Fishing Reports - Brandon Khoo Bugatti Reef Report 2007

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Bugatti Reef – Fusilier Country

Fusiliers! Over there!

Sure enough, the tell-tale shimmering of a school of nervous fusiliers could be seen some 70 metres away.

Three poppers sail through the air landing within seconds of each other as the fusiliers explode all around in panic. A huge surface strike engulfs the first popper almost immediately. Within moments, the second popper disappears from sight as two grunting, straining anglers struggle against GTs determined to find the coral encrusted bottom while the third angler watches enviously.

The above scenario was repeated many times across the four dories for 5.5 days at Bugatti Reef. Double hook-ups by the end of the trip barely got a mention and there were in fact a few instances of triple hook-ups. I don’t even know how many fish were caught by all four dories but the dory which I spent 4.5 out of the 5.5 days on landed some 70 GTs for the 5.5 days.

GTs landed by the whole group ranged from a little cutie which looked barely 5 kilos (this fish only warrants a “T” and has yet to earn the “G” designation) to a stunning monster that looked like it would have cracked the old fashioned ton (in pounds).

,,,,and what are fusiliers, you may ask? Well, fusiliers are a beautiful little fish that inhabit coral atolls in the millions and are unfortunate enough to form the primary food source for GTs in these areas.

I’ll apologise up front for the very long report but I thought the detail might be worth the effort. If you don’t want to go to the effort of reading it, the pictures will more than speak for themselves……..

Day 1 – Saturday 28th

We headed out fishing about 2.30pm soon after arriving on the Odyssey on Saturday 28th July by floatplane from Hamilton Island. There were 13 of us in all – 7 individuals and six guys comprising a corporate group. I was in a dory with Malcolm Crane and Graeme Macrae with Damon Olsen as the captain and guide.

It is amazing country that has to be seen to be believed. The only named reef around the area is Bugatti as the rest are unchartered. We were not technically at Bugatti but some 10 – 15 miles away with the Odyssey anchored in a beautiful lagoon but as no other reef has a name in the vicinity, Bugatti had to do! The entire are for hundreds of square miles are coral, coral and more coral with these amazing rivers that look like they have been carved in.

We really only had some 2.5 hours fishing so we worked our way down one of these coral rivers some 10 minutes from the Odyssey. The river we first fished was calm as a swimming pool. After some ten minutes of casting, I hooked the first fish of the trip which looked a very, very nice fish. The fish made a huge surface strike on one of the new Adhek stickbaits charging in from some twenty metres away.

Unfortunately, after some two to three minutes, the fish found its freedom by cutting me off on the bottom. I tried my best but just could not hold it on the 80lb braid. The fish made lunge after lunge towards the bottom and found it on about its fifth effort. A disappointing start but what potential for the next few days if they fish were like this!

Soon after, Malcolm boated our first GT for the trip of some 20kgs followed soon after by Grahame boating his first GT caught popping of some 15kgs. Was he delighted!

We returned to the Odyssey to a scene of pandemonium. We found out why as we got closer as one of the guys had hooked a huge GT on bait. One of the guides, Jason Preece, had baited up a jig rod and had hooked one of the big GTs milling around the boat before handing the rod over. The angler was inexperienced but very strong and we were certain the rod was going to explode! Still, the T-Curve somehow held itself together and some five minutes later, a beautiful GT of close to 40kg was landed.

We had a great dinner and there was much anticipation for the next morning.

Day 2 – Sunday 29th

Day 2 got off to a very interesting start for me. As per usual, I was doing some jigging very early in the morning before most people woke up with a light plastic off the back of the boat on a little 200 Calcutta Conquest. I had already landed a couple of beautiful sweetlip when I hooked what I thought was another sweetlip.

