Exmouth’s King Reef – from barren seafloor to a world-class fishing hotspot

From a featureless seafloor to a flourishing marine oasis where fishing world records are being broken – King Reef in Exmouth has become a fishing haven in less than four years.  

Since six large, repurposed steel structures and almost 50 concrete modules were deployed across two acres of sandy seafloor to the north-east of Exmouth in 2018, the underwater desert has now become a fish city, teeming with large pelagic and demersal species prowling the artificial reef.  

One family that has taken full advantage of the improved fishing action surrounding this artificial reef spanning an area roughly equivalent to five footy ovals is the Grasso’s, who are all King Bay Game Fishing Club members in Dampier.  

Each member of the Grasso family – father Mick, his partner Channy and their two children Max and Mia – boasts impressive fishing accolades in their own rights, with each of them owning Australian or world fishing records, recognised by the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) and Game Fishing Association Australia (GFAA).  

The source of many of these world and Australian fishing records is King Reef – just 6.4km northeast of the Exmouth Town Boat Ramp.  

12-year-old Max Grasso’s line-class world record golden trevally weighing over 13kg and measuring 105cm, caught off King Reef. Give the Grasso family’s Instagram page a follow to keep up to date with the amazing fish they catch!

King Reef shows how rapidly an artificial reef can help boost the marine life around the structure, with 100 fish species monitored around it, including prized demersal species such as red emperor and cod patrolling the depths, while pelagic species such as golden trevally and even sailfish have been spotted patrolling the topwater. 

One of the line-class world records taken out on the reef included a 13.06kg whopper of a golden trevally measuring 1.05m, caught by talented young angler Max Grasso @junior_grassy on Platypus Pretest line. This impressive catch broke two world records at once – the 10kg line class male world record and the small fry male world record. 

“Max’s world record line class golden trevally was taken at King Reef, on the maiden voyage of our new boat and only 20 minutes into running in the motor. It is amazing to now have a fishing location like this so close to home and so easily accessible for everyone,” said his father, Mick Grasso.  

These stunning underwater snaps taken by professional photographer Violeta J. Brosig from Blue Media Exmouth show what is happening beneath the surface at King Reef, with the repurposed structures now teeming with fish, marine life, algae and coral.

Both Max, 12 and his younger sister Mia, 8, cleaned up at the recent Game Fishing Association Australia (GFAA) awards after numerous trips to King Reef.  

Max set a target to tag 120 game fish for the 2021/22 season. Not only did King Reef play a key role in helping him pass this mark with three months to spare, but Max also had to buy an extra-large cricket bag to fit in all his trophies from the GFAA awards night!  

Max took out the Junior Male Angler Capture, Junior Male Angler Release and Peter Bennett Trophy for most meritorious tag and release achievements by a junior angler, along with the Neil Patrick Trophy for most gamefish tagged in Australian waters.  

Max’s younger sister Mia also sweeped multiple GFAA awards, taking out the WA small fry female capture and release divisions. She then went on to claim the national Small Fry Capture Award, winning the ‘big trophy’ she set her eyes on after her brother had won it previously.

Max Grasso (pictured left) and Mia Grasso (pictured right) both cleaned up at the recent Game Fishing Association Australia (GFAA) Awards, with many of their tagged and record catches from King Reef in Exmouth.

“It is fantastic to see that artificial reef structures such as King Reef boost marine life and create fantastic fishing opportunities, whether it’s by trolling or bottom fishing” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland.  

“King Reef is a perfect example of how repurposed structures can create thriving new habitats and support a huge range of species that bring benefits to the local community, economy and environment. 

“It’s why Recfishwest is targeting approvals and funding for new artificial reefs in various locations from Albany to Broome to add to the seven reefs currently flourishing in WA waters.”  

The deployement of the King Reef structures came from a collaboration between Recfishwest and the Exmouth local community, BHP, NERA, DPIRD, Subcon and Curtin University.  

