Bait to Plate

Kev Collins

Well known Restauranter and co-owner of Fish D'vine & The Rum Bar in Airlie Beach. When Kev's not working he's out fishing in the amazing food bowl of the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park or in his tinnie in the estuaries crabbing! His blog imparts wisdom, tales and info on all things fishing and food.

Tales of Fur, Feathers and Fish (or old blokes in funny hats)

To most people fly fishing evokes images of crusty old blokes, in tweed jackets, fishing on trout streams with tiny little creations of various furs and feathers. Waders, jumpers and beanies also come to mind with snow covered peaks and frost on the ground. It is a curious sport and even though the type of fly fishing, I personally pursue (salt water flats fishing) could not be further removed there is still an element of eccentricity which is hard to explain. If one set out to design a harder way to actually catch fish, fly fishing would just about be it. It seems, having now been on a few overseas dedicated fly-fishing holidays, to actually be a pastime largely undertaken by older guys and less about actually “catching fish” and more about just being there and the “hunting” element of seeing, stalking and the delicate quiet presentation of a fly to a wary fish in shallow water in the hope of actually catching the fish, just to let it go again.

Fly casting is more akin to golf than any other sport I have undertaken. The enjoyment of the great cast in difficult conditions a bit like a pure 4 iron to a small green. You may well “miss the put” and in many fly-fishing situations not get the bite, but the enjoyment of the cast is something you really have to experience to understand. As we travel on the boat more and more, while fishing is an everyday event, I really don’t need to catch many. A nice Coral Trout, Barramundi of sweetlip will always be on a plate in the fridge and who needs frozen fish when fresh is an easy option so fly fishing, enjoying the moment, the experience, and spending time exploring little bays, beaches and reef flats will become a large part of my daily routine. All about the fishing and not the catching.

I have just spent 2 weeks in Kiribati on the coral atoll of Kiritimati (Christmas Island) with a fly rod in hand and managed the Christmas Island “Grand Slam”. A big bonefish, large Giant Trevally, a trigger fish and a milkfish, each different, each with a different technique and set of challenges and even with a different weight fly rod. Again, a bit like golf each target has a different tool from 6, 8, 9 or 10 weight rods but wading on a sand flat with a fly rod has become, not only an obsession, but the most peaceful way I know of passing time on the water.

Anyone with a love a spending time just beachcombing, observing the ebb and flow of tides over shallow beaches and with fishing as a love really should buy an outfit or better still take a lesson from a fly-fishing coach. Again, a lot like golfing, it is better to have a lesson with a “pro” to learn the basics of grip and swing. The takeaway the “shot making” and all the little nuances so that you ultimately start with sound fundamentals and can practice with a solid foundation. Some of you will hate it, because you don’t often actually catch many fish but some of you may just come to understand the simple poetic beauty of fly casting in the salt water tropics.

If you do get bitten by the” bug”, having now experienced it at its best in both the Bahamas and Kiribati, fishing for “Bones” (Bonefish) may just be the greatest and most revered experience of a lifetime on the water. Later this year we are taking a full month to cruise up the coast and it will include 2 days on a reef atoll which I am reliably informed has abundant bonefish. To fully explore and then write about a bone fishing destination in Australia will be ground-breaking and cause a significant ripple through the Australian fly-fishing community and you will hear about it first in October on Bait to Plate.

Where every day is Christmas

No blogging for next 2 weeks, in fact no internet, phones or TV. Heading to Kiribati/Christmas Island this morning. Just me, my fly rod and the Bone Fish.....and the Trigger Fish, Milkfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Giant herrings, GT's....sigh! Stay tuned for a full blown report when I get back.

A Dogs' Life in the Winter-sundays

Winter is here, and those of us who live in the Whitsunday’s get a smug sense of self satisfaction as we watch the nightly weather reports of the freezing conditions in Southern states. Just another day in the life of a dog, and a dog like ours, who is a boaty through and through, loves this time of year, cool evenings for snuggling up and not so hot during the day that she gets stressed about needing a haircut; just great weather for lazin” around or for a good run on any beach we can get her too as well as loving taking liberties at the dinner table she does not get to at home.

