We’ve heard rumors about the fabled Wessel islands for a few years now… Watching films like Glorious Bastards make the place seem fake, with endless sand flats full of permit and blue bastards… So preparing for this trip definitely gave us some goosebumps. After a killer first few days in the Snowy Mountains and Sydney Harbour, we were ready to head north.
We packed our bags and headed to Sydney’s domestic airport, our first flight took us through Cairns, considered the gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, is a city in tropical Far North Queensland.
We had an overnight stay in Cairns, so just a few hours to re-organize our gear and relax before heading further north. The people, food, and overall culture in these small cities are some of the best parts of the trip. Coming from a city like New York it’s so refreshing to spend time in a place like Cairns. I still remember how great the breakfast was at the Cafe down the street from our hotel, and No Tips! That was a wild concept…
Our next flight left early the following morning, we flew into the small town of Gove, located on the northeastern corner of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. Walking out of the small airport was when I finally realized how “Out There” we truly were. If you give Gove Airport a quick google on your phone you’ll understand just how remote this place really is… And we hadn’t hit our final destination yet…
We met the Waterline Charters team outside the airport and loaded our gear into a bus to head across Gove. It was about a 30 minute drive through some interesting terrain until we finally had the Waterline Charters Boat in sit.
We loaded into a smaller skiff to head out to the main boat. The next hour was pretty surreal, being greeted by a professional well-dressed crew with glasses of Champaign and hors-d’oeuvre as we settled into our rooms. Me and Max (Flylords DP) were splitting a bed with a small divider in between, but no complaints here.
Before starting our journey even further north, we had a briefing from the captian. He brought out a big map and gave us a run through on the schedule for the next 6 days at sea. He gave us a safety briefing and emphasized the importance of watching out for Saltwater Crocs. Stories of them stalking the boat, and close friends losing lives were the last thoughts going through my head on that first night out at sea. Though the next morning those thoughts quickly dissipated as we pulled into our first fishing spot.
Barramundi was on the schedule first. We were targeting this big silvery oddly shaped creatures with 9 weight rods and big streamers and poppers. Our first few days we battled for light through what felt like never-ending rain storms. We would push our skiffs into narrow canals to search for these fish in clearer shallower water. As we pushed into some of these smaller systems we would be surrounded by Giant Fruit bats, lizards, crocs, you name it – it was truly a wild untouched place.
We worked our asses off to find these fish, but when we did it was so rewarding. Hard fighting creatures that love to crush flies and jump into the air mid-fight. I’d describe these fish as a cross between a Tarpon and a Snook. Technical fishing at times having to pull fish out of sticks and snags, and sight casting to big shadows with very little room for a backcast. Josh explained the importance of his famed Bow and Arrow cast off the front of the skiff. I laughed at him for a while until he actually caught a fish on one of those casts…
After a long day on the water, we were greeted by some cold Australian beers and 5-star dining. Did we need 5-star dining? No, the fishing and experience were enough, but this operation tries to make this a true experience of a lifetime. Although 99% of the time we are catch and release fishermen, there are circumstances when we harvest our catch for food. I will say the Barramundi was one of the best-tasting fish I have ever had.
After a few wet days of Barra fishing, we pulled up the Anchor and headed even further north, to the end of the Wessel Islands. It was an overnight steam with the occasional wave waking you up. But I was most likely sleeping with a shit-eating grin on my face thinking about how lucky I was to be in this situation. We pulled into our port AKA in between to cliff faces and a sand flat the next morning and loaded into the skiffs.
The clouds decided to follow us, so we would be battling for vision on these flats for the first day and a half. The second the sun came out we would spot fish all over the place. Queenfish, Permit, Bastards, you name it, the place was littered with fish. It’s moments like these when you realize what an untouched fishery can really be like. Is this what the florida keys were like 100 years ago?
My first catch of the trip was the Blue Bastard, and boy was that a wild ride. You are site fishing to this massive blue blob mooching around in the water. The cast needs to land in front of the fish, where the crab pattern can settle in the sand and fall into the feeding line of the fish. A slow smooth retrieval is required to entice one of these bastards to jump on a fly. When you finally trick one into taking a fly it’s one of the oddest battles, the fish will rise up to the surface and flail around not really knowing what is going on, and after about 15 seconds of slowly shaking its head back and forth BOOM it takes off, straight into your backing.
This is right about when you need to have your shit together, the line needs to clear, drag needs to be tight, and you need to steer the fish away from sharp coral. Two times I managed to get my line tangled on my reel, and ended up jumping into the croc-infested waters to try and keep my fish on… I ended up receiving the nickname “Jumping Jarodd” after the second incident, but landed both fish! The yellow eyes and transient blue colors of these fish are truly spectacular, they will go down as my favorite fish I’ve ever targeted on the fly.
The following two days we watched josh pull two Permit to the boat, amongst a number of other species. Max even had a chance to put down the camera and catch a few bastards. schools of Permit 500 deep would swim by our boat, it was truly remarkable. At night we would have a cocktail and reminisce about the incredible day with the rest of the boat. We even had a chance to stream the season finale of Game of Thrones while we were out at sea… (Please don’t judge me for that, it was a great show).
On our way back to Gove, we spent a day doing some off-shore fishing. We thew on the sinking lines and big streamers and headed into some deep rips. Monster Mackeral, Trevally and Queenfish all day long. This was quite the finale to an incredible trip, and my arm was literally sore heading to sleep that night… Once again with a shit-eating grin on my face.
This was truly a trip to remember and should be on every anglers bucket list. What a finale to an incredible Australian adventure.
If you haven’t checked out episode 1 or 2, give them a watch!