Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Return to Copeton - unfinished business

Words by John Cahill, photos mostly by Josh Cheong - In Depth Angler

After my initial Copeton trip last September there was one certainty in that I would be back, just a matter of when.  Finding a date that synced with work and life was key, finding a quality crew would not be an issue.  Early May it was and the guys heading north with two boats in tow were myself, Andy Smith my fellow Ebb Tide owner, Sean Farmer (Cod tragic and Copeton old hand) and Josh Cheong - In Depth Angler photographer and angler extraordinaire.
I had just rolled back into Australia and after four days at work from a GT popping trip to the middle east so I was struggling with being ready and on the same time zone but I got there mentally just in time, in preparation terms I was 'lacking' shall we say.  The long trek from Melbourne to Copeton is a hassle but when it's filled with animated fish talk it's not too bad really.  Driving into Copeton Waters at 10.30 p.m. we were knackered, its a serious effort.  We rolled out the swags at our chosen camp and were a little perturbed at how many neighbors we had.  The word on Copeton as a big fish lake has spread far and wide over recent years; you do get that with social media exposure I guess.  Nonetheless we slept well, nothing beats sleeping in a swag on a fishing trip.   We came to Copeton with different goals other than 'having a good time'; mine were clear, I wanted to crack a 1.20m by any lure casting method and also keen on 1.00m off the top
Hilton under the stars - love a good swag

Checkout the milky way - great clear sky's at Copeton.

Rising at a ridiculous hour on Saturday morning we were met with a majorly heavy dew.  We quietly went about rigging and prepping for action in the dark and slipped the boats into the water.  Heading off in opposite directions in stealth mode we zoomed on electric motor to where we wanted to start casting.  Our goal was to make the most of being early on the water when hopefully fish were on the edges hunting.  Now unashamedly we were all tackle freaks on this trip and tackle choices were all designed around casting big swim / wakebaits and large plastics for big fish.  I was testing some prototype Murasame Swimbait rods in two weights while both Andrew and I were also using some Mars Keebow rods specific to task teamed up with Lews baitcasters and Toray Super Strong PE Connect.  Sean is an old hand at swimbaiting and casts some ridiculously big lures on some serious American built poles, more on rod choices later.

It wasn't long after we begun working our first bank in the darkness that the first boat activity begun and it only built from there.  Right through the prime bite window of dawn, boats were buzzing everywhere at full noise, it was like being at the outer artificial off Carrum in November!  Sean was particularly keen on working a stretch that was loaded with bait but boat traffic pretty much put paid to that unfortunately.  A second choice was to hit a deep bay but no less than seven boats were in there!  Ouch... In the desperation stakes in the couple of hours after dawn I had our only hit for the session working some deeper rocks and timber, unfortunately I missed the bite on an Entice Gotcha Swimbait so donuts for us.  Catching up with Andy and Josh they had at least managed some quieter water and scored one cod on a Mudeye Snake and missed a couple of other  bites.  Declaring the session over, Sean and I set about checking out the surroundings with the current water levels and traversing from the dam wall through to pretty much as far as we could go up river - we had a good scan.  Copeton is a good bit higher than when I fished it last year and had a hell of a lot more boat traffic, well that day anyway.  The evening session was as equally unspectacular also but we were a bit heartened by what seemed to be a lot of camps packing up and leaving.
Bit fresh - it's always seems coldest at dawn

Workin'

We developed a plan to fish the next day based on these initial experiences and the crews remained the same.  What was joyous was how many people had left, the lake seemed to be a lot more peaceful albeit there were a few boats about, but it was a bit less frantic, was it a case that the weekend warriors had all gone home?  We were pretty much able to work the stretch we wanted without interference or boats dropping in which was awesome and a few fish came our way.  Sean and I opened in the pitch black with an explosive take on a Mudeye Snake - 103 cm's of greenback hit the deck and I had ticked off one of the goals - too easy it seemed!  Never underestimate the power of the cast into what you might think is a dead area is a motto to live by!  Heartened by that start, Sean managed two more wakebait eating fish tight to cover on first light that caused him disgust, he was only interested in one fish and the lures he casts are reflective of thinking big, not even photo worthy haha - he sets the bar high.  The morning was not without it's comedy, a mistake by me saw a rod in the water (Sean's) but thankfully it was recovered.  A warning to people who might fish with me, I do things like that.  It was great to see that the other guys had also enjoyed some success, well at least Andy... Josh was having a bit of a stinker and missing bites by the numbers.
Mudeye Snake boof's for JC - the Murasame handled it like a pro
Mudeye Snake also for Andy - great lure
Madness Japan Balam 300mm too much for this long lean local

