Did you ever see that ad on TV where the guy wins Lotto and goes fishing out of a chopper? He’s pulling on a fish as the chopper hovers over the water – I’m sure anyone who has seen it could dream of doing that one day.
In reality there is no way that kind of helicopter fishing could be done but there is the next best thing and that’s to fish with Dennis "Brazakka" Wallace on one of his Cape York Heli-Fishing adventures. It’s been on my wish list to fish with the legend north of Princess Charlotte Bay and when the opportunity arose I grabbed it with both hands.
A long awaited trip to Lockhart River saw my son in law, Truls Fauske, and I fishing with mate Chris Flannagan for a couple of days. The extensive mangrove wetlands of the mighty Lockhart combined with the salt and freshwater reaches of the Claudie Rivers are a sight to behold! Teaming with fishlife these remote systems are not professionally fished so you can imagine they offer pristine sport fishing and the two days we spent exploring their limits were a real eye opener.
As can happen in any wilderness the fishing was tough. We lure fished the mangrove fringes and snags and did manage some fairly solid barra, jacks, queenies and trevally. By any standards this would have been regarded as a good result, but in these parts fish captures are measured similar to cricket scores and Chris constantly apologised for the poor results. Truls was overwhelmed by his first few barra captures and couldn’t understand why Chris thought the fishing was slow. Well, when we visit this area again in 2008 I am sure he will understand what the *best* estuary fishing in Oz is really like!
Brazakka had been fishing north of Lockhart with a group visiting Haggerstone Island. Our scheduled 3 day trip began when he ferried a passenger to the airport at Lockhart River for his return to Melbourne and his first words were; “The fishing’s been hard sunshine, have you guys been getting amongst them?” Our reply only confirmed that the fishing had been slow up and down the coast but I had a feeling things were about to change - and I promise not a single word of exaggeration when describing this, our first days heli fishing with my good mate Brazakka.
We loaded up the chopper, tackle first of course. Special rods were designed by Brazakka and his mates some time ago for hand to hand combat fishing from the banks. The rod is a short, stout blank of around 120cm with a pistol grip and it's called “Brazakka’s Barra Buster”, just perfect for the job and custom built by Paul Herron. Shimano reels were loaded with 30lbs Amnesia braid and a metre plus length of 40lbs mono leader. To this was tied, via a perfection loop, an Egg Snap - Japanese in design these suckers don’t let go. Lures packed included B52’s, Gold Bombers. F1-11 and Stealth Bombers, Rapala Shadraps, Barra Classic 10+, RMG Scorpions in various sizes and a selection of poppers. We were ready to do battle and just hoped the fish were on the chew!
As we ascended above the Lockhart River community and headed south the view was just amazing! From this low altitude we could see the meanderings of the Lockhart and Claudie systems then in the distance the rocky headlands jutting out into the Coral Sea. It’s hard to put into words the exhilaration and a drenalin charged emotions that go with chopper flying. All I can say is give it a go and you will never want to fly any other way.
Numerous creek and rivers systems criss cross the plains before pouring out into the sea. To me they all looked good but Brazakka has over the years fished most of them and weeded out the average from the best. He places high importance on the stage of the tide and knows which spots are likely to fire on the tops, bottom, run in or run out. Our first stop was a narrow channelled creek with a deep gutter on the far bank...it looked good.
It takes a few minutes to wind the chopper down and any passengers must always remember *never* to leave the chopper and move backwards towards the tail rotor. It’s best to wait for the rotors to completely stop before venturing out.
We were chomping at the bit as we tied on our lures and began casting, working our surface lures with a jerk/retrieve action. Barras and jacks attacked in packs darting every which way chasing our lures. Brazakka hooked up, then Truls and finally I was on, a triple hook up on smaller barra around 50 to 55cms. Bait schools showered as leaping barra crashed through them giving a great show and keeping us on our toes trying to stop them crossing over each other. What a place! What a start to our heli fishing trip!
It was on for young and old as this place fired up. For almost an hour one of us were hooked up to something, jacks to 1.3 kilos, small queenies and decent sized G.T’s to 3 kilos. Small black tipped sharks tried to get in on the action giving our hooked fish the “hurry-up” looking for an easy feed. This place was alive and when the action finally slowed we tallied up over 35 fish caught and released. How do you beat that??
