Jour­ney to Aus­tralia’s un­con­tested sail­fish cap­i­tal

Marlin - - CONTENTS - By John Ashley

Jour­ney to Aus­tralia’s un­con­tested sail­fish cap­i­tal

In the blink of an eye, a dozen or more sail­fish ap­pear un­der the portside teaser. Their jet-black bod­ies are un­mis­tak­able in the clear-blue sea, and get­ting three skip­baits back to the pack is a no-brainer. Mo­ments later, a triple­header of sail­fish be­gins to jump in all dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions as ab­so­lute chaos erupts in the cock­pit while three an­glers play un­ders and overs try­ing to sort out the crossed-up lines. “Hey, John, wel­come to Broome,” calls Capt. Chris Nis­bet from the bridge of Bil­lis­tic.

The re­mote West­ern Aus­tralian town of Broome is unique in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to be­gin to de­scribe it. From the mo­ment I ar­rived, this laid-back coun­try town and its won­der­ful peo­ple blew me away, and it was dif­fi­cult to get away from the in­ter­est­ing sights and his­tory of the place to ac­tu­ally get off­shore and go fish­ing. De­spite Broome’s rel­a­tively small size, one could truly spend a week tour­ing around the town while tak­ing in the amaz­ing scenery, and re­lax­ing dur­ing an evening on the fa­mous Ca­ble Beach as you watch the hot orange sun sink into the In­dian Ocean hori­zon is breath­tak­ing.

Broome and its mag­nif­i­cent neigh­bor­ing Kim­ber­ley re­gion have be­come a huge tourist des­ti­na­tion — not only for us Aussies, but over­seas trav­el­ers are flock­ing here as well for the area’s sheer nat­u­ral, rugged beauty. Sit­u­ated on the north­ern trop­i­cal west coast, it’s hard to believe how the wa­ter col­ors change as they lap the re­gion’s blood­shot shore­lines.


This place pretty much has it all for fish­er­men, bar heavy-tackle bill­fish­ing. Around the rivers, creeks and bays, you’ll find the prized bar­ra­mundi, along with many other species of jacks and cod, plus threadfin sal­mon and blackspot­ted croaker. An­glers can also catch dart, threadfin sal­mon and blue spot trevally at a leisurely pace along the gut­ters of Ca­ble Beach and its rocky head­lands.

But there’s so much to of­fer for off­shore an­glers: Broome has some of the best light-tackle fish­ing in the en­tire coun­try, with all kinds of trop­i­cal species to tar­get along the coast such as Span­ish mack­erel, co­bia, north­ern bluefin (long­tail) tuna, mahimahi, great trevally and black mar­lin. But what most an­glers chase are the in­cred­i­ble num­bers of Indo-Pa­cific sail­fish, and it’s quite com­mon for an­glers to tag and re­lease a dozen or more sails in a day on these fishy grounds.


What makes these off­shore waters of the In­dian Ocean so fa­vor­able for sail­fish is the ex­tent of the shal­low in­shore grounds. The warm, rich cur­rents push over these ar­eas and mix with the rem­nants of the mas­sive 30-foot tides that scour the coastal rivers and creeks. This in­flux of wa­ter causes all kinds of minute ma­rine an­i­mals and nu­tri­ents to be swept out to sea on a daily ba­sis, at­tract­ing

huge schools of bait­fish, which in turn draw in the sail­fish and other pelagic preda­tors.

Although Broome has a ma­jor ship­ping har­bor along with a mas­sive com­mer­cial dock for cruise ships and large com­mer­cial freighters, there’s no ma­rina or fa­cil­i­ties here for char­ter boats or other boat­ing en­thu­si­asts to op­er­ate from. How­ever, there are a num­ber of boat ramps scat­tered around the town, but most peo­ple find it eas­ier, and much safer, to launch off Gantheaume Beach on the south­ern end of Ca­ble Beach be­cause of the mas­sive tides.

This area is in the lee of the pre­vail­ing south­east trade winds and of­fers pro­tec­tion for launch­ing and re­triev­ing trailer boats from the beach, as well as for the many ves­sels that tie up to a string of per­ma­nent moor­ings just off­shore. The fish­er­men with moored ves­sels rely on small alu­minum boats — we call them tin­nies — to get out to their boats and then back to the beach.

But this hard-packed sandy beach has lim­its as to how far ve­hi­cles can go; four-wheeldrive ve­hi­cles are def­i­nitely needed, and many of the ve­hi­cles of­ten take a good soak­ing right up to the doors. The ad­join­ing Ca­ble Beach is a re­stricted area for launch­ing boats, but it is a pop­u­lar place with the lo­cals and tourists in the late af­ter­noon, not only to marvel at the mag­nif­i­cent sun­set, but also to watch with in­ter­est as the fish­er­men put their ves­sels back onto trail­ers.


