Archived Reports - Old Gold (under construction)
Four days driving or four hours flying. Which would you choose? I last did the drive in 1999 and made it in 3.5days to Weipa from Brisbane, but this time we did it in style. I drove out of my Springwood office at 3:30pm, and Bob pulled out of his Melbourne office at 5pm. By 3pm the following arvo we were boarding the “Pikkuw”, moored in the Archer River at Aurukun. The travel involved flights to Cairns from our respective home ports, a night (and several beers) in Cairns, a visit to Erskine’s tackleshop (not that we needed any more lures) and another flight in a 10 seat Cesna (I think, but it was a bloody small aircraft) from Cairns to Aurukun.
The adventure started with the two hour Skytrans flight from Cairns to Aurukun. We flew at 10,000 feet and had a great view of the Cape’s topography and shoreline when in view. The number of tracks, both minor and major that crisscrossed the Cape was amazing. As were the number of isolated billabongs and rivers. It made me feel like getting down there in a 4WD and exploring, for months, but all we had was one week.
As the Skytrans flight neared Aurukun, the vast wetlands and delta of the Archer, Ward and Watson Rivers came into view. These, plus the beaches and Love River to the south were to be our piscatorial paradise for the next week.
We arrived onboard Pikkuw, which in Aboriginal language means Crocodile, at 3pm on Thursday the 30th of November, 2006 and weren’t due to leave until midday the following Wednesday, 6th of December. The Captain of the Pikkuw is Bob Fraser and our guide for the trip was Tim O’Reilly. Tim dropped us onboard and headed back to shore to store the vehicle while Bob ran us through a safety induction and familiarisation of the Pikkuw. One of the safety rules was that all hooks, including trebles had to be barbless or have the barbs crimped down. What a “pain in the a*se” I thought, but after weighing anchor and cruising down toward the mouth of the Archer and then heading off for our first fishing session with Tim, I soon learnt the value of Bob’s wisdom.
There were queenfish smashing bait all over the place, and on about my third cast I was hooked into a lively little queeny, which I quickly brought aboard. I reached down to grab my first fish of the trip, and did so by grasping the B52. Of course the queeny kicked, the B52 slipped and I ended up with a treble in my left index finger – bugger! It wasn’t over though as the other treble was firmly implanted in the jaw of queeny #1, and queeny being a typical lively fellow, kicked again and the treble was driven fully to the base of the hook gape.
Yes, I let out an anguished cry, but at no time did I scream like a girl, as Bob is quick to claim.
Tim quickly despatched queeny #1 from treble #2 and asked me if I was sure I had fully crimped down the barb…. Thank God I did, as it popped out so easily and we fished on as though nothing had happened.
Afternoon one resulted in several small queenies for Bob and I before the day was called and we headed back to the Pikkuw for dinner and a beer. Dinner comprised of roast lamb and vegies, and was first class. Given this area is covered by the alcohol restrictions of the Aurukun shire, beers were only served in strict moderation after 5pm. Over the coming days we really came to appreciate our beers after 12 hour days in the tropical sun.
Friday – day two. Tim took us offshore. Not like I take Alchemy offshore, but Cape York style close offshore. Tim’s weapon of choice is a 475 Edge Tracker with a 60hp Yamaha four stroke. Being a plate boat fan (namely Fisher) I was a little dubious about stepping aboard this pressed tinnie. Particularly given my experience with the Quintrex banging brigade. I gotta say I was surprised at this boat’s ability to handle the infamous NQ chop.
We spent the morning cruising north along the spectacular red cliffed coastline, and stopped at isolated patches of shallow rocky country and headlands. The headlands really fired for us. After a few prospecting casts the first lure got smashed amongst the rocks, and the first barra of the trip was boated. Not a huge barra, but at around the 70cm mark Bob was stoked. Then it was my turn and I was into a similar sized fish. My turn again, and again, and again. I got into a run of B52 munching barra and it was great.
Bob wasn’t far behind either, getting into a good run of barra, but Bob had a different tactic in mind. While my back was turned, he quickly assembled his 9wt fly rod, tied on a gold furry looking thing and dropped a cast right in front of the rocks. Twitch, twitch… the fly wafted for only moments before being inhaled by a barra. Like many of the lure caught barra, the fly caught fish jumped, but seemingly more so. It was a real joy to watch the fly show.
