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.

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.

Who's YOUR favourite footballer?

Anyone North of Brisbane really has to say J T . In my case, as a fisho and foodie however, It is one of these “blokes”.  I catch a lot of nice coral trout and there can scarcely be a better fish on the table. Famed across Australia and in enormous demand internationally our Coral Trout ranks as one of the world’s great (and expensive) fish. They come in many colours and back a few months ago I did a blog post on the varieties we get to see and catch. Amongst these “footballers” are the star. To me, they are maybe a 1 in 500 catch, maybe even 1 in 1000. A brief weather window yesterday let me get out to the reef in marginal conditions and the fish are biting their heads off. What cyclone? A mate has coined the term “Red Piranha” for Red Throat Emperor. They are large (some amongst the biggest I have ever seen), ravenous, and everywhere, with bag limits reached inside an hour and fish after fish being released while we looked for some trout. Another 1 in 1000, or in this case only the second one I have every caught in a lifetime fishing the reef is a Coronation, or “lunar Tail” Trout. Only a little tacker but the tail is the giveaway. A stunning looking fish but will never replace my favourite footballer. Sorry JT. You are number 2, and if we win Origin on Wednesday, who knows.

In Search of Perfection (Fish & Chips)

There are dishes that we eat, things that are life’s staples that are so often cooked and served poorly. An overdone steak, soggy pizza, lumpy mashed potatoes and limp chips. We all know what they are supposed to be like but often what seem really simple dishes actually take a bit of time to get right. What makes a perfect steak? A brilliant Pizza, and, in my case, what makes the perfect Fish & Chips?

Breaking it down there are really 3 elements. The fresh fish in crunchy light batter, boneless, delicious and flaky inside. The chips. Maybe the hardest thing to get right. Golden and crunchy on the outside. Light fluffy on the inside with the tang of sea salt and maybe a splash of vinegar. Then there is the tartare sauce. Always so much better made from scratch, not from a super market bottle.

There will be quite a few photos attached to this post. A quest for the perfect fish and chips.

Let’s start with a few hours on the water in the bay at this time of year when it is flathead time. Plenty around and a couple of hours flicking soft plastic lures in the shallows rewarded me with 4 lovely fish and this humble but often underrated species is as good as it gets for a battered fish and chip lunch.

Filleted, skinned, deboned and dusted with flour. Tick. Job 1 done.

The chips. Big waxy potatoes, cut to uniform size and triple cooked. First in a steamer for about 8 minutes till they soften. Drain and refrigerate. 2nd cook in fresh oil at 160 degrees for about 4 to 5 minutes till the chips just start to colour. Again set aside to cool, and then, just after the fish itself is cooked, back into 180 degree oil till golden and crunchy. I know this sounds like a lot of messing around just for the humble chip, but, trust me, it is worth it.

The batter. First rule, it has to be cold, really cold. Make it and set it aside in the fridge (or even the freezer) for 20 minutes or so. A lot of chefs use just beer as the batter liquid but I find it has too much sugar and colour and it goes dark brown, often before the fish is cooked. I like to use 50/50 beer and ice cold water and whisk in enough flour to make a batter about the consistency of thickened cream. It has to be set aside to rest. If you use it straight away it will be “fluffy” and full of bubbles when cooked.

On to the sauce (getting hungry yet?). 2 egg yolks, whisked while slowly adding light oil. I like peanut oil. Not strongly flavoured oils such as olive oil. Whisk in about a cup of oil till a thick mayonnaise has formed. Add the fine vest of a lemon, juice of 1 medium lemon, equal parts finely diced dill pickles/gherkins and capers (2 gherkins and about a large tablespoon of capers), a grind of black pepper and done. It should not need salt as this comes from the capers but add if needed to taste.

We are almost done. Dust the flathead fillets in flour, drape through the cold batter, letting the excess drain a little and slide into oil at about 160/170 degrees till golden brown. Turn up the heat on you fryer, smash the chips through for their third cook, crack a nice bottle of chardy and the perfect Fish & Chips is served. Enjoy!

Life (and fishing) after Debbie

Happy to report the reef fish are still abundant and just as delicious after cyclone Debbie. Even in fairly rough conditions our local commercial fisherman have been to sea over the last week and are supplying great quality Red Throat Emperor, Coral Trout, Nannygai and all the usual reef “suspects”. I even had my first day off since the cyclone yesterday and popped out on the water for a little look (and a quick fish). The area looks a bit like a beautiful girl after a big night out. Lippy a little smudged, mascara running a bit and a bit dishevelled, but still, a beautiful girl (or hunky guy to be non-sexist).

Plenty of good quality fish around including a cracking Blue Spot Coral Trout and a whopping big Flowery Cod which I released. There are nice to eat but better to let them swim away with plenty of more abundant species for the table to catch. This is about as big as I have ever seen a Flowery Cod and they are a strikingly beautifully patterned fish. Reports from the reef is that Red Throat are showing up in almost plague proportions and we will have these as a special in the restaurant over the weekend.

Speaking of this weekend our catering team is doing big things. The Mango Growers conference on Bowen with 240 delegates for 3 days and nights and the variety Club Jet Trek into Airlie Beach for another 250 hardy souls so we are doing 2 dinners and a lunch for them as well. Never a dull moment.

Pop in for some fresh RTE (Red Throat Emperor) or Coral Trout over the weekend. As fresh and can be and supporting, through us, another local small business operator.

Debbie does Airlie

I have not been blogging much of late, or fishing much either over a busy Christmas, Chinese New Year and end of busy season wind down. I have a few trips in the camera and had a few stories in the pipeline but everything has been overwhelmed by what happened on 27th March. A day now carved into Whitsunday history.

