The plan to fly over and fish Lord Howe Island had been in the pipeline for many months, awaiting the perfect window of weather. October came around and the boys got a call from Scott Wilson, local commercial fisherman, islander and friend. He said the warmer water current had pushed down and onto the island and some low wind was forecast that would make for some excellent fishing conditions.
Hayden, spending time growing up on the island in his earlier years and in more recent time had been regularly going back to visit old friends and obviously, go fishing. He knew that with such a small speck of land in the middle of the ocean it’s a must to get the prime weather. Scott and his family had generously offered the boys accommodation with them, so all that was needed now was to book the flights…
Travel day can never come around quick enough, especially after the COVID restrictions. It was early in the morning and the airport was quiet, they got their bags to the desk and immediately had to rearrange their check-in baggage to suit the strict 14kg weight limit. Before they knew it they had organised rock shoes, stickbaits, gimbles and the rest into their carry-on and were now sitting content on the Qantas Dash-8 ready for take-off.
The small 36 seater plane was coasting along above the clear Tasman sea when the pilot indicated for the cabin crew to prepare for landing. Heads were like swivels, looking out of any window they could set their eyes on to get the first glimpse of the volcanic island. Within minutes the plane had dropped and Jay and Hayden could clearly see the crystal clear lagoon water and the famous mountains, Lidgebird and Gower. It was a relatively calm landing for what it’s worth, with the air strip being one of the shortest in Australia and situated so close to the two looming mountains it can often cause a swirl of wind turbulence no matter the wind direction.
With feet on hard ground and the sun on their backs there was one thing on their mind, getting the rods out quickly as possible to go fishing. When the greetings were over the boys hopped straight into the tray of Scotts ute and made their way along the palm lined streets towards home for the next five days. The decision was to head straight down to Clear Place, a notorious pelagic ledge where trophy kingfish, yellowfin tuna and many other desirable fish have been caught.
After winding and weaving through the tropical kentia palm and banyan forest, they finally came out to a clearing where they could start to scramble down a steep fishermans track situated with a rope along a 40 meter drop into the ocean. Feet planted on the grippy volcanic rock they threw a range of floating and sinking stick baits as well as poppers.
Local mates Ernie and Wes were also fishing lure and baits, a few drummer came about in the wash but nothing on lure. Hayden managed to hook a nice endemic double header on a fresh crab, a surprisingly strong fighting fish for its size, similar to a groper with peg teeth, slime everywhere and blue skin. It was four hours at Clear Place before the sun started to set and they decided to head home to eat dinner, re-tie leaders and prepare for the following day.
A light rain throughout the night had stopped early morning and a forecast wind change at midday set the scene for a mountain climb. They set out early and scaled up the side of a damp Mount Lidgebird towards Goat House, a literal home for goats when they populated the island years ago. The overhanging cliff raised at 432m above sea level is a stunning view and vantage point looking over the entire island.
Sitting at the far north end of the island situated under the northern hills was Old Gulch – the next ledge they planned to fish. They made the climb back down with pace and excitement for the thought of getting over to the Gulch to fish.
They borrowed a good mate Ernie’s tinny, stacked with everything they were going to need for the day on the ledge. Arriving at North Bay it was a 10 minute walk through the palms opening out into old Gulch, a rocky beach with gin clear water making a narrow strip between two high headlands. They lugged the day’s gear around the side and set up for wash-fishing. Bread was in the water and the silver drummer swarmed on it within seconds.
Blue fish, wrasse and a number of sizable trevally had moved in not long after. Hayden hooked the first trevally, around the 3-4kg mark on his 20lbs outfit. Pop! It burnt the line for 5 seconds before it found a ledge and snapped him off. Hayden and Jay opted for the heavier 40lbs outfit with a longer rod. They changed the bait from bread to strips of bonito which worked out fine for the non fussy trevally. Some bigger fish had caught wind of the bread burley that local Keith and Thorne had produced. Both Jay and Hayden landed some great 7kg trevs that kept them occupied for the next few hours. Jay landed an excellent Spangled emperor and a vibrant wrasse. Once the sun had fallen behind the cliff and shadows crossed the wash the fishing increased with rat kings and even more large trevally circling at foot.
After a few more fish were caught, Hayden spotted a school of large kingfish barge their way into the burley trail sucking up a mix of bread and pilchards. With a single hooked pre-rigged dead gar on a 80lb braid to a 130lb leader outfit, Hayden pitched out the bait with the bail arm left open… It took no longer than five seconds before one of the larger of the kings eyed off the motionless silver sinking gar and completely inhaled it. Hayden let the fish swallow the gar for 3-4 seconds with the line between his fingers consistently being pulled out at a smooth pace. It was showtime and Hayden snapped over the bailarm of his 14000 stella and wound into the strike.
