Battle-scarred lures like this 190XDD  are proven fish catchers.

Sharks really bite

We wiser (older) folk know that regardless of how much we like to theorise and ponder there is rarely any better way to learn than to put boots on the ground, on the beach or in the boat to get the nuts and bolts of what really works. I had another of those perfect learning opportunities recently. And I do love a great lesson.

We called into Broome to catch up with family as part of the run home on our extended trip towing the caravan to Darwin and back.

As part of the itinerary of being in Broome we couldn’t help but plan a trip or two out on the water courtesy of brother-in-law Ric and his 660 Trailcraft. If the weather behaved we planned a day around Roebuck Bay chasing threadies and then a day offshore chasing macks and bottom fish.

It’s the macks part of the offshore day that held this particular lesson for me.

I packed a range of rods and reels to cover most of what we might want to do on a 10,000km road trip and being forewarned there could be a mackie outing in the offing I put a lure kit together comprising about 20 or so assorted lures that I felt confident would do the job.

The offshore day came around and the forecast was just on the good side of okay, but it was expected to be a tad less than perfect (it turned out to be mirror calm). Boat launching what is a largish trailerboat at Broome (as opposed to a smaller dinghy) is dependent on a few things falling into place. There are no protected launching facilities in Broome and dinghies aren’t quite so restrictive but even they can get a bit interesting if you aren’t well prepared.

Broome is all about beach launching and/or retrieving at some point and that means you need a careful eye on the tides. There are ramps but these are exposed to all sea conditions and at times the ramps have enough water over them to be useful, but more often they end well short of where the ocean starts. And if you are not pretty polished about getting your craft off or back onto the trailer you run the very real risk of becoming another statistic in the long list of 4WD owners who’ve condemned their beloved beast to a saltwater burial. It’s sobering stuff. And you need deckies who are fully prepared to get wet up to the waist holding the boat off the beach until the tow vehicle and trailer are all set for a speedy recovery and exit. Without a fairly polished act and a committed crew, don’t even bother.

I am absolutely gobsmacked that a town as large as Broome, in this day and age, does not have an all-tide, all-weather safe boating facility. Our politicians need to hang their heads in collective shame, all of them. But I digress, back to the mackie stuff.

After a pretty slick launch Ric piloted his trusty craft to where we’d begin the hunt for a mackie for dinner. You might think that catching a mackie in Broome is about as complex and challenging as hanging anything shiny out the back of the boat anywhere there’s saltwater. Fish are never like that, they all have areas they prefer to be at and there’s little point fishing all day in totally wrong areas.

One of Ric’s favoured mackie areas is not far west of Broome and consists of a long finger of ground that is shallower than the water around it, punctuated by some larger bommies towards one end. It’s this area of bommies that Ric has found holds good numbers of macks and we set about trolling some lures along the top of the ridge.

Ric went straight for a Halco Laser Pro 190XDD in the chrome pink colour. I deployed a slightly different minnow to his on the opposite side of the boat. My choice was an old but well-proven Halco Laser Pro 190XDD white lumo redhead and the teeth marks and gouges all over it were proof positive that many fish had tried unsuccessfully to claim the lure on past trips. Down the middle of the two deep minnows I set a Halco C-Gar 120 chrome tiger colour splashing along way down the back. We trolled for about two miles and not a touch. Not even much of a sign of fish either on the surface around us or on the sounder. But then as we neared the magical bommies the C-Gar down the middle got hit.

I hadn’t trolled surface lures before so the hit was a bit strange. I was holding the rod so I could give some extra life to the chunk of splashing plastic with sweeps of the rod every so often. The first sign of interest was all visual, way back where the wake disintegrated I saw an almighty surface commotion, a couple times in quick succession. There was no sensation of a hit through the rod at all, not a twitch.

After what seemed like ages but was less than seconds I felt movement and then weight through the rod. I reefed back on the 10kg King Mack Spin to help set the hook, the outfit loaded up and yielded line as the unseen silver thing made off at speed. That’s a great feeling. Not just that we’d hooked up but that it had happened on a trolled surface lure more commonly used for casting.

