May 12, 2020

Australian Fishing Adventures & Misadventures - Far North Queensland

Yes, I know every other Australia post up until this point has been in northern Queensland, but this one is detailing the remainder of our adventures in the state. We left off back in Cairns, having returned from our overnight on Fitzroy Island. The next portion of our journey was in the Wooroonooran National Park area, and we slept at a sweet free campground at the Babinda Boulders.

Babinda Boulders

The first day, we visited the Josephine Falls swimming hole and stopped at our first fruit stand of the trip to buy some fresh papayas. The falls were my personal favourite swimming hole and it was lots of fun to slide down smooth granite slab. I also took the opportunity to do a bit more freshwater snorkelling and enjoyed watching the Eel-tailed Cats graze on the bottom, with Sooty Grunters and Jungle Perch swimming above.

Josephine Falls

Feeling refreshed, we headed back to the Boulders and went on the short hike to check out the granite formations downstream before cooling off again at the swimming hole by our campsite. That pretty much rounded off our day, given the late start after taking the ferry back from Fitzroy.

Babinda Swimming Hole

The next day, we went on a quick tour of the Atherton Tablelands. This region featured the windiest roads we've ever been on, some spectacular views, epic waterfalls, and lots more fruit stands! Here's a quick collage of some of our favourite sights, not pictured is the Curtain Fig Tree which is epic in it's own right.

Atherton Tablelands
Windin Falls
Millaa Millaa Falls

I didn't spend too much time fishing the Tablelands (mainly because of surprise "no fishing" signs), but I did manage to get this Tandanus tropicanus Catfish at the base of a waterfall! Bonus, I also managed to get stung by said Catfish, which hurt worse than a bee sting and was a little unsettling.

Tandanus tropicanus

Returning to our campsite, I took some time after dinner to head back to the swimming hole and try for some of the micros I saw the previous day. Most of them turned out to be Pacific Blue-eye,  but some were tiny Gudgeon that turned out to be a new one: the Southern Purplespotted Gudgeon!

Southern Purplespotted Gudgeon (M. adspersa)

Those couple days summed up our stay in the area, and we soon found ourselves back on the highway headed south. As usual, we were ahead of schedule, so we took some of our extra time to visit Wallaman Falls. We're super glad we stopped because it's one of the most impressive falls we've visisted.

Wallaman Falls

Continuing south, we visited the town of Rasmussen (mostly because of the name), but, to my delight, it resulted in two new species! The first one came very quick and was obviously abundant: the Barred Grunter.

Barred Grunter (A. percoides)

The next big goal was the Archerfish I saw swimming near the surface. These guys were getting high on my list because they seemed to get the better of me every time I tried for them. This was about to change. I could only get them to react when the bait was directly on the surface, so I removed my split shot and used a tiny piece of cutbait like you would a dry fly. This worked and the fish were clearly reacting to the new tactic. My hookup ratio was awful but I did eventually land my lifer :)

Sevenspotted Archerfish (T. chatareus)

Happy with the two lifers, we hopped back on the highway and headed to Lake Proserpine, which was to be our campsite for the night. It was meant to simply be a convenient location for our next day's activities, but the views were pretty awesome and the lake had some huge Barramundi! I fished it for a couple hours and had one big take that cut my 50lb braid instantly :(
Lake Proserpine Campsite
Lake Proserpine Wharf

The next day was a boat tour in Whitsundays, which was very exciting but also very expensive. The iconic views were a bit underwhelming because of the high tide and rain showers, but I'd say the experience was worth it overall. This is also apparently where I broke my phone because it would not charge for the rest of the trip which made quite a challenge for the both of us.