The look of the loaded-up rod with the fish on strike looked as if someone had been snagged, but within a few seconds it was a different story. The angry green back kingy tore meters down to the right side of the ledge and quickly back down towards the left. There were many rocky outcrops that interfered as the fish took around a corner, bail arm open he could feel the braid rubbing along the rocks.
Hayden called for Jay to come around and cross a finger of water separating him from the point the fish had turned. With the bail arm open he threw the rod and reel across the water to Jay then took his turn to run up and around the gully of water to reclaim the rod.
The kingfish fought on peeling line from the reel, diving down deep getting itself into the worst kind of snags. Hayden could feel the line tighten up as the fish had snagged him. Sitting defeated and soaked he opened the bail arm hoping that the fish would come out if it, not feeling the pressure through the line. The opposite happened – it continued to drive deeper under the bombie out in front. Hayden had given up and decided to try and pull as hard he could to either snap off the braid or release the fish. Inch by inch, foot by foot Hayden was reclaiming some line still having the braid grinding along the rocks.
After a few minutes the line felt free and the weight of the fish was clean through the rod. Pump and wind he finally got the fish to the surface. There was another attempt by the tired fish to dive down but Hayden had held the spool refusing to allow the fish to return to the mysteries below. Jay had climbed down onto the lower ledge awaiting the tired fish. With a surge of water pushing almost upto Jays chest he shot his hand up through the kings gill and out its mouth. Both the boys both managed to drag the fish up over the head high ledge.
With a firm grip around the defeated kings tail in a small waist deep ping, they tried to allow the fish to recover and perhaps prepare it for release. After a few photos and some time in the free slowing pond the fish continued the float belly up. With the fish worse for wear and Hayden biggest king on land-based he made the decision to ikejime the trophy fish and bring it home to get a weight.
It took a laborious 45 minute return trip with the fish over his back to make it to the tinnie. The low tide was out and they had to drag the loaded boat down the beach to reach the water. The boat ride back to the ramp was short but enjoyable, high spirits and a glassed out lagoon filled the view home towards the two giant mountains in the distance. They got the fish home and set it on the scales.. 20kg on the head. Battered and bruised with a very memorable fish and fight the boys slept early ready for the next day out on the boat.
They woke early before light to the chirping of the local woodhens, they slipped the 6 meter aluminum center console into the water and took off down the lagoon towards the southern passage. It was a 45 minute run out to Balls Pyramid, there was a light breeze heading into some current which made the water choppy. Aiming themselves in close to the Pyramid they began to cast poppers and pencils into the wash. It didn’t take long before the first hoodlum hit Jays Heru Tuna popper. The new Saltiga clicked off some line off before jay began to wind in the first of what was to be many topwater strikes.
The fish Jay hooked was a healthy 12kg+, the average of the fish caught in around the washes all ranged from the 10-20kg mark with a tip lengths all 120cm+. Hayden threw a garfish pattern pencil into some of the more clear aqua water. With the tip of his rods raised high he skipped the pencil along the surface, a dark shadow raised from the shallow clear water around 15 meters to the right. The dark backed kingfish completely teeboned the lure and inhaled it. Hayden’s stella sung as the fish pulled line away from the boat. Five minutes later with some excellent skippering from Scott the boys landed another trophy fish.
The day progressed and the boys moved further out into deeper water, following birds and looking out for a specific species that would indicate a higher promise for yellowfin tuna.
Again it did not take long for the boys to cast ahead towards the circling birds, and within the first few sweeps of the ever giving tuna popper Jay set his hooks into a nice 25kg yellowfin. They continued around the birds for the next few hours collecting yet another yellowfin around the same school size, this time on a sinking black ledge lure.
The following day proved the same as the last, multiple hoodlums on top water in the early morning and tuna into the day. On their way back into the rain they stopped at a few seamounts at 300 meters. Jay dropped down a jig on his JM / Jigstar outfit for the hopes of a flame tail snapper. After many minutes on the drop he finally hit the bottom, a couple jigs later and he had hooked onto a fish. Now began the slow wind up from the depths, it was only a few seconds later but all of a sudden the fish dropped off! The realization of having to do more of the same seemed daunting. They attached a heavy weight and rigged up a bait rig this time. They reset the drift and dropped the bonito baits back down to the unknown. With a fish on they dragged it up and up, there was finally a shine, a ring of bubbles followed. Once up they locked onto a giant blue eye, not the target species but still a welcome sight.
The week’s fishing at Lord Howe Island came to a close with their flight the following morning. They managed three full days, one and a half days on the rocks and the following two days on the boat. They left the island, burnt, tied and bruised but had some amazing memories and new friends. This was a trip that had to be re visited..