The fly accounted for a good half a dozen fish in as many casts. I had to have a turn, so reluctantly Bob handed the fly to me. I had hardly fly cast before. If only I could get this fly to land more than 10 feet from the boat! On about my sixth pathetic attempt at casting the fly landed a full 11 feet from the boat and it was nailed. The loose line tore from the deck at a rate of knots and when I came up tight to the rod the speed of the line cut a small rooster tail. What was this speedster – a jump – a tarpon. My first fly caught fish, a nice tarpon. Satisfied, I handed the fly gear back to Bob.
Amongst the barra a few good cod came over the side, and one of these was kept for lunch. Tim nosed the tinnie into the beach at a spot named Waterfall Creek. Here Tim baked the cod as the Aborigines have shown him; gut cavity stuffed with leaves and wrapped in paperbark. What a superb lunch. It could only have been better if it was a barra. After lunch we hit the headlands again, plus some of the shallow scattered rocks that were too shallow to fish in the morning. Again more barra were nailed by the classic slow retrieve of the gold B52 with the intermittent double downward twitch of the rod tip. We found the B52 a great lure due to the relative neutral buoyancy. That is it floats, but not too quick to rise to the surface, thus allowing it to remain under water longer and allowing an action to be imparted on the lure more easily.
Day two’s fishing came to a close around 5:30pm when we arrived back at the Pikkuw. We guestimate that we boated 40 barra this day, plus the many that escaped by throwing hooks, or getting us back amongst the rocks. Dinner tonight was the skippers task and Bob F turned out a great spread of fresh crumbed fish, chips and salad.
Saturday, day three – again another offshore adventure. I was really keen to fight a fingermark as I hadn’t caught one previously. Tim took us to a shallow reef north west of the Archer River mouth in about 20 feet. Offshore, 20 feet of water – how good is this. I was lucky enough to have been gifted a swag of Bozo soft plastic lures and jig heads for the trip. I tied one of these to my Gary Howard Samurai baitcaster, which was armed with a new Shimano Curado 300DSV, spooled with 30lb Tuff-Line braid. First drop and the Bozo was smashed by a fingermark. Drop two, and belted again. Bob managed the best fingerie of the session, and I boated 10 smaller models. The Bozo 3 “ SP is a paddle tail job with a great action. These were free spooled to the bottom. If they weren’t smashed on the drop, all that was needed was a few bounces on the bottom and they were quickly inhaled by the resident fingermark. I decided to try one of the 6” Bozos on my heavy 50lb baitcaster. What can I say. I got smashed, then smoked by something really good! After this the fish went a bit quiet, so we decided to head off to harass the headland barra again.
We managed another few barra around the headlands before deciding to head back for lunch and an afternoon camp in the air conditioned comfort of the Pikkuw. It was a bit of a climate shock to both Bob and I the tropical summer, but after a couple of hours R&R, we were ready to go again. We loaded up the crab pots and headed off to set these. Once the pots were set we went exploring a drain in the Archer. Here we found barra working the run off of the falling tide in relatively open water. The lure of choice was a 3” Leads Hijacker, in gold and white. We managed a few barra from around the sticks at this creek mouth, but most came from the open run off area. Here I fished the leads lure on a Gary Howard 4 – 6kg Shikari baitcaster, Daiwa Millionaire reel spooled with 20lb fireline. The lighter Shikari was a joy to use in comparison to the heavier Samurai, but it was horses for courses and the Shikari was a great match to the conditions.
Day four, Sunday and it was time to point the bow in a southerly direction and head for the Love River. What a name. Love River, and we indeed fell in love with this superb estuary. Approaching from the north, the mouth is hard to distinguish. There are low sand banks on either side and it could easily be passed by. Initially we cast to snags along the northern bank, just inside the mouth which produced barra. There was quite a steep drop off and high bank that begged us to troll, so we did, and again we caught barra. It is here we caught our biggest barra of the trip. Both Bob and I scored one each in the mid to low 80cm range. I was particularly happy with mine as I caught it on my 4-6kg Shikari. It was a long slow fight as I had just pulled the hooks on an even bigger fish, so once clear of the bank, the drag was eased to reduce the chances of any hooks pulling.