Great markings

Much satisfaction seeing these fish return
For the evening session we swapped crews and had an equally unsuccessful event but we scoped out a good chunk of new water that we declared had great potential.  The following morning Andy and I returned to the same area as the previous two and set about the pattern which was now well established while Josh and Sean went back to the 'new' spot.  Andy and I were delighted that our area was now deserted of camps and boats and we had it to ourselves.  I worked a Mudeye Rattlesnake and missed several good bites that seemed like that they connected (but didn't) while Andy had one or two bites on a Madness Japan Balam 300 and again we struggled to find hooks.  It was only after dawn that I managed a solid bite, a feisty fish falling to a Megabass Magdraft which was very warmly welcomed onto the boat.  The other crew had managed two fish and missed others, we were slowly getting there I guess.

First one on Megabass Magdraft - smashed head first

This fella put up a good account - Magdraft for the win

A rare photo of the farmdog Sean - usually he's not fussed or eating apples

Josh is on the board... but comon let's upsize!
The afternoon session was a delight in warm conditions, probably not ideal fishing but enjoyable nonetheless.  Tempting a rock bar dweller on the Magdraft in full sunlight and a spectacular miss on dusk on Mudeye Rattlesnake the highlights for us.  Catching up with Andy and Sean on water they had a story of woe.  Whilst Andy had nailed a lovely fatty on a Finch Lures 180mm Carp Swimbait, Sean was filthy having straightened hooks on the fish he had come to catch; a true Copeton beast that was destined to return to his snag laden rock, you win some you lose some.
Now that is an eat!  Finch Lures 180mm Carp Swimbait monstered for Andy

Megabass Magdraft scoring in the bright sunlight - that's fun fishin!
Corner of the jaw hookups on the front treble the standard on the Magdraft
 All too soon the final morning was on us but confidence was high; we were on a mission.  Josh and I headed back to what I will call my honeyhole.  I had fished this area each morning but in reality it was a stretch that had been proven many times before by Sean so I am being cheeky, while the other boat went the other way.  Two hours of casting into the darkness was met with zip until the light just started to change and right on time Josh's Mudeye Snake was smashed by a small but aggressive fish but no hooks found the mark.  Within minutes my Megabass Magdraft in the 'fleshlight edition' color (our name - not Megabass's) was hammered next to the boat and we were away!  Edging up to the point I managed another on the Magdraft and my confidence was high but I could feel the Josh really needed a fish, he had one modest cod on the board and it was not going to cut the mustard for that long drive!  On cue on a seemingly unlikely cast back into water we had fished Josh's Gigantrel was demolished mid retrieve and I was delighted to net his 95cm new PB.  The monkey jumped off his back and the smile was wide.  After the obligatory photos, in junk time I managed a final fish for my trip again on the Magdraft - this lure has proven itself as a solid fish catcher when worked just a foot or two under the surface.  We were in a pretty light mood when we met up with Andy and Sean who had commandeered my boat and thankfully they had also had a cracker as well, boating three for the morning with two in two casts and Andy also topping out his PB by a small margin, Madness Japan Balam 300  and Finch Lures 180mm Carp Swimbait the stars.  With that our trip was done and the depressing process of packing and driving home lay ahead but at least we had finished on a high.  Josh stayed on a few more days and we were delighted when we heard he had nailed a 1.02 in the dying stages of his trip, well done mate and rewards for persistence!
The big Magdraft in on the action.
Number two for the morning and a much better fish - high 80's on Megabass
New PB for Josh and his game changer!  95cm's of solid fish.
JC's last for the trip - again Megabass Magdraft
Josh's 102 - yewww mate well done.
Josh with a Mudeye Rattlesnake eater.
Madness Japan Balam 300 - very popular with the locals.
New PB for Andy - creeping up one cm at a time!  Madness Balam 300 again.

We did pretty well with 18 fish for the trip (21 by the time Josh left) only lacking a true monster to make the trip complete but no one is complaining!
Learning points for us on this occasion are numerous and some that we keep personal but food for thought:
  • 90% of our bites came between the first hint of light change and before the sun hit the water.  Not a long bite window.
  • Most bites came from casts directed close (hard on) to the shore line.
  • Swimbaits and wakebaits dominated (yes we did fish other lures - but granted these were in the water at bite time).
  • Upgrade your splits and trebles if in any doubt - Shout Curve Point 31 and 21 are deadly and strong.
  • Modern wakebait / swimbait rods are essential for this style of fishing.  Not for fish fighting but for casting these big artificial presentations.  We were absolutely wrapped with our rod choices and they are now part of the permanent arsenal.  It's funny, picking up the old baitcaster it feels like a toy.  
  • Work your lures slow... get used to being ready for action but keep your hands soft, on topwater don't react to a bite, react to a rod loading up.
  • Try to avoid weekends if possible!
  • Get to know your swim / wake / glide bait in daylight and understand the retrieve that works so at night you know what to reproduce without visuals (really important as some give pretty much no feel through the rod)
  • A message for all it to perhaps consider your fellow anglers and not fly by at full noise, just sayin' 
  • Best lures - Mudeye Rattlesnake, Mudeye Snake, Megabass Magdraft, Madness Japan Balam 300, Finch Lures 180mm Carp Swimbait, Timberflash Noisy Dach, Jackall Gigantrel.
Great trip and fantastic committed crew....Till next time Copeton, we are not finished with you.


  

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The best Reef Raiders yet?

Returning to a favorite distant location is always an exciting time, when its to Southern Oman to fish for giant GT's with your mates it's epic!  Getting the call up for the 2017 end of season Reef Raiders trip is a pretty cool ticket to have, and this year especially so.  The assembled international crew comprised:

Andre Van Wyk - South Africa
Tomislav Jukic - Slovenia
Ed Nicholas - Oman
Jonathan Brooks - Australia
Alexandre Martin - France
Eric Le Guyader - France
Nate Tsao - Hawaii
Lydia Low - Australia
John Cahill - (me) Australia

A fourth return to Southern Oman had a good degree of familiarity for me, I love visiting this safe and friendly place, the crew and atmosphere simply make it an amazing experience.  People often ask me if it is safe there - well I feel completely comfortable driving across the desert with my fiance Lydia un-escorted, just apply common sense like you would in any foreign country.

Fishing late in the season in Southern Oman around the Al Hallaniya islands is a risk and reward situation in terms of the weather. The persistent and building winds fire up the GT population on most occasions however the seas do get big. Standing in a boat can be difficult at times, casting harder again, fighting a big GT a major challenge, just as well Ed's fleet are well up to the task and the crew experienced.  At some point in late April or early May the monsoon (Kahreef) will begin and at that point all fishing is over until September.

We were incredibly lucky on this trip with the winds building but still fishable for at least a morning session each day.  Right on time, two days after the fishing concluded, the kahreef arrived - precision timing by Ed!  As well as the traditional boat casting on the first class No Boundaries fleet, what this trip had in store was something that has not been done to any great extent before; exploring some land based GT fishing opportunities on the islands, an exciting and scary prospect with Omani sized GT's off the rocks.  What a decision this turned out to be - wait for the video.

It's impossible to give a blow by blow descriptor of what occurred on each boat on each day but what we can do is discuss a bit of a summary as I know it:

56 GT's were landed over the 5 days fishing between all anglers.
I managed a personal NB's high of 10 GT's which equaled my first ever trip including 3 land based.  I was reefed once, mainline busted 3 times and leader failed once.  I missed more fish than I caught, simply not pinning them sufficiently which can be quite common with big GT's, there were plenty of opportunities on Omani sized fish.  Across the groups, multiple line failures, broken rods, broken lures, snapped and bent hooks, broken reels were the norm; this was Southern Oman GT's at their brutal and unforgiving best.  With the GT's 'on' very little alternative fishing was done.  A smattering of light tackle was had which was as usual very good.

