The Captain’s crew head to the Montebello Islands with a bunch of hotshot fishos aboard a flotilla of epic rigs. Brace yourself to be knee-deep in GTs, sailfish and spangled emperor scales.
Every fisherman has heard tales of the bountiful waters of the mysterious Montebello Islands in Western Australia, but few have actually been there. This is mainly because the Monties are located 120nm north-east of the remote town of Exmouth (AKA in the middle of fuggin’ nowhere).
Which is probably why the British military thought it was perfectly OK to detonate three nukes there between 1952 and 1956. We’ve run a few yarns about the Monties in previous issues of The Cap’ (issues #3 and #12) so we’ll stop the history lesson. All you need to know is that they’re still, er, radioactive and on certain islands you’re only allowed to stay for a maximum of an hour.
Craters and radioactivity aside, the Monties are visually spectacular, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering monte bello is Italian for “beautiful mountain”. Shallow blue water teeming with reel-busting brutes and colourful coral life contrasts with the barren, burnt-orange limestone isles.
So, how would we attack this abundant archipelago? With HAZMAT suits and a military assault fleet? Close enough. At our disposal is the entire Monster Sportfishing Adventures touring fleet with its world-class crew. We intended to cast poppers and stickbaits around all 265 islands in the group, but before we can set the drags on our Stella 20000s, we have to get there.
The Captain’s crew rendezvous at Sydney Airport and after tense negotiations regarding oversized luggage, we’re finally on our way to Perth. After that it’s a regional flight to Learmonth, then a 30-minute drive to Exmouth Marina. It feels like we’ve been halfway around the world, but when we see our floating home for the next week, exhaustion turns to excitement. The flagship of the Monster fleet is the 70ft High Voltage. An ex gas-rig support vessel, she’s recently been refitted for long-range fishing adventures.
Under the hood, she runs twin V10 MAN 860HP diesel engines coupled to Hamilton jets. She’s also specifically designed for these kinds of waters, only drawing 1.5m and capable of blasting along at 25 knots.
Adventure touring is her game, and with four twin-bunk cabins, she can haul eight bloodthirsty anglers direct to the sailfish grounds.
She carries twin gensets, a sewage treatment plant and even a desal unit, so you can have a shower that lasts longer than 30 seconds.
DROP THE HAMMERS
“G’day fellas, welcome to Monster!” yells company bossman Sam Wallrock as he clambers out of the engine room of the mothership. We jump aboard to exchange sweaty handshakes before getting the grand tour. Sam is also the skipper of High Voltage. His friendly persona and well-tamed red hair buck the usual stereotype of crazy ol’ sea captain, but he sure sounds the part.
Centre console tragics might also know Sam from 1am sessions on Boatsales while looking to impulse-buy a Contender. Sam’s the bloke who brings them into Australia from the US through his other business, Wallrock Marine. He’s also a Master 5 and MED 2 (marine engine driver) certified, so if anything goes “pop”, he’ll probably be able to fix it with a socket set and a tube of Sikaflex — pretty handy on remote fishing trips.
After meeting our bunkmates and getting acquainted with an ice-cold Emu Export, it’s time to throw the ropes and head for our destination for the night, Barrow Island. The rest of the fleet — a Black Watch 36 and Contender 25T — is already halfway there, and apparently catching sailfish as they travel. The run out to Barrow is 99nm (184km) and at cruising speed we won’t be arriving until the early hours of the morning. No biggie — all we have to do is drink beer, sample a delicious dinner courtesy of chef Robson de Paulo, whose previous gig was at 4 Pines, then then roll into, er, bunk.
SAIL AWAY WITH ME
With the news of yesterday’s sailfish encounter, everyone is out of bed early and ready for action. A quick coffee, big breakfast and sunscreen slather then it’s squabbling for prime position on the boats. Each day the Black Watch will be chasing sailfish, while the Contender goes bloopin’ for GTs.
The Captain’s crew is on the Black Watch with Monster’s “master fishing guide”, Eddy Lawler from Peak Sportfishing.
Unless you’ve been living under a sea urchin for the past decade, you’ll know Eddy and his crew are some of the best billfish taggers in the Indian Ocean. They also caught Australia’s first IGFA-approved grander blue marlin in 2018 — a whopping 1089lb. Respect.
