With barrels storming the west coast of Victoria, The Captain grabbed a Stabicraft 2050, a tub of soy sauce and hit the high seas.
If you’re looking for a story about ‘the fish of a lifetime’, then look away now. This is not one of those stories. This is a tale of heartache and pain. Something many fishos can relate to, but most have been trying to forget.
Not so long ago, a run of giant southern bluefin tuna popped up on the west coast of Victoria in huge numbers. It was unheard of. Most fish were between 80kg and 150kg; fish as big as rum barrels. It was time to pack the Landy, hitch up a Stabicraft 2050 Supercab in fire-engine red, the biggest reels we could carry, and several tubs of soy sauce and wasabi. The plan was simple. Head to Apollo Bay (where the bite was hot), troll some Pakula lures, hook and land a fish of a lifetime, then head home to Sydney the next day. Mmm, if only it was that easy…
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
After a long journey south from NSW, we hit the picturesque Great Ocean Rd, the winding black tarmac butting up against Bass Strait. We slid the Stabi in the water at Apollo Bay, alongside hard-core deep-vee trailer boats and aging timber trawlers. It was a slow morning with not much activity on the radio or the sounder. In the afternoon, some mates fishing got onto some cracking barrels. Garbled screams of double hookups and bait balls amongst whales and dolphins crackled across the VHF radio. We scrambled to get there, but unfortunately it was late in the day and we didn’t have the fuel range. We tossed around ideas of possibly getting towed back to the ramp by our friends, but with poor radio communication and no phone reception – it was too risky. We cut our losses and headed for home for chicken parmas and icy beers in a warm little tourist cabin.
With some hot intel, a fuel tank filled to the brim, spare jerry cans and the hooks sharpened up – day two was met with optimism. We arrived at the boat ramp early. Obviously not early enough though; the queue of tough rigs and burly gum-booted fishermen extended halfway back to the bakery. Eventually launching, we made our way back to the spot where the barrels had been munching. We arrived at the hot spot as gannets pierced the choppy surface. We were admiring a tuna bird bouncing along the surface when a goliath engulfed the Pakula lure. Our hearts raced while 500 metres of 37kg line poured into Bass Strait. Men yelled and boys screamed. But 30 minutes later we were all crying as the barrel-chested bluefin charged the boat and did a right angle around the leg busting off on the Suzuki 150. We were heartbroken, but we only had ourselves to blame. The driver received two different instructions – and paralyzed with indecision, froze. Not only had we blown our first blue’, we’d lost our killer Pakula Lure as well.
We fished fruitlessly for the next few days, like homeless men chasing $100 notes. Morale was low. People had been catching fish all around us and we weren’t turning a reel. Our gun lure was dangling from a bluefin and all the tackle shops on the west coast of Victoria were sold out of Pakula’s. Enter: Andrew Westlake. He was still wiping his brow from a seven-hour battle with a 114kg bluefin when we caught up with him at Warnambool boat ramp. We introduced ourselves and commended him on his legendary effort. As fate would have it, Andrew had landed his fish on the same lure that we’d lost: an 11-inch Pakula in the Evil Angel pattern. One of the most generous blokes we’ve ever met; Andrew invited us back to his place, lent us his entire spread of lures and even threw in an extra Tiagra to boot.
Armed with Andrew’s spread and a solitary day of fishing left, we set the alarm stupidly early and made pole position at the ramp by 3am. It was barely light when we slipped the lures into the water. The sounder was showing bait balls and barrels everywhere, while dolphins and birds lolled around on the surface gorging on breakfast. This had to be it. As we watched our last Apollo Bay sunrise, the short corner was nailed. We’d been waiting to hear that sweet noise again for four days and it was music to our frosty ears. We jumped to action like a bomb disposal unit – adrenaline racing through our veins. Without any sleep or breakfast we fought the beast with shaky hands. After two hours, it came to the surface. Only 20 metres away from us, the big barrel rolled his head out of the water and with one headshake, spat the lure out like a bear spitting a chicken bone. No one said a word. We just looked at each other, mouths wide open.