If we are boaties we also keep a “weather eye” on the formation of East Coast lows off NSW or Victoria. These bring the worst of conditions to those areas but act as a block for the traditional SE trade winds which prevail over the North during these months. SE trades can blow for weeks on end, making boating uncomfortable, or at the very least restricting it to inshore areas and the lee of the Islands (which the Whitsundays are blessed with 74 of and multiple calm anchorages).

One thing boaties and fisherman learn early is how to ready a synoptic chart. Those funny maps the weather forecasters produce each night with lots of lines. While to most people these don’t mean much, to any student of the weather they are absolutely invaluable in reading future wind trends and as low-pressure systems form or sweep across South Australia heading for the East Coast we get very excited along the North Queensland Coast about some glorious winter weather on the way.

So, it was last weekend, just a 2 day “window” of calm weather (while it rained and blew its head off in Melbourne).

 Winter time is Mackerel time up here. It is also the last of the great mud crab season before they all head to sea to breed in August so I was a bit torn; Mackerel or crabs. We have a small boat which has already featured in recent blogs which is kind of my creek fishing/crabbing boat and a much larger centre console vessel which I fish the reefs and oceans with. It is a pretty big boat to tow and way to big to get up into the creeks I like to crab in but the little inflatable tender is always an option for this so we took the reef boat in tow, managed a couple of lovely Spanish mackerel and got some fantastic big buck mud crabs from a favourite little crabbing creek in double bay, just to the north of Airlie Beach.

Any of the islands to the north fish well for mackerel this time of year and concentrate on the current lines and rips. Live baits like fusiliers are great but trolling wolf herrings (Ribbon Fish) or gar will also work. Any of the local tackle shops will give you tips on rigs, baits and best spots with all of them run by top blokes and keen fishos.

After knocking up a pizza for dinner on the boat it is home time now with the SE trades blowing 20 knots plus and either some Cajun spiced mackerel of black pepper crab for dinner. Decisions, decisions.

 

 

BBQ part 2

So, to answer my own question. Can you cook a pizza on my new favourite boat BBQ? Absolutely. Just took a few bits of improvisation and a pizza stone.

A quick weekend on the boat on a little weather window had a very short planning session and not much thought about provisioning, after all, I can always mange a fish or 2. Which will become the next blog post; but I had flour, yeast, some pasta sauce and my new BBQ, a few tomatoes and some basil from my herb garden on the balcony, (I was planning bruschetta).

Not much of a story to tell but a few pictures to post which will have a lot of Pizza shops hanging their heads in shame, (after all if I can knock one out this good on a boat with a BBQ, what are you guys doing?)

Certainly a few bits of improvisation.

1.Make basic pizza dough and rest in a warm place for 30 minutes. What could be warmer then a nice engine bay after a few hours steaming.

2. Roll out dough, and when you don’t have a rolling pin there is nothing like a wine bottle and if you use a good red I am convinced it improves the flavour of the pizza =).

3. Get your pizza stone absolutely smoking hot and use some greaseproof paper on a cutting board if you don’t have a pizza paddle and slide it (paper and all) onto the stone and drop the lid. A bit of charred paper does not cause any issue.

 

Nothing much more to say that the photos don’t say better except I am loving this little Barby more and more. So far, I have cooked 5 dinners on it and I am still on the original gas canister.

Some Like It Hot!

When it came to fitting out the boat, both for general use and longer-range travels, it almost goes without saying that the cooking capacity was important to me.

The vessel has a well-equipped galley and top deck electric BBQ but this means running the generator and potentially annoying the neighbours as well as ruining the peace and quiet we are trying to achieve. It also meant being downstairs and trying to be upstairs at the same time.

The little butane gas cookers everyone uses these days sorted out part of my problem but I still wanted a BBQ type arrangement. I wanted heats, lots of heat. As a chef it is always easy to turn it down but so often non-commercial equipment lacks the real punch to cook properly.

I also wanted portability and not to have to carry large gas bottles and have the hassle of refilling in remote locations. Something I could carry into a beach and use if I wanted to and a unit I could pack up and put away rather than the usual railing mounted BBQ’s common on most boats.

