THE LAST KIMBERLEY CRUISE FOR 2016
The boss reckoned I needed a holiday and hatched a cunning plan behind my back. I was instructed that I had to fly to Broome for a week and spend 5 days aboard the MV Great Escape chasing Barramundi and the other wonderful sportfish the Kimberley had to offer. I wasn’t sure what to say, but an expletive may have been yelled before the word “YEAH!!!” was. It had been over 15 years since I had left old Broome town which I called home for many years, and to say I was keen to get back was a bit of an understatement. I needed to enlist the help of a good mate Bradd who was also a light tackle nut like myself, but also handy with a camera. He also yelled the same words. Our only dilemma was how to take all the rods, reels and lures and still keep our bags below our allowed 10kg limit? I had already packed the night he told me we were going, but 7 rods with matching reels and 4 trays of lures was over 20kg without the addition of clothes! And so the cull began. It took me 3 weeks to get down to the correct weight. I bet Danny Green couldn’t shred that quick.
Harry had us booked into the Broometime Lodge where I had stayed a few times before under the old name of Ocean Lodge, which is literally situated right in the middle of Chinatown and Cable Beach. It’s a top little place to base yourself as a Taxi is only twelve bucks in any direction. Broometime Lodge have always looked after the Fishing Western Australia crew when on filming trips to the region and the familiar surroundings when we arrived got me a little teary. But the Roey was calling and we were thirsty. I had a plan of my own for Bradd who had never been this far north before, and a short stroll up the hill to the Mangrove Hotel was in order as the sun set to witness the famous Staircase to the Moon.
We awoke in our comfy beds back at the lodge slightly bleary eyed, but very bushy tailed, as Bradd and I were about to experience something that should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list. I was picked up by Toni from the Great Escape Charter Company first, Bradd was to join us later, and we swung past the Cable Beach Club to collect a lovely elderly Texan couple, Frank and Anne. Toni took us to the airport to where the Cesna was waiting. Flying out to Mt. Hart Station, the views across this vast, ancient landscape were only a tiny taste of what we were about to experience.
James was preparing the Great Escapes Bell Jet Ranger helicopter when we arrived at Mt. Hart and greeted us with cold drinks. We piled aboard and started the next leg of our journey. James filled the headset with his knowledge and history of how the sandstone and basalt country below us was formed as he smoothly navigated his way to Doubtful Bay, where the magnificent MV Great Escape, a custom built 26m catamaran that is more like a floating 5 star hotel, and her crew were waiting.
Our Skipper Dan welcomed us aboard with a couple of the crew and showed us out to the back deck where a few of the other guests and crew were waiting with a welcome aboard drink. Once the rest of the guests had been ferried in by James, Dan formally introduced his crew and gave us a brief rundown of this amazing vessel and a brief overview of where we will be travelling and what we’ll be doing at the various anchorages he had meticulously picked out for our Four Night Kimberley Fishing Extravaganza.
The plan for the rest of the day was to cruise out of the inlet around past Red Cone Hill and Storr Island over a seafood paella lunch, and into George Water where we would drop anchor and get out for a flick in the four tenders snaking behind the ship. This gave us all an opportunity to mingle and get our gear ready for our first assault on the iconic Barramundi. It was only a brief session, with not a lot hooked, as we had to get up into the Barlee Impediment with the making tide, but it was so good to dust off those cold, southern cobwebs and loosen the shoulders a bit. With the water level rising, Dan fired the ship up and we tonked into the Barlee which he and his crew talked up a little.
Back in the tenders, guides Sam, Doc, Natters and Dan took us all to different areas of the Barlee. We gave a good couple of hour’s solid casting at drains and nervous schools of mullet, but the sheer numbers of baitfish present would mean the Barramundi being sluggish with so many easy meals around this vast mangrove system. It eventuated as a very slow session at the start of the run out with only a couple of fish sighted, but I did manage a small Golden Trevally, Catfish and a decent Pikey Bream, a first for me on a lure. A Queenfish and Fingermark Bream were landed by one of the other tenders. The sun was well and truly setting by the time we got back to where the rest were waiting with hors d'oeuvres and refreshments. After dinner was out of the way, Dan moved around the mouth of the Glenelg River and anchored up for the night.