Hill Inlet Lookout

The plan was to continue on to Cape Hillsborough after our boat tour, but the lost Barramundi last night left me sour and wanting to make a second attempt. We knew it would make driving hell as we'd only arrive at our next campsite after midnight, but still made the effort and returned to Proserpine. This time, equipped with wire leaders and some local knowledge, I had better luck! FYI, live Barred Grunter is the bait of choice for these guys, huge! I just caught a "small" one, but the power of these fish is incredible and rivals any other freshwater fish I've ever caught! Here's a picture of me and my Barramundi with the son of the local man who helped me finally catch one :)

Barramundi (L. calcarifer)

The driving was indeed hell for the rest of night... but so worth it!

Australian Fishing Adventures & Misadventures - Fitzroy Island

With our run up to Cape Trib and back complete, the next big activity of the trip was an overnight adventure out to Fitzroy Island. This required paying to park the car for 2 days, a ferry to and from the island, as well as one night at the campground since there's no free camping allowed on the island. The boat ride to the island was pretty beautiful and the employees took the time to point out a historical fort as well as the large aboriginal community of Yarrabah along the coast.

The views and fishing from the island exceeded expectations but the campground most certainly did not! The $40/night was steep but we expected little based on the reviews and figured we were better off than staying at the only other accommodation, an expensive resort. Thankfully, we weren't here to spend time at the campground!

Fitzroy Island

After getting our tent set up, we soon made the hike over to Nudey Beach, where a friend from Instagram recommended I start fishing. The beach was full of other tourists, but thankfully I had the large rocks to the side all to myself. The numerous rocks and reef structures in the water made the fishing very difficult, and it took some time getting used to. Eventually, I figured out how to drop my rig into specific holes between boulders to avoid becoming snagged repeatedly. There would be no long casts here! In fact, I only found about 2 sq ft of fishable area, but thankfully they held fish! All the fish were caught on the same three-way rig tipped with cutbait, as there was a limit of one hook per line in the area.

I won't go into detail for each catch since they were all caught about the same way, but I will say the fish here were especially beautiful. In particular, the Harlequin Tuskfish and Orangestriped Triggerfish really blew us away with their stunning colours. These were reef fish like I had never seen before, not even in Florida!

Bigeye Snapper (L. lutjanus)
Bluespotted Grouper (C. argus)
Blacktail Grubfish (P. queenslandica)
Floral Maori Wrasse (C. chlorourus)
Harlequin Tuskfish (C. fasciatus)
Orangstriped Triggerfish (B. undulatus)

We spent most of the day soaking up the sun at the fishing spot, only returning to our campsite after being thoroughly sunburned. We had some snacks and Alex relaxed but it wasn't long before I started getting bored and wanting to make a cast. I caved and decided to make a cast from the beach near our site as we waited for the sun to set. The bites were instant, as they often are in saltwater, but I kept pulling up the same fish. They all had a dark blotch on their sides but actually turned out to be two new species: Blackspot Snapper and Thumbprint Emperor!

Blackspot Snapper (L. fulviflamma)
Thumbprint Emperor (L. harak)

My friend who had given me the spot from earlier in the day also suggested casting some bait out for sharks, apparently the bite was supposed to be instantaneous! Apparently, I am not a very good shark fisherman because I ended the night with a few takes and 0 sharks.

An incoming thunderstorm pushed us off the water and we returned to our tent for the night, only waking up to make our ferry ride back to the mainland the next morning. It was good stay overall, in a beautiful area with plenty of beautiful fish, I only wish the facilities were nicer given the expensive cost.

May 03, 2020

Australian Fishing Adventures & Misadventures - Cape Tribulation

The next segment of our journey was one I was most excited for: a quick road trip from Cairns up to Cape Tribulation. As I mentioned in my last post, the drive up the Captain Cook Highway was just awesome. Great views pretty well the whole way!