Well, it took the fish some 20 seconds to realise that it was hooked and it went insane. Luckliy for me, the young guide Liam Macdonald was up and he immediately started up the little dinghy and I jumped in. If not for this, I would have been spooled within seconds. We followed the fish to some 500m off the Odyssey and after some half hour, we could see it below the boat. It was a GT about 20kgs but unfortunately, it finally managed to cut me off on the bottom. The fish was exhausted but I simply could not put any hurt on it with a little baitcaster. This would have been my proudest catch of all on a baitcaster if only I could have landed it. Such is life but again, what a start to the day!

Well, after that excitement, we headed out in the same group with Malcolm, Grahame, myself and Damon. We found one of the river systems that had a huge patch of very nervous fusiliers in it. We fished in this river and the surrouding area and had an amazing morning with about a dozen GTs boated up to about 28kgs and that is not to mention the number of strikes we missed. Malcolm was also monstered by what I think was a very nice fish indeed.

I was exhausted due to having suffered from a severe flu and stomach bug for the past week and by the time we got back to the Odyssey for lunch, I was physically gone. I noticed a loop loose on my Stella so I stood on the back of the Odyssey and threw a cast out to clear the loop. Unfortunately for me, as the popper was being retrieved, it was mobbed by three big GTs – and this was off the back of the mothership!

For the first time in my life, I was praying that nothing would hook up. Well, no luck. Within moments, I had a big fish on that went within a whisker of pulling me off the back of the Odyssey. With some help from Malcolm, I managed to get my gimbal on and somehow stay on the boat. Even now, I have no idea how I managed to land that fish. It ran under the Odyssey, under the dory and it got me to the point where I was simply incapable of lifting the rod any further. Fortunately, Damon managed to grab the line and leader and pull the fish in. It was very nice thick fish of some 35+ kgs but I simply couldn’t lift it for the photos! They ended up getting me to stand in the cage on the dory and resting it on the side of the cage.

I did seriously think of resting for the afternoon but common sense prevailed and I went fishing again! Thankfully, the afternoon was a little more quiet and from my recollection, we landed another four fish, from about 18 – 25kgs. We returned to the Odyssey exhausted but very satisfied. I must have been tired because I didn’t try to fish off the back of the Odyssey that night.

Day 3 – Monday 30th

The same group of us headed out again in the morning to the same area and again, we had great success. There were fusiliers everywhere again and as a result, the GTs were everywhere. The morning was again very successful with about ten fish boated and many more dropped. The fish were around the 20kg to 30kg mark. Malcolm’s bad luck with big fish continued and he again got monstered on a couple of occasions.

I have to mention one area which we extracted a number of fish from and where we also had numerous strikes. The current was flowing so fast it had to be seen to be believed. Damon told us to cast into an eddy where he said he expected fish to be resting in. Well, for some reason or another, I put in the most miserable cast that went barely 40m which resulted in my popper landing well short of the eddy and right into the raging current. I swore and started to retrieve the popper but it was immediately grabbed by a GT and within seconds, Malcolm was also on as he retrieved his popper into the zone. The fish were not huge with them both being around the 20kg mark but in that current, they went like trains!

I also saw the biggest fish I saw for the trip near to this area after lunch. I had what I thought was a fairly innocuous follow but when the fish turned away casually about twenty metres from the boat, I realised that the GT was about six feet long! No one else bothered to look because both Malcolm and Grahame had a double hookup at that point.

After lunch, we raised a lot of fish but it was an exasperating period with numerous dropped fish. Malcolm really came into his own in this period and I think he may have landed just about every fish that afternoon!

I learned a very valuable lesson that day and that was to respect the fish, even if you thought they were small. I had what I thought was a small GT next to the boat as I was rushing to get it unhooked as I felt there were better fish in the area. As it got next to the boat, I realised that the fish was a little bigger than I thought just as it went for a run. I was completely unprepared and the fish bent me over completely almost pulling me into the water and I felt a twinge in my back. Having previously had serious back problems, I was worried my trip was potentially over. Fortunately for me, the injury was minor but it taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. You can’t afford to be casual with such powerful fish.

Overall, another great day which was very much like the previous day with about the same number of GTs boated with the biggest fish around the 30kg mark.

