A green oasis flanked on the east side by a yellow sand desert, and on the west by bluewater.
On the Western Australian coast, Exmouth stands out as a bluewater game fishing destination, and fly fishing central for practitioners of the long wand seeking permit and bonefish.
A few hundred kilometres south is the famous snapper grounds of Shark Bay. Between these two towns lies the seaport of Carnarvon, and it has all round piscatorial opportunities.
Carnarvon is a neat little township. A green oasis flanked on the east side by a yellow sand desert, and on the west by bluewater. For hundreds of kilometres north, south and east, the landscape is one of broad flat plains with mulga, spinifex and sand.
Drive around Carnarvon and you come across verdant market gardens: mangoes and bananas. It is an amazing transformation, especially when you learn that these irrigated paddocks source water from below, what is for many months of the year, a dry riverbed.
Fishing is a popular pastime in Carnarvon, and there are great spots to suit all methods: rock, beach, estuary and pier. Offshore, Carnarvon has it all, including sunken wrecks, reefs and islands.
Common species caught include mulloway, tailor, snapper, bream, mackerel, tuna and shark. Between May and August, blue manna crabs are on the menu, and in May/June, an annual fishing competition called Carnarfin is held.
The most popular fishing spot in town is The One Mile Jetty, on Babbage Island at the mouth of the Gascoyne River estuary.
The jetty, which has weathered more than a century of Indian Ocean seas, is a genuine mile, or about 1.6km, long. For those who don’t wish to make the long walk, there is the “Coffee Pot” train service, which is easy when you are carrying a truckload of tackle.
The sight of anglers with fishing rods sitting in rail cars behind a small engine with a yellow face and painted tentacles is different, to say the least. It gets even better looking front on because the rusting rail lines are not straight, and the grey, weather-beaten Jarrah decking and white balustrade uneven. Nevertheless, it’s a long walk, and the train offers relief for anglers carting a heavy load, on or off the jetty.
The end section of the jetty spans a deep channel, and about half way along the weather beaten timbers on the northern side is a purpose-built angling platform, set low to the water to make it easier to land fish. Most of the jetty is high off the water, so a long handled gaff or net is needed.
On my last visit, the end of the jetty was under repair, but it is famous for producing exceptional captures of pelagics like mackerel.
There is a large sign at the start of the jetty that lists recent captures. When I viewed the sign a mulloway was on the list. I have heard of captures of this species caught here weighing in at about 20kg. Boat anglers often tie off from the end of the jetty and send down a pilchard (mulie) for a mulloway.
The jetty produces variety and you can expect to hook tailor, snapper, Spanish mackerel and tuna. On my visit, anglers fishing close to the beach did well on dart and tailor.
Beach fishing is a favourite, as is the large estuary system. Expect to encounter tailor, mulloway, mangrove jack and queenfish in the estuary, and mulloway, tailor and sometimes even Spanish mackerel off the beach.
South of Carnarvon are fishing and crabbing spots including Oyster and Uendoo Creeks, New Beach, Bush Bay and Gladstone. Mangrove jack are caught in the mangrove areas of the Gascoyne River estuary, and at Oyster Creek.
The offshore scene is dominated by the collection of tyres at the Lady Joyce wreck about 15 nautical miles from the town’s excellent, sheltered boat ramp in the harbour.
Offshore catches include snapper, emperor, tailor, pike, bream, mulloway, cobia, Spanish mackerel and sharks. The Coral Patch is further away but is better fishing again.
Boat ramps are located at Launching Point on the way to One Mile Jetty, and Pelican Point on the west side of the Fascine. On the east side of the Fascine is a marina along Harbour Drive. Follow Harbour Drive and you will come to Small Boat. Although it is the home of the commercial fishing fleet, it also has a boat ramp suited to large offshore vessels.
Head north from Carnarvon for about 30km and you come to a turnoff called Blowholes Road. Follow this for about 45km, and about a kilometre or so past the lighthouse will bring you out at Point Quobba.
