South Coast Game

Words: Ben Donegan Images: Dean Linardos

The weekend leading up to Australia Day has for the past four years been an annual get-together for a growing group of anglers and their boats. Everyone has stupidly busy lives, growing families and challenges that mean we probably don’t get to do quite as much of what we love as we wish, so these trips are even more special.

The weather was looking good for our four-day trip, with a few people in the park telling us that they had managed to fish only two or three days over the last 14. We had really fluked it again, so excitement levels were high.

My brother and mate (Drubs and Palms) rolled in at 3am direct from Melbourne and squeezed into their bunk beds, straight to sleep. That’s commitment, so we better find a marlin I thought to myself as I drifted off to sleep with the alarm set for 5am.

Up, coffee made and off to Twofold Bay ramp and off to the shelf for day one.

The crew split, with some heading to the FAD (fish aggregating device) and some heading north. We headed north and after running the 35-odd kilometres to the shelf, we throttled back to idle and started to search for bait.

Things didn’t look too good, with the only bait hard on the bottom nearly 200m down. My crew aren’t massive fans of winding up strings of slimy mackerel from 200m but we needed a few in the tank, so when the sounder started to indicate bait on the bottom I gave the nod to drop.

The boys quickly had a couple stitched up for skip baits and four in the tubes with a nice sharp KLT 8/0 stitched to their nose. We were fishing!

We skipped our way north as the bait slowly increased and water temp approached 22C. It was looking good and hopes were high as we marked a few fish down deep and just enjoyed fishing; lots of laughs and sunshine just made it even better.

Whilst winding up a bait jig, Palms found himself connected to something a lot bigger than a slimy mackerel! The Saragosa started peeling off line and he found himself up tight to either a shark or a marlin. Five minutes later and lots of fingers crossed, the bait jig parted company with its tangled-up victim, and although we never saw it, we were pumped!  

The other boats were also struggling and it wasn’t until about lunchtime that we saw a bit of action.

We had found some good stacked-up bait and had switched over to a couple of live baits and a dredge. We stuck to a little patch of water and kept marking the odd fish hanging over bait, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when the long rigger bait started splashing and getting nervous. Drubs cracked the line from the release clip in preparation for a bite and was rewarded with line humming off the Tiagra shortly after. Slowly increasing the drag, the rod loaded up and a little marlin broke the surface behind the boat with his bill doing the classic ‘windscreen wiper’. We quickly cleared the spread and prepared for the chase, but unfortunately the line went slack after a few jumps. On closer inspection the fluorocarbon had parted about two inches from the hook. Oh well, back to the plan and baits deployed again.

Another fish had a go shortly after but never went on with it, so it left us scratching our heads and reaching for another beer.

About 2pm we had changed back to skip baits as the bait had thinned out a lot, Drubs was driving and I had a nice change, being able to relax and just watch the spread. As we turned down-sea, I spotted a dark shadow way back behind the long skip bait. The marlin wasn’t lit up, no blue fins or erratic movements, just a slow stealthy follower.

I pulled a live bait out of the tube and cast it back on the Saltiga (spin reels are great for this style of fishing where you can get a bait back much quicker than an overhead). As I held the rod up high with the livie doing his best not to be noticed, Palms cranked the skip bait back. This combination fired the fish up nicely and only a couple of seconds later I felt my live bait get snapped up. After a few seconds of free spool, the bail arm was flipped over and the drag slowly tightened. Everything came up tight and the reel screamed as the fish disappeared into the distance.

We chased him down and managed to get the leader a few times before I had to hand the rod over to Palms for the second half. Fighting marlin on spin is not enjoyable, and with me being left-handed I just couldn’t get used to winding on the wrong side! No shame in this game though, and Palms got on with the job. It was great to finally be on the board and get our first for the trip.

The rest of the crew managed to see a few and lose a few, but it was awesome to see Dean Linardos hook up on Villain, his big Cam Strachan 233.

Overall it was a quiet day, but reports up and down the coast suggested similar stories, with lots of bait and fish spread all over the shop. Still, we were there doing it and the banter and laughs easily made up for the fishing. And dinner was booked at the Eden Pub.

Sunday proved to be the most beautiful of all days, but despite most of the boats seeing a few fish we had no action all day. We headed way north and made the commitment to stick it out and fish until sundown as the weather was amazing. May as well be out trying, we thought!

As the Triple J Hottest 100 of 2021 continued to play over the radio, Drubs spotted a lone albatross doing figure of eights inside of us. They usually don’t do tight circles unless there is something of interest there, so we made our way over to take a look. Another albatross joined in and soon there were four or five all working around a small patch in front of us. A bait ball had popped up and as we neared and spotted the seal, a lit-up striped marlin slashed at our skip bait and missed.

Baits in, rigger up and live bait ready to pitch!

Drubs had us on the seal quickly and I pitched in live bait to the ball of mackerel. The sight of a fully lit-up marlin peeling off the ball and towards our little mackerel never fails to get grown men yelling and carrying on. He almost swam into the side of the boat before performing the tightest of U-turns and missing the frantic slimy. We couldn’t believe it, his pectoral literally broke the water a few centimetres from the rod tip, yet no hook-up.

We tried in vain for another 20 minutes to get him to feed, but every fresh bait we pitched was ignored until finally the fish disappeared, and the seal gave up.

We had to remind ourselves of the sight we had seen, but it was bittersweet for all of us. A fish would have been amazing to catch after 12 hours on the water. Bloody marlin fishing can be like that!

On the final day for our crew, we decided to launch from the little ramp at Tathra. Kianinny Bay is a special place and I always love coming over the hill to Tathra and seeing the blue ocean spreading out forever and the sun just starting to peak over the horizon.

As we joined the queue of boats waiting to launch, one of our mates, Cammo, managed to provide a bit of early morning entertainment for all. In his excitement to get his big Streaker into the water, he misjudged the corner and took out a couple of bollards by accident. For a man with blue water in his veins, this was a rookie mistake and we made sure he was reminded about it all day over the VHF. Very amusing.

We fished up towards Bermagui with a few fish caught, but no joy for us. We ended up heading way back down south to where we had caught our fish on the first day as a few mates had struck gold. The boys on Fishin’Fortuna had had a cracker of a day, as did the fellas on Half-Mine. It was great to see as this means everyone had caught a fish for the trip, well, everyone but the SmoothCrim… Cam was to hit his purple patch the next day with four fish, giving him the champion boat for the trip. Well done SmoothCrim!

We had a great night that night sitting around a big bonfire – so much so, we decided to have a sleep in the next morning and head back to Melbourne. That is certainly something different from previous years and I liked the relaxing drive home rather than the midnight run we usually do.

Thanks to all the boys for putting families and jobs on hold for a few days to catch up and enjoy the South Coast for what it always used to be – something we can look forward to and rely on for a great holiday and some amazing fish.

We have already booked in again for 2023 and I can’t wait to get back up there.

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