Day in the life of a Capt
It certainly was not the best night that I have slept on the reef. My bunk on the bridge that I was so accustomed to was my resting domain over the last 60 days at sea. It is a place that can offer total tranquility, and on nights around the new moon anchored on the lee side of one of the greatest wonders of the world, the view of the heavens above can be nothing more than spectacular, and nights around the full moon give a whole new dimension to this amazing place. The fly bridge of Viking II is my bedroom, my office, and my study, for up to 90 days straight in the peak of the giant black marlin season between September and December.
That night had been a shocker, wind gusts over 35 knots howling through the spreader stays on the riggers. The anchor alarm going off twice, and worrying about the first two slow days that my new clients had experienced kept me laying on my back eyes wide open and mind racing.
I know my job too many is seen to be a sensational way to make a living. My dad led me in this direction by saying if you can make your hobby or sport become your occupation you have achieved the dreams of many.
Wise man my dad, but he forgot to tell me no matter what you choose in life, if your aim is to be in command of your own destiny their will be certain responsibilities and stress you will have to deal with. Or in simple terms you have to take the good with the bad.
The good had been and gone, the clients prior had enjoyed spectacular fishing and magnificent weather. My new clients who were winning all awards for beautiful people had not seen a fish in two days, and were taking the bad weather all in their stride, they deserved a good day. It was time to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
I climbed down the ladder at 0500 am turned over the generator and put on the kettle. My crewmen were not far behind me. The coffee went down well, and my glair into the empty mug, was re focused on the face of my No 1 crewmen Luke Fallon. His question of, how was it in the Penthouse last night? did not require an answer. I guess the look in my eyes told the story, after a short smile started his day by inspecting and checking the four 130lb outfits. Gavin New my second crew was already looking over the bait catching gear, and I ventured down below for an engine room inspection. By the time I surfaced our clients Tom and Sandra were out of the forward stateroom and greeted me with a cheerful good morning Capt Bill. I made two black coffees, and got stuck into breakfast. Tom joined the boys in the cockpit and Sandra continued with her book.
The anchor came up at 0730 and we got stuck straight into our bait fishing. Good fresh bait always boosts my confidence and after an hour and a half we were set for our third day with Tom and Sandra. I gave the boys the call to clear the bait gear as we ran down the inside of No 9 Ribbon reef. We had fished No 10 the last 2 days and had only seen 3 small tailers, even though it looked ok there was something not right, there was little or no current to the south and even though it was hard to have a good look at the water due to the overcast conditions, I was not convinced of its quality.
The tower gave me a good view of the outside of the reef as we steamed down No 9, and I was surprised to see that the sea conditions did not look that bad, considering the amount of wind that had been on it all night. My initial plan was to fish No 8 for the day, starting from the bottom to give a nice down sea run to have a look over it. No 8 has a great point, and when conditions are right the big girls love to play there. I glanced down on the deck and the boys were still cleaning and putting away the bait, looking good I thought, 30 scad, 8 nice size scaley mackerel, and 3 queen fish. Just need to get us on the spot.
Halfway down No 8 I again looked out to sea, at my favourite 2nd point , normally if the current was right in these conditions it would be standing up a lot more than what I was seeing. What to do, what to do, I said to myself. I kept going.
The Cairns black marlin grounds run for 150 miles. South east of Cairns to north of Lizard Island, but there are certain areas that seem to produce more often than others and certain areas that seem to consistently produce big fish. The fish can start arriving as early as late August and the migration tapers off in December. The fish arrive from various directions a bit like certain species of birds coming from many places to nest at one particular destination. I have also been astonished to realize that some fish will even come back to the exact same place as the year before, especially the big females. Sometimes it is just a matter of working one of these spots and waiting, but of course the conditions must be right, and it takes a little experience, to have the patience to stay in one spot and wait. It is not uncommon for the fish not to start moving into the reef until the later part of the day, and a big persistent effort in one spot has often been rewarded by a special fish just before dusk. I believe you have to fish Cairns a little different to any other marlin destination, knowing were to be and how long to stay there is a big part of it.
I was now still running down the inside of the outer reef halfway down No 7. Luke got a little curious as to what I was up to, and had well and truly squared the cockpit away and was ready to go. He climbed the ladder and joined me in the tower. The wind howling past our ears was deafening, 20 knots of boat speed into 25 knots of south east trade winds made conversation a little awkward. But he did manage to understand that I did not get the right feeling about the 2nd corner of No 8.
As we reached the bottom of No 7 the water behind the reef cleaned up substantially. With that much turbulence over the top of the reef stirring up the sediment something was going on. I looked over the reef to the blue mountains outside; it looked rough, real rough. There had been a big change out there and the current was pushing against the sea making it really stand up. I now knew where I was to start my day.
Our fresh offerings caught prior, were set back to the pre determined peg marks on the 130lb outfits as I braced myself in the tower, I was not sure how long I could stay up there in these conditions, but the view from the greatest ride on earth and the chance to see a big fish tailing down the sea, kept my120 kg there for some time. I was certainly putting the Max Brugger tower S.W.L. to the test.
