Wessel Islands 2019

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Mark Savage
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Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2016 12:36 pm

Wessel Islands 2019

Post by Mark Savage » Sat Aug 31, 2019 4:51 pm

Hi all,
Tony suggested i do a trip report for a club meeting, but unfortunately my FIFO days are Tuesdays so a post here is the next best thing.

I've held a long fascination with the Wessel Islands from reading old issues of Modern Fishing back in high school. In the late 90's to early 2000's I had the opportunity to work in Gove during the dry season doing grade control at the bauxite mine and while I didn't get out to the Wessel's then, I did get to do a few weekenders to the Bromby Group and English Company Islands during that period. After fishing those island groups, I then knew i had to get there one day.
Fast forward to 2017, I’m a few years into saltwater fly after years of light tackle sportfishing and saw an advert in Fly Life for a guided trip to the Wessel's with Waterline Charters. I convinced my partner to do this trip in 2018 for our birthdays, unfortunately the booking was cancelled due to time over runs on the refit of Phoenix One and we ended up going to Hinchinbrook instead. Waterline offered us a discount for the 2019 season which we jumped at.

So in June this year, we headed to Gove via a stopover in Darwin. The flight arrived mid morning so we were able to gear up and have a fish in the harbour before the rest of the anglers arrived mid afternoon on the Cairns flight. There were a few smallish brassy’s landed though we did see cobia and longtails off the export wharf with some tuskies inshore. The remaining anglers consisted of a hosted trip run by Joshua Hutchins which included Oliver White and Nick Kelley ( Produced Cosmo ) filming for Yeti, Andy Congram, who some members may know from an Exxy Boneheads trip years back and Andy’s mate Steve. Introductions were made, beers cracked and we set off due north to Marchinbar to save time as the winds were forecast to be light, rather than head west into the sunset, around Cape Wilberforce and up the lee side of the islands. The wind gods had other ideas and we were hit with 30kn SE winds halfway which made for an uncomfortable 4hrs until making anchorage.
Long story short, those winds stayed for the entire trip, bringing overcast conditions and rain for the first half and only one day of full sun. The wind was somewhat lighter for a couple of hours most mornings but some afternoons it was pushing 40kn. Luckily the areas being fished are on the lee shore in small bays. Due to the conditions (and fishing), we stayed up the north of Marchinbar for the entire trip as some of the other areas to the south that are usually visited would have been more exposed and unfishable – and they’re more about targeting pelagics.
In the northern bays the majority of fishing was over extensive clean sand flats out the front of monsoon creeks – which were wadeable (with a croc spotter – we saw crocs every day). There’s a lot of life on these flats: sand and bubbler crabs, tube worms, shrimp, numerous bi-valve and gastropod species. These areas are where good numbers of permit (both blotchii and anak) were found as individuals and small groups on their own or swimming with mullet schools or occasionally rays. Large schools of permit were often found milling around on the bottom of the tide but not interested in eating. Occasional mid size GT’s, good size queenfish (~80-90cm), small golden trevally, diamond trevally and giant herring were consistent by-catch on these flats. Deeper flats (still only 4-5 foot deep) adjacent to rubble and rock bars held good numbers of bastards. Rocky flagstone points were held tuskfish with the occasional trout, cod or brassy trevally if there was a bit of current about. It was too windy to venture offshore, but apparently the longtail fishing is very good, with +1m queenfish also a regular catch.
The usual flats fly selection worked, shrimp and crabs in 2 and 1/0 dressed in white or tan and lightly weighted with small/med brass dumbbell eyes as there was very little current – early on permit and bastards would come over to look at a slowly sinking fly. A fast sinking fly, particularly later in the trip would just spook them. Everyone else used white alflexo crabs, though I was successful with my own defensive and flexo crabs in tan with tan or yellow legs and spawning shrimp on both permit and bastards, though I didn’t land any permit due to a horror run with loop knot failures.
Despite challenging conditions, fishing was excellent a couple of days each side of the new moon, with fish actively feeding and eating flies. Outside of that, it was tough going. Bastards lived up to their name and the permit were extremely skittish. We were seeing enough fish to think we were in with a chance but just being in that environment threw up amazing once in a lifetime situations daily. By the end of the trip there were PB’s of various species landed by all anglers with at least 1 permit landed each day and at least BB landed per boat per day. My partner Kirsten got the species count for the trip (as she usually does) but also managed both the largest permit and bastard.
Originally the Waterline operation was focused on the barramundi sport fishery on the mainland bays and rivers to the south before doing an exploratory mission to Marchinbar Island in 2016. The Waterline operation runs out of Gove on Phoenix One, a luxury motor yacht. Charters are timed to coincide with new and full moon spring tides and run Sunday to Sunday. The trip caters for six rods; there’s three guides and 3 dories, a couple of hosties, a chef, the skipper and first mate.
The vessel is extremely comfortable and the food excellent, crew friendly and accommodating. Everything is included, including alcoholic beverages. You can obviously take your own gear, though if you were unfortunate enough to break a rod and backup, they have all new Loop gear: 8-12wt Cross SW rods and Opti reels with SA F/I and F lines. The guides have a lot of sport fishing guiding experience from working for Nomad. While the guides were tuned in to spotting fish even in challenging low light and overcast conditions (where the Blue Bastards save this fishery), fly guiding isn’t their main strength – boat positioning in windy conditions made for some frustrating shots. The dory’s are currently setup for anglers pitching plastics and hardbodies with baitcasters and spin gear. The relentless +30kn winds made line management a nightmare, there were several fish lost from line tangling around various objects on all boats by all groups. The captain and owner have acknowledged this and are looking at alternate vessels that can be surveyed and capable of being towed.
It’s an expensive trip even before factoring in airfares and additional accommodation when coming from WA. That being said, I recommend the trip and Waterline are amenable to doing hosted group bookings – which is becoming the norm. In retrospect, and after discussions with Andy, Aug/Sept would be a better option for minimising wind. Waterline are looking at extending the season once they have an alternate mothership for the Cairns marlin season. Also, I’d hold off until they’ve got alternate fly friendly boats to fish out of – or bring your own collapsible laundry hamper.

The Rise Festival in a couple of weeks is featuring 'Glorious Bastards' which was filmed in 2018 with Waterline. You may have seen the shorts - after experiencing it myself, fishery lives up to the hype. I would seriously consider doing the trip again in the future – but there’s a few other places to check out first.

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Re: Wessel Islands 2019

Post by Torren » Sat Aug 31, 2019 9:16 pm

Thats one hell of a trip report. Sounds awesome.
Thanks for taking the time to post it.

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Re: Wessel Islands 2019

Post by Hirdy » Sun Sep 01, 2019 9:45 am

Thanks for the trip report Mark. I love hearing about this sorts of trips.

IFFF Certified Casting Instructor

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