cairns fishing

OFFSHORE FISHING FEATURE NORTH NORTHWEST CAIRNS

WHERE

• Lizard Island is about 35 kilometres out from Cairns
• Known for great fishing and amazing national parks
• One of Australia’s most well-known and well respected resorts

GETTING THERE

• Flights take an hour because the pilot takes the time to give you the scenic route
• You can book boat trips, large people carriers that take a number of hours
• Charter a boat directly yourself

CLIMATE

• Pretty much hot and very humid all of the time
• Cold winter days are considered to be around 20 degrees
• Be careful out in the sun between the hours of noon to 3pm

There are a few ways to get to Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns. Each one of them has their own special treat. As we were going to be on the water for several days of solid fishing we opted to fly. If you are going to fly anywhere from Cairns, keep your eyes on the sky because huge monsoon clouds can roll in at any time, as they do, and delay flights for a while. The go as fast as they come but be prepared to sit around for a couple of hours if you see them rolling in.

THE FLIGHT TO LIZARD ISLAND

Lizard Island is only 27 kilometres off the coast of Cairns but it is world of its own. With a couple of flights available, it was easy decision to get off to an earlier start and we flew as scheduled at 11am. The skies were all clear at 10am and so we jumped into taxi and headed over to the terminal, a short 20 minute drive. The flight took an hour because the captain took us on the “scenic route”. The views were spectacular. We were all glad we’d chosen the flight because we now had such a good visual of where we would be fishing on our charter for the next few days.

Looking down at the tropical reefs and islands below really made one stop and wonder at the pure beauty of mother nature. The Great Barrier Reef is considered one of the great wonders of the world. It is the single largest barrier reef on the planet containing countless shallow reefs, clear sky-blue waters and an amazing array of fish life.

GETTING AWAY FROM TOURISTS

You know, there is a lot to be said about charter fishing and tourism but Lizard Island is not for those without some cash in their pocket. We’re not one’s to skimp on a boat charter but staying one night at the Lizard Island Resort was a necessity. As soon as we sorted out our check-in, we were sitting down over a couple beers discussing our fishing plans. The original idea was to get straight onto our charter but we’d been warned a day earlier the seas were going to be really rough and a better start to our fishing trip would be the following day. The delay added anticipation and we made our own little storm over a few beers and dinner. Excited or not, we had to get to bed early because tomorrow was going to be huge.

5AM DIDN’T FEEL EARLY

The alarm was obnoxious at 5am and I was pretty sure I’d only slept a couple of hours but that didn’t bother me at all. Gary and Mark were already at my door telling me to get a move on. Of course there was plenty of time but everyone just wanted to get on the boat and get going.

Within and hour or so we were already being shown to our cabins on the “Mothership”. These guys had taken the concept to a whole new level. We’d booked two cabins meaning that two of us would have to share sleeping arrangements. To make a little more fun out of it, we decided whoever caught the biggest fish that day would get a cabin to himself.

We were heading north of Lizard Island into some of the most remote fishing “spots” in the world. We were getting away from any tourists and there is a lot to be said about doing that in this part of the world. With so many fishing charters to choose from, you need to remember they are all going to be out there when you’re out there fishing too. Our decision was easy because we wanted a taste of fishing the Great Barrier Reef without anyone to be seen on the horizon.

CUSTOM FISHING DORIES AND SEATING

The custom built fishing dories were powered by outboards but secured and towed behind the mothership when we were on the move. Fishing dories are separate platforms, like boats but specifically designed with fishing in mind. So we had the choice, to either fish from one of the dories or fish from custom designed seating from the mothership. I went with the custom seating from the mothership because I seemed to be custom designed for the seating myself. Everyone one the charter had plenty of room to fish.

We got the works and more. We were fully decked out with the best quality Shimano fishing rods and reels and had all the of the state-of-the-art electronics at our fingertips. Fishfinders are still very useful even when in shallower waters. These guys had years of experience at charter fishing and they knew their fishing and we were on the fish in no time.

The owners had invested in a vessel much larger than most, making it possible to stay out longer with much more comfort. It would be three full days of fishing out here with a choice of where you wanted to go. This was so good being way, way out there, even if the spray of salty water was practically nonstop. You can cover up to get relief from the sun but you work up a sweat fishing this hard all day. I couldn’t get enough of the spray before the first day was nearing an end.

CHAMPION OF THE WORLD

I’d switched to live bait early on while Mark and Gary took a while to learn their lesson. Jigheads and scented soft plastics were no match for my normal hook and bait. My mouth was full of salt from screaming “yeeehaaa” as I reeled in the biggest and the best of the day. I would be sleeping in luxury in a cabin to myself tonight. That was the first-day jigging and reef fishing in pretty moderate seas but we were heading out further in the days to come. What an amazing day.

The second day we were out after larger targets. These babies are packed with power and you know you’ve got a fight on your hands when one takes the bait. We’d agreed to take a break each day around 3pm, when the sun seems to be drowning down but on my last cast I got taken for the ride of my life. I can’t even remember how it all happened but I do remember leaping forward before losing my rod into the sea. This fish was aggressive to say the least and it was some time before I had the GT at the boat. I was exhausted and the battle was certainly not over. Landing 20 kilograms of full power was another experience I will never forget, even if it did take the life out of me.

For three more days we cruised the remoteness of northern Queensland while being served ice-cold beverages and bacon sandwiches when we needed. The views were as spectacular as the fishing. From the ancient rocks at Cape Melville and Flinder Islands to a horizon that let you know the earth was round at over 350 kilometres north-northwest of Cairns. Commercial fishing was banned in this, the “green zone”. This was sport fishing at its finest. We didn’t see another vessel during the full three days we were out. We were truly on our own.

It wasn’t all boat either. There was plenty of time with 24 hours in each day to get some beach time where it felt as if you were the first person in history to put foot to sand. Night fishing was a blast and we were really happy we’d invested in the extra cash to have the fishing experience of lifetime. We caught so many fish and of so many species, my best being a 5-foot silver seawater Barramundi. There’s a legal limit to what you can take with you so it’s worth taking breaks from the rod when the fishing is this good. Don’t forget there’s the other side of nature too. You can’t just walk or swim around without thought or proper preparation. In some places the box jellyfish are numerous.

There’s no way I could say I was glad to arrive back at Lizard Island at the end of the fifth day but my body was begging me to go home, or to a hotel at least. As I started to settle down from 5 full days of excitement, fatigue really hit home. There was little said as we headed back to the resort, all of us numbed by the awesomeness we’d just experienced.

It was days until I felt the world was normal.

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Jake Taylor
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Jake is a global traveller who has recently called Australia his home again. If he's not travelling, he is writing about it and his experience.