We were at the top of No 6 Ribbon, still working south for a down sea run. The conditions did not allow for sufficient clean water under the transducer for a great picture on the Furuno Navnet system. It would be a little awkward to mark fish up sea .So I wanted to get to the bottom of No 6 for a down sea run, and have a look over the up current side of the points as well as the back eddies in the bays. Even though we were punching into a serious sea, I still managed to maintain my troll speed of 6 knots over the ground due to the southerly set. My first run down sea was a little disappointing, not a lot on the screen at all to talk about, though a little bait was showing up in the shallows in the bay, never the less though I had a feeling about the place. The water was purple plenty of large schools of flying fish and a couple of wahoo bites, the place looked great.
Considering the conditions Gavin New, or Groover to his mates, put together an outstanding lunch of BLTA toasted sandwiches and timed our next down sea troll to run the lunch box up to me. I had just taken my first large bite when out of the corner of my vision I saw the big blue tube on the left bait. A very unclear and muffled left rigger call came bellowing out of a mouth full of bacon lettuce tomato and avocado, the lunch box went flying and my tower floor resembled the top of a pizza
A real nice fish had come from the depths and crash tackled our scaley mackerel. Oxygenated water was sent down with the fish, as it headed back to the reef wall from which it came, creating a tube like effect that contrasted against the purple blue water. The drop back came tight and Sandra was attached to her first big Cairns black marlin. The boys cleared the deck and washed away the remains of my lunch.
Luke and Groover had done a great job on Sandra’s tutorial and setting up the chair for her, as she was having no trouble with the 20kg of drag that was being applied. I spun the boat to follow the fish out to sea. Backing in these conditions would not have been a good idea. I felt a big relief in myself to be finally hooked up after two and a half days, and to a nice one.
Unfortunately my emotions quickly changed as the big fish cleared the water with an aggressive head shake, the scaley mackerel and the hook attached to it, came flying out of the bucket size mouth. Bugger I said, well something like that, and headed back in to the reefs edge with my tail between my legs.
It was now 1500 I was still in the tower and starting to feel the lack of sleep from the previous night take its toll.
Luke arrived in the tower for the next down sea run with a welcomed coffee. We were both surprised we had not seen another fish. I kept the down sea run going a little longer as the tide was now flooding and pushing into the opening between No 6 and 7. I had just started to take my first couple of sips of the steaming coffee, when Luke startled me with a yell, fish on the right! Well you guessed it steaming hot coffee all down the front of my brand new Guy Harvey shirt.
There was more than one fish there, black marlin in the 200 to 400 lb bracket darting in and out of the baits lit up like Christmas trees. This site is not uncommon if there is a big fish around, the smaller males are hanging with the big female waiting for her to spawn, and show there excitement by this amazing display. A big fish had to be out there somewhere.
I had to make a turn out to sea, keeping the sun on the bow so I could get the best vision behind the boat had started to put me in to shallow. This course put the sun’s glare on the water, and made spotting the fish much harder. Half way through the turn the scad got bit. We came tight to something and Tom gave Sandra another go in the chair.
The fish was doing nothing and Sandra was virtually just winching it to the boat. Another bloody lost opportunity I thought, a wahoo has come in and snavelled the scad from under the noses of the marlin, and now we had lost our momentum. Groover was getting ready to leader a wahoo, when the 130lb started ripping from the reel at an alarming rate. Out of the water she came not once but 3 spectacular jumps, a reel nice one.
At 1645 we put a tag in a fish that was knocking on the door of the magic 1000lb, obviously all an board were now extremely happy, but the boy’s knew not to waste any time in getting the baits back in the water. It was bite time, and the chance of the smaller male fish still being around where the big fish was released were high. We were virtually hooked up for the rest of the afternoon, and at 18:00 I gave the order to rap it up.
The boy’s started slowly bringing in the gear, the wind and the sea had dropped right away. Tom climbed the tower to thank me for the day and presented a cold Crown Larger from his pocket. I cracked the top and was just taking my first refreshing mouthful, when I picked up a shape just behind the queen fish bait that was about to pulled into the boat. Well you would not believe what happened, well maybe you would, the Guy Harvey shirt would unfortunately now become an engine room rag. I yelled to the boys and quick hands and experience produced our 4 fish for the afternoon and a decent one too.
The boat was ecstatic as we cautiously made are way to the anchorage behind No 7 Ribbon reef. Light by now was non existent for spotting those treacherous coral bommies, which are behind most of the reefs here. The last thing I wanted was to spoil such a great day by clipping one of these. The old saying amongst the captains, especially before G.P.S, was that there are those who have and those who are going to. I did not want this to be my turn. With the help of some old event marks and memory that surprisingly has not subsided totally over the past 20 or so years, we safely dropped the anchor at 1930.
A couple of tired legs clambered down the ladder to the deck. The crew had done a great job and I knew they were as tired as me if not worse. We all enjoyed a gold beer together, but unfortunately our day was not over as we got stuck into the wash down and the preparation of dinner. I think the adrenalin from the day kept us going, as we were still up socializing with Tom and Sandra until 2300.
The sun through the clears on my bridge woke me on the 10th December. It was a steamy morning and as I pondered on the activities for the day, my thoughts were interrupted by a call on the phone. It was my 4 year old daughter, with mum’s help she told me how much she missed me and was looking forward to seeing me tonight. It was our last day of a big season and I can’t wait to see my family, can’t wait to sleep in a real bed, can’t wait to have some rest and can’t wait till next season.