Day 4 – Tuesday 1st

With the success we had experienced over the previous two mornings, Damon decided it was too good not to at least give it a try again. The first cast from Malcolm was pounced on by what looked a very nice fish but unfortunately, it didn’t hold. This then continued with numerous strikes but no hookups – very frustrating! The problem we had this morning was that there was simply too many fusiliers spread out all over the place. After some half hour of chasing birds and fusiliers, Damon decided to try a few different spots.

He really has an incredible eye. To the three of us, we were casting to, well, quite frankly, nothing! That certainly wasn’t the case as Malcolm soon hooked up to a beautiful fish that looked some 25-30kgs. The fish was boated and Malcolm was on the board for the day. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite find the hot bite as we had in previous mornings. We fished one area hard for a couple of nice fish around the 20kg+ mark. I had one incredible surface strike where the fish made multiple attempts at a Orion Flapper before hooking up.

We had a quick break for lunch then Damon decided it was time to do some exploring after lunch. We fished a few areas for nothing before Damon spotted some fusilier activity. Sure enough, my first cast was snaffled by a big fish. Within seconds, Grahame was also hooked up. I could see my fish in the shallow water and it was one I really wanted – a big and very black coloured GT. Luck, however, wasn’t on my side and the fish managed to rub me off on the bottom. I have no luck with black GTs. I’ve had about ten of them hooked over the years but never landed a decent sized fish.

Grahame also had no luck when his hooks pulled. He cast straight back in and within seconds, was on again. Grahame was delighted to pull two fish out in quick succession from the same spot.

We continued exploring the area and had another double hookup to Malcolm and myelf where we landed fish of around 20kgs. As we wandered a little further, we saw a heap of bird activity. Now bird activity is normally just tunas but Damon spotted fusiliers. Well, for the next hour, it was absolute pandemonium. There was a big school of GTs and they were feeding like tuna. We had continuous double hookups and at one stage, even a triple hookup! During that period, we must have landed about ten GTs with at least that number dropped. I had two fish shake themselves off next to the boat as I was waiting my turn for the fish to be unhooked!

The fish were not big with them all around the 20kg mark but it was incredible action! It was amazing but a slow day had been transformed into an excellent day with one session. We returned very happy to the Odyssey for a well earned rest.

Day 5 – Wednesday 2nd

Damon decided to move the Odyssey south on this morning so the dories all headed in that general direction. He also chose to reshuffle the dories and I went out with Jason as the guide along with two other very keen fishos from Brisbane, Patrick and Roy.

The day was extremely difficult as the overcast conditions made it almost impossible to see where the spots were. What we did mange to find were schools of tuna everywhere and as the GT fishing was extremely slow, we took the opportunity to throw some metal slugs at the schools of longtails and mack-tunas that were everywhere. The fish were very hungry and grabbed any slug cast in their direction. Now I’m a big fan of longtails but after fishing for GTs, well, it all just seemed a little ho-hum!

It took us a few hours before we finally found a patch of fusiliers and within moments, I was hooked up. We initially thought that I had hooked a real monster but unfortunately for me, a much smaller GT beat the big fish to the popper. Such is life! The little fellow of some 15 – 20kgs was landed and we were back casting. Within moments, I was on again and this time, a far better fish around the 30kg mark was landed.

Unfortunately, that was about it for the action for the day. Around 2pm, we decided to return to the area where the mothership was anchored to say goodbye to the corporate group who were leaving early. The guys were telling us on the radio about the huge GTs hanging around the boat. Sure enough, when we arrived, we saw one of the guides, Ed Lester tossing a fly rod around. He finally hooks up on a GT, jumps into a dory to chase the fish so I told the guys to wave him goodbye as it would take him till sunset to land the fish!

