Just a FAD

By Brett Vercoe

March is a great time to hunt the blue waters of the East Australian Current off the north coast of NSW. A steady stream of warm clear water brings some of the Coral Sea’s most sought after game fish within range of small boats from shore. Peter Collocott, Gavin Smithers and I left the sheltered waters of Coffs Harbour at about 7am to travel to the NSW Fisheries FAD which is located 30km northeast, well offshore and away from the impacts of estuary run-off and the turbidity caused by swell and wave action. This particular FAD rests in about 90m of water, well outside the 50m depth contour which is about as shallow as Dolphinfish like to venture. Conditions were calm and this made for an easy trip.

As we reached a point about 15km from the coast we left the green inshore waters and crossed into the cobalt blue of the EAC. It never fails to give me a great buzz when we venture out into the 30m to 40m visibility often found this far off shore. Gavin drew the short straw and took the first turn as boat boy while Peter and I geared up and prepared for the first drift. The current was running at about 4km an hour and whilst this may sound fast rapid currents do seem to concentrate the fish around the FAD so we didn’t mind in the least. As we motored a couple of hundred metres up current we saw quite a few 3 –4 kg Dolphinfish leaping clear of the water and a shoal could be seen swimming alongside our boat.

Peter and I eased our way into the water and quickly loaded up our twin rubbered Rob Allen’s whilst being swarmed by juvenile Dollies. From previous experience we’ve learnt it’s best to hold back on the first drift, resisting the urge to shoot any of the 3 – 4kg fish in case some of the bigger boys might appear. They often show up a few minutes after the juveniles come up to investigate you and will often hang back in the school.

Sure enough, as Peter and I drifted about 20m apart a small number of bull Dolphinfish came through between us offering shooting opportunities for both of us as we dropped below the surface. I lucked out with a good long shot on a 13kg bull, which put up a tremendous fight, charging back at me on a number of occasions as he did his best to shake the spear. Off in the distance I could see Peter in a similar situation fighting his 10kg fish on the bungee line. After a hectic couple of minutes we had the fish aboard and it was Gavin’s turn to hit the water.

Peter and Gavin slipped into the water about 200m up current and drifted back through the schools in search of another good fish. I saw a set of fins point skyward as Gavin rolled into a duckdive and I knew he’d hit a good fish as his 11 litre Rob Allan float shot across the surface throwing a great rooster tail! I moved the boat in closer and watched him through the clear water as he fought a 9kg Dolphinfish to the surface. As I lifted the fish into the boat it went absolutely berserk, smacking it’s tail into me and everything else in the cockpit, coating everything in blood and making a hell of a mess!

Next drift saw Pete and I again in the water, this time the fish had sounded and were acting really shy. I drifted wide and to the east of the FAD searching for any fish activity. Out of the deep directly below me I saw the light coloured shapes of a school of Dolphinfish as they rose toward the surface. As they got closer I could make out the darker shape of a good Wahoo leading the pack. It was pretty amusing to see the Dolphinfish follow his every move while staying in the safest possible place – directly behind him! My mind wandered to some footage I had seen years ago where a young seal was swimming directly behind a Great white that continuously tried to circle and get the upper hand.

As I drifted down on them the Dollies turned and retreated while the Wahoo angled slightly up and toward me. As I drew closer he kicked away and started to drift off. I then changed tactics and swam off on a parallel course, a move that instantly intrigued him, as he turned and came back for a second look. With the gun tucked underneath me I extended my arm and shot him in the head at near point blank range. The gun was instantly snatched from my hand as the Wahoo sounded. I was putting pressure on the 400lb mono rig line as I finned back toward the surface when I suddenly felt a tremendous burning sensation through my leather glove. A second after letting go of the line I saw the RA float flash past me on its way straight down!

I was starting to panic a bit as I saw my float taken down to about thirty metres before slowing and then just hovering there. Gavin came closer in the boat after having seen the float suddenly disappear from the surface and I yelled out to him to stay close in case I needed him. The RA float was just visible on the extreme edge of visibility and I swam above it for about five minutes before it very slowly started to rise back up toward me. During this time I checked out my glove and saw where the friction from the rig line had burnt a groove through the leather !!

As the float hit the surface I could make out the Wahoo giving a few feeble kicks. Holding the float down had just about killed the fish and there was little fight left in it. I was relieved as I pulled him up towards the surface that sharks had not shown any interest in his struggles. The fish weighed in at 18kg, not really big as far as Wahoo go. They have incredible power to weight ratio and one day I’d love to hit a really big one!

We each had a good fish and plenty of fillets to take home so we headed back to the harbour for a well-earned feed and maybe a beer or two.

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