Something tasty just lobbed in The Captain’s porthole. It’s the new Clash II reel. The boffins at Penn reckon they’re toughest in class. We’ll see about that. We got in touch with charter operators Vic and Zane Levett from Ocean Hunter Sportsfishing to see if they could kill the Clash.
The life of fishing reels on a charter boat is a very sad one. When they’re not being belted on the side of the gunwales, they’re usually getting sprayed or submerged in saltwater. To add to the pain, they’re extremely lucky if they get a freshwater wash-down at the end of the day — even luckier if they get an annual service. So when we told the guys at Penn that we planned on testing out their new Clash II with father-and-son charter team Vic and Zane Levett from Ocean Hunter Sportsfishing, you almost could feel their rectums tensing.
IN-ZANE IN THE MEMBRANE
“Meet at d’Albora Marinas at 5:50am,” reads the message from Zane the night before the trip. It’s almost midnight and The Captain’s crew is only halfway through spooling up the new Clash II reels with kilometres of braid. After a few more beers, we’ve got a 3000, two 4000s and a 5000 spooled and rigged with FG knots. We’ll sleep when we’re dead. The next morning we meet Vic, Zane and deckie Gianni at 5:55am. “If we don’t catch a snapper today, it’s because you’re late,” grumbles Vic as we load our tackle aboard. We’re not sure if he’s joking, so we just give him a big smile and make ourselves useful. We clear the ropes and chug out of Sydney Harbour in the pre-dawn darkness.
On the run down to Long Reef, The Captain cosies up to Vic behind the centre console to see if he can claw back some kudos, kicking off with that old chestnut: “How long have you been doing this for, Vic?” “I’ve been a silly fisherman since I was born,” he says. “I was originally a plumber, but thought Sydney needed a stepped-up charter operation. I set up this business six years ago with the hopes Zane would take it over. He’s now got his licence and hopefully he’ll be taking over very shortly so I can start doing some serious fishing.” As the hint of a smile creases his tanned face, it looks like Vic might finally be warming to us.
PLAYING WITH PLASTIC
Vic pulls the throttle back as we approach the snapper grounds off Long Reef. “Fellas, we spent all night spooling up and FG-knotting a bunch of the new Clash IIs for us to use today,” The Captain announces. “Er, thanks for that Cap’, but we’ve been using Clash IIs for about six months,” Zane fires back while sliding a 7” Gulp! plastic onto a jighead. “We’ve used and abused these reels,” Vic chimes in.
As we drift onto the mark, the Ocean Hunter crew launches into action. Zane and Gianni are standing on the bow, firing cast after cast across the edge of the reef. However, Vic has cast out a plastic and left the rod sitting in the rod holder. “I catch the best fish this way,” he whispers while the eager young guns flick, jig and shimmy their lures like a TikTok dance routine. The snapper are slow and the sergeant baker are on the march. Gianni finally hooks a solid fish, but it turns out to be a rat king.
MONSTERS OF THE DEEP
With the sun well above the horizon, Vic makes the call to leave the shallows and head to deeper kingie grounds. Zane rigs up the Clash II 5000s with long leaders and heavy leads.
“They’re stacked up right here, fellas,” Vic says as the boys get to work, quickly bridle-rigging a couple of yakkas and sending them down to 80m where the kings are hanging. Zane’s on first and cranks a smaller fish to the surface. It’s legal size, but the boys tag and fin clip for DNA research before sending him on his merry way. There’s a groan from the stern as Gianni connects to a solid fish. After an epic little tussle, Zane’s hauling an almost 1m kingie over gunwales by the tail. Mission accomplished.
CLASH AND DASH
A lot of people would be surprised to see the Levett boys knocking over big kings on fishing reels worth less than $350. But Zane reckons the most important part is a smooth drag. “Big kings tend to do aggressive head shakes and long runs,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to stop them from getting back to the reef. One thing I love about the new Clash II reel is that you get all of that high-end tech in an outfit that’s extremely light and sits in the hand nicely. You can fish with this thing all day without getting fatigued.”
When asked to describe a day in the life of a fishing reel on a charter boat, Vic breaks it down. “In all honesty, they’re used as a winch half the time. Customers want to get that fish in as quick as possible and just crank on that handle without even lifting the rod. Reels have a really hard life. We try to look after them and do the maintenance, but we need a robust and strong reel to cop that abuse.” He reckons the Clash II is the answer. “We’ve been running the Penn Clash IIs for a while now and can’t fault them. We also have Penn Slammers and they get punished. We leave them in the rod holder with max drag and when a kingfish hits them you think something is going to break — but they just keep on trucking though.”
