by Ross Hunter
Pt Stephens is our second home…having fished these amazing waters since 1974 I can now walk into the local pub The Salamander Shores and be treated as a local…….mind you it took a long time to shake off that "smart arse from the city image that some country folk feel ……..even if it is not true"
Yes! To me the Port is my favourite home, a magnificent picturesque place…….the place we live for three months every year……………………….. then for the next 9 months look forward to returning
At the end of January each year my Son Glenn and my self migrate to the Port with our charter boats Broadbill and Billfisher …
The passage by sea from Botany Bay (our home port) is 110 nautical mile from pen to pen.
It is a trip which is reserved for Captain and crew ….a trip where the deckies can fish have a beer enjoy some sea food along the way,
A trip to relax before the day after day of charter work starts.
We work 110 days between the boats these days are, made up of early starts and late finishes…testing days for Captain and crew…Imagine arising at 5pm most mornings …walking to the boat, carry out the engine checks, ice down the drinks and food for the day, prepare the berley and bait for the bait grounds…. all this is 30 to 40 mins then pull out of the pen a t 6.30am fish all day knot always in flat calm conditions. Then when the action is on you are hanging on to a rampaging marlin getting your arms stretched so that you resemble an orang tan, then rig more baits, change baits ………head back to land 25 nautical mile, clean the dolphin fish and ice them down, wash gear on the way, scrub deck and hose with deck wash clean up customers scraps, ice left over bait having rigged 6 to 8 "skippers" for the next day, these are buried in ice and brine.
The boat is backed into the pen at 5pm to 6pm and the wash up and clean takes around 30 to 40 mins…day over………Hit the hay and get ready for the same to morrow.
At the Port we can work up to 14 days without a break and whilst we are professionals and have been doing this for 25 years…..one can get a little weary, especially if the weather is not kind and we are working in 20 knot winds every day.
One would have to think that we are mad to take on such a busy life but when you are born to the breed of marlin fishing
To experience the chase and the hunt, the sight of a big blue flying ever skyward or angler's first marlin experience……that smile on their face knowing they have just caught their first marlin…………..these are only some of the joys which bring you back each season keener than ever.
THE TRIP TO AND FROM
The trip to and from Port Stephens is always enjoyed as a time for the team to do what we cannot do when we are working, a little bonding between captain and crew without customers present, perhaps a beer or two and a few laughs , a bit of music on the stereo, always a fun day, a day we always look forward to.
We generally stay close to the shoreline to enjoy the scenery and personalities of the different sea side towns.. Oceanic communities, surrounded by high cliffs and white sand beaches, they look so much nicer when looking at them from Mother Ocean………..Broken Bay, Terrigal, Norah Head, Lake Macquarie Stockton Bight and then the first glimpse of Tommaree headland, the highest mountain at the heads at Pt Stephens………. A sight that is always great to see
The trip normally takes about 12.5 hours at a troll speed of anywhere from 7.5 to 9 knots.I choose always to cruise, not just as a fuel saving exercise but for the peace and quite of lazy swells that gently pass by without the scream of turbos and high revving twin Cummins diesels ……Yes! all day to get there so where's the hurry.This year on the way up we were down to 7 knots heading into a 2.5 knot south set most of the way Whereas on the trip back, three months later we cruised at 9.3 knots with current assist.
Some people ask, especially our clients "What do you reckon Ross, will it be a good season.?"
My reply is generally "Just hang on mate, I will warm up the crystal ball for you and have a look."
Whilst I have fished these waters for many years and whilst over the past 40 years my search for the ultimate marlin season has never ended there is no one who can predict the success of the next season.
The modern marlin fisherman is pretty skilled these days …what with 2 kilowatt colour sounders,GPS systems, tackle that is fool proof and in some cases side scan sonar, we have become a high tech breed…..not like the heady seventies when the fish were every where but all the fisherman had as a guide was a 3 inch compass on the dash of the 4.5 metre tinnie….. No sounder (only the rich had a sounder and most times it was an old FG 200 Furuno paper model with accompanying flashing light.
I could never figure out what the flashing light was for) and in many cases no radio……..
It makes me cringe to think about it now ..Going to sea in those tiny boats, mind you not far to sea …but then again you did not have to venture to far anyway as there where good populations of marlin at all the popular grounds…The Sir John Young Banks, Montague Island,
Bateman's Bay, Jervis Bay and to the North Pt Stephens then further north Hathead.