After a bit of homework and some day care for boys (AKA BCF) I settled on a “Char-Broil infa red”. A great sturdy little unit which operated on a medium size butane cylinder, has all the portability I need and really builds up some great heat, especially with the lid down. As this story is not a sponsored spot I am happy to review the unit over time and if it ends up a dud I will be happy to say so, but, so far it is fantastic. I have baked Coral Trout, cooked some great steaks, burgers and even used it as a hot plate to poach some eggs and make a smoked salmon and spinach eggs benedict, including the fresh made hollandaise sauce.

It is operating in a marine environment so durability and rust resilience may become an issue over time but for anyone going bush, these are about the best little portable 2/4-person BBQ I have ever come across. Portable, easy to clean, no big gas bottle to carry around and above all HOT. I am going to get a pizza stone because I actually think it will be hot enough to easily cook a pizza, and THAT, will be a treat on a boat.

When we travel, away from the day to day time constraints of work, food can and really should be a big part of our day. We have time. Time to gather good raw ingredients, be it at local market stalls, farm gates of local harvesting, which can include fishing when we are on or near the water. It really is and should be a chance to reconnect with food, away from the supermarket shelves and help our kids understand the food heritage we are blessed with in this country.

A whole fish, baked in foil, with just some lemon, butter and a few herbs is one of life’s great simple meals. Up the ante and make this fish a Coral Trout, which regularly fetches upwards of $50 a kilo these days and it can be a meal which would be eye wateringly expensive in a restaurant but a cost effective and amazing food experience to share with family or friends.  On a trip through Hong Kong some years ago I saw a Coral trout in a live fish tank in a Hong Kong restaurant where the conversion rate put that single fish a little north of $1000 Aus. dollars, and here we are, for the cost of a packet of pilchards and a bit of time able to do it just about any time we get on the water.

I do get asked a lot but people hiring bareboats, how do I catch fish like these?  The simple answer is to moor the yacht and get into your tender to fish. The clear waters around the reef islands means it is easy to see the edges of the fringing reefs and drifting along the bombie edges or even trolling some 3-meter-deep lures along the reef edges at or near low tide is just about a sure-fire way of picking up a trout for dinner.

The fish used in this story came from Shaw Island, and fantastic protected anchorage to the South of Linderman. We caught some lovely Coral Trout and a heap of Grassy Sweetlip on the North Eastern end of the little island located 20 29 05 S and 149 03 16 E fishing in about 12 meters of water, just of the fringing reef edge.

 

Not the White Cliffs of Dover

Kind of crazy that I get off a boat, to go and have a holiday on another one, but hey, you Just can never have too much fun messin’ around on boats. While not as famous as the White Cliffs of Dover, but in my view just as spectacular, the Red Cliffs of Weipa are virtually an unknown gem and one of the great natural wonders of Australia. Towering bauxite cliffs, which rise 60 feet from a sandy strip, right on the water, they have a magical reaction to sunshine, not dissimilar to Uluru. These cliffs seem to almost come alive in a late afternoon sun, glowing red and casting and golden hue across the ocean and surrounding landscape. To sit off Red Cliffs in the late afternoon, enjoying a cold beer, and reflecting on a day spend fishing and sighseeing further down to coast to Pera Heads and Boyd’s Bay is an experience shared by only a select few and yet is a part of Australia’s natural wonders which really should be experienced. You need to be there at dusk; long after the guided fishing skiffs have already blasted back to Weipa some 35 kilometres North to witness the breathtaking transformation from the dull dusty bauxite red to the explosion of luminescent colours which burst forth in the setting sun.

The unique structure of Red Cliffs which has evolved over time, include a 12 meter-deep top layer of bauxite sitting on a lower layer of white clay. Water from the wet season seeps easily through the bauxite, hits the clay layer and then follows this through to the cliffs where it virtually becomes a waterfall which starts along the clay line and provides amazing opportunities for an outdoor shower after some hard days fishing the salt water. Further South at Pera Heads a large freshwater stream gushed millions of litres of fresh water onto the beach and no visit is complete without a “dip” in Pera Pool or a shower at Red Cliffs “living the dream” of absolute isolation and sharing a unique experience with friends or family.