Find out more about the State’s network of artificial reefs here.  

The location of King Reef in Exmouth, make sure you pay this great fishing spot a visit!

Scott’s Species – sailfish, one of the ocean’s fastest fish

I have never really caught the marlin bug, but I do have an undoubted soft spot for sailfish as the billfish of the people, writes Western Angler’s Scott Coghlan in this week’s Scott’s Species.

Fish: Sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus

Eating: Three stars

ID: Long bill and large fan-like dorsal fin that looks like a sail. Blue colouration on body gives way to white underneath, with vertical blue stripes.

How good is this photo that Jim Bastow snapped of Josh Cheong hooked up to a sailfish off Exmouth!?

Considered to be possibly the fastest fish in the ocean, sailfish were believed to be capable of speeds to more than 100km/h.

However, recent studies found they were more likely to hit top speeds of around 60km/h.

Easily identified by their huge dorsal fin, they are just that little bit more accessible to the average angler than marlin as they quite often show up in shallow inshore waters, even though they do swim down to depths of around 350m.

Removing sailfish from the water for photos can cause damage to their organs and skeletal structure, use a ‘selfie stick’ for great photos, while keeping the fish in the water and minimizing the stress on the fish.

Click here to download Recfishwest’s Fishing for Science sailfish fact sheet!

I have a fond recollection of catching my first sailie off Ningaloo while at anchor.

I had put a floating bait out and called it for a shark when line started peeling off the reel, only to watch a sailfish launch out behind the boat.

It almost spooled me but we were able to get it to the boat and I was able to tick off another angling first.

From memory we were only fishing in around 45m of water, but it is not uncommon for sails to venture in close to shore.

I have even caught one from the rocks near Steep Point while spinning for Spanish mackerel.

Sailfish have such a prominent dorsal fin. 📸 Peak Sportfishing

I had cast out a 100g metal and it was hit on the drop. When I saw the fish jump well out from the rocks I thought it was a Spaniard with a shark on its tail.

It was only when it kept jumping in that greyhounding fashion across the surface typical of sails that I realised what it was.

It took me to my last few metres of line but I was able to eventually bring it to the rocks, where I snapped the line to allow it to swim off.

I couldn’t bring myself to drop down the flying gaff, even though they are certainly edible.

I have caught a few sails, but never really targeted them and they’ve usually been an incidental capture.

We’ve often encountered them after seeing them greyhounding at the Mackerel Islands, usually in 15m or so of water.

I’ve also had them pop up next to the boat and we got a big one when that happened off Tantabiddi just as we were about to head in.

A bluewater roamer by nature, sailfish mainly feed on small baitfish and squid, and are often caught while trolling for marlin as they will take the same skirts being towed in the blue water.

However, sailfish will often show up in packs and that can make for some very exciting action as multiple fish are hooked.

The Broome Billfish Classic highlights the world-class sailfish fishery off the West Kimberley town, with Emi Campbell landing this sail at the 2021 comp.

Many sails are caught the same way as my first, on unweighted baits and I’ve hooked a few trolling surface lures such as stickbaits or poppers, which seem to excite them.

They are also often hooked on trolled bibbed minnows meant for other species like mackerel.

While sails are usually caught from Shark Bay north, there are definite hot spots for them.

Good numbers of sails are caught off Tantabiddi and Exmouth also has unique run of fish in the Gulf late each year.

The sails follow bait into the Gulf and offer great sportfishing action, as anglers look for working birds that indicate sails are onto some bait.

It can be mayhem when the fish are found!

Karratha also boats an excellent sailfish fishery out around where the ships anchor, while Broome is famous for its annual run of sails, where they turn up in huge numbers although they aren’t generally big fish.

This fishery is celebrated by the Broome Fishing Club’s annual Broome Billfish Classic.

Jade Relph with a sailfish during Broome Fishing Club’s 2020 Billfish Classic.

