Bill 'Billybob' Watson

'Many Happy Returns'

An article by Bill 'Billybob' Watson

The loaded rod

Every angler, I think, has a particular fish species that he or she really likes to target and for me it’s Spanish mackerel. A bluefin tuna, pound for pound, will put up a stronger, longer fight but for some reason the Spaniard seems to be a much more interesting and exciting opponent. Knowledge is power, so they say, and knowing as much as possible about your target species can often mean the difference between success and complete failure. In our waters the Spanish mackerel season starts in late November and fades out towards the end of July. Early in the season (November through to March) I find that the smaller, 5kg to 9kg specimens make up the bulk of the catch. These smaller fish tend to feed in the mid to upper levels in larger schools, along with other types of mackerel and tuna. They can be successfully targeted by trolling shallow diving lures such as the Reidy’s B52, the ‘Gold Bomber’ or a whole Pilchard on a small ‘Spaniard Special’. When the bait boils and birds are in evidence, a cast 20gm-40gm metal slug lure will do the trick and a short, single strand wire trace is recommended. The larger, 10kg to 20kg+ Spaniards usually make their presence felt from late March onwards.
23kg Spaniard with a Spaniard Special in its Mouth
These fish are found in smaller schools, feed in the deeper water levels and are a lot more discerning when it comes to lures and troll baits. Earlier in the season I take whatever opportunity presents itself to work the bait boils for bonito, small mackerel tuna, large slimy mackerel and yellowtail pike. I retrieve these prime troll baits from the freezer later in the year when I’m targeting the larger Spaniards. When presented properly one of these select baits will pretty much guarantee me a quality fish. Peak feeding time? I get my most consistent results on or about the new and full moons when the high tides are peaking anywhere from about 4.30am to about 7am. The Spaniards, I find, come on the bite roughly an hour before and two hours after the turn. The full moon, of course, is a little tricky, the rule of thumb being best time 3 to 4 days before the full. This of course, is largely irrelevant if there’s a lot of cloud around.
So, if it’s around the full moon and it’s been raining at night with dark clouds blanketing the heavens, go for it. Attracting and hooking up with your quarry, of course, is only half the battle. Playing the fish out and keeping it on the line comes down to experience (knowing your fish) and a smooth functioning outfit. A chattering drag or clunky gears marks you as a loser before you even leave the starting block. I see little difference in playing a 2kg tailor or yellowtail kingfish on a light graphite flick stick loaded with 3kg line and battling a 15kg or 20kg tuna or Spanish mackerel on 10kg gear. Any of these fish will give me a run for my money and will swim away with my lure or troll bait if I haven’t maintained and prepared my gear properly. And good preparation, as far as I’m concerned, starts at the tail end of my last fishing trip with a freshwater wash down of my rods and line guides and a thorough, light sprinkle wash of my reels. Later, when the reels are dry I spray the obvious (bail arm hinges, line roller, handle joints, anti-reverse switch) with Inox. Every second or third trip I check the line guides for small cracks or damage and eyeball the drag system for signs of water intrusion and/or grit. A 14kg GTThese simple precautions form the basis of a good maintenance schedule and would serve me well when I made a decision to target a quality Spanish mackerel in Laguna Bay in my home town of Noosa earlier this year. I’d been out in the bay the day before with little result (it was a late start) apart from a few rigs lost to spotted mackerel, even though I was using a wire trace. As you can imagine I wasn’t in the best of moods when I got home fishless after what should have been, according to my reckoning, a very productive morning. With the next day being my birthday, a full moon two days away and the weather forecast (apart from cloud and light rain) pretty reasonable, I decided that it was time to get serious about my next Spanish mackerel capture. This meant a bit more attention to detail; the drag on the Shimano Baitrunner 4500 dismantled, metal drag washers cleaned, polished and checked for warps or high spots, felt washers checked for wear then re-lubricated. I even cut off the relatively new 30lb leader running from the 20lb Fireline and carefully attached another ten metre length. Next, I went through my bait freezer and selected a choice troll bait; a 28cm Watsons Leaping Bonito, caught in the bay (along with half a dozen others) the previous month and kept for just such a purpose. Primo Spaniard bait. As an afterthought I selected a nice Yellowtail Pike as back-up then sharpened the trebles on a few of my