This is very much “off the beaten track” country. No roads and no access other than by water, but an option to experience a “caravanning” type holiday is available from Weipa Houseboats. The road to Weipa is open every year from early May and is constantly being upgraded with plans to be fully sealed by 2020.  It will, in time get busy, as access become easier and gentler on vehicles and vans. The campgrounds are clean, functional and well serviced but it is Weipa Houseboats which gives the real opportunity to experience the wild untamed and remote part of Queensland in safety, comfort and with the convenience of the ultimate cross over between boat and caravan. These houseboats are never going to win a beauty prize but are tough, functional and a wonderful holiday option either for a group of hardcore fishos, with friends, or showing the kids a part of Australia unlikely ever to be subjected to mainstream tourism pressure.

“Bareboating” a Weipa Houseboat is not like bareboating in the Whitsundays. Its charm is in the isolation and the level of self-reliance required. There are no marinas, no resorts to pull into and most certainly no snorkelling gear on board. It is about seeing and experiencing a place that has changed little since the dawn of time, spending an entire day without seeing another soul, spotting crocodiles, birdlife, manta rays, wild pigs, beachcombing and just spending time soaking up the awe-inspiring vistas which present themselves daily as well as the simple pleasures of catching a fish or 2 for dinner.

While a group of us have gone every year for some 15 years now and go as hard-core fisherman, as we have aged and mellowed it has become more and more about just “being there”, the food we eat and the new little places we find. As an avid fly fisherman there is no place in Australia like Weipa as it is on the west coast of Cape York, not only do you experience the sun setting into the sea but also have the persistent SE trade winds blowing off shore making Red Cliffs a calm anchorage from which to explore in even the windiest weather and with clear calm inshore beaches and the wind at your back, coupled with lots of fish and lots of fish variety the western cape is without question amongst the very best fly fishing destination in the world..

Did I mention the food? The basic rule on our houseboat adventure is I cook, somebody else washed up but meals of Chili Mud Crab, Crispy Skinned whole fish, beer battered barramundi fillets and great steaks usually sets the scene for coming home a kilo or 2 heavier then we go away, but hey, that is what holidays are all about. Post on my blog site if you want any recipes and everything is cooked on a combination of a big top deck BBQ and 2 little portable camp stoves. This years highlight meal was slow roasted pork belly, roasted garlic mash, green beans, spinach and a chilli apple compote. Relatively easy in my resatuarant kitchen but doing this for 9 hungry blokes on a houseboat had me under the pump.

Our Chili Crab cook-ups are legendary and I use the recipe developed over time in the restaurant which has become a Whitsunday Icon dish. Rather than fill page space here just drop me a line on my blog or Facebook page for the recipe.

Weipa Houseboats are really for the experienced skipper and a crew with adventure in mind but offers the only real access to one of Australia’s true natural wonders and should be on every adventure travellers bucket list of “see Australia First” destinations. While it, in itself may never get too busy, Weipa Houseboats only has 2 vessels which book out well in advance. While their web site may be all about the fishing, which will always be the main drawcard, I actually don’t think they quite realise what they have up there. It is an almost religious experience, not unlike the first time you see Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays or Uluru. Filled with awe and wonder at just what mother nature has blessed us with.

