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Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

When the temperature drops, winter sets in and the cold westerlies calm the seas. We get ready for some of the best fishing to be had all year round and it kind of starts off like this.

3.30am and the alarm rings with a loud “get out of bed” style ring tone, the thermometer outside reads a brisk 7 degrees but you know when you’re out on the water cruising at 25 knots, the temperature will be much cooler than that. We quickly get the thermos full of hot coffee, put on as many clothes as possible and head off to the boat ramp, boat in tow.

After an uneventful launch, we are soon powering out of the Seaway heading towards the 24fathom grounds northeast off North Stradbroke Island, which is approximately an hour’s run. The conditions are amazing with only light westerlies predicted and the first orange glow of dawn starting to creep up the horizon.

A massive splash off the port side diverts our attention off being freezing cold, and we slow down to watch a whale breach and frolic in the calm water on its way up to Fraser Island’s Platypus Bay.

We finally arrive at our destination only minutes before the sun bursts into view, and as the current is minimal, we decide to anchor on a very nice pinnacle that we found years prior.

We are after snapper off this pinnacle, so the fishing gear we are using is very light – six-kilo braid on a Shimano Stradic 6000 matched with a 6-8kilo T-Curve spin rod, along with a variety of medium weighted Shimano overheads. A mix of fresh squid and IQF pilchards set up to float line, which is when the sinker is free to run up and down the line to the eye of the hook, usually does the trick, and before long we start to pull in some fantastic snapper up to the seven-kilo mark. After taking what we need, we decide to try another mark that we had in the area, which previously had reaped us some monstrous mulloway and cobia.

It only took us an extra twenty minutes to get there, and by this time we are situated further north along what the old boys call the Drilling Track. We sounded around for a while before locating a good school of baitfish on the bottom and quickly lowered the anchor down to the pinnacle below. The sun was just starting to warm up and we sat back, had a cup of coffee, and watched mutton birds, terns and albatross take flight on their endless quest for food. There was hardly a ripple on the water’s surface, and in the distance whales could be seen splashing and blowing waterspouts.

The first bait down was nailed and a nice 15-kilo mulloway or jewie was soon in the boat. It was not too long before the next bait was snavelled by a large cobia, and after half an hour, 18 kilos of prime eating fish was lying on the deck. A few minutes later, we were surprised to catch a quality pearl perch, which is a rarity this close on these grounds. With its mouth wide open and large black eye gazing upon us, it was brought to the surface before carefully being netted. These fish would have to be one of, if not the best, eating fish in the ocean, with firm white flesh, which just melts in your mouth when cooked. With a decent pearly and with a great haul of snapper, silver jew and a cobia in the boat, the clock had not even reached ten o’clock and we were on our way home.

All of our fish are in ice slurry in a very large ice box, and we will keep them there for a day to let the fish settle and the flesh ease back and relax. Doing this will increase the fish’s eating quality. Can you imagine what happens to the flesh after fighting the fish all the way to the surface, every muscle in the fish body is taut, and then you go straight home and eat it? The taste is there but the quality can be much higher especially if you leave it alone for a day. But make sure the ice slurry does not melt away or you will spoil all the fish in the esky.

The next day the whole pearl perch was pulled out of the esky, gilled and gutted, stuffed with butter, lime wedges, capers and a mixture of herbs. Keeping these fish as natural as possible will make you appreciate the flavour and texture the fish has to offer. Wrapped in foil and placed on the hot BBQ for about twenty minutes on each side is all that is required to cook the fish. Served with beer or glass of white on the side, personally I don’t think you could get any better!

The Cathedrals or Drilling Track lies along the outside edge of North Stradbroke Island. It is a fair distance to travel and when the westerly winds blow, the run-up can be enjoyable, but cold. If the wind swings onshore, the ride home can be hard and back jarring, but if you have a fair catch on board, it’s definitely worth the effort.

By Paul Burt

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