favourite hard bodied Spaniard lures, just in case they were needed. Going through these motions focussed me on the task ahead and helped me ‘visualise’ a successful outcome for the following day. When I arrived at Main Beach in Laguna Bay at 4.45am the next morning, however, I had to concede that one of the few things I couldn’t control was the weather. The so called light (usually almost non-existent) south westerly wind I was expecting ahead of a comfortable 10 to 15 knot south easterly was already gusting well above 10 knots, not a good sign for that early in the morning. Still, there wasn’t much swell, and I was in a positive frame of mind considering it was my birthday, so I launched shortly after 5am. Once past the surf line I retrieved my two hand-picked troll baits from the rear hatch and placed them in the rear tank-well to defrost. I then rigged up a River2Sea ‘Arrow Squid’ lure on my heavier troll outfit, for although I was focussed on a Spaniard capture when I got out to deeper water, I saw little point in not having a lure out when paddling. Besides, the last time I trolled this particular lure at this time of the morning I caught a 14kg Giant Trevally (the biggest seen in these parts for over 20 years) not much more than half a kilometre from the beach.
Sun up in the bay
An uneventful 40 minutes later I was roughly three and a half kilometers from Main Beach on the eastern edge of Jew Shoal, somewhat relieved to see that at this stage I had the whole bay to myself. I do believe that the sound of boat motors tends to disperse the pelagics to a certain extent so I usually like to get in a bit of ‘stealth’ trolling before the traffic gets too thick.
On this particular morning, however, being mid week and seeing that conditions were already starting to chop up, I was pretty confident I was going to have the Shoal to myself. With a long, black cloud bank blanketing the horizon it was still quite dark so I had to use my helmet light to inspect my baits and was disappointed to see that the beautiful Leaping Bonito that I was pinning my hopes on turning into a Spanish mackerel was still half iced. The Yellowtail Pike, however, was fully defrosted so I decided to rig that up on a 3 x 6/0 hook ‘Spaniard Special’ troll rig and run with it until my ‘super’ bait was ready.
By now the wind was coming from the south east and was up over the 15 knot mark as I set out on my first troll run, heading roughly west out into the bay with the wind at my back. The sea was already up over the half metre mark (and building) and with the wind behind me I was paddling more to keep on course than anything else. Fifteen minutes later, and now on a northerly course as I traversed a wide arc in readiness for my return trip, the wind started to gust up around 18 to 20 knots. A few minutes later, as a light, wind driven rain settled in, I was seriously thinking about heading for home at the end of the next troll run when my progress in the water came to an abrupt halt and my reel drag ticker screamed enthusiastically.
I was ‘on’, and judging by the bend in my rod and the speed at which my spool was losing its 20lb Fireline, it was a very fast and very serious fish. It was at that point, of course, that I really appreciated the fact that I’d done my preparation the night before. A lot of these fish are lost on the first strike but this was a solid hook-up with no sign of any problems. As soon as I retrieved my rod from the rear flush mount rod holder and pointed the tip towards the bow, the kayak swung into the chop and went with the fast running fish, immediately taking the pressure off my gear.
The Fish Lifter The Fish Cradle
The ‘fish lifter’ has a dull point and a return that is
roughly 5cm longer than a normal gaff of its size.
Billybob’s ‘Fish Cradle’.
Designed with the 15kg+ fish in mind.
By the time I had the drag set to my satisfaction, however, there was over 200 metres of line out there, a lot more than I would normally have expected, but still leaving me with close to 100 metres on the spool. Then... bugger! The line went completely slack and my immediate thought was... it’s spat the bloody hooks! Then, no, it’s running at me. I wound the reel furiously until I felt a bit of weight. Yes, no, no, yes, something... it was still there and running hard in my direction.
Trying to retrieve the best part of 200 metres of line faster than a Spaniard can swim at top speed is no mean feat but half way in the fish dived deep momentarily and loaded up the rod again. This gave me enough time to back off on the drag before the Spaniard changed tack and again ran straight at the yak.
These older fish know what a hook is and seem to have a repertoire of tricks to gain their freedom. Typically, this one went straight under the yak and out the other side at speed, peeling line again as it took off on its second run at a furious rate, head shaking and diving, but now tiring ever so slightly. The ability of the kayak to go with the fish in the initial stages takes a lot of pressure off the gear and gives the yak angler an edge over boat based anglers, but we won’t tell them that.