Billfish on the brain, we load onto the Black Watch, telling Eddy to shoot us straight to the sail grounds. With his intimidating fishing resume, we aren’t too sure what to expect from this world-renowned skipper as we climb up to the flybridge for a chat. No drama — Eddy breaks the ice straight away, cheeky smile never leaving his face. “What’s goin’ on, brother? Ready to catch some 3m flatties or what?”
Immediately, we know this will be a bloody good trip. We’re also pumped to notice there are only spin rods on board. “The gear is actually really simple for sails,” Eddy says. “We run 7ft switch-baiting rods on 5500-sized spinning reels with 20lb and 8500-sized spinning reels with 30lb.
All these run down to an 80lb wind-on and a little snap swivel. Line capacity is vital when you’re chasing numbers. A lot of the time you’ll be sitting there with one fish stringing you out 100m to your starboard while another two are doing the same 100m to your port. There’s not much I can do as a skipper but watch!”
Halfway between Barrow and the Monties, Eddy pulls the throttles back to troll speed and deckie Riley Smith gets the gear in the water. We’ve heard a lot about how Eddy catches billfish with teasers, but we’re still a little shocked to see we won’t be running one hook in the entire spread. Instead, the boys run two bridge teasers, a teaser pole and a dredge across the shallow (50m) grounds then switch the sails onto a skipping gar rigged with circle hooks.
Riley gives us the rundown as he’s rigging baits. “One fish will usually come up first to have a look at the spread. The pod won’t be far behind, so we’ll get two anglers feeding baits out in the hope of a double.
Then we’ll have another two anglers standing behind them ready to pitch third and fourth baits in case we miss one or more fish coming into the spread.”
Eddy chimes in from the flybridge: “It’s vital that as soon as the fish eats the bait, you dump the line and let it run in free spool for around three seconds. Then you lock it up and reel into them.”
YOU’VE GOT SAIL
We’ve got the technique down pat, now all we need is a fish. It doesn’t take long before Eddy yells, “Left teaser, right teaser, fuck they’re everywhere!” It’s absolute chaos and everyone, including The Captain’s cameraman, is getting stuck into a fish. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before with huge pack attacks and insane aerial action.
Doubles, triples and quads hook up on the regular. The sailfish onslaught continues for the entire trip and during the four and a half days we catch them on all manner of gear.
The Captain’s crew land one on a baby Stella and bream rod. Rowan Smith (one of the punters on the trip) knocks one over on a fly rod with a 20lb tippet — on his birthday, no less.
We also swim with them, filming from every possible angle. The total tally is 84 for the trip — no shit.
ABOUT THE BLACK WATCH 36
The first Black Watch sprang from the frighteningly fertile brain of the legendary Raymond C Hunt more than 30 years ago. Initially, the Ted Hood Company built the boats in the US before an Aussie company purchased the moulds in the 1980s. These days, every game fisho worth his salt knows they’re bloody good in the rough stuff and awesome to fish out of. The Black Watch 36 is a new addition to the Peak Sportfishing fleet. Eddy was sick of getting sunburnt in the Contender’s command station and wanted something with a lid to shield his noggin. He also wanted to run bigger teaser set-ups with large dredges, so needed the extra beam and space in general.
The big 1500L diesel capacity lets the boys do bigger runs to wide grounds such as the Monties. The grunt comes from twin 440HP Yanmars, and although she’s no rocket, she’s pretty efficient on the cruise.
In the electronics department, there are twin dash-mounted Simrad NSS16 Evo2s and an NSS16 Evo3 bracket-mounted on the port side of the flybridge roof. This is because while he’s trolling, Eddy is looking back at the spread 98 per cent of the time and can easily glance up at the third display, rather than turning all the way around.
He also runs a big TV inside the cabin so everyone downstairs can keep an eye out for bait and/or fish. When it comes to transducers, Eddy rolls with a big 3k/W.
TOP OF THE POPS
When The Captain’s crew aren’t hooking sails with Eddy, we’re fishing for GTs on the Contender 25T with Wes Jones.