Anyway, we started tossing a few poppers straight at the mothership and about fifteen minutes later, Roy hooks up. Now this period provided us with one of the most amusing episodes of the trip. The fish Roy hooked was obviously big and he was really struggling with it. On two occasions, the fish had him in serious trouble of being pulled out of the cage at the back of the dory as it had him bent into an “L” shape. His mate Patrick and I were almost in tears and as Patrick continued to film it on his little video camera, we were both hoping (praying) he would be pulled into the water as we were already planning what we could do with the footage if he did. We though youtube was a certainty! Still, we have to give credit to Roy. He fought like hell and eventually bought in a stunning fish that would have been 35kg+. Roy is just one of those great blokes who can keep you amused for a whole trip through his antics. Apart from the fact that he never heard the end of his “L” shaped experience, he looked like a walking advertisement for Clinique or Estee Lauder with the sunscreen he was using as it looked like women’s foundation!

Unfortunately, that was pretty much the end of our day. As it become more overcast, we found it impossible to find the points and we had no luck with Fusiliers.

Malcolm, however, in another dory, had a brilliant day especially in the afternoon. They had found a completely new area with lots of bommies. In the morning, he had hooked a succession of big fish only to lose some four fish in a row. In the afternoon, he absolutely slayed them with the culmination of the afternoon being his personal best capture – a beautiful fish in excess of 40kgs.

Grahame had also a wonderful day catching a number of fish with his best being a big black GT off the back of the mothership. I was really bloody jealous about this one! His first GT trip and he catches a fish I have been after for years!! It’s not fair!!

Day 6 – Thursday 3rd

Last day – boy, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun!

With the corporate group having left the previous afternoon, there was the opportunity for the crew to get in a bit of fishing. I went out with Damon, Ed and Liam with Liam and Ed sharing the duties on the movie camera.

The day got off to an amazing start as we saw more GTs in the first twenty minutes than I had seen the entire previous day, Unfortunately, it was also an incredibly frustrating morning and our record at about 11am stood at 20 fish raised and one in the boat. Considering that Damon had rasied about half the fish, Ed and Liam really gave him some stick about his lack of success! We also saw two quite amazing things in the morning. On two occasions, after lures were free floating after being snipped off by mackeral, they were struck by GT just floating on the surface.

It was like almost every spot we tried, we raised a fish but we simply couldn’t hook them! Well, out luck changed after lunch. We started connecting and the period post lunch to the end of the day was not just the best session I experienced for the week but in entire fishing experience for GTs. We found a stack of fish and we caught plenty of them.

I landed six fish after lunch and dropped about ten. Late in the day, I hooked the fish I had been waiting for all week. I had good position, I was ready and I hooked it on my heaviest outfit. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, I simply wasn’t good or strong enough to handle a fish that size in water of only some ten feet in depth. The fish pulled some twenty metres of line off against not just a tight drag of about 17kg (the drag was off the scale on my Bouz) but also my holding onto the spool as hard as I could. I never saw the fish but it was BIG. I’ve landed fish that hit the magical three figure mark on the old scale that didn’t pull like that. It eventually snagged me up on the bottom but we did manage to free my lure.

We continued to fish this area and it was amazing! There were fusiliers everywhere and the GTs were in a feeding frenzy. Every few second, fusiliers were exploding out of the water. I think everyone landed a fish from this area except yours truly!

To cap off a super day, Damon stopped at a bommie that was about 200m from the mothership. My popper which resembled a hairbrush after being bashed all afternoon and having a treble where one of the hooks had been partially straightened was smashed on my second cast. Luckily for me, the fish was hooked on the single at the back and not the treble. What a way to cap off a great trip!! We landed 19 GTs for the day and with an ounce of luck, could have had 30 in the boat that day. My most enjoyable day’s GT fishing ever, notwithstanding that I lost the fish of the trip (for me).

A great dinner and a birthday cake for Roy capped off an absolutely super trip – the best I’ve ever had.

Location

One word – amazing

It is without doubt the most productive and the best location for GTs I have ever been. The fish ranged in size from small to prehistoric and there is every chance of encountering a true monster here. It is a truly stunning location that you actually have to see for yourself to believe it. The drop offs on those rivers through the reef are amazing with their coral formations.

