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November 06, 2006

North of Heaven

Remote Coral Sea Reefs Provide Endless Action

Tackle busters haunt the reef edges
That the predators lying in ambush around the coral out here have little lure shyness isn't hard to fathom; few have ever seen a lure. These waters are only marginally charted. No one runs regular trips out here, and when Greg Bethune began fishing his 62-foot, custom alloy catamaran mother ship a few years ago, he found the charted information to be sketchy (with the latest electronic chart information warning of "hazardous areas" and that their "delineations are not conclusive").

If there's an opposite plug to the topwater, it must be the deep-diver, and this proved to be the alternative means of catching Coral Sea denizens. A multitude of channels cut through the Great Barrier Reef like so many deep-blue rivers running through the brilliant, lighter turquoise waters above the shallow coral. Typically, around the mouths of these channels that empty into the open Pacific prowl two of the real toughs of tropical waters: giant trevally and dogtooth tuna.

Though they may feed at or near the surface, both species tend to lurk deeper here, where precipitous outer reef walls fall away nearly vertically into the infinite indigo depths. Large plugs with lips (or "bibs" in Aussie parlance) big enough to make Mick Jagger jealous are the ticket. Three types accounted for nearly all the effort: the 7 1/4-inch Yo-Zuri Hydro Magnum (with the "dorado" color - bright green and yellow - a real favorite), Halco's Crazy Deep Laser Pro 190 and Rapala's Sinking Magnum 18 or 22 (7- or 9-inch, in various colors but with red/white a popular choice).

Any number of marauding species can and will grab these lures, including narrow- barred mackerel, yellowfin tuna, sharks, big 'cuda, various trevally species, bass, jobfish (a type of snapper), mackerel tuna, dorado and many others. Sailfish have been caught on these trips after attacking plugs, and there can be little doubt of black marlin here, although they have not yet been seriously targeted.

Generally the lures mentioned above come with heavy trebles, and that's a good thing. Few fish slug it out with the sheer power of a triple-digit dogtooth. I watched tuna after tuna peel off 80-pound braid in unstoppable runs until something gave or the line snagged on coral. (Unlike other big tunas, doggies often hang tight to outer reef edges.) It happened to this frustrated angler, at no time more frustrated than when I thought I had finally turned a big one when the hooks pulled out - not out of the fish, but right out of the plug! It came back with no trebles after both split rings had straightened. (Halco, incidentally, uses extra-strength split rings as insurance against such losses.)