Mt Alexandra Lookout

We even made it past Cape Trib and onto dirt road, but the crossing at Emmagen Creek stopped us in our tracks. Regardless, we were happy we made the extra trek because it allowed us a cool "secret" view of the cape :)

Emmagen Creek
Cape Tribulation

On to more important matters... fishing! It turns out that a lot of Cape Trib is protected habitat where fishing isn't allowed. Fortunately I was able to find a couple areas that seemed to be OK to fish. This was a super cool area with very thick rainforest and mangrove-type streams. The Jungle Perch seemed to be the easiest to spot again, but I did find some new species hanging out in habitat with slower, muddier water. The most aggressive of which were these awesome Snakehead Gudgeon! Capturing their colours in the shady tropical forest was difficult but I still managed to get some quick photos :)

Snakehead Gudgeon (G. margaritacea)

It soon became obvious that these Gudgeon were incredibly aggressive; repeatedly throwing themselves at my spinner. Eventually though, I notices a huge shape swimming through the creek: a big freshwater Eel! I dropped a bait right on it's nose and it gulped in down in quick succession. It then proceeded to swim backwards into some thick roots where it came off, never to be seen again. A bonus Gudgeon species, the Spangled Gudgeon, soon made up for it :)

Spangled Gudgeon (O. porocephala)

That second Gudgeon would be the end of the new species in the Cape Trib area proper. We had planned an extremely packed itinerary for our journey in Cape Trib, but were somehow ahead of schedule yet again! We took some pictures of the cape, went for a dip in Mason's swimming hole, enjoyed some fresh ice cream from the Daintree Ice Cream Company, and made our way back to the ferry that crosses the Daintree River. Mason's swimming hole was especially cool, maybe because we were so hot (hehe). Puns aside, it was pretty sweet to snorkel in the clear water and watch the Eel-tailed Catfish, Jungle Perch, and others swim around us.

Cape Tribulation
Mason's Swimming Hole

Being so far ahead of schedule, we stopped and spent an hour on the banks of the Daintree River after crossing with the ferry. I dropped a line with a small hook tipped with cut bait and started catching lots of bland silver fish. I initially figured they were all the same species but I'm glad I got pics because I ended up with three new species!

Silver Javelin (P. argenteus)
Black-ear Javelin (P. trifasciatus)

Pikey Bream (A. pacificus)

I also noticed some small Archerfish hanging out right near shore, but they were so small I couldn't even get one to take a tanago bait :/ Fortunately, spending time focused on the Archerfish allowed me to notice some other fish movement... on shore! I wasn't going crazy, there were Mudskippers hopping around the cobble out of the water. I wasn't sure if I could catch a fish on land, but I was determined to try. Surprisingly, the Mudskippers were super aggressive and the first one I presented to immediately hopped over to investigate and grab the bait! I lifted him up but it got unhooked and landed on the dock I was fishing from. "No worries", I thought, just gotta go over and pick him up like normal. Of course, that wasn't quite the case. The fish, adapted to life on land, "ran" away faster than I could catch him. I resorted to throwing my backpack on top of it so that I could rush over and claim my prize!

Silverlined Mudskipper (P. argentilineatus)

The icing on the cake was releasing it back to the river, only to have it "run" on the water's surface back to safety on land.

The Mudskipper seemed to be the final lifer in the area, so we hopped back in the car after about an hour at the river. We were still slightly ahead of schedule so we took a side trip out to Port Douglas to watch the sunset. The view was nice, but the coolest part was the massive colony of Flying Foxes we saw on the way! These giant bats were high on my list of Australian animals I wanted to see, and seeing them in person was so cool. Just seeing a huge bat during the day is pretty damn neat.

Grey-headed Flying Fox (P. poliocephalus)
Flying Fox (Pteropus sp.)

Port Douglas

May 01, 2020

Australian Fishing Adventures & Misadventures - Cairns & Palm Cove

Picking up from my previous blog post, the new day would be the first "real" day of our trip. The first orders of business were to pick up our rental car, a nice Corolla hatchback, and do some shopping. Then, we headed to Crystal Cascades for a bit of a swim to cool off. Did I mention the insane temperatures and humidity in Cairns!? The walk along Freshwater Creek to the cascades was pretty interesting and gave us our first taste of Australia wildlife; giant spiders, brush turkeys, tropical fish, colourful butterflies, and others were present.