As mentioned earlier, we often see sails around the Mackerel Islands.

The most memorable sailfish capture I can remember at the Mackies was by former Australian cricketing legend, Merv Hughes, who cast a Halco Roosta popper into a school of working tuna and somehow hooked a sail!

He was very happy with himself then, and still is now.

Because they are very mobile, finding them can be tricky but working current lines in the blue water would be a good start, and they’ll often be found around bait.

Watch for them free jumping, or sometimes you will see them cruising with just their large ‘sail’ showing above the surface.

Casting at cruising sailfish is a very exciting angling experience, especially when they zero in on your offering.

Indeed, there is much to love about sails from my perspective.

They often show up when least expected, are a lot more manageable on traditional tackle than their bigger billfish cousins, are capable of thrilling aerobatics and boast an almost unmatched burst of speed, making them an ideal sportfishing opponent with a side helping of the spectacular.

It’s important not to take sailfish out of the water to take a photo. 📸 Peak Sportfishing

Fabulous FADs open up a wealth of sport fishing opportunities

Working in conjunction with local fishing clubs, Recfishwest is developing and deploying a network of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) off the coast of the Perth metro and WA regional centres as part of a three-year trial program.

FADs have been used across Australia and off the coasts of places such as Costa Rica and Hawaii to great effect to enhance sport-fishing opportunities for spectacular-fighting pelagic species such as mahi-mahi (dolphin fish), tuna, billfish and mackerel.

Funded by recfishing licence fees through the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund, we have developed the trial program working closely with local fishing clubs and have coordinated the production and physical deployment of the FADs.

This is exactly how we believe RFIF funds should be spent – as seed money to test ground-breaking projects such as this, that create great fishing opportunities for which there is high demand and support within the recfishing community.

For those who might not be familiar with the concept, FADs are essentially large floats anchored to the seafloor in open water, where they aggregate schools of baitfish, which in turn draw sizeable aggregations of pelagic species.

This creates spectacular sport-fishing opportunities for boat fishers – to get a flavor of just how good the fishing can be – check out this sensational footage filmed by Luke Ryan of TackleWest on the existing metro FADs.

If you’ve got a medium-size or larger boat (or even a tinnie if you’re in Broome!) sensational fishing like this could be accessible to you in the locations below.

*Once the FADs for each location are deployed, the exact GPS coordinates will be updated on our website.

UPDATE June 2020

All Metro, Albany and Cape Naturaliste FADs have now been brought back in for the winter and will be redeployed in late November 2020. Exmouth and Broome FADs will remain in place.

Perth

Expected time of re-deployment: Currently pulled in for winter, expected to be re-deployed in late November 2020.

Number of FAD’s/strategy: Two additional FADs going in West of Rottnest in addition to existing Perth Game Fishing Club FADs as well as four FADs for to be deployed further north, which can be accessed by boats launching out of northern metro ramps.

Perth FAD Coords with map

Albany

Expected time of re-deployment: Currently pulled in for winter, expected to be re-deployed in late November 2020
Number of FAD’s/strategy: Trialing four FADs in the more temperate waters off Albany, they could potentially draw species like yellowtail kingfish. First time recreational fishing FADS have ever been deployed off Albany.

Albany FAD Coords with maps

Cape Naturaliste

Expected time of re-deployment: Currently pulled in for winter, expected to be re-deployed in late November 2020
Number of FAD’s/strategy: Trialing four FADs for the first time off the cape in an area where the Leeuwen current flows – we’re expecting to see good aggregations of mahi-mahi here.

Cape Naturaliste FAD Coords with map

Geraldton

Expected time of deployment: Late November 2020
Number of FAD’s/strategy: Trialing three FADs West of the Abrolhos and one in closer to shore. Out-wide you can expect mahi-mahi, wahoo, tuna and marlin, while mahi-mahi and mackerel could be the go along the FAD that is closer to shore.