A little further up the river on the southern bank was a camp and three boats. They departed fairly early, heading north toward Weipa I guess. I can see why they’d make the weekend trek to the Love. After the morning session in the lower reaches the call for lunch in the shade was made. Tim found a large old tree overhanging the bank, to which we tied to. Lunch was had, and a siesta on the deck was in order. We all dozed for about 20 minutes, when awoken by a massive splash. What the…. Bob and I were first to be bolt upright, and what we saw was incredible. A huge spinning bullsh*t shark. This thing must have been five metres if it was an inch. We sat up in time to see this shark clear the water by more than it’s pec fins, spin and drop to create another huge splash. It wasn’t seen again, and we could hardly sleep after seeing that! So we untied and headed upstream.
What type of shark was it Bob F asked after we returned. Well we replied, it looked like a bull shark, and it jumped and spun. Hence the naming of the spinning bullsh*t shark….
Ok, back to the Love and we rounded a couple of bends and the river opened up to a huge expanse of open water. Tim took us across to one side where we fished a creek for another 10 – 15 barra, some jacks, plus some lost lures, but the heat in this creek sent us back out to the open to target the mangrove fringes where we got similar numbers of barra to the creek.
On the way into the Love we noticed a lone log in shallow water at the mouth. We dragged a quick 10 barra from here as an entrée and decided to try it again on the way home later in the day. Barra seemed to be everywhere, including lone log. They weren’t big barra. Probably averaged 55 – 60 cm, but geez could they go. They had us under that log, over that log and around that log. Must have been the training in the semi surf environment. Our afternoon log assault accounted for another 25 on the way home. A brilliant way to end our Love River visit.
We arrived back at the south arm of the Archer late afternoon, and Tim suggested we throw a few casts at a fairly non descript mangrove bank, that met with a sandy beach. Good call Tim. What I didn’t initially notice was the back eddy just off the mangroves. I’m still amazed at the knowledge Tim has acquired about the fishing environment around Aurukun. One day out on the open beaches Tim suggested I cast to a solitary rock. The cast was long, landing just on the far side. One turn of the handle, and a barra shot out of the brine, lure in mouth, landing on my side of the rock. How good was that, and it was even better when the fish was boated.
Back to the south arm, and we started by tossing the ever reliable B52s around. We nailed some good barra along the mangrove edge, but as the sun set we heard the first boof. B52s removed and poppers tied on. Bob chose a Cotton Cordell Pop ‘R’. This popper was dynamite. Bob nailed barra after barra with the subtle, yet enticing action imparted on this lure, while I tried different poppers, fizzers etc from my lure collection in an attempt to catch up. This little popper with beefed up trebles was unbeatable. We must have boated 30 to 40 barra in this session with Bob nailing the majority. We found a lot of our lures had trebles that just couldn’t handle the braid ‘n’ barra combo. A couple had the tow and treble mounts twisted or pulled out and Bob had one lure get the bib snapped clean off by a cod.
Day 5 – Monday, and we’re starting to realise time in this paradise is running out, but lets not dwell on that. Today Tim guides us up the Ward River, which is one of the three major rivers in this Archer system. The day started slow, or at least that’s how it seemed after the preceding days fishing. We fished a deepish mid river hole where Tim pulled a little threadie on a Bozo SP. From here we headed further upstream while an early season storm began to chase us down. We tried out-running this storm, but to no avail. Tim found a nice little gap in the mangroves and the boat was nosed in, protected from the full force of the tropical storm. Every day, except today, I took my spray jacket. Why not today? Bob and Tim didn’t don their ponchos, and the three of us stood in the rain. Surprising how cold it can get up there. One minute its mid thirties, the next you’re shivering in the rain.
Once the storm passed, we headed back down the river to where it opens into a large lake, with an island off to one side. The lake around the island was shallow, dotted with small mangroves growing in the open. This looked fishy. We fired off casts toward the islands fringing mangroves, plus those in open water. It wasn’t long till we found barra. Then another, and another. Not unlike my rock jumping barra, I hooked one next to a tinny mangrove. This barra leapt, and landed in the middle of the mangrove, suspended above its watery home. A kick and it dropped back in, but it wasn’t over. He proceeded to get me into the mangrove roots back against the island. This fish didn’t deserve to be caught! After Tim manouvered the edge tracker in close, I managed to unwind the braid from the roots and boat the trips unluckiest barra.
