|Port Augusta Hoodlums|
|Written by Andrew Clark|
|Wednesday, 31 August 2005|
Let's be honest. When it comes to sport fishing, we Victorians do it pretty tough. We don't have the climate and therefore the species that our neighbors even slightly north of us enjoy. Sometimes if we Mexicans want real sporting action on the water it can mean travelling interstate. There are some real gems on the Australian sports fishing map and as I found out recently, one such locality is in South Australia.
Port Augusta, which is often overshadowed by its big snapper producing sibling Whyalla, represents one of the hottest destinations for the angler willing to travel.
What do you chase in Port Augusta? King Fish. Hoodlums. Not the small rat kings that seem to saturate pages of fishing mags currently - I'm talking about the real deal. Hoods that are all big, tough and nasty, averaging 25-30kg a fish and are caught in shallow water, generally less than 8 meters. Now that is sport fishing!
Port Augusta is situated at the northern tip of the Spencer Gulf in South Australia, and is a bit over 1000km or an 11 hour drive from Melbourne when towing a boat. Now obviously you need to stay a few days to make such a trip worthwhile. Accommodation is fairly cheap (a four bedroom suite is about $130/night), so if you go with a few mates it can cost only $30-40 each a day and this also includes lock up facilities for boats overnight. You can have the option (in some places) of cooking facilities, which can also help in cutting expenses. Honestly it's easier and cheaper than you would think to organize a trip to King Fish country.
Fishing for kings at Port Augusta is basically an early spring proposition and as with most styles of fishing the warmer months are best. Most of the kings here are resident fish and there are heaps of them.
Recently I organized one such trip with my partner in crime Neil Tedesco, with the aim of filming on video a sole angler catching, landing and releasing a king in the 30kg bracket. Just to spice things up a bit because one of us would be filming, the angler would also have to drive the boat while fighting and pursuing any potential fish. This was a pretty tall order. I volunteered for camera detail. This worked out well as Neil has a large number of hoods under his belt having fished for them everywhere from South Australia to the Bay of Islands in NZ. As he rightly pointed out thou, catching big fish at this location was a whole new ball game, because most of the fishing done at Port Augusta is carried out near the local power station. The station is surrounded with walls jutting out into the water and a number of other fixed objects that provide the perfect aquatic landscape for a hooked kingie wishing to break your line. On top of that you fight these fish in an average of 4-5 meters of water, getting as low as 1.5 meters at times. If that isn't enough, the sea floor is made up of a carpet of muscle beds, which are great for kings to use to cut through heavy leader. I was happy to be the one holding the camcorder.
For the first half of the week the weather was sensational. Bright blue skies and virtually no wind. Great holiday weather. Only problem was the king fish were in holiday mode themselves. Finding the kings during this first half of the week wasn't hard. They could be regularly seen sunning themselves or cruising around in schools of up to 50 fish, but no matter what we tried we couldn't get them to take a bait. Neil spent hours casting poppers and rubber tail soft plastics from the boat and occasionally a fish would follow it up to the boat, look at us as if to say "what are you lookin' at?" before casually doing a 180 and swimming away again. Everything was getting difficult. We struggled to get live bait. We would spend up to an hour jigging for squid in all the suggested grounds to catch maybe 1 or 2 calamari. There were also very few gars. I suppose this makes sense considering the number of hoodlums that patrol the waterway.
A break through came as a cold front approached from the west. Right where the power station pumps water back out into the estuary that it uses for cooling, we found where the local salmon population was hiding. The water pump produced a great foam ball of white water and provided the ideal hiding place for baitfish of all sorts. After casting some small soft plastics directly into the white water we could easily get our quota of salmon for a live baiting session within a few minutes. Just about every cast produced a nice little half-kilo salmon.
We now felt more confident. King fish are both cunning and fickle. If a bait is too small they seem disinterested, if it isn't rigged properly they become suspicious and if the trace is too heavy or something doesn't look right, they simply ignore it. This is the stage that attention to detail is a must. Leader material had to be 60lb. Anything lighter you would be asking for trouble in the form of a bust off and any heavier the kings wouldn't touch the bait. The salmon had to be bridle- rigged. This involves the use of a large needle then stitching a rubber band through the front of the eye socket and out the other side. Then via a couple of loops, the rubber band is attached to the hook. The bridle-rigged bait lives longer and behaves more naturally in the water. More importantly, a bait rigged in this manner greatly aids the hook up rate once it is taken.
Fishing tackle has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last few years with the advent of braided lines and the like. For this trip we were using light 6 - 6' 8" jigging rods and they were matched to Saltiga Z4500 threadlines and the new Black Magic BSX overhead reels made by Avet. I must admit, when Neil showed me these Black Magic reels my initial reaction was that they would be more at home fishing for 3kg snapper in Port Phillip Bay. But they were awesome. When loaded up with heavy braid we were able to fish these little reels with anything up to 10kg of strike drag, and they made a perfect match for the overhead jig rods. The Saltiga Z4500 reels are by far the most advanced threadlines in this size on the market and their performance as always was superb.
Hooks need to be of the highest standard for this style of fishing. They need to be sharp, strong and small enough in overall length so as not to be noticed by a large hood. Again we used another Black Magic product, this time the GZ live bait hooks in 4/0 to 6/0 size. Now I must point out here that we have no affiliation with Black Magic, Daiwa or any other tackle supplier. We only use the best equipment. It's just a matter of giving credit where credit is due, and gee they make some good stuff.
On the last few days of the trip the weather turned cold and rain started to set in. The water temperature where we were catching the salmon however, was 19 degrees. As the power station uses water for cooling, the return line back into the estuary is always warm. For some reason this is the temperature that gets kings into feed mode. It made sense to fish where we were collecting live bait seeing that the water temp had hit the magical 19 degree mark. On those last few days we had countless numbers of strikes, runs and bust offs....but no landed fish. Man this was proving difficult. Neil remained unfazed, convinced it was a matter of free spooling a king away from the power station and the inherent dangers there and fighting it in the open water.
On the last day it all came together. I was watching one of the rods with a little Black Magic reel on it, and the salmon on the other end started going ballistic. In a flash I had the camcorder on the quivering rod tip. The reel's lever drag was in free spool mode, then line slowly at first started to peel of the reel. Gingerly Neil engaged the lever drag, took up the slack line and felt for the fish on the other end. He turned to me and said "Yep... he's there", he then slammed the reel into full strike drag and set the hooks. The fish took off and for the next 40 minutes we chased the fish over shallow and broken ground eventually winding up nearly a kilometer from where we started. It was a tough fight. Each time the fish looked done, he'd turn and do another run, so typical of this specie's "never say die" attitude.
Finally we had him next to the boat, he was huge. Neil mouth gaffed him with a custom made flying gaff he had made from a surf rod, a long cord and a 12/0 o'shanessy hook. We quickly got him on board, snapped off some photos, then got him back into the water. The salmon bait was still lodged in his mouth and once removed he revived quickly before calmly swimming off. We looked at each other, smiled and shook hands. We didn't really need to say anything as we knew what had just happen was one of those "moments of a lifetime" for an angler.