For anyone who wants to really know what it is like I am just posting 2 links. One is to a savage, emotional youtube video posted by a local and in the vain of a "picture tells a thousand words", nothing can compare. The other is a link to a fishing chat page is visit from time to time, where I fatefully decided to do a live blog on the experience of riding out a cyclone. It gets a bit raw as the penny drops that this was not just another cyclone. It was the 1 in 100 year monster nobody though would ever hit us.


Of Clouds and Silver Linings

While it is a great disappointment for all the visitors to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays to have a monsoonal low pressure system, virtually parked on top of us for the last few days, and seemingly intent on hanging around for a few more days yet, it does have a small silver lining. We have had very poor (or good if you are holidaying here) wet seasons as far back as cyclone Yasi in 2011. No rain means no barramundi, or at the very least, very poor spawning recruitments each season.

Every year, in November, December and January, the big Salt Water female Barramundi school in the mouths of local rivers waiting for the full moon. In our case the full moon is just a few days away. They need more than just the moon. Barramundi spawning is triggered by both the full moon and a flush of fresh water coming down the river. When the 2 collide it is a perfect breeding “storm” for the barramundi as the fry will make their way upstream, towards the smell and taste of the fresh water and make their way into the flood plain lagoons.

At the same time, fish which have for many years now, been trapped in the lagoons due to low water flows and no floods, will make their way down river into the salt water reaches of the river and out into the bay.

Every year the local commercial fleet waits for the flush of fresh to fire up the “Barra” and every year, as the season opens on February 1st for both recreational and commercial fishing it is a great disappointment if the barramundi have not spawned because there has been no decent rain.

Not this year. They will spawn next week, with plenty of water flowing down the rivers and off the flood plains. We will have a great year for Barramundi, a great year for local banana prawns and a great year for mud crabs, all because of the rain falling over the last week.

Bad news for the tourists, hard for those of us in business and reliant on tourism customers but, every cloud has a silver lining and in our case that will be the silver sides of great local salt water barramundi.

The rain will pass, the sun will shine again and cycle of wet seasons and dry seasons will continue for this area which is in what is known as the “dry tropics” and does not get the “set your clock” monsoons of areas further North.

When a read just a few weeks ago that the weather “experts” were predicting a dryer than normal wet season for North Queensland this year I warned our staff to get ready for a big wet.  Seems to me that the “experts” got just about everything else wrong in 2016 so why would this be any different.

The Bucket list

The movie “bucket list” has helped invent a term now used commonly in the modern vocabulary and helped crystallise future planning for many of us “baby boomers” and none more so than fisherman. Having fished (and cooked) a lifetime and nearing retirement there are “bucket list” experiences planned for the next few years, just as there have been bucket list experiences ticked off along the way. Things like jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane. I have always equated that experience to experiencing a serious cyclone up close. A little bit frightening, a little bit exciting, really glad to have done it, but never want to do it again. In the world of food my most vivid experiences over the last few years revolve around some of the great taste icons. Truffles, caviar, fresh Porcini mushrooms. 20 year old Grange Hermitage wine and Absinth and while some of these experiences have come with big price tags, some have been more modest and all of them underpinning just why these food icons have actually achieved their status in the food world.

On to the “real deal”, the fishing, or more specifically the fish I have on my bucket list, I have been lucky enough after a lifetime of angling to catch most of the amazing species of fish we have in Australia but have a few to go with one fish at the top of the totem pole. Still on my bucket list are dog tooth tuna, a brown trout on fly, a permit and a King George whiting  but my all-time number 1 is (or should I now say was) a Bonefish. Not a fish for the pan this iconic sportfish is the number 1 fly fishing target almost the world over. An inhabitant of sand cays and reef flats it is a fish pursued almost exclusively with a fly rod and a fish which has spawned entire tourism industries in places like Artutaki Lagoon in the Cook Islands and Kiribati in the pacific. Fly fishers travel from all over the world, just to chase “Bones”. A few weeks ago, in pursuit of my own bucket list dreams I booked 6 days at Kiribati on a bone fishing holiday, finally ready to join this club. They are present in the Whitsundays but a fish of rumour, legend and no specific pattern and my times trying to find them have never even resulted in me seeing one. I have only ever seen one dead one in the flesh, caught on a hand line, baited with a piece of kabana, off the back of a yacht moored on Whitehaven beach.

As you will have now guessed I have lost my “Bonefish Cherry” but in the most remarkable circumstances and deep down feel a little cheated by the experience. A fish of the shallow sand flats, hunted with stealth and some level of fly fishing skill, requiring tiny shrimp and crab fly’s to compensate for their tiny mouths my “Bone” was just bizarre. It came at 2am in the morning, in 180 feet of water with a 10/0 (read LARGE) hook and ½ a big squid for bait. Caught with a 6 ounce snapper lead, 60 lb trace and 80 lb braid on a heavy reef fishing rod.

My wife tells me I now don’t have to do to Kiribati, I have caught my Bonefish. Nope, I was cheated. Like winning lotto the day before you fall off the perch. To see this ball of amazing sleek muscle, up close and personal, to marvel at the sheer strength and density of the fish, like holding a lump of hardwood timber, has only made me keener to catch one “properly”. Maybe. With some luck I can even try some Coconut Crab on the way through Fiji and tick off a foods bucket list on the way.

I am going in July and will do a blog post on the fishing, the food and the culture of Kiribati and Fiji along the way.