There’s something about Greeks and fishing. It runs deep in their blood. Take the Batsinilas family — they’re all fishing gurus. The Captain is hanging with Mati and Pete Batsinilas in Seventeen Seventy in Queensland — and these guys have totally nailed the art of catching XOS red emperor.
It’s 90 per cent humidity and pitchblack. We’re knee-deep (and sinking) in black mud and our limbs look like an all-you-can-eat buffet for every midgie in 1770. We’re here by choice. Being southern folk, we’d do anything for a feed of mud crabs. The first pot is hauled out of the creek and lobbed onto the bank. We hear the clattering of crab carapaces as the muddies jostle in the trap. “I hope you fellas are hungry!” shouts an enthusiastic Mati Bats as he grabs out a couple of bucks and stuffs them into his brother Pete’s backpack. We slowly trudge out of the mangroves and back to the house.
Within 20 minutes, the brothers have cleaned the crabs and got them cooking on the gas stove alongside a few steaks. They’ve also prepared a top-notch Greek salad, naturally.
HISTORY OF 1770
Along with prosperous fishing opportunities, Seventeen Seventy (previously known as Bustard Bay) is also historically significant. On the 23rd of May 1770, Captain James Cook on HMS Endeavour dropped the pick in Bustard Bay. The next day, Cook and his botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, went ashore for a look-see. While exploring, they managed to shoot an unlucky bustard, which ended up as dinner for the crew — hence the name. This little adventure made Seventeen Seventy the site of Cook’s second landing in Australia (and the first in Queensland).
ENTRÉE IS SERVED
That was just our first few hours in Seventeen Seventy. We’re with two of the four brothers (Mati and Pete) that make up Bats Fishing — it’s short for Batsinilas. The Bats boys are builders from Brisbane. They’re pretty well known around the tropics because they’ve mastered the art of consistently snagging XOS red emperor.
Most weekends, they haul their mint Cruise Craft F360M up the coast to fish the southern section of the Great Barrier Reef. “Seventeen Seventy is God’s country — its close proximity to the reef makes it a perfect jumping-off point,” explains Mati, slurping the sweet meat out of a mud crab claw and washing it down with a gulp of Great Northern. “This area is also home to the red emperor. Really, there’s no other fish like it on the reef. That initial hit, the huge head bob, it feels like you’ve hooked an out-of-control freight train. They make even the most macho men feel like little bitches,” he continues, a big smile on his greasy lips.
BUSTARD IS CUSTARD
We trade a few stories before hitting the hay, setting alarms for 3am. There’s no air-conditioning, so it’s a sweaty night writhing in thin sheets while scratching midgie bites. We wake to the sound of trees rustling in the wind. Pete checks the weather report and it’s supposedly only blowing 2–4 knots — suspicious. The goal for the day is to get to a spot called Lamont Reef. It’s 35nm to the north-east and in glassy seas should only take an hour to reach. We launch the Cruise Craft into the ink-black water. The boys load up and we motor towards the mouth. Heading out of the channel, the conditions get progressively worse. It’s blowing every bit of 15 knots straight on the nose and the wind swell stands right up in the shallow water. She’s a right bustard of a sea. With sandbars everywhere, we’re glad for a pair of experienced hands at the helm — and spare a thought for ol’ mate Cookie navigating uncharted seas back in the day. Another round of spray smacks the clears, runs down the deck and into the scuppers.
SUN’S OUT, GUNS OUT
By the time the sun has risen, we’ve only made it a quarter of the way to Lamont. The conditions haven’t improved and to make matters worse, one of the Shimano Talicas has shot out of its T-Top rocket launcher and into the drink.
Morale takes a dive, then just as quickly lifts when birds are spotted in the distance. “Mack tuna are awesome for big reds,” Pete chirps, seeing an opportunity to collect fresh bait. Mati explodes into action, heading for the casting platform, Sustain 5000 and 30lb Terez rod in hand.
After a few screaming runs, a mack tuna is spraying blood all over the deck. The boys lob it on ice and we continue toward the magic mark.
We’re still 30 minutes away from Lamont when Mati eases off the F200 throttle and stares intently at the sounder. The charts don’t show much in the way of reef or drop-off, but the boys are exited. Mati clicks auto-deploy on the Minn Kota Ulterra and spot-locks on the mark while Pete rigs a whole squid onto a set of Elkat gang hooks. We ask Pete what all the excitement is about. “A lot of people will find a big pinnacle that comes up four or five metres and think it’s an awesome spot for reds,” he says. “It’s actually not. We find the big fish schooling in deserted areas with just one isolated rock. It doesn’t even have to be big. They seem to graze around these areas.” “The reds are the kings of these isolated rocks, but you need to have a big baits to last through the pickers,” Mati chimes in while attaching a huge slab of mack tuna to another set of gang hooks.
