A decade ago my Alaskan charter service had a booth at the Fred Hall Sportsman’s Show in Long Beach California. Right next to our booth was an expedition fishing service from Australia, Nomad Sportfishing. They had a 50-inch screen, with some of the most incredible videos catching huge reef fish and pelagics on surface lures from the northern Great Barrier Reef. The owner was there and he was a heck of a nice guy. I watched as passing fishermen were mesmerized by his images of clients catching massive dogtooth tuna, giant trevally, barred Spanish macks and wahoo on a fly.
Thanks to the Internet, I have kept track of how well the crew at Nomad had been doing and it looked like they have never stopped prospecting for new areas. As I have grown a little older, my desire to fish in remote areas has grown stronger. My fishermen friends and I have put this trip at the top of our bucket list for exotic trips.
I would find my mind wandering and imagining what it would have been like to fish in areas like the Hannibal or Roca Corbetania, before anyone else fished it. Since then I have had my eye on other areas too like South Africa, Ascension Island, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu after reading some incredible reports from those places. With that said, getting to those places is considerably more complex, expensive and requires more planning than I had time for, yet…..
Fast forward to the present, I got a call from some old friends from Florida that were planning a trip with Nomad to the northern Great Barrier Reef, and I jumped at the chance, even though the dates were tough and I dropped the $3500 on the deposit and was all in.
If you look at the Nomad website, you might think that the videos are cherry picked from the best of the best days they ever had… I am here to tell you, the trip we took was considered slow for them and I have never seen anything like it in my 25-plus years of fishing on this earth. Much of my time was spent as a fishing guide, charter captain and earlier in life, as the deck boss on a pelagic longliner on the Grand Banks and beyond.
This northern end of the Great Barrier Reef sees as little fishing pressure as anywhere on the planet. The fish there are hungry and tough!
I am getting ahead of my self though.
First I can tell you that there is no magic cocktail that makes a flight from Anchorage Alaska to Cairns Australia easy. It takes over 24 hours, you leave one day and get there two days later because you cross the dateline. I chose to take a day in California to rest up before the long ride south from there. It was helpful to take a day, stop by a couple of giant tackle shops, have a solid dinner and head to the airport. My fishing partner on this and other trips, Vince and I both flew down on Quantas, premium economy, which was far, far superior to full-on coach for a 14-hour plane ride. I used one hundred thousand Alaska Airlines miles for a free round trip ticket. That saved me over 3000 dollars. You can convert Delta Miles too, so it is worth looking into.
If you are looking for a more moderately priced trip, stick with the San Diego long range fleet, you can’t beat the cost for the fishing. If you want to take a shot at something so different and unique that doing it once is probably enough for most people. The trip of a lifetime, then break out the checkbook, this one is worth it. The great news is the exchange rate at the moment is great. sixtyfive dollars US is equal to one hundred dollars Australian.
Nomad’s handling of the trip was perfect; steady communication by email from the time of reservation to the time you get on the boat. We had Claire and Melissa at their office in Brisbane set up two days of black marlin fishing at Lizard Island, which corresponded to the legendary Lizard Island Black Marlin Tournament.
Last year there were 8 granders and literally hundreds of black marlin over 500-pounds landed during the 7-day, catch and release event. They fish from 11:30 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon. Of course this year, was a different story but we did get to attend the closing ceremony of the event. It is a great tournament and getting to meet some of the Aussie heavy tackle, black marlin legends that night was a bonus. Fishing was slow for us on those two days and the ocean was Alaska rough. Well worth going and we did see a couple of solid bites. Spending months of the year fishing in Kona, I know that marlin fishing is all about timing. As it turns out the next three weeks were spectacular and this year will be remembered as a compressed but sensational heavy tackle season. Doing a week of that is high on my bucket list now.
After Lizard Island, we turned around the next morning and met our friends from Florida and the rest of the fishermen. From there, the four of us and six doctors from Brisbane met at the airport with our strict limit of 20 kilos of personal gear and we took a small, twin engine plane from Cairns out to Portland Roads on the north end of Australia. Portland Roads is a small outpost, left over from World War II. Nomad arranged for a Unimog 4WD bus to pick us all up. A 90-minute ride down a dirt road lead us to Lockhart River. There is a village of about 20 or so people. That is where the crew was waiting for us to load us up on the Odyssey, the 90-foot aluminum catamaran that was to be our home for the week.
The Nomad Operation
They have two 23 Regulators and two shallow draft Boston Whalers for fishing the shallow water reefs, estuaries and rivers in this area, which was plenty of boat for what we were doing. We fished primarily 90 to 150-gram poppers and stick baits for giant trevally, Maori wrasse, and bared Spanish mackerel (like a wahoo that loves to jump over and over again).
Nomad has their own line of lures that are perfectly suited to their fishery, but we also brought our own Yozuri Sashimi sliders and poppers, Sebile stick baits, and the OTI Phantom and all were winners at different times. We also had the opportunity to fish soft plastics on light leadheads. Berkley Gulp and Z-Man tails were preferred. Vince is a die-hard SoCal fisherman, so he had to have his iron and it worked well on the Spanish mackerel. Trolling diving plugs were best for the dogtooth tuna.
The boat tackle provided was great, Shimano Stella 8000’s for light tackle and 1800’s for the heavy casting and some custom fancy Japanese spinning rods. I fished a Penn Torque spinning reel and a Shimano Tranx conventional reel. They were fine too.
We did not see one other person fishing in the 160 miles of reef that we were working.
Not only that, the guides would not return to the same coral head to fish it again at any time during the trip, no matter how good they were. They only fish each area a couple of days a year and by area I mean they took us to a couple dozen coral heads out of thousands in the area. The last day of the six-day mother ship-based trip was the most savage and memorable and our guide and owner of Nomad said that in his 16 years of running these trips, he had never fished on any of these reefs or coral heads that we fished that day and he doubted anyone else had either, ever…
The Fishing on the northern Great Barrier Reef
The idea in this fishery is to not let the fish take any line at all. If you let any of these fish run, they would cut you off on the reef instantly. We lost a whole load of tackle and straightened a lot of hooks.
We had lures bitten in half, broke a couple of rods and lost some fish that were simply unstoppable.
Particularly vicious are the dogtooth tuna and Maori wrasse. The fish are largely mixed up around the coral heads, so you really never know what is going to bite or where. One boat hooked and landed a black marlin on a lipped diving plug on this trip. Vince caught a GT on the trailing hook of a popper and had a big Mackerel try to take the lure from the mouth of the GT and he landed both fish on one lure.
Taking photos during this kind of fishing is difficult!! We didn’t take this trip to write a story, so the photos we took are only a sample of what we caught.
Can you find other places where the action is going to be great and the fish are big? Absolutely. But Nomad provided great service, super guides and access to a different and remote area that never gets fished. All the fishing is sight fishing, you see almost every take and never know what it’s going to be…. Seeing packs of a dozen Giant Trevally fighting to hammer a stick bait is about as exciting as it gets. At one point we had three kinds of tuna and two kinds of mackerel all jumping and pushing bait around the boat.
If you ever get the chance to fish one of these trips, it would be my advice to go!!