Chasing Tails Near The Tip

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Updated: November 5, 2020

In 2019 I took on the role of managing a remote fishing lodge called Albany Island. It is a beautiful piece of island, rainforest, rock and beach just off the coast, and only a few kilometers southeast of the spot local affectionately refer to as ‘The Tip’.

I had spent years up in the Torres Strait previously and had sailed Albany Passage at both dawn and dusk, enthralled by the green, cliffy sandstone bluffs overlooking long tail tuna schools busting up around whatever boat I was on.

Albany Island was my chance to explore and give the fishing a solid nudge.

Location

The Tip of Cape York Peninsula also happens to be the top of mainland Australia. It is our greatest continental point, jutting northwards for around 600km with only Princess Charlotte Bay to upset the arrowhead shape. Cape York has brilliant fishin up and down both the east and west coasts and the waters surrounding The Tip area provide access to a fantastic cross-section of both.

During the dry season, which normally runs from mid-April until December, anglers of all persuasions make the perilously long trip to The Tip. The road these days is a thousand times better than it was 10 years ago, and towing trailer boats up to Weipa and even to The Tip itself has become far more common. As bitumen finds its way north, so do more adventure seekers, lining up for the ferry ride across the Jardine River. In a few years The Tip will likely be removed as an adventure 4WD destination.

But the reputation for healthy fisheries and brilliant sports fishing is sure to grow.

From the early days of exploration, the waters around Cape York and the Torres Strait tormented sailors with the treacherous islands, reefs, rocks and complex tidal streams. Many a ship and boat has run aground in the area and, to navigate safely, even modern-day fishermen and boaties need to be careful. Understanding that not just the tide but also the east-west flow of current dictate patterns in the area is a must for any serious adventurer.

In a fishing sense, most blue-water scenarios are governed by the current and wind, with the fishing almost always best on the leading edge, facing into the current. Fisherman generally find the fishing easier and most productive during the quarter- moon periods, coinciding with neap (smaller) tides. Besides the water being cleaner, the currents are mostly lighter and the fishing more predictable.

West of The Tip

Heading west of The Tip, the coast slopes away to the southwest with a couple of small rocky headlands punctuating the fishing scene, including the larger and well-known Mutee Head. With easy access from the Seisia boat ramp, this area offers some protection from the persistent south- easterly trade winds over the cooler months. Just before the coast turns sharply to the south, the mouth of the mighty Jardine River opens up.

Fed by thousands of inland springs and above-average rainfall, this is one of the wildest, most pristine waterways in the country. The Jardine pumps out megalitre after megalitre of clean water and enough sand to make navigation upstream a barrier to all but the smallest boats. Heading upstream during the high tide and drifting back down on the receding tide is the best way to experience the upper reaches.

There can be good fishing around the mouth for queenfish, trevally and mackerel species and reasonable fishing for barramundi and tarpon upstream. But the real highlight of the system is the chance to chase Saratoga, the prehistoric-looking Scleropages jardini, named for this system. These fish lurk around the mangroves, freshwater drains, rushes, lilies and billabongs of the area, and best of all they love smashing surface presentations. The beautiful, pink-spotted golden sheen of these fish as they cartwheel, a bony mouth invariably throwing the lure, is my idea of fishing nirvana.

Spoiled For Choice

Heading off-shore, the patch of water to the northwest of Crab Island and up to the Wallis group (Red and Woody Wallis) can come alive for mackerel, tuna, queenfish and giant trevally on occasion. It can also be a nasty patch of water, but when the sharks are behaving (they can be bad in these parts) it can be seriously productive with plenty of bait and predators behind. Contour lines, sand gutters, isolated shoals and any structure will hold fish in the area.

Closer to Seisia and The Tip, anglers will come across some small coastal creeks, a bunch of shallow, dangerous shoals, more long beaches and a smattering of islands. This includes Possession Island, where James Cook claimed Australia’s east coast for England back in 1770, somehow forgetting the area was well possessed by the local Kaurareg and other tribes along the entire coast.

Thanks in part to the indigenous owners of the area, the fishing has remained first class. Roko Island lodge gives anglers and travellers a unique experience in this area.

Trolled lures and rigged baits have a good chance of attracting mackerel during the dry season, and dropped baits and jigs around shallow reefs should add a few fillets to the esky. The shallow, sandy creeks and rocky points hold smaller trevally, queenfish, cod, mangrove jack and the odd barramundi. Live baits on an incoming tide around shallow gutters and deeper holes are a sure way to get stretched.