Mud Crabs, the islands and my favourite risotto

The Islands of the north Queensland coast often have small creeks and stands of mangroves and despite the accepted principle that mud crabs come from the rivers along the coast, almost every island creek is home to monster mud crabs at certain times of the year. Just after the wet and through until about July, almost any of these island creeks will produce crabs, and what they lack in numbers they certainly make up for in size. It is a bit of a conundrum that your typically need a decent size boat to get out too many of the islands and then a small dinghy to access some of these narrow creeks. It means the perfect balance is a tow behind tender for a live aboard yacht or cruiser. Tides in the Whitsundays are large, with up to 4 meters variation between high and low with many of the creeks mouth drying out or at best being shallow drains at the mouth before typically getting deeper inside the mouth. You need a shallow draft boat and to enter on a rising tide for best results. Pots are best set by accessing the creeks on as low a tide as possible to get a feel for all the drains, drop-offs and ledges. Putting a pot in the mouth of a drain which will become a natural trail for any crabs moving on or off the mud flats with the tide is a sure-fire location and entering on low tide helps find these likely spots. The Island creeks are not usually about big numbers, just really big crabs. The ones in the photos below came out of Tongue Bay but let Google Earth be your friend. Pots in Gulliare or Marcona inlet, Cid harbour or even the creeks in Nara would have been just as productive. Another great bycatch when crabbing these creeks is an almost guaranteed black spot estuary cod. They are great eating and make a sensational fish to use in one of my favourite dishes to cook on board. A fish and mud crab risotto. Pretty simple dish with just a basic chicken stock risotto but adding the zest of a lemon and juice of a lemon right towards the end of the cooking process. Throw in your diced raw fish and allow 2 minutes, stirring occasionally to let the heat in the rice cook the fish just before adding your butter and parmesan. Once this is stirred through fold in your cooked mud crab meat, a handful of halved cherry tomatoes, and then let it rest off heat for 3 minutes. Dinner on a boat does not get much better and if I had to serve this dish in the restaurant, with mud crabs at $30+ per kg it would be one very expensive risotto, yet, a bit of fun on the water and 20 minutes in the galley and this is locavore scavenging at its finest.

 

& da fun don't done marn.

,With retirement on the horizon last year we had a management planning session where I made a flippant comment about wanting to be sitting under a coconut tree in the Bahamas, drinking a cocktail and reading a management report on my laptop. It was said as a metaphor for where we wanted the business to be, not with any intention of ever going to the Bahamas, but, a funny thing happened in March. I was sitting under a coconut tree, in the Bahamas, drink Caribbean rum and reading a management report and had been lead there by my current obsession with catching Bonefish on salt water fly. After getting the bonefish bug in Kiribati in July last year and rebooking for 2 weeks in July this year I just could not wait a whole year so started you tube searching for the best bonefish destination in the world and all arrows pointed to South Andros Island in the Bahamas.

A bit of online chatter with the owner or Mars bay lodge, some help from Jess at Flight Centre and bingo. I was booked and on my way to one of the most enchanting experiences of my fishing life. South Andros is NOT the Bahamas of the travel brochures. In general, it is pretty basic and a locals Island, not a tourism hotspot. No pools, bars or night life. It is just locals and visiting fly fishers. It appears that the Bonefish go a long way towards underpinning the local economy with all the guides locals, cooks and service staff in the lodges, right down to gardening and boat boys, everything seems to revolve around the bonefish and it is kind of nice to see a Government which actually understands the value of recreational fishing tourism.

It is clear that the local authorities “get it”. Good facilities for the boats in a little harbour with a dredged all tide channel recently built and big signs up at the local Congo Town airport explaining all the reasons why Bonefish are to be respected and looked after. How important are bonefish?. Check out the photo of the number plate on a car in Florida of a couple I met heading to Andros as well. .Now THAT is a personal plate.

On to the fishing, as opposed to Kiribati where 7 or 8 species of fish were regularly accounted for each day, Andros is really just about the Bonefish. Apart from the odd barracuda, which locals love to eat and here we treat them as vermin, it is just bones. It was very rare to even sight another kind of fish, that said we were on the flats and there are clearly reef fish in the deeper waters, the flats are just about the bones. It was common to see massive schools of them. Literally thousands of fish in schools, accompanied by 3 or 4 resident sharks and a couple of big ‘Cutta to keep them in a tight circle. Despite being harassed by the sharks a good cast almost always got eaten with the majority of the fish around 2 to 3 pounds. The schools were mainly targeted from the boats but it was wading the flats that was the real highlight. Wading was about big fish, usually in groups of 2 to 4 fish and there were some monsters.

My first wading session on day 1 resulted in a first cast hook-up to a new PB Bone of about 5 pounds (note always talk in pounds when referring to bonefish), 2nd cast got a 4 pounder, 3rd cast I landed to close and spooked him and 4th cast another PB about 5 ½ pounds. Could it get any better?  I ended day one with about 25 fish and needless to say. The hype about the best bonefishing in the world was looking true.

It is however the fisherman’s curse. When you catch a fish first cast the trip usually goes to custard. So I had some good days, particular casting to big fish wading the flats, some OK days when it was blowing 25 knots and really tough fly casting conditions, I had a shocker on the 2nd last day, not landing a single fish and then a blinder last day including my best fish of the trip on the last cast of the day and rounding out a 24 fish day that will stay with me forever.