The long and short of this part of the story is that I lost that fish. Well, I didn’t lose it, some stinking shark stole it and my shiny new C-Gar. There were signs very early into the battle that I was at very long odds to boat that fish. Just after hookup the water behind the outboard filled with a school of free-swimming macks coming to the boat, and beneath those macks was a band of big fat sharks. The type didn’t matter as they’re all the same to me – stinking big sharks.

At a point in the fight the mack made a second sustained run out and Ric announced I was going to lose. He’d learned that at this spot any mackie that made a second run did so because there were sharks on its tail. Sure enough, not a minute later I was retrieving slack line. Stinking sharks.

As fun as proving to myself that trolling surface lures was an effective method to attract macks was, I’d also learned that 10kg mono spin gear was not an effective choice of tackle to beat these particular stinking sharks. I put that outfit back in the rack, choosing to stick to my 15kg short-stroker outfit. We regrouped and trolled on.

Less than 20m into our next run Ric’s lure took a hit and yielded line to what appeared to be another mackie. There was not much finesse in this fight and the 15kg line was copping as much pressure as it could cope with to get this fish to the boat – that was our dinner! As it neared the boat the entourage of stinking sharks materialised out of the depths and set about running the fish down. It was a battle between me with the gaff and six or seven rampaging 2-3m sharks. We won, they lost. Fresh mackie for us!

We trolled on and Ric’s chrome pink lure just kept getting eaten, and everything I put into the water next to it kept getting ignored. I have never seen anything like it, on such a hot bite I couldn’t believe my box full of proven fish takers were all being ignored. Same models, similar models, it didn’t matter, colour was the only difference. Thinking about the earlier success of the C-Gar on the surface I snapped on a slightly smaller shallower running Laser Pro 160DD in the gold redhead colour. This went on to be the new hottie.

This smaller and much shallower running lure was taking hits one after the other, and all the while the chrome pink XDD was suddenly now out of favour right alongside it. The fun didn’t last and eventually the new hot lure got taken in a memorable boatside show of aggression that left us both gobsmacked and dripping wet.

This hookup did all the usual things other than maybe staying a bit deeper than the other macks had done and I just put it down to it being a slightly bigger fish. Then a decent tuna appeared under the boat, amazingly with no sharks trying to eat it and it all appeared simple. Ric readied the gaff and fresh tuna was going to be a nice entree at the dinner table. The fish slid itself topside and right alongside the starboard stern quarter. Ric casually placed the gaff over the head of the fish and the job was all but done.

Out of nowhere this mongrel shark shot out from under the hull. In half its own body length (of about two metres) it did a slick 180 to munch down on our tuna then completed another 180 and shot off away from the transom at pace with the tuna and our hot new lure down its gob. We were both dripping with spray from the attack and the water was peppered with pieces of tuna. I hate to think of the outcome had we decided to try grabbing the tuna around the tail wrist to lift it into the boat rather than use the gaff. It would surely have been an ugly scene.

I refused to tie any more lures on after that and we went chasing some bottom fish before heading back to battle the boat retrieve part of the day.

So what were my mistakes and what lessons did I take away?

My first mistake was thinking the lures I’d found worked elsewhere would naturally work in Broome. I didn’t ask what colours might work, I just assumed I knew from past experience elsewhere. Always ask a local.

I learned that trolling surface casting lures is a very effective additional tool to add to the pelagic trolling game plan. We’re off to the Monte Bello Islands for a week soon and we’ll be bolstering our pelagic lure collection with a whole bunch of hard-bodied surface lures. I expect we’ll come home with a lot less than we take away.

I also learned that no matter how much I love trolling extra-deep diving minnows it can pay to run a much shallower minnow too. This was the second time I’d had this shallow lure lesson so there is something to it and I just know that it can be an important option to put into the mix. I’m thinking that a lure at or close to the surface provides a much stronger silhouette against the light of the sky than a deep-running one.

I also learned the hard and expensive way that no matter how much I love the sport of fighting fish, sometimes the only choices we have are to either go heavy and hard or go home empty-handed. And in these days of ever increasing shark numbers taking a growing toll on hooked fish up and down the coast, having gear on board to be able to go hard might just have to be a more routine ace up our sleeves.

I just love this fishing game. I don’t love big sharks.

Caption: Battle-scarred lures like this 190XDD are proven fish catchers.