Fish­ing can start al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter de­part­ing from the beach, de­pend­ing on the tar­get species. North­ern bluefin (long­tail) tuna and threadfin sal­mon can be found right up in the shal­lows close to shore, and even a few miles out be­cause the depth doesn’t vary much at all. The bot­tom ta­pers away only grad­u­ally, and the se­cret to find­ing the ac­tion is to lo­cate the bait schools, but the bait can of­ten hang quite close the bot­tom be­cause of the mas­sive tides and strong cur­rents. Once the guys lo­cate the bait, they quickly go to work in the area and troll for bill­fish and tuna, or at times con­cen­trate on catch­ing Span­ish mack­erel.

Capt. Nis­bet fishes a pair of mul­ti­col­ored rub­ber squid chains from the mid­dle of the out­rig­gers that are op­er­ated from an elec­tric reel on the bridge of his 34-foot sport-fisher, Bil­lis­tic. They con­nect to a small, fresh queen­fish on the end of both teaser lines: These tough-skinned baits can take re­peated beat­ings from the bill­fish and tend to last quite a while. The crew also de­ploys a small dredge filled with im­i­ta­tion strip teasers un­der the


ves­sel’s hull, which was tied off on the bow at the ap­pro­pri­ate length so as not to get tan­gled up with the pro­pel­lers.

Capt. Nis­bet ad­vises the four an­glers on board to stand at the tran­som with their rods armed with fresh baits and wait for the shot at a sail­fish when the fish en­ters the spread. The baits of choice: bal­ly­hoo — known lo­cally as garfish — rigged with an 8/0 nonoff­set Ga­makatsu cir­cle hook on 60-pound monofil­a­ment lead­ers. These rigs get changed over to a light sin­gle-strand wire leader with dou­ble J hooks in the baits when an­glers tar­get the sharp-fanged Span­ish mack­erel.

The an­glers on board Bil­lis­tic were so keen for a bill­fish bite that they skipped their baits right up close to the boat while wait­ing for a sail­fish or mar­lin to come in on the teasers. In do­ing so, they also paid the price a num­ber of times when a hun­gry mack­erel zoomed into the boat’s prop wash and snipped their baits in half. An­glers pre­fer the ver­sa­tile spin­ning out­fits rigged with braid be­cause of the abil­ity to cast light baits to free-swim­ming sails when other an­glers are hooked up. The rods fea­ture open-ringed guides, and have light tips to as­sist when cast­ing small baits a good dis­tance. I saw this cast­ing tech­nique work many times, and the walka­round deck on Bil­lis­tic made it easy for the an­glers to move around the ves­sel and get their baits out in any di­rec­tion.

On light tackle, these tough sail­fish give a spec­tac­u­lar fight, and Capt. Nis­bet is all about look­ing af­ter the pre­cious stocks of sail­fish here — he avoids lift­ing them into the boat, even for a quick photo. He also takes par­tic­u­lar care where the tags are placed in the fish be­cause the smaller sails have such a slim body that these tags could eas­ily dam­age a fish if in­serted in the wrong area.

There were plenty of times through­out my time off­shore Broome when we had dou­ble- and even triple­head­ers, and it was great fun watch­ing and pho­tograph­ing all the ac­tion. With a va­ri­ety of fish­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and the abil­ity to eas­ily bai­tand-switch sail­fish, it’s a fan­tas­tic place for young an­glers — or those want­ing to learn this tac­tic — all the way through to vet­eran an­glers to sharpen their skills, and I can say they’ll be blown away by the fish­ing ac­tion.


ABOUT THE AU­THOR: John Ashley has writ­ten about his off­shore ad­ven­tures for fish­ing pub­li­ca­tions across the world for the past four decades. His trav­els have stretched from the wilds of Cape Verde to his Aussie grander grounds on the Great Bar­rier Reef, and there are few places in be­tween he hasn’t fished.

Broome’s lo­ca­tion on the north­west coast of Aus­tralia pro­vides in­cred­i­ble ac­cess to a va­ri­ety of both nearshore and off­shore fish­eries, but it’s the num­ber of sail­fish that keeps an­glers com­ing back. Most an­glers fish from out­board­pow­ered “tin­nies,”...

The walka­round de­sign of Capt. Chris Nis­bet’s Bil­lis­tic (above) makes it a per­fect plat­form to chase sails off Broome. But fish­ing isn’t the only at­trac­tion here; hov­er­craft tours (be­low) give vis­i­tors a unique way to see the coast­line.

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