Around The Tip

The currents of clean water around the actual tip of Cape York make the beaches alluring for a swim. Don’t be fooled. Crocs are quite prolific around there and sharks are straight onto hooked fish, so get’m in quick!

There is quite often bird activity around Eborac and York Islands just north of The Tip itself. Trolling lures on the northern side of these islands is great for mackerel and the reef fishing can be fantastic during small tidal runs.

Peak Point close to Punsand Bay Resort (a popular self-drive stopover) holds Spanish mackerel and good bottom fish at times. Places like Apha Rock to the north of The Tip can be reached during calm weather. A spread of lures trolled at around 5-6 knots should see queenfish schooled up on the pressure points and other silver speedsters close behind.

Land-based anglers are a little limited to the beaches and rocky points in these parts. Mid- morning strolls along desolate beaches with a spin rod and a metal slice, soft plastic or popper can be rewarding. Wait until the sun is high enough to spot fish cruising gutters and keep a look out for manta rays which might have cobia or golden trevally trailing behind.

East of the Tip

Heading east, land-based anglers can cruise out to the old Somerset settlement or Fly Point on a drive through the magnificent Lockerbie Scrub.

This patch of remnant vine-thicket or coastal rainforest has close links to PNG and the previous land bridge that existed millennia ago. Camping and launching of small boats on sand is possible, and beaches to the south which face Kennedy Inlet can be accessed along 4WD tracks and white, sandy beaches. Across the passage from Somerset lies the stunning Albany Island, with one of the region’s best beaches on the northern side in Pioneer Bay. The lodge is located in one of the secluded beaches inside Albany Passage, offering travelling anglers access to a hugely diverse fishery in comfort. Blue water, islands, reefs and rivers are all in close proximity to this area. The passage itself attracts tuna, mackerel and queenfish, while catch-and- release exotics such as blue-bastards creep on top of the reefs, driving fly fisherman crazy. A little further offshore to the north are the sacred islands of Mt Adolphus and Little Adolphus. Surrounded by fringing reefs and dissected by currents of clean water pushing through narrow passages, this is a stunning area to fish. Giant trevally patrol the reef edges while coral trout man the rocks and coral bommies. A little deeper, nannygai, tuskfish, cod and fingermark compete for space on more productive shoals.

Due east around 20km, those with more capable boats will begin coming across true coral reefs which stretch, reef-upon-reef, for 150km until you reach the outer Barrier Reef. Reefs such as North and South Ledge precede Meggi-Damun and Kai-Damun, providing a multitude of blue-water options. Up on top of these reefs, flats filled with coral bommie clumps hold painted lobsters – or ‘crays’ as they are called locally.

Neap tides make free diving and spearfishing far easier, especially when working points or along the reef edge.

All Kinds

Just off the edges around the rubble and shoal areas, dropping a bait or a jig, or again a soft plastic, will see all manner of reef dwellers out to play. Coral trout are always a crowd pleaser. They’re ferocious, hungry, prevalent and absolutely delicious! Giant trevally out there can grow as their name suggests, and poppers or stickbaits on heavy spin outfits will entice the bigger examples.

Most of the coral reefs present a cocoon of shallower reef around their southern and eastern edges. However, the north-western perimeter is usually broken up into channels and isolated coral patches, making the fishing more diverse, especially when an easterly current is at play.

Heading due south from Albany Passage, boaties f ind themselves in the huge mangrove complex representing Kennedy Inlet. A vast body of waterways head west from this delta, forming the Jacky Jacky and Escape Rivers along with hundreds of side creeks and braided channels. The fish in these systems can be tricky and at times a little finicky and barren areas exist. But a hot bite in almost any estuary can really turn it on.

Fingermark come in all sizes, including some beauties around Turtle Island and the mouth of the Escape. Mangrove jack will be adjacent to most rockbars and care needs to be taken to avoid rocks in many of the smaller systems. Barramundi will be where you find them, but generally points, drains, snags and gutters hold most of the fish. Both live and dead bait can be super effective in all these systems, especially on the lower tide as the fish are concentrated.

Make it Happen

You are only limited by your imagination and your ability to cope with sea breeze around The Tip of Cape York. It is truly one of Australia’s most diverse locations, despite the distances to reach it and explore in full. Saying you have been round Australia without ever having visited The Tip is about 1000 important kilometres short.

Get up there, go fishing and have a look around before even a Toyota Camry can reach it.