So, about the trip.

The highlights.

Bill and his team at Mar’s Bay lodge. Having worked in hospitality my whole life I recognise a pro when I see one and lodge owner Bill Howard is amongst the best I have ever encountered. I have run remote Island resorts myself for many years and know what goes into the all-consuming effort to keep guests happy. I like the metaphor of not being able to push spaghetti. You have to pull it. You can’t push from behind, you have to lead from the front and it is very clear the relationship Bill has with his team. They would walk through fire for him and it shows. The lovely Catherine and her offsider (Vanella?) in the kitchen who took a while to get used to having an Australian in the camp. I was the first one they had ever met and it took them a while to understand the Australian sense of “taking the piss”.  I found the accents a bit tough to grasp at first, as I am sure they did with mine, but the lyrical tones of a Caribbean accent, while you’re drinking Caribbean rum, I recon actually makes it taste better. Great food. How on earth it is that the 2 best steaks I have ever eaten, anywhere, were served at Mars bay bonefish lodge. Lobster salad, conch, Tasmanian lamb racks WTF?  The conch comes with its own story. A large shellfish which is a local staple and mounds of shells piled in the bay and at the ramp. The “lips” of the mollusc which lives in the shell are eaten in all manner of ways. Think Bubba and the shrimp recipes from Forest Gump. It has the flavour and texture of soft calamari. Crumbed and fried it is yum. I have also eaten a local dish called conch stew. It is served for breakfast and I have eaten it twice. The first time and the last time. No doubt an acquired taste. Maybe the Bahamian version of vegemite on toast.

The boats and guides. Fast little flats boats, remarkably dry and soft in often very choppy seas. How the guides stayed balanced all day when polling was beyond me and while the guides don’t talk much (by chatty Australian guiding standards), they have eyes like chicken hawks and know there way around an incredibly complex waterway. I learnt a lot about bonefish in that week which I hope to put to good use finding some around home.

The lowlights. Besides leaving. It is pretty expensive in Australian dollars, but, so are some of our own remote barramundi camps, and it is a long way to go. Almost 33 hours travel time.

Worth it? Absolutely.

 

Photos in order.

1. Home for a week.

2. Bill & his pooch Buddy

3. The girls

4. Conch shells in mounds everywhere.

5. Bahamas "vegemite". Conch stew for breakfast

6. Amazing steaks. can't believe it. Best steak I have ever eaten.

7. New use for a Mount gay hat/tackle box.

8. Schools of Bones.

9. First cast hookup to a (at that time) PB

10. Same fish coming in.

11. New PB. day 2

12. Bigger new PB. Last day

13. A face full of fly

14. The ultimate personalised number plate on Phils car at Florida.

Blogging again and the new "RV"

It has been a while since I have posted but a lot has changed in the last 10 months. Work/life balance has had a radical shift, fishing has taken a bit of a back seat and cooking remains a big part of who I am and will remain so. This the first of 2 quick posts, mainly because  lot is going on and a lot of photos will be tagged. I have become, or am about to be become a "Grey Nomad". I have officially retired from day to day operation of our business and now really only have 1 employee, our CEO, who is now vested with the responsibility of our entire operation, the 300,000 meals a year we prepare and all the issues of staffing, cost control and marketing but  think we have spent the best part of the last year getting the people and systems in place so that Fish D'Vine and D'Vine Catering & Events will still be thriving in 20 years time. It is just so rewarding seeing other people step up, all with passion and pride in our company and ready to continue doing what we have been doing for 14 years. Make people happy, serve great food, answer yes to every question.

Back to the Grey Nomad "thing", we are doing it a little differently. Our big "RV" floats. Every "camp ground" we pull up in will be absolute waterfront and I don't have to pay camping fees, nor will we have next door neighbors right beside us.. I can tow a fishing boat behind without needing a trailer or ramp to launch on. (on that subject google "bubbas boat test" on you tube....& no this is not what I mean about not needing a trailer).

