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March 12, 2010

A Week on the Nomad

This Coral Sea mothership tests the skill of anglers and the strength of tackle

Methods to the Mayhem
It's just the sort of mayhem that has been bringing anglers for years quite literally from all over the planet to fish with Nomad Sportfishing Adventures. And it hardly stops at bommies' edges. During nearly a week, anglers had the chance to fish with several different types of tackle, using different methods in different habitats. They could (1) drift and cast stickbaits, poppers and minnow plugs around bommies; (2) drift and work metal jigs or big plastic tails/swimbaits around large passes through the barrier reef and along the outside edge; (3) control-drift along the outside of the barrier reef to cast big lures into the breaking surf on top of the reef; (4) troll the passes, along the outside of the reef and inside as well with deep-diving plugs; and (5) fish blue water for big pelagics.

The primary targets of each approach: (1) see the list above; (2) dogtooth tuna, various snapper and grouper (bass and trout); (3) industrial-sized giant trevally; (4) dogtooth tuna, mackerel, wahoo; and (5) black marlin - these waters are indeed home to granders - plus, yellowfin, wahoo and dorado.

With two "game boats," as Australians call larger, offshore-capable fishing boats (in this case a 51 convertible and a 36-foot custom express), and two center-consoles (one described above, the other a 27 Contender modified with a semi-bridge for the skipper to stand atop the console), the mothership Odyssey can comfortably accommodate 12 anglers in four staterooms and fish two to four per boat each day (and allow anglers to fish pretty much whatever style each prefers).

The beauty of a mothership as home base, of course, is that the Odyssey brings the "fishing resort" to the best areas/reefs according to season and conditions. Olsen offers a range of options. October, when I fished, has become prime time for trips to Jewell Reef and surrounding area, a bit over 20 miles north of famed Lizard Island. Jewell, in particular, offers an unsurpassed variety of species and fishing styles (note list above). It also may be a breezy time on a breezy coast - as it was our last four days, generally blowing a sustained 20 to 35 knots.

Junkyard Reef-Dogs Like to Play Rough
That was enough to have Olsen end overnights on the reef and move the mothership back to the protected anchorage at Lizard, for comfortable evenings but longer runs (of 10 to 15 miles) in the fishing boats to access the barrier-reef grounds (good fishing areas closer to Lizard are generally in a "green zone" closed to fishing) or on out to blue water. By the fifth day, the wind still howling, we punched through four to sixes (they'd be bigger going back) in the 27 Contender. Once at the reef, we ventured outside a pass where we faced (and faced into) 10-foot swells rolling in. Capt. Tim Baker positioned us as close to the reef as safety permitted. The wind turned each good cast into something spectacular, allowing us to toss heavy lures 150 to 200 feet off the stern into the breaking surf.

That anything might survive in such a maelstrom seemed hard to imagine. But our quarry were GTs, those big, bad junkyard reef-dogs. "Try to get your lures right up on the reef," hollered Baker, against the wind. GTs seem to thrive right in that zone where breakers pound the coral - where a man would be instantly torn to shreds. No doubt about it: GTs like it rough.

We caught several of the beasts to 80 pounds or so, hooked others and saw many we missed. But just catching sight of two or three large, ominous, dark shapes surfing down an incoming curler to charge a noisy topwater or flashy minnow plug is a truly breathtaking experience.

Olsen had skippered the Fascination, a 51-foot Riviera convertible, out to blue water. Conditions, he told me that evening, were "about as rough as I've fished out there." But it paid off for the anglers who wanted to tangle with big marlin (as their photos showed); the largest the boat tagged that day was more than 800 pounds.

All too quickly - as no doubt every angler who spends a week on the Odyssey has noticed - a week flashed by. But it's a week that will loom large in my mental Hall of Fishing Memories. A week fishing this proving grounds - with its relentless take-no-prisoners action - will test tackle, rigs, techniques and you, as an angler.