captain’s crew.
OH, OH, O’BRIEN
Although the granders don’t come out to play, it’s still a pleasure to fish with a tight crew aboard a beautiful boat. Built in Townsville by the legendary Peter O’Brien, Hellraiser II “was specifically designed for extended charters on the Great Barrier Reef,” Steve says. The O’Brien 43 is fully air-conditioned (always a plus in FNQ) with plenty of room for big groups of fishos. Guests are stowed in a private double cabin with its own ensuite, plus four vee-berths with a separate bathroom.
The galley is fully equipped and with Sue on the tools, everyone is treated like royalty. The recently reupholstered saloon is damn comfy and a great spot for midday siestas, er, watching the baits. According to Steve, the boat carries enough fuel, water and fridge/freezer space to spend seven to nine days away on charter at a time. She’s recently been repowered with twin QSC500 Cummins diesels with quick-shift transmissions. Steve also opted for three station control units,one of which, on the tower, faces rear so he can back down the boat with ease.
But the electronics department is where Hellraiser II really shines. Her Simrad Evo2s were recently upgraded to the new Evo3s. There are two NSS12 Evo3 displays on the bridge and two more NSS9 Evo3s on the tower. Steve also runs Simrad Screen mirroring onto an iPad, so customers can see what the skipper is up to on the sounder in real time. Hellraiser II is one of the only game boats afloat with a thru-hull 3D StructureScan transducer installed. This helps Steve see bait situated to the left or right of the boat. Previously, with traditional sonar, bait was only viewable underneath the boat. Now, Steve can find bait on either side of the boat and position the swim baits or lures right into the honey hole. This is particularly useful when hunting mackerel or light-tackle marlin fishing.
Steve runs a Simrad 4G radar and also opted for AIS. This neat piece of kit lets him see other boats in the vicinity, overlayed onto his GPS chart. By hovering the cursor above them, he can see their name, size and even contact them directly via VHF. To show off this cool feature, he calls a nearby dive boat to ask whether they’ve spotted any coral trout for us to spear. As expected, the dive boat doesn’t respond. The AIS is particularly handy in the FNQ wet season, when storm systems completely block out the radar screen.
Along with that serious suite of electronics, Steve also runs highly detailed C-MAP MAX-N+ charts, which show green and pink zones (aka no-fishing areas), of which there are plenty on the Great Barrier Reef.
The giant black marlin season runs from September—December each year on the Great Barrier Reef. If you’d like to go fishing with Steve and Sue, give Cairns Black Marlin Charters a shout.
+61 (07) 4060 2193