We awoke early to catch the incoming tide as the sunrise lit up the spectacular red mountains surrounding us. A quick light breakfast of toast, cereal and a fresh fruit platter washed down with a good black coffee had us fueled up for what was about to happen. Our guide Sam got the heads up from the skipper to take Bradd and myself around to a small feeder creek near the mouth. As we made our way there, we motored past guide Natter’s tender that consisted of Mike and Erica with their father Trevor, who was onboard for his seventieth birthday. First we heard a hoot, then we saw a mammoth head erupt from the water next to their boat. Natters netted what turned out to be the perfect birthday present a bloke could ask for, a 102cm silver saltwater Barra! After a couple of quick snaps, the big girl swam off strongly with Mike getting the whole thing on Go-Pro. We were rapt for Trev and hoped to do the same ourselves.
The excitement in Sam’s voice grew after this sight and his running commentary of the landscape showed his true passion for the Kimberley and a real love of his job as we entered the very fishy looking creek. The bait gathering at the various drains emptying into the system were copping the occasional “boof” from their ambushing attackers as we tried to keep a cool head amongst the brewing excitement. The go to lure of choice for all the guides were Rob Gaden’s Classic 120’s in the dirty water and are undoubtedly the most consistent Barramundi taker across the whole top end, but Bradd and I both went with slightly smaller offerings in the Yo Zuri Crystal Minnows. We hammered a few likely spots with only a brief hook up recorded and a couple of yellow tails sighted and we all thought the numbers of baitfish in this system would be making life difficult for us again. A final move to a promising looking feeder drain near the start of this creek had us fishing slightly cleaner water with a lovely eddy forming from the corner of the mud bank which provided the Barra with perfect holding positions for ambushing their prey.
The lures were launched at cruising yellow tails sighted hard against the bank, and second cast I came up tight with what felt like a very good fish. It didn’t jump and the fight was deep which is a characteristic of big Barramundi, but after a short fight, a fowl hooked Queenfish with the trebles embedded near its anal fin, came to the net and went berserk on the deck of our boat, tangling the lure up nicely. It was the first time I had seen my new 4-8kg Pflueger Trion load up under the weight of a fish and the control I had was impressive. The time spent before the trip crushing the barbs on all our lures certainly helped in removing the hooks from this mess and I was into it again very quickly after releasing the fish. The baitfish continued to get hammered all around us and my next cast got belted too, but the hooks missed their target, so I let the lure sit for a second or two. Another twitch and a lovely silver slab jumped clean out of the water with my gold Yo Zuri hanging out of its mouth. With the net waiting in Sam’s hands already, the simple task of guiding our first Barra to it went smoothly after a few more leaps. At 63cm, it wasn’t big, but it was certainly a relief to get the monkey off our back so to speak. For the next hour or so, it was absolute mayhem with myself landing seven, Sam boating five and Bradd getting his first wild Barramundi ever at 65cm. We all dropped a few fish each boat side with lures getting spat in all directions, including a very good fish who was well over 80cm that rubbed through my 30lb fluorocarbon leader before she could find the net. All fish went back as Bradd and I, although we don’t mind a feed of fresh fish, prefer to see them swim away strongly. We had to leave the fish biting as the MV Great Escape needed enough water to leave George Water and Doubtful Bay and to get to our next anchorage of Mud Bay to the north. It was a hot little session and one that’ll be replayed around campfires for years to come.
With lunch of slow cooked pulled beef with a warm fennel and kumara salad waiting for us, we all sat down and swapped stories of the morning’s shenanigans, with plenty of handshakes, high fives and celebratory drinks as Dan steered us through the breathtaking scenery. His tender consisted of frequent Great Escapers’ Chris and Brenda and were joined by Texan Frank who had a hard time with backlash and overruns on his new Abu Revo baitcast reels. Dan asked me if it would be OK for Frank to join our tender for a bit of guidance and tips and after the morning we had, I didn’t mind laying my rod down to get our international guest his first fish. It turned out a great move and I had Frank casting like a man possessed with minutes. From memory only a small Estuary Cod was landed by him in Mud Bay, but he was happy being able to cast again, while the rest of us pulled donuts.
