Winter has arrived and it’s a time when many keen anglers look to the northern parts of Western Australia for their fishing fix, writes Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan in the latest edition of Scott’s Spots.
At the time of writing many regional movement restrictions were still in place in WA for a few more days, but you could bet that at soon as they were lifted there would be a charge of anglers heading to warmer climes to wet a line.
And you don’t need to look too far from Perth either, with some of the best fishing in WA just a few hours in the car away.
Located off Geraldton, the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, which most people just call the Abrolhos, are a superb fishing destination offering an amazing range of prime angling targets. The location of the Abrolhos, which is a chain of more than 100 islands and reefs and which includes three island groups – Wallabi, Easter and Pelsaert – is perfect for fishers of all persuasions.
There is great fishing for both demersal and pelagic species in a range of sizes, and even billfish are an option out from the islands. Whether you prefer bait or artificials, the Abrolhos has something to offer every angler.
What makes the Abrolhos so appealing is its unique mix of both northern and southern species, with southern icons like dhufish, pink snapper and Samson fish sharing the same water with northern visitors like spangled emperor and coral trout.
In fact, there have been almost 400 different species of fish recorded at the Abrolhos, not to mention the area’s countless crayfish that support a lucrative industry.
Because there are restrictions on access to the islands themselves, fishing options are usually somewhat limited for visitors to the Abrolhos. Located around 70 kilometres off the Geraldton coast, access with private boat is often limited by weather and the need to be able to live on board the vessel.
You are not allowed to camp on the islands, but there are some excellent protected moorings for those who do make the effort to get their own boat over there. Once there, a small boat is an ideal way to explore the area, especially the shallows around the islands themselves.
However, the complicating factors of a trip to the islands mean many anglers instead turn to the fleet of charter operators that work at the Abrolhos during winter to fish there.
Live-aboard charters at the islands are extremely popular and enable fishers to capitalise on local expertise and spend three to five days’ fishing the area. There are a number of charter boats that work the Abrolhos out of Geraldton and all offer similar fishing opportunities.
The fishing options once at the islands are almost limitless. Angler can cast lures at working birds for pelagics like Spanish mackerel, yellowfin tuna, shark mackerel and even wahoo. Or they can fish along reef edges and around shallow bommies for baldchin groper, spangled emperor, yellowtail kingfish and coral trout.
Those who want to target prime bottom species can jig or drop baits for dhufish and pink snapper, or even try to stop one of the local Samson fish, which grow to massive sizes.
There are also heaps of squid around the Abrolhos and they offer a fun option while at anchor at night, while floating an unweighted mulie out the back at anchor has produced many quality fish.
It would not be uncommon for a charter operator to offer all of those various options on a trip, and maybe even in one day!
Dhufish are probably the main target for fishers at the Abrolhos and they get caught by a variety of methods each year, with fish around the 10kg mark a common catch.
They will bite on baits, plastics and jigs and some spots are simply loaded with them. Pink snapper are a similar story and can also be caught using a number of different approaches, while coral trout are in amazing numbers in some areas at the Abrolhos.
Fishing the shallows around some of the islands can produce incredible numbers of trout and they’ll often hit anything that comes near them, including poppers.
The pelagics can vary from season to season depending on water temperature, but most years tuna and mackerel can be seen terrorising baitfish. Trolling around bait or along drop-offs works well, particularly for Spanish mackerel, as does casting lures at any surface action. Spaniards are also often caught on bait at night.
Big Samson fish cruise the islands and while some are like pets and can be hand-fed, there are plenty of places where they can be targeted. Watching packs of Samson fish chase bait up onto reefy shallows is an amazing Abrolhos experience.
The bonus of fishing the Abrolhos is getting to spend time in such an amazing marine environment, with the many islands, clear water and brilliant coral bottom along with the other species such as whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds which call the islands home.
The diving and snorkelling can be spectacular, and the wreck of the Batavia, with a backstory of epic proportions, is a popular destination for visitors to the islands.
With so much on offer and its close proximity to Perth, it is little wonder the Houtman Abrolhos Islands are such a hit with WA recreational fishers.
Anyone who visits the Abrolhos should be aware that the islands have their own possession and bag limits to protect local fish stocks – you can find more info on the you should also be aware that if you’re steaming out to the Abrolhos in your boat you need to notify the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development by filling out and submitting this online form.