We meet some interesting guys over the counter at The Flyfisher, one of whom is Doug Leoni. Doug runs a boutique fishing travel company called Fishing Earth. Having spent most of his life in northern Australia, Doug’s experience and network ensures a successful trip off the tip of Cape York. He first mentioned Albany Island to me about a year ago and I felt ignorant for having no idea where it was, or even if it was part of the Commonwealth! After a little research, I found it – a small island that lies 7km east of mainland Australia’s most northern point.
For convenience and adventure, getting there by chopper via Horn Island is the best way. The chopper pilot was great, pointing out significant sites and getting lower on request for a good look at likely flats fishing areas.
Immediately after the buzz of the helicopter disappears, you’re struck by the relaxed feel of the lodge. Any pressure to go fishing, or do anything for that matter, seems to evaporate. The open plan meal area overlooks one of the fishiest areas on the island. A short jetty, 20 metres from the dining table, provides the perfect casting platform to target blue bastards when they cruise in with the rising tide.
At the lodge, a team of staff and guides do a great job. An additional guest when I was there was a French yachty named Silva who had been there a couple of weeks, shipwrecked. The guys at Albany were kind enough to take him in while he figured out what to do next. Coastguard were not as obliging – happy he was alive, not happy to help any further. Sleep deprived, Silva made an error by not factoring the strong currents into his navigation. He woke to the sound of his keel dragging through the sand, and his boat came to a stop up the beach at the highest part of the tide. All efforts to re-float the yacht had been fruitless and at the time of writing, a $10,000 bounty to salvage it was yet to lure any barges to help tow him off.
On this stretch of coastline, 80% is rocks and reef; had he struck either, it would have resulted in a sunken yacht and almost certain death. Silva was very lucky indeed, yet incredibly, he wished to continue his journey.
The island has well-marked tracks to help anglers access the many beaches and flats. Here, shore-based fishing is a great option. Unlike many destinations up north, Albany has few crocs and as long as the visibility is good, it’s safe to wade. I liken dealing with crocs as similar to dealing with snakes. Don’t be alarmed, just be aware. Unlike snakes, crocs tend to make themselves known from some distance away – in clear water at least – so there should be little concern.
On the beaches you can walk and wade for miles. Powder-fine white sand and crystal-clear water make for one of the most idyllic fishing experiences you can get. Big GTs, queenfish, blue bones, and blue bastards frequent the shallow waters. It can be incredibly visual, and the sight of a 10kg-plus blue bastard, tailing on my fly 15 feet from my rod tip, will haunt me forever. I strip-striked while the fish was visibly munching on it, but I’m told I should’ve waited until I felt the fish pull. That will take some self control next time!
When the light faded, casting blind in the bluewater resulted in all sorts of (mostly smaller) fish. An enjoyable way to give your eyes a rest from polaroiding!
Landing big fish off the rocks with conventional fishing gear is a challenge; on fly it’s much harder again. With reef and bommies to get broken off on, it’s a wild ride. Expect to lose a few flies and maybe even a line…! The rocks are slippery too, so studded wading boots are a wise inclusion.
Due to boat trouble, we only managed to get offshore for one morning, but it was enough to see just how much this place has to offer. We spotted some birds working while we were on the way to a promising blue bastard flat, so we made the obvious detour. Doug did the hard bit getting the boat in position, I lobbed the fly somewhere near where I wanted it, and within half a second, a huge longtail tuna launched itself out of the water with my fly in its mouth. My jaw dropped. With the boat moving so fast towards the fish and line being blown around everywhere, it’s a wonder the hook set and line cleared. Just as I got the fish close to the boat, it broke my 80lb leader. We gave it one more go on another school and I managed to land a nice mack tuna. There is so much life in these waters and I can’t imagine just how much bait there must have been under the boat.
Experienced flats fisher and guide Brad Morris joined us on the trip, and it was interesting observing how he and Doug fish. Doug is a catcher, and will happily fish blind all day if it’s getting results. In contrast, