Blue Water Magazine March 2018

The August issue contained an excellent Article on Australia’s Fraser Island written by John Ashley. In the Article noted the success of the Custom Charter Boat “Mistress”. The Boat came back to it’s home port on the Gold Coast for Xmas and some maintenance and returned to fish Fraser from mid February to the end of June 2018.

We finished up fishing a total of 92 days for 199 Marlin comprising 150 Pacific Blues, 19 Heavy Tackle Striped and Black Marlin, and 30 Juvenile Black Marlin. That represents an average of 2.16 Marlin a day over a lengthy period which is excellent by any standard. During what appeared to be the peak period of July December we were on an average of 2.7 per day. This in itself is a little unusual as the peak period for Blues on the Gold Coast only 200 miles South is February to May? The currents and winds at Fraser during these months weren’t particularly favourable so that is perhaps why we saw a different peak over the 12 month period.

It does bring into focus the fact that the Fraser Fishery is only lightly explored at this stage. Boats straightlining past the Island on the way to or from Cairns had usually caught something but no one had fished the Continental Shelf outside Fraser for any lengthy period of time until “Mistress” did so last year.

Although “Mistress” has been very successful to date there will undoubtedly be more learned about the Grounds, the best locations, and the typical peak periods as we and other boats explore the area further.

There are also some other very interesting aspects about the area. The Heavy Tackle Blues, Blacks, and Striped Marlin are all in very good condition and “fatties” compared to those found only 200 miles South on the Gold Coast. This undoubtedly is a consequence of the massive quantities of bait prevalent in the area. Strikes from all Species were extremely aggressive by comparison with elsewhere I have fished and this in combination I think with the Tornado Lures we use, and our Hook Rigs led to a Strike to Tag ratio in the low 80%`s, which is quite remarkable.

There is a Juvenile Black Marlin Fishery in the shallows just outside Breaksea Spit and the Northern end of Fraser which has produced prolific numbers over the years, and which is regularly fished by day fishing Trailerboats from Hervey Bay because it is within their range. The best day on these grounds was the Tagging of 30 by the Privateer “Allure”.However during our period at the Island we caught these Juvenile Blacks down to weight of under 3kg ( 6.6lbs ). Australia’s leading Gamefish Marine Scientist Julian Pepperell believes these fish are of the order of 3mths old and as we were catching them in June/July implies that they were spawned around March. This is clearly outside the Cairns/ Great Barrier Reef breeding period of Sept/Dec with it’s peak in Oct/early Nov. Thus it is reasonable to assume that there is another breeding period for Giant Blacks somewhere near Fraser Island. I dare say that one day as a consequence of more fishing effort in the area it will be found. In the meantime we kept the Heads of two little baby Blacks so that Julian can examine them and confirm their age.

During our period at Fraser we caught two daily slams ( Blue, Black, Striped ) without deliberately attempting to do so. Had we specifically fished for Slams we probably would have had a dozen or more.

“Mistress” also won the Hervey Bay Gamefish Club Tournament against 40 odd competing boats for the second time in 3yrs (2015,2017). In 2016 we were second after a countback based on time.

In short an absolutely extraordinary fishery which will only produce even better than the already spectacular results as we and others learn more about it.

Feature article in Voyages De Peche

Said to be the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island off the southern Queensland coast in Australia is truly magnificent in many ways. So unique and diverse with ancient tropical rain forests, exotic fauna and crystal clear freshwater creeks and lagoons, it’s no wonder it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1992. Fraser Island joins Australia’s list of Heritage sites alongside the Great Barrier Reef, Lord Howe Island, Kakadu National Park and Uluru.

It’s really hard to believe an island made of sand could be so beautiful! The long, uninterrupted snow white beaches and gin clear fresh water lagoons attract untold thousands of tourists and locals every year. People hire or bring their own 4×4 wheel drive vehicles to explore around or over the island where they discover a world like no other! For us fishermen though, Fraser is heaven on earth as the waters around the island are a massive fish bowl. So many different species of fish can be caught here we would run out of space to print them all!

The miles of deep gutters along the beaches are popular areas for the family fishos to target tailer, bream, whiting, jewfish and flathead. Offshore the bottom fishing produces so many tropical to sub-tropical species from various emperors, coral trout and snapper. Trolling the inshore grounds with minnow lures anglers get bombarded with Spanish mackerel, black (cobia) kingfish and the tough dirty fighting great trevally’s (GT’s) ready to bust you up!

One of the most unusual and unique fisheries here at Fraser is catching juvenile black marlin in the crystal clear shallows close to the island. These small billfish often turn up here in big numbers every year during their migration down the east coast from the spawning grounds along the northern Great Barrier Reef. They often hold up here for months in Hervey Bay on the western edge of Fraser to feast on the immense schools of baitfish. Anglers chase these little blacks in small outboard powered boats and tinnies either launched off the beach or from the boat ramps on the mainland of the bay. Even kayaks are popular off the island because in many areas you don’t have to venture too far off the beach to find these little marlin.

The deeper channels along the edge of sand flats is where the action is found and ultra-light spinning tackle and light trolling outfits are mostly used. Because of the shallow terrain and often crystal clear conditions sight casting with small metal lures and even saltwater flies is popular. Anglers get blown away catching these little blacks as most times they are within sight the whole fight from hook-up to release! It’s very exciting fishing!

Hive of Activity

One part of the island that’s always a hive of activity is on the northern end around Waddy Point. This area is very popular for visitors and fishermen to camp and the protected beach from the ocean swells is good most of the time for launching small to medium size trailer boats. Naturally the area requires a sturdy 4×4 wheel drive vehicle to launch and retrieve any size vessel and there are always a few dramas with the odd vehicle getting completely bogged. Usually it’s not too much of a problem though as other fishermen always come to the rescue with another vehicle or even a winch.

The trolling and bottom fishing off the island is absolutely awesome and many, many species of surface and bottom fish get caught all the time. Those anglers keen on trolling mostly use minnow lures targeting the Spanish mackerel for their firm tasty white fillets or cutlets, which go well on the campfire barbeques. Some of these small boat fishermen are quite happy though to conserve their hard to get fuel supplies and just run offshore half a mile and drift around the many reefs for a feed of bottom fish.

A huge variety of reef species are prolific because these grounds are at the bottom end of the Great Barrier Reef and southern reaches of the Coral Sea. The area produces so many great eating species from coral trout to red emperor, snapper, pearl perch, wrasse and even teraglin, which look like our silver jewfish. The first day I ever fished Fraser for bottom fish the amount we caught in a very short time was amazing and the boat was visited by a huge, curious tiger shark. The tiger was nearly as long as our five metre boat and I guess with such a large number of fish in the area one can understand why so many sharks, particularly whalers are seen!

Marlin Magic

Another incredible feature of the Fraser Island region that we’ve known about for a long time now is the amount of large billfish that turn up on the deep grounds between Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island, 100 nautical miles to the north. Back in the 80’s the release of the Billfish Atlas of the Coral Sea Region, produced by the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, indicated the massive long-line catch rates in this area of the southern Coral Sea. Huge numbers of striped marlin and blue marlin are caught annually during our late spring and early summer months between August and December. Australian Fisheries have also indicated the area could even be a spawning ground for striped marlin!

For years the professional game fishing charter boat fleet from NSW, the Gold Coast and Brisbane heading to and from Cairns for the annual springtime heavy tackle black marlin season have always hooked heaps of marlin through this area now known as the Marlin Highway. To conserve fuel these vessels always travel at a trolling speed of around 8 to 10 knots with a few lures out. Their journey up to Cairns is constantly interrupted with strikes from striped and blue marlin and on the return trip in late November there’s black marlin in the mix as well, and big ones!

Two years ago Gold Coast Captain Tim Richardson, who runs the beautiful 50′ Custom built Tradition got the surprise of his life when one of his lures was piled on by a grander black marlin. After spending a season in Cairns catching and releasing so many large blacks it was the last thing he was expecting down south. Luckily there was a mothership in the area also heading back to the Gold Coast from Cairns and they were able to weigh the giant black. Stretching the scales to 1,054lbs it’s the biggest black ever caught off Fraser Island!

Serious Players

Over the past few years the heavy tackle billfishing off Fraser has seen a few serious players from the Gold Coast and one from Cairns get involved. The GC vessel Mistress, run by father and son captains Barry and Brett Alty have been the main runners and three years ago they left the boat at Hervey Bay after the Cairns season and fished the area solidly for a couple of months. During that time they fished the popular Hervey Bay Game Fishing Clubs annual Billfish Tournament along with 44 other vessels. They won the tag & release section with eight solid blue marlin up to 600lbs in two and a half days!

Last year the Alty’s decided not to take the Mistress to Cairns and chose to fish Fraser as much as possible over the spring and early summer season (August to December) and didn’t they catch some billfish. In forty four days before last Christmas they tagged and released 87 blue marlin, 20 blacks and 7 striped marlin. They took the vessel back to the Gold Coast over Christmas to have some maintenance work carried out and they returned back to Hervey Bay this past February. As I put this story to bed they just tagged their 100th blue marlin and its still happening for the 2017/18 season. As the Alty’s said to me, “we really don’t know how long the red-hot season goes for?”

Another well-known fisherman from the Gold Coast, who has just retired from working the Cairns heavy tackle black marlin season after nearly 40 years, is Captain Bobby Jones. Jonesy decided to take his new 65-footer Merlin up to Fraser as well and spend some time there to see just how long the bite lasts for. I had a long chat to Jonesy and this is what he had to say about the place.
“It’s an incredibly fishy area that we have known about for a long time and there are stacks of billfish in the shallows and way out to the continental shelf. For those like me who love chasing the larger billfish, especially the wild speedy blues, these grounds out on the continental shelf are amazing. You don’t have too much trouble catching all three marlin species in one day either and maybe even a sailfish tossed in for a super slam as well,” said Jonesy.

“The only problem we all face here is the weather and if it’s lousy the long 60 mile run from the Hervey Bay Mariner to the wide grounds can take forever. When the weather is good we can stay overnight at the top of the island near Waddy Point and then it’s only a short 8 mile run to the billfish grounds. The nice thing about Fraser Island though, there are plenty of options if the weather does turns sour.

There are plenty of places to hide behind the island out of the wind and we put the small tender in for some light tackle fishing. If the time is right we’ll chase the juvenile black marlin or go sight-casting to the long tail tuna that tend to bust-up in the Hervey Bay all the time. Another positive move is to pump some fresh nippers (saltwater yabbies) for bait from the sand flats and fish for something for dinner. There’s plenty of bream, flathead and whiting to catch, which are all top shelf tucker for the table,” Jonesy reckons.

“Our top priority offcourse is chasing the big marlin though and it’s unbelievable out wide in the gorgeous, cobalt Coral Sea currents. We mostly troll a spread of 5 lures on heavy 130lb tackle as there are some awfully big blues and blacks here. We missed out on weighing Australia’s first grander blue marlin from these grounds which has now finally been caught over in Exmouth, Western Australia.

There’s been a grander black marlin taken here and the Mistress lost two big blues last year they said would have easily made the grander mark. The Alty captains both know what a grander marlin looks like as they have chartered their vessel for many years in Cairns and released stacks of huge blacks,” says Jonesy.

It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens here over the next couple of years as a few more vessels from the Gold Coast are predicted to start working these isolated grounds more seriously for big marlin. The size range of blue marlin in particular are perfect for those anglers who want to try for some line class records in the 12lb to 50lb sections. Catching an Australian record blue in those line classes is pretty much wide open now on these fishy grounds!


English translation from  Voyages De Peche which featured an article on Fraser Island. 

The Fraser Island Challenge

So finally, after many years of knowing about the incredible potential of this remote area, a couple of vessels from the Gold Coast have been spending time exploring the deep continental shelf grounds off Fraser. ‘Mistress’ in particular has now spent a few years there, and in 2016, the Altys won the popular Hervey Bay Game Fishing Club’s annual marlin tournament. Forty-four boats fished the tournament, and plenty of billfish were tagged and released, but no one could catch the Mistress team, with eight solid blues up to 600 pounds released in two and a half days of fishing.

In 2017, during spring and early summer (August to December in Australia), the Altys decided not to go to Cairns, but instead work the Fraser Island grounds. At this point in time, we don’t know how long the season might be, but their results have been absolutely fabulous. “We fished a total of 44 days before Christmas and recorded 94 blues, 20 blacks and seven striped marlin,” says Capt. Barry Alty. “We left the boat at Hervey Bay and flew in and out from the Gold Coast whenever we had a charter or just felt like taking some friends out for a fish. The constant action really hasn’t surprised us.

“Many of the blues have been in the 200- to 600-pound range, and they’re a great size for anyone looking at catching records on lighter tackle,” he continues. “We stuck to our game plan last year and used heavy 130-pound-class tackle because we have always had the feeling a grander blue would be lurking somewhere on these fishy grounds. We were right.

“Among the blues raised, we hooked two that were well over the grander mark, and we know what a 1,000-pound marlin looks like from all our years of catching granders in Cairns,” Barry says. “We were really hoping to catch Australia’s first official 1,000-pound blue off Fraser, but of course, that happened over in Exmouth, Western Australia.” The new year was just a few days old when Capt. Eddy Lawler and Clay Hilbert landed Australia’s first blue marlin over 1,000 pounds in January 2018. Their fish weighed 1,089 pounds.

Tackle and Techniques

I asked these two captains what they are doing to contribute to hooking and tagging so many blue marlin.

“We’ve changed lures and also the hooks in recent years,” Barry says. “We’re raising more marlin than ever on the Aussie-made Tornado lures. They are really well-balanced and run nicely in any position in the spread we put them. The secret to these lures is in the head. If you put an unrigged Tornado on a table, it will roll over to the way it should run through the water. “We also switched over to Black Bart Pa’a hooks, and they are setting far better than any other brands we have tried. We realize you’re never going to stay connected to every marlin you hook, but these hooks go in and rarely come out. Our strike-to-catch rate at the moment on blues is an amazing 85 percent.” The next challenge for the Altys: break a few Australian line-class records on blue marlin. “The current 12- to 50-pound records are within range here, especially on our fast-maneuvering 50-foot Mistress,” Barry says. This Kiwi-built vessel is ideal for these waters on any tackle, and it’s also big enough to live aboard should they decide to stay at the top of Fraser Island when the weather is suitable. Staying aboard gives the team even more fishing time.

Extract from the August edition of Marlin Magazine which featured an article on Fraser Island. Reprinted with the gracious permission of editor Sam White.

Australia’s Untapped Big-Game Fishery (Fraser Island)

Fraser island’s variety makes it a new hotspot for a world-famous sport-fishing destination.

Many parts of Australia are known worldwide for the large numbers of Marlin roaming through the waters. Cairns became one of the most prestigious black marlin fisheries more than 50 years ago with the first grander, and many other spots have risen to prominence in recent years.

Fraser island, in Queensland, is the new high-variety hotspot for the sport-fishing country. Brett Alty, the captain of 50 foot charter boat ‘Mistress’ of Mistress Sportfishing Charters, and his crew have tagged and released 114 marlin – 87 blues, 20 blacks and 7 striped marlin – in 44 days from August through the end of September. That disparity in species inspired Brett’s father, Barry Alty, to report the action from the Australian island. Below is Barry’s account from the trips of Fraser island.

Fraser island, located off the eastern coast of Australia near the Coral Sea, is the largest send island in the world. Around 100 miles long, it has pristine rainforests and inland and lakes of varying hues. It is a paradise accessible by barge from the nearby town of Hervey Bay, which has an airport, hotels and restaurants, and is a four hour drive from Brisbane. It has long been known that there are large numbers of juvenile black marlin at its northern end of the island and just outside the Breaksea Spit, which runs for 40 miles from the islands northern tip.

However the juvenile black marlin grounds our 50 to 60 miles from Hervey Bay, and the continental shelf is another 15 to 20 miles. It’s hard to fish unless you have a big sport-fishing yacht that you can live aboard for multi-day trips.

Capt Brett Alty and his ‘Mistress’ crew first fished the area for a couple of weeks to coincide with a local tournament in 2015. We again entered the tournament in 2016, placing a close second, but we had seen enough to realise the potential of an unexploited, litte-known heavy tackle fishing area. So this year we came to the area earlier in the season and achieved the spectacular results. We also won the tournament with eight blue marlin from nine shots in two and a half days of fishing.

There is a lot of bait and the fish are all fat. the blues have averaged around 400lb, with our biggest to date around 600. The striped marlin have ranged from 240 – 300lbs and they aggressively attack the baits and lures just like the blues. None of this ‘tap tap tap’ nonsense! So far we have caught two slams of the blue, black and striped marlin and we could have caught more if we had tried.

Any fishery where you can catch an average of nearly three marlin a day is world-class. What makes it even more incredible is that there are four billfish species available. Pacific blues and blacks are the most predominant, followed by striped marlin and Pacific sailfish.

Captain Brett says of the fishing off Fraser Island. “I’ve never seen anything like this, so many spaces available and blues and blacks in big numbers by any standard. There will definitely be a Grander Blue here somewhere.”

‘Mistress’ will be available for charters to Fraser Island from August To November in 2018.


This article from Marlin News is reprinted with the gracious permission of editor Sam White.