These trips are about friends, fishing and a smattering of product testing for me. I would say this was among the most enjoyable I have experienced, the crew were fun, experienced and hard core, essential ingredients with big GT's and rough seas.  The camaraderie developed within this group in a short time was something else; great times.  Well done for Ed for not just maintaining but making his operation better each year, surely one of the very best guides globally and simply the worlds best big GT location.

As always I was keen to try out a number of bit's of gear and they are worth discussing individually:

I thought of the Saththa popper as a smooth water option, however watching Ed pop large holes in the ocean with it with very few blow outs in pitching seas where it is harder to time your 'pop's' I was impressed and so were the fish.  The Kimitsu needs no introduction and it performed brilliantly.
These old stagers produced multiple fish across several of the group, their value and effectiveness speaks volumes.  Jonathan Brooks Wahoo 200 accounted for so many fish.  I managed to loose a Cubera 150, Wahoo 150 and a Skipjack 150 all to fish - just bad luck on that front.
After having great success with this lure in the Coral Sea early this year I was keen to see it in Oman - I knew it could handle the big hooks required and it did not disappoint, the last fish of the trip was tempted by this big stick.

Pretty much every Amegari that hit the water was bitten at some point.  The Dzanga 230 popper brilliant in rough water, the Kaxu 240 is a real rough water specialist and was the land based star (wait for the Morningtide video this weekend).

The relatively new GTX170 and Plug Tropic 150 were absolute stars working just under the surface of the choppy waters with ease.  I scored three GT's on the plug alone, they are brilliant and easy to use lures and despite their plain appearance are absolute stars.

Although the GT series have not yet been publicly released, Brooksy and I both have had access to the prototypes for some time.  Both the popper and big Argo accounted for multiple fish, their release sometime later this year is highly anticipated

Casting land based, both the Nautilus FS and Espada S were obliterated in rough water however neither fish were landed, them's the breaks.  The profile of both lures very good for this application and the sink aspect helpful in tough conditions.

Having used one of these for the first time at the start of this year I can confidently say that they allow the angler to put significantly more pressure on a big GT (or tuna) than any popping or jigging belt I have used, whilst they are not cheap, they are worth every cent.

We have been using the ASWB GT Tamer series (popper and stickbait) on the last three trips over the last year but I have been waiting for this trip to comment.  Nothing like a Southern Oman trip to really test the durability of a product in my opinion.  Whilst the IP GTT8 is 8'3" and only rated PE6-8 I ran PE10 over it and cast lures to 220 grams (including hooks).  I abused this rod in terms of casting load and heavy drag fighting big fish.  I am pretty sure I have voided any warranty in doing so, but it stood up for the abuse and wants more.  The heavier PE10 popping rod was brilliant in it's own right without any compromise on large cup faced poppers to 170 grams (plus hooks), tight drag and big fish.

Enjoy some of our pics from me, Ed, Andre and the really good ones from Tomislav!  Click on the images to enlarge and see in hi res - enjoy!

Brooksy frothing - Jack Fin proto

Alexandre - true gentleman

This fish ignited our trip

Shari eating grouper for Alexandre - it began with an Orion GTX

Land based madness - JC Buckled in to a beast

A considerable land based GT!

I am still disbelieving this capture weeks later

My PB - Lyds and I got engaged on the trip

Triple hook up on the first drift of the last day - yeww!

Beast for JC on the last morning - crunching an Orion Plug Tropic

Bucket

Permit on Heru Ulua! while Lyds battles 

Nate with an impressive land based GT - this guy is a shore line legend


The No Boundaries hire fleet

Eric with his GTX - this man is a legend

Brooksy racking up the species

The coolest cat on the reef - Dre with a shoreline Shari

The baddest captain with his mates

Doubles for Lyds and Dre - fun times


So many big queenfish late in the season

Trecking to the lodges from Salalah

Nothing like a GT to seal the engagement

Brooksy was on fire - Jack Fin for the win

Amegari produces

Thug - baitfish nightmares

Workin' hard

This pig needs to watch his food consumption!  The fattest GT I have seen

So epic, the GT hooked by the NB's cook Saiful

Shoreline release

Lyds dropping bombs

Even the rats get celebrated from the shore - Amegari Urpekari for the win

What a final day - 9 fish in 2 hours


Now you have seen the photo's please do yourself a favor and watch the Morningtide Fishing video of the trip - it's worth the 20 minutes!!