This is the start of a rugged, cliff-lined, coastline that incorporates Quobba Station: a working pastoral station where the Outback meets the sea. Quobba is on the southern end of the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park and stretches along the Indian Ocean.
This rocky stretch of coastline is regarded as something of a Holy Grail by land based game anglers. Be under no illusions: rock fishing is dangerous; and the Quobba ledges are reputed to have claimed more than 30 lives. The rock ledges are lined with monuments to the fallen, off the cliff that is, and finish with one of the biggest monuments dedicated to the HMAS Sydney, which was sunk off here during World War 2.
Some of these spots require either a 4wd vehicle, or the ability to walk long distances, clambering around crumbling, sandstone goat tracks and having no fear of heights, all the while carrying an armful of rods and a backpack.
The rock ledges are a Mecca for land-based game anglers, although should not be attempted without seeking local knowledge. The rock ledges are high, and often well back from the water, so rope gaffs are necessary in most areas.
The Blowholes is a popular area, as are many access points along the dusty track called Gnaraloo Road. Some other well-known ledges include Red Bluff, Cape Cuvier and Garths Rock, the latter named after the late saltwater fly fishing pioneer Max Garth.
To have a rock ledge named in your honour is rare, but Max was a rare angler. In the 1970s, Max lived at Carnarvon, and another saltwater fly aficionado, Ron Pearson, who was teaching in the Kimberley, used to drive down south and back north to work every Christmas.
“Max sent me up a selection of flies before I met him, and in that collection was a Deceiver. I took one look at it, put it in the water, and bloody hell did that start to catch fish; beautiful fly,” Ron said.
“The first time we went out to Garths Rock, we got a couple of dozen assorted mackerel off the rocks, and a trevally or two, on his Deceivers. He had a whole tackle box full of them, so I knocked off half of them.”
Ron said it became a thing between he and Max that every chance he got, he would knock off some of Max’s flies.
“One trip we did offshore, we were out there three nights, and Max slept on his fly box every night. Nevertheless, I got him when we got back to town.
“I told him to get off the boat and I’ll toss down the gear to him.
“Max was walking away with the rods when I got his tackle box open; he was half way across the road before he woke up. I think he enjoyed that actually.”
Max was a feisty character, always ready for an argument: “I remember one time when Graham Whitehouse was fly fishing with us. Graham brought up a double-handed fly rod, and did Max lay crap on him, telling him that a nine-footer was the only fly rod worth having.
“Graham hooked onto a good queenie with his rod and it broke; he ended up with the reel on one part of the rod, and the rest of rod in the other hand.
“Of course, I did the natural thing; I grabbed the camera and laughed. Max though set to and helped Graham out. In those days, Max was against the double hander, but he came around.
“I remember one all-night argument the two of them had – and I mean all night. Graham started the argument off by saying to Max: ‘Of course Max, you can’t cast’. The argument ended when we had breakfast and went fishing. None of us slept.”
The attractions for land-based game (LBG) anglers include Spanish mackerel, cobia, tuna, sailfish and various shark species. Other species caught in the area are Norwest and pink snapper, baldchin groper, queenfish, tailor and trevally.
The cliffs are, for the most part, set back from the ocean and there are wide ledges at the bottom. For anglers wanting to put out baits the best option is to employ a helium balloon as a sort of kite.
The balloon is let out on a long length of monofilament, which is attached to a swivel on the main line, which also has a (normal) balloon or two tied on. Preferred bait for most LBG fishing is tailor or yellowtail scad. The morning winds are offshore, but in the afternoons, the wind often changes to onshore.
High speed spinning or casting big poppers is also popular and can produce some exciting captures. Two items you will need is a piano wire trace, and a reel that holds heaps of line. The first run of a big Spanish mackerel is both fast and long.
Several beaches along the coastline offer a less dangerous option for species including mulloway, tailor, trevally, snapper and squid. Bonefish are also reported in these waters.
Camping is available at Quobba Station and near Point Quobba, but there is no freshwater, so make sure you take plenty of water with you.
For more information visit: www.quobba.com.au