Holy flying mackerel!
Jigging with lead heads or metal lures will certainly take fish. I saw metal jigs in some anglers' boxes but not a lot of jigging effort. Bethune recognizes the effectiveness of the technique; so far it hasn't really taken off here, he says, but he figures it's likely to in coming years.
Often Bethune will make some stops during the long run back to the mainland over rubble reefs in 100 or so feet of water, where the big, prized red emperor (snapper) can be taken, along with other species of snapper, grouper and trevally. If the weather is calm, anglers will hop into the skiffs to fish; otherwise, they fish right off the stern of the mother ship.
I would be remiss to not give special mention to what, for me, was the real star of the trip: the "Spaniard." Don't confuse these narrowbarred mackerel that Aussies call "Spanish mackerel" for the species of that common name: the little gold-spotted Spanish mackerel common along the U.S. Southeast coast. Think kingfish with a major attitude.
In areas like the Coral Sea, Spaniards are among the most abundant game fish, well-known to Down-Under anglers for their slashing attacks and sizzling runs after snatching deep-divers on the troll. But best of all is finding them swarming near the surface. Look toward the horizon when at anchor in the early morning, and you may well see them as trident missiles, dark silhouettes on the horizon, launching straight up. That's the time to get out and start tossing topwater plugs, as we did on the last morning of the trip.
We'd spent the night anchored near Dugong Island, about halfway between the Barrier Reef and the mainland. Not certain just what to expect, I joined my Aussie companions Jon Warren and Chris "Mitch" Mitchell of Western Australia in putting out a diving plug as guide Jaryd Berrill started trolling us through the greenish water, more turbid in these straits than on the main reef. Promptly we had a triple hookup of Spanish mackerel.
Once I'd released mine, I threw out a Halco Roosta popper. No sooner had I started to twitch it when wham! - a silver torpedo skyrocketed, doing a half gainer 6 feet above the water, and my drag joined the screaming free-for-all.