Dinner that night was another five star affair from chef Boppy, with fresh Fingermark, Mangrove Jack and Barramundi all caught from the other tenders that morning in the Glenelg, accompanied with steamed carrots, asparagus and sweet potato which was a bit of a struggle to get through after the pre-dinner nibbles of fresh Queenfish Sashimi. Dan moved the vessel to Raft Point while we dined and we settled in for the night. As we slept through the early hours of the morning he pushed up into Eagle Creek which he described as a system with some very promising rock bars that the tide would cover and allow us some brief access to tight, snaggy mangrove fishing.
As the sun turned on its morning glow, the vista lit up through our bedroom windows almost at water level and I was out on the back deck before my second eye opened. A very quick bite was grabbed along with a caffeine fix before we set out to explore what this system had to offer. We got to the first rock bar and immediately saw our quarry, but once again, they were a little sluggish and only a couple of halfhearted follows were managed. Dan called across to us and told Bradd and myself to do a bit of rock hopping and fish the pool ahead of us with the last of the run out tide. That was never going to happen with me, but non-croc-savvy Bradd leapt from the tinny and bounded across the rocks keen to hit the pool before it saw another lure. Sam and I played it safe and waited all of ten minutes for the water to come up over the top before we could get Bradd back onboard. Whilst the other tenders went back downstream to fish other parts, we pushed further up Eagle Creek with the making tide and knew this place would go off as the water topped out, but we had to get back for Boppy’s take on the classic bacon and eggs. She made cutting fishing excursions short well worthwhile as you never wanted to miss what she would come up with next!
The plan that afternoon was to get a little blue water pelagic action as the creeks had been fishing very slowly and Dan took us out to the Kingfisher Islands about 30km east of Koolan Island and 18km from the mainland over lunch. Queenfish, Mackerel and a number of Trevally species all inhabit the oxygen rich, fast flowing channels between the main islands and the upwelling from the submerged reefs and rock bars created the perfect conditions for them to hunt. And hunt they did! Everyone got hook ups from all four tenders as the guides weaved in and out of each other working the current lines. Double hook ups became the norm. Tangled lines became an issue for us as we were all trolling different style lures. Frank was going to run the Classic 120, which may have worked, but I tied on a Halco Laser Pro 120 in the pink/chrome colour to ensure the 72yo would get amongst the action as this was my go to blue water pelagic lure. He landed three very solid Queenfish to add to his impressive list of fish he had caught around the globe, which pulled so hard in the current, he had to thumb the spool to increase the drag pressure. Bradd also managed a couple which was good, as the Queenie was one of those he had yet to tick off his list. Frank tried to give my battered lure back to me, but that little piece of Fremantle history had to go home with him to hang on the wall back at the ranch in Texas as a reminder of his visit to W.A. It was smiles all round that night as our aching shoulders slumped around the table for scrumptious crispy skinned duck and curry followed by apple and almond pie with an indulgent chocolate sauce. As he did every evening after the main meal, Dan stood up and explained in detail where we had been and the plan for the next day. He wanted to take us into Talbot Bay for a bit of sightseeing as everyone needed a break from fishing and the promise of a swim in a fresh water rock pool sounded too enticing.
Dropping anchor in the gorgeous Talbot Bay, we were joined by one of the areas pets, a large Tawny Shark that just cruised the surface right at the stern of the mothership, waiting for an offering. Bradd even managed to give it a little scratch on the head a couple of times, of which the shark seemed to like. Our Tawny friend was soon joined by another, obviously jealous of Bradd’s advances, and they hung around all night posing for photographs at will. By sun up, there were three mooching around the back deck. There used to be a pearl farm that operated here for years and these sharks would hang around the back of the farms moored houseboat patiently waiting for a discarded chop or snag. They have grown accustomed to human presence and showed no fear or aggression toward us intruders.