Wes is Eddy’s right-hand man, a veteran of three seasons with Peak Sportfishing and on board when the grander blue marlin hit the deck. Prior to that, he worked seasons over in Cairns and Hawaii — basically he’s a massive marlin snob. This is instantly apparent when we ask him about catching GTs while talking shit on the back deck of High Voltage one evening. “My tips for GTs, eh? Probably just skip it altogether and go blue marlin fishing instead,” he smirks.
Wes is taking us around the little islands of the Monties in search of anything partial to a topwater lure. The first spot doesn’t look anything special — a nondescript beach with a shallow channel funneling current at one end.
While everyone is casting, The Captain snags the sneaky lowdown on Wes’ favourite lures. “I’m more a fan of stickbaits than poppers, it’s all about subtle presentation,” he says. “My favourite at the moment is the 210F by Black Ledge Lures. It’s a floating stickbait, so takes a little bit more effort to work, but the GTs love the bigger profile.”
We rig up while Wes slowly idles the Contender along the beach. It’s not even 15 minutes before “Too Cool for GT School” Wes is screaming like a little girl from the command station. A massive GT has launched out of the water to inhale Rowan’s stickbait, leaving a huge hole of foaming white water in its wake.
“Holy shit!” Wes screams — again — as he manoeuvres the Contender into deeper water. Rowan’s Stella is fully locked up and the fish is still peeling line, but after 10 minutes of backbreaking work, the fish is in the boat and everyone is fully stoked — including Wes. After a quick pic, Rowan sends the 30kg GT back to his beach and we’re casting lures again.
The adrenaline is still pumping when The Captain’s crew gets in on the action. The stickbait is absolutely belted by another big GT and, after a quick tussle, Wes hoists her from the ocean, calling it for a solid 20kg. “That wasn’t the only fish in that school, get those lures back out quick!” he commands. Casting straight back into the honey hole, the beardiest of The Captain’s crew plucks another GT, this time 25kg.
Officially fucked, he then retires for the morning. The Captain has been all over Australia chasing these awesome fish and has never had a session this red-hot. Great Barrier what?
EDDY’S QUICK SAILFISH TIPS
1. Fresh bait
2. Preparation is key
3. Go light, get the bite
4. Always be ready for a second fish — or more
5. Dredges dominate
RED IS DEAD
Casting 300mm stickbaits and poppers all day can take it out of you. The Monster guys do a great job of mixing it up with a bit of light tackle surface and micro-jigging action throughout the day.
Over the course of the trip, we catch boatloads of coral trout, big queenfish, golden trevally, estuary cod, chinaman (which you can eat in WA), some of the biggest spangled emperor we’ve ever seen, and even a dogtooth tuna, which unfortunately got sharked.
The Monties really are another world and being able to fish the area in serious comfort is almost unheard of. Monster Sportfishing Adventures has done a killer job setting up this huge operation and we’ve loved every minute — well, apart from seeing Eddy’s arse crack far too many times.
Between skipper, crew, guides and chef, there’s an armada of knowledge. All you really need to bring along is a week’s worth of clean jocks, a few slabs of beer and bottle or six of Sailor Jerry.
The Captain has a serious love affair with Contenders. They’re wave-piercing weapons with a fug-load of fishy features. The Peak Sportfishing 25T has done a mind-blowing 17,000 hours, chewing through four sets of outboards.
Eddy’s currently running twin Yamaha 200HP donks and rates them highly.
Prior to the Black Watch joining the Monster fleet, the Contender was a serious blue marlin buster and is fully set up for bait and switch, with teaser reels on the T-top, live bait tank and tuna tubes. On the electronics side, she’s running a full Simrad suite with a S2009 and an NSS12 Evo2 at the main helm station, and an NSS9 Evo3 upstairs. All these run through a 2k/W transducer.
WES’ GT TIPS
1. Eddies (The Captain suspects there is an opportunity for an Eddy Lawler joke here, but is too damn weary and sunburnt to think of one) and currents are your friends
2. No bait, no bite
3. Buy the best gear you can afford, then go a little bit more
4. Get good at distance casting to avoid spooking fish with the boat
5. There’s nothing wrong with trebles
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