Cruiser (V. arsinoe)

After finishing the short hike, I decided to try to catch some of the tropical fish downstream of the national park area. Seeing the fish upstream, but not being able to catch them, was driving me crazy! In short order, I located a pool with some big Jungle Perch hanging out in the shallows, mixed with schools of Rainbowfish and Blue-eyes. Surprisingly, the Jungle Perch wanted nothing to do with my bait, but the Rainbowfish were more than eager!

Eastern Rainbowfish (M. splendida)

The beauty of the Rainbowfish was astounding, it must be one of the prettiest freshwater fish I've caught to date. Alex was similarly enthralled, enough for her to want to catch one of her own :) 

Catching the Rainbowfish also meant I finally had access to some semi-decent bait, having only used Powerbait pellets up until then. I baited a size 16 hook with a small chunk of Rainbowfish and freelined it out to the bigger fish. Of course, the Jungle Perch ignored my best efforts. But, as the bait neared the bottom, a dark shape moved out from the rocks and grabbed my presentation! It turned out to be a Sooty Grunter, another popular Australian freshwater gamefish. I also quickly learned that they have more than their fair share of spines.

Sooty Grunter (H. fuliginosus)

After releasing the grunter, I repeated the process of letting the bait slowly fall to the bottom, mainly because of the Jungle Perch's unwillingness. As soon as the bait neared the bottom, the Sooty's would come out and smash it! It was good fun but started to get old after catching a few fish without any added diversity. Eventually, my persistence paid off and a new species showed itself! I would called it the "spotted freshwater thing", as I had no clue what it was. Some friends on FaceBook later ID'd it as a Spangled Perch.

Spangled Perch (L. unicolor)

Having exhausted the number of species in the pool, I returned my focus to the Jungle Perch. There were plenty of them, all willing to take bread from tourists but completely unwilling to take anything attached to a hook! I changed tactics and began treating my bait as if it were a dry fly and skittering it briefly along the surface to incite an aggression strike. This new technique worked and I finally hooked into one of them!

Jungle Perch (K. rupestris)

After landing the Jungle Perch, we switched gears and headed up the coast to do a bit of saltwater fishing. The Palm Cove Jetty was a spot I knew literally nothing about, but seemed to be some of the better access I could find. It turned out to be a great first spot to wet a line in Australian saltwater and I managed to land a whole array of cool fish! The first was this duo of Grunters to round off my Terapon genus collection.

Spinycheek Grunter (T. puta)
Largescale Grunter (T. theraps)

Next, a rather bland-looking Emperor and similarly drab Sillago popped up (all new species btw). I also managed to land some sort of dark Grouper which one of the local guys told me was a "Cod". Turns out these three fish were Redspot Emperor, Western Trumpeter Sillago, and Chocolate Hind/Grouper/Cod. You may as well disregard half the common names here because they're all mixed up in Australia lol.

Redspot Emperor (L. lentjan)
Western Trumpeter Sillago (S. burrus)

Chocolate Hind (C. boenak)

The last fish I wanted to show you guys was definitely the most exciting to me! It's one I had planned to catch much further south but I was super pleased to have one show up so early in the trip. I'm not much of a saltwater guy, but I do gotta admit there are some pretty wacky fish in the sea. Case in point, this cool Yellowfin Tripodfish!

Yellowfin Tripodfish (T. angustifrons)

We ended the day by going for our first ride up the Captain Cook highway to look for a campsite. This has to be one of the most spectacular drives on the planet! Tropical rainforest on your left and blue ocean on your right! It might also seems like a great place to camp, but be prepared to sweat! This was our first experience with tropical car camping, and all I can say is bring a fan!!!