These were the popular Ports for the sport fisherman in the '70's……... we caught marlin back then but more from luck than good management
PICTURESQUE PT STEPHENS
I swung Broadbill's bows into Port Stephens at 5 pm Both John Giles my crewman and myself breath in the beauty and of the surrounding coastline. Pt Stephens has to be the most superb Port to enter on the coast.
The bastion of islands that shroud and protect the entrance, are the remnants of a prehistoric volcanic age.
Named by the aboriginals Boondlebah.to the south, Yaccabah, Cabbage Tree to the north and little Island the most easterly outcrop…….all surround the Tommaree Head land and as we steamed through the heads they seemed just that more picturesque, maybe it was the afternoon sun or maybe the apprehension that we were here and now ready to go and do what we do best…catch marlin. We always plan a couple of days free to do any boat maintenance, tackle preparation, and bait prep and so on.
Having done this the customers arrive .we meet them at the Sally Shores have a beer and then take them to the unit ……and tell them "See you at sparrow fart boys" The whole of February, Glenn and myself caught great catches of predominantly stripes and blacks as well as the odd blue. Most of the blues were around the 100kg but we also caught a couple of line burners around the 200 kg size.We held our tournament "The Northern Waters Invitational". This was restricted to 15 boats and was most successful with 12 boats tagging and releasing 59 marlin for the 3 day comp.We were lucky enough to win Champion Boat on Broadbill with Billfisher getting Runner up .
That was OK! …..keeping it in the family. Glenn tagged 11 we tagged 14 with Phil Bolton's team It was all good
All boats fared well "Inya Dreams" tagged 10 fish Triton 9 any many others on 5's and 6's.
We then had Mark Taylor and Merv. Hughes fish two days with us as they have done for the past few years
The lads are great fun to fish with…….. It is hard to realise sometimes that these fellows are indeed legends in the world of cricket but when they fish with you it is like fishing with your mates.They are great fun and the most unpretentious blokes you could meet and they love to fish and they're good at it .One of the highlights was when big Merv suggested he would tag the next marlin .It was Phil Emery on the rod and as we backed over to the marlin a most respectable striped of 120kg..Merv lets fly with the tag pole.As he lunges at the fish the whole pole flies through the air at great speed heading for the marlin Having seen this I give the boat a few extra revs to pick up the pole which has diss appeared 3 metres underwater only to pop back up after a short time. " Big Merv says, "I'm pretty sure I got him"We are in tears with laughter when Johnny traces the fish and low and behold there is the tag buried perfectly in the big stripes shoulder.I asked Merv."What tribe he was from?" It was a superb bit of marlin spearing"
The boys tagged 10 fish in their two days and had a ball. We tagged a swag of blacks,stripes and blues….. Most of the marlin was 70 to 80 kg average and no matter where you come from they are healthy fish…We also caught dolphin fish to 20.5 kg and yellowfin tuna to 25 kg
I recall one day in mid February…….It was a classic calm sea ,there were three boats fishing the Mosh Pit, Billfisher, Tim Dean's Calypso and myself. For the entire day one of us was hooked up and reversing up on wild marlin ….We all tagged in excess of 7 marlin each for the day and then to add a bit of icing to the cake knocked over a dozen or so dollies on the way home.
WAS IT A GOOD SEASON?
February was brilliant The two boats caught 130 fish …the water then went hot in the first week in March reaching 27 degrees and all the striped marlin being a temperate water fish headed south in the 24 degree stuff Straight into the arms of the long liners who killed 700 fish only to glut the market and to be told not to catch any more.
When will our Federal Government get this "buy out" sorted out and buy these blokes out before we have no more oceanic stocks left………….700 marlin for Christ Sake you idiots!
We worked hard all season often fishing some windy weather and sloppy seas we tagged 155 marlin between us………a good season Yeh!
However seasons are generally compared to previous seasons, for instance in '97 we tagged 248 on Broadbill alone …In '2005 we tagged 300 fish between the two boats… a season where the fish bit well for the whole stay.We get blasé sometimes,. maybe expecting too much from every season but it is probably the fact that this amazing marlin fishery never lets you down.If you went to any other port in the world and said you tagged 248 for the season they would not
At Pt Stephens we expect it…..bring on 2007