Our next stop was to a secluded gutter in dense mangroves. We walked through the scrub and over mangrove roots for ten minutes to reach the spot...and boy was it worth the effort! Wedged up against mangrove roots we flicked in our lures to the far side of the gutter, which was no more than five metres wide. Darting flashes of red collided head on to get first chomp, jacks, and some big buggers too. Again we started off with a triple hook up and landed jacks from 0.75 kilos to 1.5 kilos, it was hand to hand combat as they sped for cover in the dense mangrove roots and snags. It was like, twitch, hook up, hang on, then wind! Not exactly finesse fishing but so exhilarating.
The main river fed this gutter as the tide pushed in and we could see fish enter through a shallow drain. We just sat there watching barra, queenies, GT's, bream and jacks like a passing parade before we aimed our casts at selected fish. It doesn’t get much better than this. Brazakka hooked into a bigger barra that Truls and I had tried to tempt on his way along the line - it went ballistic leaping half a dozen times before tangling over one big snag then under another. The lad just hung on for all he was worth trying to duck and weave his fish back towards him, and it worked as he hooked the Boga Grips into a 5 1/2 kilo silver barra. With longer, fast taper rods it wouldn’t have been possible.
It must have been 35 degrees in the shade and the mozzies were giving us heaps but it’s amazing how you don’t seem to feel any discomfort when fish are chewing so well. After an hour in this “fish heaven” we clambered back to the chopper totally exhausted trying to figure out just how many fish had been hooked and caught, we had lost count!
Working our way down the coast we saw some incredible sights! In one weed bed area close to the coast we watched a group of around 40 dugongs grazing and I lost count of the big crocs basking in the shallows. To experience fishing of this magnitude was amazing, so too the scenery and sheer isolation of this awesome part of Cape York.
As the day passed we had another couple of great stops where the fish just latched onto everything. Most of the barra were around 50 to 65 cms but great sport, the jacks and other species added to the suspense of just what would bite next!
Flying over flocks of magpie geese, thousands of them in this huge swamp was reminiscent of Kakadu. A mob of wild pigs wallowed at the water’s edge and a couple of dingoes were chasing a sow nearby. Brazakka reckoned she was probably about to drop a litter and the dingoes were hanging around for a feed.
We landed at Coen that evening and enjoyed the hospitality of the folks at the Exchange Hotel, (one local has put an “S” in front of the name). A cold beer or two, a good meal and an airconditioned cabin, who could ask for more!
The second day was much the same as the first, perhaps not quite as many fish as the first day where we estimated over 90 caught and released. We tried new country and headed north again to visit the art gallery at Lockhart River where visitors can buy direct from local artists.
On the last day we headed south with the highlight being a stop at the famous Bathurst Heads, and not a camper in sight. This is a rare occurrence as the place is usually packed with visitors, however the pending wet season had moved them on. The tide was half way out and Brazakka was confident of a barra bite.
We tied on deeper diving lures such as Nilsmaster Invincibles, RMG Scorpions and the Barra Classic 10plus in my favourite purple colour. I was still tackling up when Truls yelled he was onto a horse, only to pull the hooks a few seconds later. Within 5 minutes he was on again and this time managed to stay connected for a couple of jumps before again losing what looked like a 40 pounder. To say he was excited would be an understatement. Only a few days earlier he had never landed a barra let alone hooked a couple of big bruisers.
I turned a couple of good fish but ended up staying connected to a king salmon, and not a bad one at 6.5 kilos. These suckers can fight and he led me all around the headland before giving up. Brazakka eventually got into a good one around 35lbs which gave him the run around before wedging under a rock. He kept gentle pressure on the fish and eased him out before he ran out to sea. This is where you want these bigger barras to fight when fishing the rocks letting them tire themselves out before bringing them to shore.
I got bricked by a big fella before I hooked the last fish of the day, again he led me all over the place and under a huge ledge. I thought I had lost him for sure but by keeping on that gentle pressure he popped up and continued the scrap. A dozen jumps later we weighed him at 10 kilos, not a monster by any means but a great fight off the rocks.
It was time to head back to Cairns and we stayed coastal for most of the trip, passing Cooktown, Port Douglas and got a beaut view of the Northern Beaches. We had the trip of a lifetime, it couldn’t have played out to be a better scenario.
Whilst I appreciate these trips are costly it is not as much as you would think. For the same price as a couple of fishos going to a remote lodge for 5 days fishing you could go Heli-Fishing for 3 days - and cover so much more country in the process.