The first run is always fast and frantic and burns off an enormous amount of the Spaniard’s reserves. If you’re still there for the second run you’re in with a good chance... and I was there, and full of confidence. This was a powerful fish but every fibre of my being told me it was going to go my way if I followed procedure.
Once again pointing the rod tip to the bow of the yak I allowed the fish to tow me along for a minute or two as I went through my retrieval preparation. Wet towel out from behind the right footrest and spread across my lower legs, ‘fish lifter’ out of its retaining strap and placed within easy reach on top of the towel. The one thing I forgot to do at this point was undo the fish cradle straps (which I would come to regret later) and I can only put this down to my distraction brought about by the almost one metre, wind driven swell that was now white capping and making life a bit uncomfortable in the grey light of the chilly morning.
I was now into a familiar routine as, pumping and winding, I started to put the hurt on as I wound myself towards the still strongly swimming Spaniard. I knew that the fish would have at least one more run in it so my strategy was to bring it as close as possible and spook it into another hard sprint.
A 19.5kg Spaniard makes a great birthday treat
This it did as soon as it came within a couple of metres of the yak. Shortly after its third run the fish predictably began to run out of steam and started circling, head shaking and tugging. Finally it came to the surface about ten metres out, did a roll and a couple of tail swipes then turned on its side. After an exhilarating eight or ten minute tussle it was now ready to come to the yak.
At this point my movements were calm and smooth as I slowly brought the fish close to the side of my yak. With the rod held high in my gloved left hand and with roughly two and a half metres of line still out, I gathered the leader in my half closed right hand and gently brought the head of the fish to the side of the yak, at the same time placing the rod in the rear rod holder. Then, with my now free left hand I gripped the 30lb mono leader firmly about 30cm from the troll rig and with my right hand, grabbed the ‘fish lifter’ and slid the tip under the fish’s gill raker and out through its mouth. It was now well held and ready to come aboard.
Now that I had a chance to get a closer look at it I could see that it was a good size Spaniard and as I hauled its bulk out of the water and held its head at arms length forward and to my right, I realised it was probably 18kg or better. I could only just grip its tail with my left hand as it came fully out of the water and with the struggling fish doing it’s best to return to the ocean, and the yak now side on to the wind driven swell, my usually solid fishing platform was starting to rock and roll.
The conditions meant that clearly I’d have to abandon the tried and true ‘hold it till it calms down’ routine so without further ado I dropped the Spaniard’s head into the towel spread across my ankles and quickly wrapped it’s top half up. It was then that I realised that, with the bulk of the fish across my legs, I couldn’t reach the fish cradle to undo the straps. My only option, at this point, was to jam the head of the still struggling fish as far under the left hand footrest as possible with the back half of its body across my hip and out the back.
With my left leg looped out and back over it’s body, and my left foot resting on the back of its head to keep it down, I was ready to head for home. I then spent the next 40 minutes paddling for the shelter of Granite Bay into a one metre slop/chop driven by the blustery 20 knot south easterly.
Funnily enough, fifteen minutes into my paddle I came upon a lone, intrepid boatie, anchored on the ‘Shoal’ jigging soft plastics. I’m sure he thought he was the only hardy soul out there on this now rather bleak morning. It must have been a hell of a shock to see an insanely grinning yak angler appear, apparition like, from further out in the bay and eventually paddle past him with (what turned out to be) a 20kg Spanish mackerel tilting his kayak 25 degrees to port.
The biggest thing on board, however, with all due respect to my catch, was the smile on my face. It was my birthday and I’d done exactly what I’d set out to do, and more... and it just doesn’t get any better than that.


If you've got broadband you might like to check out our latest website video clip.
It's taken by Billybob Watson's 'yak cam', which is mounted on the front of his kayak, and shows him playing out and successfully landing a 14kg Giant Trevally from his fishing kayak in Laguna Bay.

Just CLICK HERE or on the photo on the right ---->

  Loaded up in the bay


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