FIRE THE CANNON!
During the summer months, when the kings swarm the shallow reefs and headlands, the Ocean Hunter crew finds the best course of attack is with a downrigger.
Having the ability to target species at pinpoint-precise depths makes a huge difference in these areas. It’s also a godsend being able to fight the fish without a massive sinker dangling off your line. They run twin Cannon Uni-Troll 10 STXs, the crème de la crème of downriggers. These babies come prespooled with 61m of 68kg stainless cable and can hold a 20lb weight. Bombs away!
1. If you don’t know the ground you’re planning on downrigging, it’s a good idea to give it a couple of passes with the sounder before dropping your bomb. Nothing is worse than snagging a 10lb lead weight on a stainless steel cable on a bommie.
2. Use live bait hooks that aren’t offset. This way, when you’re trolling, the bait won’t spin in the current.
3. Using an elastic band in the release clip will prevent your line from getting tangled around the clip. It’ll also help you get a bigger load in the rod, which allows for stronger hook sets.
4. Once you’ve hooked a fish, get that downrigger bomb out of the water as quick as possible. You don’t want your braid touching the cable or it’s all over. 05Just like anything with moving parts, downriggers and cables need cleaning after a session in the salt or they’ll corrode and seize.
CONSOLE OR BUST
The run back into Sydney Harbour gives us a chance to talk boats. Vic has gone full circle with his rigs. “I basically started with a centre console, went all the way through the big game boats and then landed back in an open boat,” he says. A man after The Captain’s heart, that’s for sure. Vic and Zane’s charter boat is a 7.4m Ocean Max, built in Coomera, Queensland. “They made a great boat, but unfortunately had to close their doors,” Vic says. The Ocean Max has big shoulders, high padded gunwales and a killer configuration. Inspiration has definitely been taken from American centre consoles — it’s a shame they’re not still being made. Zane’s favourite feature is the huge live well installed underneath the helm seat. “You’ve got to wear gumboots onboard, but damn it’s perfect for those hot days when you get over 30 bites,” Zane says.
Vic and Zane are running a 300HP Suzuki power plant. “Switching to Suzuki has been the best thing we’ve done,” Vic boasts while staring lovingly at the stern of the Ocean Max. “We’re saving 20–30 per cent on fuel, which is huge considering on a busy year we’ll burn 10,000– 20,000L of unleaded through her. You can do the math on those figures.” He adds that in terms of electronics, the Ocean Max is running twin Lowrance displays incorporated with the autopilot. “We only have a 600-watt transducer because the deepest we fish is around 100m,” Zane adds.
TAG, DON’T BAG
If you’re looking for a kill-and-grill fishing charter, Ocean Hunter Sportsfishing probably isn’t the operator for you. “Our primary focus is the management of the fishery,” Zane explains. “My dad has been tagging for the past 30–40 years — he’s actually made it trendy! We’ve been able to get stacks of research for the Department of Primary Industries to understand how our stocks are going.
But to be honest, they’re not going too well — apparently, they’re below 10 per cent. You see the old photos of kings in Australia and they used to be pretty similar to what New Zealand’s fishery is like now.” The boys have no problem taking a feed when you jump aboard for a charter, but the key is sustainability. The guys will show you how to utilise the entire fish — to slice and dice from the wings to the backbone, even the head — so you only need to use one or two fish.
To book a charter head to: oceansportsfishing.com.au
VIC AND ZANE’S TOP 5 TIPS FOR SYDNEY KINGS AND REDS
1. Bait is key. You can be in the perfect spot at the perfect time, but if you don’t have the right bait, you’re wasting your time. If chasing kings, take the time to catch your yellowtail, slimies, squid and cuttlefish — you’re already halfway there.
2. Decide on a species and stick to the game plan. You can’t just say, “I’m going fishing” and hope to catch something. At the end of the day, you probably won’t have caught much.
3. When chasing snapper on soft plastics we like to fish pre-dawn in around 5–10m of water. When the sun comes up the fish get spookier and we head out to 20m-plus depths. At around 8am, we usually call it quits on the plastics.
4. Make sure you’ve got the right gear for the job. We use 2000– 3000 sized reels for snapper and 4000–5000 sized reels for kings. The important parts are strong line rollers, handles and drag systems.
5. Fish hard, fish long hours and fish where the fish are. If you don’t get a bite in the first hour, move along. You really need to find those isolated schools in Sydney.