Geraldton FAD Coords with map

Exmouth

Expected time of deployment: Deployed March 2020 (GPS coordinates up to date)
Number of FAD’s/strategy: Trialing four FADs west of Ningaloo Reef. We are expecting good numbers of mahi-mahi, along with the possibility of wahoo and various species of tuna and billfish. FAD 1 yet to be deployed.

Exmouth FAD Coords with map

Broome

Expected time of deployment: Deployed June 2020 (GPS coordinates up to date)
Number of FAD’s/strategy: Fishing for mackerel and big trevallies could be accessible to even small boat owners.

BROOME FAD Coords with maps

FADtastic fishing for the future

It’s been a long journey and we’ve had to wade through a mess of red tape and push hard uphill all the way, but finally we’re here.

We’re really excited to be able to deliver this trial program, build our understanding and expertise in this space and be in a stronger position to source future investment in FADs from recfishing licence money and potentially industry sponsors.

So once they’re in, get out there and have a crack – we’re sure you’ll quickly become a FAD fanatic if you’re not already!

Check out what Recfishwest CEO Andrew Rowland had to say about the FAD rollout here:

 

FAD Coords all locations

Things to consider when fishing on FADs

Call out for Reef Vision volunteers

Recfishwest puts the call out for artificial reef filming fisher volunteers

Recfishwest is casting out for red-hot keen boat fishers who want to be part of the the marine citizen science program, Reef Vision – the first of its kind in the world.

We’re looking for more volunteers to join the ever-growing and valuable Reef Vision team and help catch valuable footage of the state’s artificial reefs while out fishing.

Reef Vision volunteers collect valuable data

The Reef Vision Program is made up of passionate fishers from the recreational fishing community who assist Recfishwest map and monitor the growth and development of these fish habitat-enhancement structures in Esperance, Dunsborough, Busselton, Mandurah and Exmouth.

The State’s artificial reefs program driven by Recfishwest, has been developed to provide great fishing opportunities relatively close to shore allowing small boat owners the chance to have better fishing experiences.

Each Reef Vision volunteer is given a BRUV (Baited Remote Underwater Video) camera, and training on how to set up, deploy and retrieve the equipment.

The volunteers drop the cameras near to the reef on their way to their fishing spot and record an hour of video footage of the artificial reefs. This footage is later analysed by Recfishwest, university researchers and students to see what fish are using the reefs and helping us to understand the benefits of artificial reefs and the fish that call them home.

To date, Reef Vision volunteers have collected hundreds of hours of valuable footage from the six artificial reefs monitored in the reef vision program identifying hundreds of different species including dhufish, Samson fish, baldchin groper, pink snapper and large schools of mulloway and red emperor, Rankin cod, queenfish and blue bone.

Local community members deploying Baited Remove Underwater Video cameras

“I love my fishing here in WA and being part of Reef Vision gives me the chance to give something back. It’s also really cool to see what’s going on down there – there are some amazing things you see” said Reef Vision volunteer Garry Dyer.

Recfishwest’s Research Officer Steph Watts said, “We need to know what’s happening on these reefs, and it’s even more important that the volunteers are enjoying their time collecting the footage for us.

“They’re the backbone of Reef Vision, and we can’t thank them enough,”

Fishers who might be interested in participating and want to know more are asked to email steph@recfishwest.org.au.

Check out the Red Emperor of Exmouth’s King Reef

Creating amazing fishing opportunities through artificial reefs is something fishers request often and is something Recfishwest is proud to be delivering for the community.

Exmouth’s King Reef joins artificial reefs in Esperance, Dunsborough, Bunbury, Mandurah and south of Rottnest Island.

Volunteers from Recfishwest’s Reef Vision project recently captured some fantastic footage of juvenile red emperor on King Reef – it’s a must see for any keen fisher! Look a look for yourself!

Check out the other artificial reefs and find more information on them here.