Scott’s Spots – the amazing Abrolhos Islands

Winter has arrived and it’s a time when many keen anglers look to the northern parts of Western Australia for their fishing fix. 

Tim Carter with a nice pink snapper on a Halco Laser Pro.

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. 

Al McGlashan provides dinner with a solid squid.

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. 

Kris Carlberg with an Abrolhos spangled emperor.

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. 

Coral trout are a shallow water staple at the islands.

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! 

Samson fish get much bigger than this at the Abrolhos!

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. 

What many Abrolhos visitors crave – dhufish.

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.   

Crayfishing is the lifeblood of the Abrolhos community.

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. 

The islands are an amazing spot to spend some time.

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

FADs to be Deployed in Regional Fishing Hotspots

Regional fishing hotspots are set to get a boost in 2018 as fish aggregating devices (FAD’s) are deployed in WA regional centres including Exmouth, Geraldton and Albany. With funding from the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund, local communities are working with Recfishwest to deliver FADs. This will diversify fishing opportunities for locals and visiting fishers alike. FAD’s will provide fishers an opportunity to catch fast growing, highly migratory pelagic species.

Recfishwest’s Fishing Development Officer Matt Gillett with a Dolphin Fish caught off Jurien Bay.

Designed to aggregate fish such as Mahi Mahi, Tuna and Billfish, the regional FAD project will see the first FAD installed in 2018. FAD’s have been used successfully throughout Australia, including off the coast of Perth, where the Perth Game Fishing Club deploys FAD’s in November each year. These are accessed regularly by metropolitan fishers and provide high quality fishing for Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo and Marlin.

Some of these FAD’s will be in reach for regular trailer boat fishers with boats of less than 5 metres to enable them the opportunity to catch highly sought after sport fish.

Recfishwest looks forward to implementing this program and will keep subscribers up to date with progress reported through our Broad Cast and social media platforms.

This project was made possible by the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund.

Abrolhos Islands National Park to Improve Tourism and Support Wilderness Fishing Experiences

Recfishwest is encouraged by the latest news from the WA Premier, Colin Barnett, that the iconic Abrolhos Islands are set to become a National Park that will both promote tourism while protecting it’s unique wilderness values and great fishing experiences. It is important to note that the proposed changes only affect the terrestrial portion (land) of the island chain and fishing rules and regulations will remain unchanged.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland welcomed the announcement, suggesting management changes were needed to meet the challenges of increased public visitation to the islands in recent years.

“It is important that the Abrolhos Islands are actively managed to protect the things visiting fishers value most.”

“There’s always a fear that when management changes are made in highly valued areas, access to quality fishing is jeopardised by competing values. In this case, we are pleased to see the importance of fishing has been recognised by the Premier in the recent announcement.

We look forward to hearing more about this proposal and representing the WA fishing community in what would be a great move toward making an iconic WA location, a well-managed asset for the people of WA.

Recfishwest looks forward to being involved in the discussions that shape what the opportunity may look like.

Or to learn more about fishing at the Abrolhos Islands visit www.ilovefishing.com.au