A day out on the reef with Les Hiddins

I hadn’t had my regular reef fix for some time and after chatting in the shop with Les Hiddins, whom most of you know as the Bush Tucker Man, he told me that he had never been fishing on the reef!  He loves barra fishing in the bush and some will remember a beer commercial he did with Dave Killalea casting lures, but throughout his illustrious career had not wet a line on the GBR. I booked a charter with Damo & Jake on Saltaire, who run out of Port Douglas to some of the more remote and productive fishing area.  I knew it was a three tide day but the timing dictated the day as we had family visiting from Perth and the UK, and the moon was right.

Keith Graham bending the rod to haul up another Red

Ken Hemsley is a retired mechanic who hails from Liverpool and has trout and salmon fished Europe for many years. He has dreamed of fishing the reef and he has been an avid fan of the Bush Tucker Man series for years, however he didn’t know who we had invited along until we all met at the marina and I reckon you could have knocked him down with a feather. Others in our group, his son Richie and his partner Jemma were equally surprised and we chatted to Les for some time before heading out. It was interesting to hear what he  had been up to over the past few years, and the TV projects he has in mind for the not too distant future, all of which I’m sure we will enjoy. He has been working with UK presenter Ray Mears and the day we went out Ray was filming at Cape tribulation - small world isn’t it!
Les Hiddins with a nice Chinaman fish

The weather was a perfect 8 knots with slight chop and a little overcast. I admit to preferring calmer seas these days and all on board enjoyed a pleasant trip to the first of Damo’s secret spots. Our deckhand Jake is a busy lad and had all rods rigged & bait cut ready to go. Les had recently treated himself to a new salt water spin combo and it didn’t take long before we all had a few bites and hook ups to smaller reef fish like gold spot cod, trevally and Richie nailed a good coral trout, but it was quiet by reef standards and we made a couple more moves before we hit the jackpot.

It was on for young and old as the bite began with large mouth reds hitting us one after the other. Nothing too big, but big enough to give us a good workout, and Jake was buzzing around the deck un-hooking fish like a blue arsed fly. We released a number of undersize red emperor (government bream), smaller trout and cod too. Good to see Jake use a spike to release air from the bladder before releasing them, so they stood a much better chance of survival.Jemma with the Trout of the Day

Jemma and Rich had a field day with trout and reds, as did Ken who also snared a good sizes spangled emperor - to say he was a happy chappie would be an understatement. Les was in in element too after a slow start he made up for it with some credible reds and trout. Later that session the bigger fish moved in and we lost some beauties! I had a double hook up with a fair sized small mouth on the top hook and a gold spot trevally on the bottom. I really thought it was one of those giant reds over 10 kilos!!! Many of these giant reds seem to move out to deeper waters this time of year and we used to get them in 60 metres plus.

After the bite eased we had lunch before moving off to new country, and again Damo found us good fish, especially coral trout. Jemma hooked a beauty, in fact the best trout of the day around 3 kilos. Richie managed a large mouth red about the same size, and Les caught his fair share too. He commented on how much hard work it was hooking and fighting these reef fish, but I know he’s hooked and looking forward to future trips out of Port. The rest of the session saw a slowing down of the bite. We had as many fish as we needed for a good feed and I wasn’t looking forward to the filleting job back at home.

Days like these are gold. Perfect weather, good company, a top boat and crew and the Great Barrier Reef to view and admire. They say any fish caught are a bonus…and I’d agree with that!