South Gutter

Golden snapper caught at South Gutter, Steve Cooper

Returning from a barramundi fishing trip in the wilds of Arnhem Land to a reef-fishing session offshore from Darwin is like comparing apples with oranges. Seeing big barra exploding from the water in a mass of spray is an adrenalin-pumping experience, but bottom bouncing is about dropping bait down onto a reef structure and waiting for a bite. It is the essence of Samuel Johnson’s famous quote describing fishing as: ‘A jerk on one end of a line, waiting for a jerk on the other.’

At least, that’s what I expected the first time I fished offshore from Darwin. Steve Compain, who ran Arafura Bluewater Charters, took me out with several other anglers for an evening on his smart, twin-hulled vessel, Ocean Fox.

We boarded at Cullen Bay Marina and steamed about 30 km offshore to our first drop, out from Charles Point. Skipper Chris Highland used the sounder to find structure in about 20 m of water. There was no swell, just a chop pushed along by a 15-knot wind.

On that first drop, golden snapper were on the chew immediately. Local fishing identity Alex Julius was on board and he described the fish, averaging about 8 kg, as ‘the biggest goldies I’ve laid eyes on for years’.

When smaller fish started terrorising our baits we moved, this time to the South Gutter some 40 km offshore. Chris wanted to hit the gutter at the change of tide, and said that because it was a big tide (7 m) the window of opportunity would only last for about 90 mins.

‘The gutter’s been fishing well and we should get some jewfish,’ Chris said.

The skipper was spot on. What ensued was the hottest piece of bottom-bouncing action I’ve come across in years. It was pure piscatorial mayhem with eight rods buckling on both sides of the boat as black jewfish (mulloway) of 6–8 kg took the baits.

Steve then decided to try something different. He put a rubber squid imitation down. This lure was fitted with a single hook on a leader at both the head and tail and Steve inserted a red Cyalume light stick into the body of the lure.

Jigging the lure in 1 m lifts just above the bottom proved deadly. The jewfish couldn’t resist and Steve nailed three fish on consecutive drops. The third fish destroyed the glow stick, but it didn’t make any difference. In 45 m of water, at night, the jewfish were hot to trot; every jig of the lure resulted in a hook-up. It was a phenomenal session. The biggest fish of the evening was the last, a 15 kg jewfish that delivered what looked like the coup de grace to a lure that had paid for itself many times over.

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