Reaching into the water here in this lake was a big no no. There were literally hundreds of box jellyfish, everywhere. We couldn’t leave though, as this was a true barra honey hole. We estimate we hooked into 50 – 70 barra here, boating most. A couple of jacks were thrown in for variety, including the trips biggest. Again on my lightest rod, the 4 – 6kg Shikari. It was a short run back to the Pikkuw from here, so we headed back for a bite, before heading back to the south arm to harass the popper munchin’ barra again. Today the barra were all over the place. There were schools of baitfish moving throughout the whole area, and the barra were boofing on this bait regularly. There was so much bait, it was hard to get the barra to notice our poppers, with only a few coming from this open stretch, so again Tim took us in to the back eddy, and again the barra wolfed down our offerings.
Day 6 – Tuesday. We asked Tim to take us on an exploration day – the Archer. We had caught so many barra we decided we should go exploring. Tim happily obliged, and after toasted sangers and coffee for breaky we were heading up the Archer. It didn’t take long for this wild river to shallow, and we were skatting across crystal clear sand flats. We stopped at a couple of spots to flick lures, then continued upstream. We bounced SPs and cast lures at one of the sheer banks which produced a small black jew, then trolled these same deep bends. A couple of lures later and we again were heading upstream.
Tim gently nosed the edge tracker up to a rock bar that spread the entire width of the river. We chucked lures all around it, and scored some more great barra from this brackish / fresh environment. I fired out a long cast off the edge of the rock bar toward a snag. A couple of turns on the Curado and my Leads hijacker was gone. 30 lb braid, hard drag, 60lb leader, big barra and rocks. Bugger, again! As the tide rose, we floated the boat over the rocks to fish some snags further upstream, but Tim had something special in mind for us.
We started heading back downstream, and Tim told us to keep an eye out for an old wheel on the bank. Here we pulled the boat ashore and climbed the steep bank for a short hike through green ant country, to a pristine billabong. What a beautiful place. Bob and Tim went hard searching for a toga. After a dozen or so casts, Tim comes up tight and a superb toga is brought to the shore.
Day 7, Wednesday, ‘D’ day – departure day. It had to come, and without it I guess we would never have been there. Desperate to make the most of our last opportunity, Tim, Bob and I loaded up for our last session. We left Bob F and the Pikkuw near our anchorage at Wallaby Island, and headed out to the headlands. The barra were still here in numbers and we both got our share. Bob broke out the fly gear again, and was rewarded with a number of good fish.
Bob F moved the Pikkuw back to the mooring near the town of Aurukun, and we arrived back around 11am. Our final lunch aboard was had, showers and Tim escorted us back to the Aurukun airport for our flight to Cairns.
My trip with Aurukun Wetland Charters is by far the best fishing experience I have ever found. Both Tim and Bob F are great hosts, focussed solely on ensuring the client’s wishes are seen to. The Pikkuw was comfortable, with air conditioning, tv, showers and a cold can at days end. Though the only tv we watched was the videos Bob filmed, plus our digi photos. The best show was the top deck sunset, while enjoying a freezing cold beer, awaiting the nights delicacy prepared by Bob F and Tim.
I’ve often read stories such as this and wondered how good life would be if I was a fishing guide. Not so sure now. Bob F and Tim were on the go at 6am every day. A cooked breaky was on offer each morning, boats prepared for the day then off taking us fishing. Often we didn’t return till 7pm or so. Bob and I would retire to the top deck while Bob F and Tim prepared the nights meal, which on every occasion was brilliant. Tim, you really need to write a cook book. In particular, that curry meal was awesome.
In total we caught 23 species of fish, all on lure or fly – barra, queenfish, brassy trevally, grunter, grey mackerel, bartail flathead, tarpon, giant herring, estuary cod, fingermark, stripey, blue salmon, black tip cod, mangrove jack, pikey bream, archer fish, saratoga, barracuda, big eye trevally, black jew, banded grunter, reef sharks and the dreaded catfish.
So, that’s it. Six days of the most awesome fishing and customer service I have ever experienced. Will I be back, yeap. Probably same time in 2007. If I could squeeze an extra trip in before then I would do that too.