I am going to start blogging a lot. As I have researched becoming a water-bound grey nomad it is clear that most of what is written and posted is about yachts and sailing. I don't think the average "yachty" knows much about fishing. Throwing a lure over the back on 100 lb handline while sailing is NOT fishing. So as we travel and fish I am going to go into specifics. Creeks, tides, fish, lures, baits. I will GPS them and try to give specific detailed information on the North Queensland Coast on what is caught, how they are caught, where and when. I won't have any (or at least not many) "secret spots" unless I have been given them by others who want them kept private. But, if I find them myself, they will be published. I hope the spend the next 5 years cruising, fishing, cooking and blogging between maybe Great sandy Straights and Princess Charlotte Bay, maybe even further north. If you are a reader and want the low down on a specific area, send me a message & I'll see if I can fit it into future plans. I will mainly fish inshore. Creeks, rivers, bays and islands. I have a lovely little lightweight Cross Country X fishing boat on the back with a 40 HP Merc 4 stroke. Motor Guide electric and top range hummingbird sounder. This will do for this post. I will have a lot to "bang on about", including a recent fly fishing trip to South Andros...1 pic above and everything is right in the world. Cheers

Christmas in July

I have had a bucket list fishing trip to the pacific Bonefishing destination of Christmas Island booked since late last year. Well before Cyclone Debbie appeared over the horizon, and, thankfully, late enough to have dealt with the majority of putting things back into some semblance of order so as not to feel guilty about going away.

The trip really started when catching up with a good friend who now works for the Kiribati airline in the lounge at Nadi airport. Over a few too many bounty rums (all in the name of research) I discovered a delightful nuance of the Kiribati language and straight away it answered questions. The locals call the nation Kiribas and the actual island Christmas Island, spelt Kiritimati. Turns out that when the local language was first turned into written text by a visiting missionary the guys typewriter was missing the letter “S” so he used “ti” to signify “s” in all the written text. Hence Kiriba(ti)sAnd, delightfully, Kir-i(ti)s-ma(ti)s.

What I also discovered on landing at the unique “Cassidy international airport” on Christmas Island was a very undeveloped nation with an average annual wage of $20 a week with very shy delightfully locals somewhat in awe of the whitefella who come to fish and in turn whose holiday dollar injects enough wealth into the country that our group of some 14 people in turn supported an entire village. Polite, friendly, natural people who were a long way short of the slick, professional hospitality staff of Fiji but instead had a naive natural charm and shyness which was both enchanting and refreshing compared to the slick practiced and well trained routine I am used to.

As a fishing destination for Bonefish, fished exclusively with salt water fly fishing equipment it is hard to imagine a better place in the world. Literally miles and miles of shallow coral sand flats, small tidal flows and bonefish literally in their millions. Some years ago the government fisheries managers to their great credit, worked with industry to recognise the potential for these fish as a tourism drawcard and banned the netting of bonefish on Christmas Island.

A resultant explosion of the population followed to a point where it is possible to catch (and release) 100 fish in a single day. These “ghosts of the flats” are an ultimate fly fishing target. Hard to see but abundant. If you miss a shot there will be another in a minute or so. Highly flighty and easily spooked by a poor cast, a splash of a shadow, and, at the same time and amazingly aggressive taker of a well presented fly with any hook-up followed by an explosive run with just seems impossible for a relatively small fish.

The “bones” were always the main target but some beautiful Blue Fin Trevally, GT’s and the frustrating Trigger Fish were also regular encounters. Hard to talk much about the “plate” side of this trip as the food was, at best, pretty basic and nothing I could use in the restaurant and as to “bait”, being an all fly adventure it was about fluff, fur and feathers. A mate who came for the trip and ties his own flies actually made some, very successfully, from the fur of his pet Labrador. So instead of give a dog a bone, it became as case of give a bone a dog =).

Rather than curing me and being able to forever tick on one off  the list, I am now more hooked than the fish and will go again. Saw a lot, learnt a lot and for any fly fisherman I can say without doubt that Bonefishing on Christmas Island ranks amongst the most memorable fishing experiences of a lifetime. Couple of pics I can't seem to change format on from portrait to landscape. The birds are also protected as show no fear of man, hence they land on your head while fishing and a side shot showing the amazing colours of a Bluefin trevally.

