Exmouth Billfish

By Jamie Crawford

As we motored out of the Exmouth marina, the Gulf water to the east began to glow with the first hint of daybreak. We left the flickering lights of town in our wake as we rounded Bundegi and North West Cape, and pointed our nose to the offshore grounds we’d been fishing the previous day.

I was fishing with a couple of mates who’d towed their 26ft Sailfish up from Perth to compete in the annual Gamex Comp. It was their first year in the comp, and they – along with the rest of the fleet – were having a ball on small black marlin.

Most of the billfish action was seen from the 50m line and beyond, which is only a couple of kilometres off the backside of Ningaloo Reef. The smaller fish were pretty thick inshore, with some bigger blacks and a few blue marlin out deeper in water from 150m and beyond. There were a few sailfish getting in on the action too, but the lions share of the action centred around smaller blacks in the 20 to 40kg size range.

I was in Exmouth to report on the comp for Fishing World Magazine, and with the consistent action and fair weather it was an easy task gathering material. These smaller fish were super-aggressive and energetic, and were putting on a great performance once hooked.

However, during the comp I was behind the camera and not part of the action myself, which can be hard to take when the action is running hot. But with formalities behind us and the comp drawn to a close, Gres Vukman and Chris Yu invited me on board to see if I could land my first billfish.

We arrived on the ground just as the sun cleared the horizon, and it wasn’t long before we had a spread of 7” and 9” skirts set in our wake. Pakula Micro Sprocket and Pakula Stubby skirts in lumo green had been effective on the billfish in the days prior. We were running a pair of Tiagra 50Ws on the riggers, with Tiagra 30s on the short and long corners, and in the shotgun position.

There weren’t any bait balls or specific structure concentrating the billfish to any one area, the fish were generally spread and were found feeding on flying fish around current lines and temperature breaks. Once a billfish was raised though, time was spent trolling that area.

It didn’t take too long for our first fish to be raised, with the shotgun screaming to life after around 20 mins of trolling. An energetic black of around 35kg took to the air, and it wasn’t long before the fish was brought boat-side, tagged and released. Even though it was only a small fish, my billfish box had been ticked – stoked!

With the spread set again, we resumed trolling, slowly making our way out to the 200m line. Around an hour later we had a solid hook-up on the long rigger. This was no small black, and before we could clear the other lines we’d half emptied a 50W. The fish refused to jump; instead it changed direction erratically before powering deep. The guys on board called it for a blue marlin, so we harnessed-up for a long fight. Unfortunately 30 min into the battle the hook pulled.

After a re-group and a cold beverage, we set the spread again. We continued to troll between 160 and 200m, once again concentrating on current lines and pockets of flying fish. Because the baitfish are quite scattered off this section of coastline, it’s not conducive to livebaiting, instead trolling to cover ground seems to offer the best results.

After around an hour of fruitless trolling we hooked a good black of around 80kg on 15kg. This fish went ballistic, and would have jumped an honest 15 to 20 times. This fish had plenty of stamina, and it took over half an hour to bring boat-side. Just before we could leader the fish though, it turned and ran towards the boat, throwing the hook in the process. So close.

We made amends a short time later with an estimated 70kg black tagged and released on 24kg. Aside from the billfish we also picked up a couple of mahi mahi, and lost part of a skirt to a wahoo. That’s pretty consistent bluewater action in anyone’s book.

The black marlin are a year round proposition in Exmouth, with the blues peaking from November to April. The number of billfish seen each year varies from season to season, but in general they’re a pretty reliable target. And with by catch including mahi mahi, wahoo and yellowfin tuna, Exmouth’s offshore scene has a lot going for it.

Exmouth can be a windy place at times, but in general the mornings are often calm with a south-westerly sea-breeze kicking in early afternoon. March to August are good months to visit this north west coast, offering fairly stable weather patterns and consistent fishing.

Exmouth has a couple of reputable charter boats and guides, as well as boat hire which offer a range of quality alloy boats up to 7m. We’ve personally hired a 6m ally boat from Exmouth Boat and Kayak Hire for a few days, and it actually works out pretty cost effective when compared to towing your own boat.

As far as launching goes, there are 3 main options depending on the grounds you plan to be fishing. The first and most popular is Tantabiddi on the western side of the peninsula. This ramp can accommodate boats up to around 8m in length, but larger boats will have to time their launch and retrieve around the tide. Bundegi is a ramp to the north of Exmouth on the Gulf side, and of course there is the main ramp inside the marina at Exmouth.

There are plenty of options aside from the bluewater fishing around Exmouth too, but that’s a whole other story. Exmouth is an awesome place to visit, and everyone should experience this remote WA outpost at least once.