It is a much easier location to fish than (say) Shoalwater but that said, Shoalwater to me remains the location for the true GT afficianado. You will without question catch more fish at Bugatti in comparison but I still dream about the challenge of Shoalwater and I’m going back for revenge next year against the fish which dented the rails on dory 1 with my ribs.

Variety of Fish

I personally expected that we would catch a lot of reef fish seeing we were often fishing in shallow reef areas. Well, that did not eventuate. The catch was primarily GTs with a number of Spanish and shark mackeral, bludger and bigeye trevally and longtail and mack tunas. The guys also caught the odd red bass and coral trout but they were few and far between. The corporate group who went for a mix of fishing caught some variety – even a huge dolphin fish! I am certain that if we had focussed on reef fish that we would have caught heaps. I certainly landed a number of sweetlip off the back of the boat at night.

All of that said, we went there for GTs and GTs we got.

Gear Required

I always go with two outfits for a GT trip so I can change between a stickbait and popper without having to change lures. Also, this form of fishing is brutal on gear and there is always an even money chance your reel or rod will be rendered unuseable during the trip.

I went to Bugatti with the majority of my spools loaded with 80lb braid. After the first afternoon, I ended up fishing 100lb and 130lb braid for the rest of the trip. You can exert pressure with really heavy braid which you simply cannot do with 80lb. There are many areas there where 80lb is sufficient but also many areas where you need every bit of help you can get! The other factor is I want to give myself the best chance possible with big fish. Big fish do not grow that big if they are stupid and the heavier braid just gives you that little more chance of pulling them out.

In terms of the rods, I had a Smith Komodo Dragon and a Carpenter SP80M. While my KD performed as well I have come to expect, I was amazed at how well the medium weight SP80M and Malcolm’s TBL711/35RF stood up to the abuse we both dished out on them. Both rods are rated to PE8 and we both fished 100lb Varivas GT. At times, we had the rods bent an amazing angles and they took everything we threw at them.

In terms of poppers and stickbaits, my personal view is that it is more of a popper location but you will still have good success with stickbaits. My most successful popper was as usual the Cubera 125 but that is no surprise seeing I do most of my fishing with it. Any big chugger that makes lots of noise will be successful. We also had great success on pencil poppers. I tried a new stickbait from Adhek on this trip. By the end of the trip, we had landed a number of fish on it but I am less convinced it is a stickbait than a skittering popper. It looks great in the water and it will catch fish.

Malcolm was also using a prototype stickbait which I don’t know if I am allowed to mention. It looks like a winner to me but I will get permission first before saying any more.

Damon and Crew

I know I seem to be often singing the praises of the Nomad team but there is a good reason for that – they’re earn it. They are a great team and great teams do not happen by accident. Damon has done a terrific job of getting a team together who work really well together and who are just a great bunch of people. Their sheer passion for fishing themselves make them great hosts.

Special mention: I’ve developed a huge regard for the young deckie and guide Liam Macdonald. Nothing is too much trouble be it finding you something on the Odyssey or pulling you back into the dory when a GT is trying its best to take you water skiing. In my view, his care factor for the client and his hunger to learn will see him develop into a world class guide in time. He has learned so much since joining the team just before Shoalwater earlier this year.

I can assure you that if you or I went out to Bugatti and we had to get around ourselves, we wouldn’t be catching even 1/4 of what we caught during the week. The guys have a knack for seeing spots which we don’t.

With Nomad, you simply turn up and you don’t have to worry about anything else. They’re not cheap but they don’t aim to be. You get what you pay for.

People I met

I think that one of the best things about charters with Nomad are the people you meet. Well, this trip was really exceptional even by those standards. They guys on this trip were just a great bunch notwithstanding that only a couple of us were really experienced at this form of fishing.

Special mention: I would like to say that it was my privilege to meet and fish with Malcolm Crane – a highly knowledgeable and experienced GT fisherman and an absolute gentleman. Unfortunately, I also have to admit he is a better GT fisho than I am. He gets more strikes and hooks bigger fish!

Would I go back?

It’s like asking me if I want a date with Jennifer Hawkins or Charlize Theron!


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