“Are you boys ready with the cameras? For some reason, we always catch the best fish on the first drop,” Pete says, ready for action with his thumb on the spool. We give him the thumbs-up and the bait rockets down to 40m. “My go-to rod and reel would be the Shimano 7ft Terez with a Talica 16,” he says. “The longer rod is better for absorbing that initial shock of a red emperor bite. We run the Talicas completely locked up on 80lb. They’re unbreakable and have the smoothest drag going…” Pete is interrupted mid-sentence as the Terez doubles over and battle ensues with a large red sea monster.
After five minutes of huffing and puffing, a huge red emperor bobs beside the boat. Mati expertly scoops it up with the net. The boys are cheering and The Captain’s crew is in awe. We’ve never seen a red this big.
Reel: Talica 16
Rod: Terez 40–80lb 7ft
Braid: 80lb Kairiki
Rig: Single paternoster rig with Elkat gang hooks and a 16–24oz lead
Reel: Stella SW 8000HG
Rod: Shimano Grappler Type C PE6 8.2ft
Braid: 80lb Kairiki
Stickbait: Shimano Ocea
Rocket Dive 187mm
ROCKIN’ TO THE REEF
Spirits are high after bagging the big red and the boys tuck the Shimanos away to cool down. We arrive at Lamont Reef just before lunchtime and get stuck into coral trout almost instantly.
The lee of the reef offers much-needed protection from the wind and it’s also the perfect spot to fire up the little gas cooker. Mati gets to work like a MasterChef contestant, dicing and spicing a dozen lamb chops and cooking them to perfection on the F360M’s casting platform. Yiayia (that’s Greek for Grandma) would be proud of her boy. After some of the most tender chops we’ve ever tasted, it’s back to fishing. We catch more trout, red throat, spanglies, heaps of hussar, nannygai and even a couple of endangered barramundi cod (which are quickly released).
PETE’S TOP 10 TIPS FOR MONSTER REDS
1. Look for structure (a single rock) in desolate areas.
2. Use big baits like whole squid, big mack tuna strips, large whole pilchards and hussar fillets.
3. Reds have a tendency to crush hooks on the bite. We use extra-strong hooks and gang them in sets of three for better hook-ups.
4. We use pretty heavy lead (16–24oz) so I can get right onto the mark quick and have our lines straight up and down.
5. We prefer longer rods like the 7ft Terez rather than jigging sticks — to take the initial shock out of the bite.
6. Be prepared to catch your biggest fish on the first drop.
7. Once hooked up, pull hard to turn their heads off the reef or it’ll be all over before it starts.
8. Drags that remain smooth when fully locked are essential. We run Talica 12s and 16s.
9. If sharks are around, best move on rather than ruin the fishing spot for future trips.
10. Never give up. Do the miles, get the smiles.
We fill the esky with some of the tastiest fish Queensland has to offer then backtrack to base. It’s impressive to see what the Bats boys can do with their compact Cruise Craft console. We had four big blokes (Mati, Pete, The Captain’s crew plus camera gear) piled into the foam-filled 6.35m F360 and she lapped up all 90 of the nautical miles we travelled.
The 20-degree deadrise offers a silky smooth ride without being too tender at rest — perfect when everyone is leaning over the gunwales trying to haul in massive reds. The minimum rating for the F360M is 150HP, but the boys have strapped on a spritely four-cylinder Yamaha F200. If you fish anything like the Bats boys — lots of gear, fuel, ice and long runs — we’d recommend opting for the 200 ponies.
The layout feels right. There’s fishing DNA all over the place, grab rails everywhere you need one, neat pop-up cleats and bucketloads of storage (more than 700L). The freeboard height is bang on the mark for getting jiggy and the wide gunwales are super practical. Although a lot of these things may seem insignificant, they make a massive difference when you’re living aboard for 10 hours a day. Cruise Craft has been around for 74 years and every bit of experience has gone into the design. The rig, like all Cruise Craft, is 100 per cent composite construction. The lay-up is every bit the strength of timber, plus it’s lighter and rotfree. The Captain fans would be up with our timber-free spiel — we used Thermo-Lite board on our recent 445F Haines Hunter rebuild. For the record, Cruise Craft boss man Nathan Nichols put us onto the Thermo crew. Good call that, Nath.
FAMILY CRUISE AFFAIR
The Bats brothers have had a love affair with Cruise Craft since they were fishing groms knocking over Spanish macks and long tails out of their dad’s boat. Mati explains, “We’ve been around Cruise Craft boats our whole lives. We grew up fishing out of a 1973 Cruise Craft Easy Rider. The old man still uses that boat today. My boat before this one was a Cruise Craft 500 Explorer.” It’s cool to see the Bats boys following in their old man’s footsteps, although he reckons no boat can compare to his ’73 Easy Rider.
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