Mulloway Season in full swing

Cyclone Debbie’s effect on all things is lingering with a really positive impact on fishing around the Islands. Reports of lots of Red Emperor and Nannygai, some cracking Coral Trout and general great fishing all around. This is often the case after a lot of rain but the winds associated with the cyclone seems to have had some unusual effects. I fish a lot in Whitehaven Bay. Having already blogged about the Hill Inlet grunter, which are still there and plentiful, I also have a few spots out in the bay proper, just a kilometre or so from the beach itself which I fish often. Last week was amazing. Glass calm conditions made for easy fishing and we caught a lot of Red Throat Emperor. In all the years I have fished the Whitsundays I have only ever caught 2 around the Islands as these are typically a fish only caught out at the reef itself. I thought the first one was a fluke but after catching 7 in a single session, where I have never seen them before, they have clearly been impacted by the weather. Another great surprise, at the same pinnacle I might add, was black Mulloway. I have caught the odd small one at this spot but they were in large numbers and large fish. After catching 3 we moved away and left them biting as they are not a fish which you can release after catching in deep water as they suffer from barotrauma and do not survive release. The pinnacle I fish also has a large resident Tiger Shark which always seems to eat at least 1 good fish every time I fish there. This time was no exception collecting a bit of “tax” as you can see in the attached photo. Hope he enjoyed it as much as I will enjoy what he left behind.

Mulloway is a great local fish, similar in looks and taste to the prized southern silver mulloway. These are also called jewfish but are all closely related. A very firm dense white flesh which breaks away in large flakes. It is a fish which will stand up to strong spices mixes, curries or is great in a fish chowder or bouillabaisse. Winter is mulloway season. You will see some turning up in our better fish retailers and speciality seafood restaurants (like ours =)) so give it a try. Fresh, local and only ever line caught this is a great sustainable fishery and so much better for us in terms of looking after the environment, local jobs and the quality of fish you get to feed you family with than anything you will find “imported and thawed for your convenience” at the supermarket.

I find shopping at supermarkets, whilst at times a great convenience, always a bit depressing, particularly looking at the produce, meats and seafood. Taking the time to visit a proper fruit and veg shop like Prickly Pineapple, a specialty butcher and a specialty local seafood supplier can be a really enjoyable experience and something the kids will love doing with you. Take them “proper” shopping and you will see them get interested not just in the produce, but also cooking, and this is a life skill we should all be encouraging.

Whitsunday's Oyster Bar

As a general “rule of thumb” oysters are best from colder waters. With 3 types of oysters grown commercially in Australia the Sydney rock and Angasi or “Australian flat” oyster are native and the more well know and common now being a Japanese import called a Pacific Oyster, which are marketed heavily in Australia as a Coffin Bay Oyster, more to do with where they are grown and a marketing name. Coffin Bay Oysters are actually Pacific Oysters and grown in South Australia and Tasmania.

In warmer climate along the reef coast the rocks are often covered in masses of tiny oyster, commonly called milkies ,which will edible are just not worth the trouble, usually being no larger than a 5 cent piece and hard to open in any case. We do however, in a few spots, have one of the best of all oysters called the “black Lip” oyster. These grow to very large size and if you know where to look are relatively common in the Whitsundays. They grow in a relatively narrow area of the tide band, below the large clumps of little oysters and often in small groups and often on the under edges of the rocks. Best places to look are along rock ledges with good strong tidal current and fairly clean water and also on very low tides. The Black Lip beds often stay submerged unless it is on the lower of the tides around full and new moon.

Black Lips are a strongly flavoured oyster which never gets the milkiness of Pacific’s or Sydney Rocks and are great straight off the rocks or made into Kilpatrick or mornay and make an amazing steak sauce.

One of my favourite overnight anchorages has a rock bar we just know as the oyster bar and to a degree it is so far up an inlet that you need to be stuck in there at low tide and wait till the tide comes back in to get out. This keeps it pretty well protected. A few locals who read this blog might know the spot, others will just have to guess, but anyone coming on a Whitsunday boating holiday should pack an oyster knife and a good pair of sturdy reef walking shoes……and a can of bushman’s insect spray.