The Horizontal Waterfalls, more affectionately known as the “Horries”, are an adrenaline junkies must do activity. The power of the water emptying out of the two bays through four meter and seven meter wide bottlenecks in the ancient rock formations makes for an incredible spectacle either by boat or chopper. There can be up to four meters difference in the water levels on the spring tides between the bays as they empty and fill twice every day. We all split up into the tenders and our guides took us through the turbulent waters of the first gap quite safely. The last boat through was guide Doc and his passengers. It was his first time through at the helm and the smile on his face on the other side said it all. Such is the vastness of the Kimberley, even after all the trips the MV Great Escape’s family had done in the past, there is always something new they each get from every cruise they do.
After our little heart starter for the day, we cruised around to Phoenix Bay for one last fish. Sam, Bradd, Frank and I went exploratory casting, looking for rock bars and drains that were holding bait and fish. I was throwing a small, paddle tailed soft plastic for something different while the others stuck to the Classic’s and Yo Zuri’s that worked previously. The small plastic paid off with a steady stream of small Golden Trevally and the odd Queenfish coming aboard to say g’day, while the Yo Zuri managed a Queenfish or two and got buzzed right under our noses by a very respectable Barra. Doc’s punters went back to cool off on the boat, but he wasn’t finished and returned to grab Bradd and go for a look further upstream which left a little time for Sam and I to get Frank his first elusive Barra. We found a small tidal creek slowly filling with the incoming tide and the big Diamondback Mullet making their way up the meandering channel screamed potential. We sighted two separate fish and pointed each one out to Frank, who in turn, landed the perfect casts for both. Both hooked up, but the leaping headshakes in this skinny water saw the line go slack through a little Barramundi inexperience and the lure came flying back at us twice. Unfortunately for Frank, this was to be the last chance he got at landing that fish he came to Australia for, but he would leave with a whole lot of new knowledge that can only be gained by being there.
That afternoon, a few passengers and crew took a couple of tinnies up to a small gorge to Banyan Pool for a most refreshing swim. The sound of the waterfall in this shaded spot made a perfect place to just stop and reflect on the trip we had just experienced. Tranquil is the only way to describe it. Back on board, we gathered for our final evening aboard this luxurious vessel and the Skipper sailed us past Koolan Island around to Silver Gull Creek for sunset drinks and nibbles on the bow around the spa. It was a nice way to finish the trip recounting the friendships made and times we had shared, both passengers and crew alike. Our final dinner was out on the back deck with all staff joining us for another gastronomic delight. Boppy had turned a simple steak, eggs and chips into something stunning. A thick cut fillet that was cooked so tender it parted when you looked at it, with crispy twice cooked duck fat chips and the egg transformed into a velvety hollandaise sauce to lavish a simple but spectacular dish. A little molten chocolate cake ensured the food coma to follow was the real deal.
After the meal, the Skipper gathered his crew together and thanked each one of them for all their hard work they had done to keep us all so comfortably catered for during this experience. They then presented the guests with a few mementos from the Great Escape Charter Company and we all expressed our appreciation for the crew’s efforts. All agreed that will definitely be back to see more of the Kimberley on board the majestic MV Great Escape. Retiring to the lounge, we were treated to a slideshow of images passengers and crew had taken over the last four days, compiled by Natters, Christin and James.
While we slept, our floating home glided silently out of Silver Gull Creek, through Yampi Sound and past the Buccaneer Archipelago and across King Sound to Cygnet Bay, the oldest operating pearl farm in Australia. We were picked up by the Cygnet Bay amphibious inflatable and transferred by bus to the Cesna. Touching down in Broome, we were greeted by Toni for her last time, as she was about to embark on an adventure of her own.
To Dan (Skip), Martina (Boppy), Daniel (Doc), Nathan (Natters), Sam (Legend), Christin (Essen Sie etwas Nahrung) and James (Flyboy), thank you for making this unforgettable experience and for showing us why you do what you do in your beautiful playground. And to our new friends that shared this experience with us, I’m sure we’ll see you here again.
If you have never been on a cruise on with The Great Escape Charter Company, you have never been on a great escape!
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