FAIR AND SQUARE
This was, without doubt, the hardest fishing trip of my life. We worked so hard and came so close, only to have glory snatched away from us at the last second. A lot of people see fishing as a physical sport; you do battle with giants and brawn wins. Not this time. This was a mental and emotional challenge like we’d never experienced. Disappointment and regret filled our minds for weeks after this trip. Upon reflection, all that remains is a greater respect for a creature that beat us, fair and square.
The experience reminded me of a great quote by Robert Traver.
“Giant tuna do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience … and not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”
We’ve changed the species Robert was referring to, from trout to tuna, but the essence of his words remain the same. The next time we head south, with tuna on our minds, we’ll go quietly and humbly, studying everything and savoring all. Especially the sushi, should we be so lucky….
BARREL AT LAST
The red Stabicraft 2050 we rode in Apollo Bay was kindly lent to us by Warrnambool local, Travis Graham. A few months after we returned from our trip, news came that Trav accomplished a feat that we couldn’t. He bagged a barrel.
This is his story…
(By Travis Graham)
I was sitting at home on Anzac Day when we got the call. Word was out that southern bluefin were busting up off Thunder Point. I called up my mate Barry Birmingham who had the gear to (hopefully) handle a barrel – if we were lucky enough to snag one. By 2.30pm we were on the water and casting stickbaits to 20kg school fish in 40 metres of water. Struggling to get a bite, we pulled the pin and made our way back to Warrnambool. It was more of an afterthought really; we dropped a couple of $12 Williamson skirts out the back for the trip home.
We were only a stones throw from the breakwater, motoring in 19 metres of water when all hell broke loose out the back of the Stabi’. The water was exploding like a depth charge and the 24kg TLD was blazing! Barry jumped onto the rod and battled the brute for the first hour. My youngest brother then did a solid two hours before Barry got handed the rod back, and finished the job. It was 8:15pm when we finally subdued the barrel. The fight had lasted over three hours!
It was such an awesome experience catching a fish like this; I was shaking like a leaf throughout the fight. The giant charged the boat several times and being on the wheel required a level of concentration never demanded of me before. It was a full mind and body experience – and one that I’ll never forget. When we finally got it on the scales, you wouldn’t believe it – the fish went 99.9kg!
Tales of woe and triumph aside, it was a privilege to skipper the Stabicraft 2050 Supercab for an extended period. On the move, she’s a dominant ride in a following sea. You can just drop the hammer to 4500RPM, kick back and cruise home – comfortably and safely. It may not be a head-sea hero, but that’s the trade-off for one of the most stable and predictable 6.2 metre rigs we’ve ever been aboard. Thanks to the arrow pontoons, it’s not just stable – it sticks to the water in turns, and corrects itself softly when you come off a bad wave. On the transom there’s a Suzuki 150HP four-stroke. This outboard complemented the Stabi’ perfectly. It’s powerful, fuel efficient and as quiet as a mellow moose.
The internal layout of the 2050 is surprisingly roomy for a 6.2 metre boat. There’s acres of deck space that would accommodate big crews and lots of gear. Speaking of storage, the big V-berth has great open access and works exceptionally well, especially in a bumpy sea. The helm is functional from a driving and fishing perspective and the big one-piece windscreen has awesome visibility even when you’re taking greenies over the top. There’s a live bait tank, bait board, heaps of rod holders and drink holders (or sinker holders if you’re bottom bashing). The hardtop is seriously solid and even protects the poor blokes hanging out the back, with a raised lip channeling water aside rather than into the cockpit.
She stuck out like Rudolph’s red nose amongst the slender saltwater sleds of Apollo Bay, but she held her own in the brutal southern waters of Bass Strait. The 2050 bridges the gap between capability and versatility – it really is one of the ultimate long-range gamefishing tourers.
For more information visit www.stabicraft.com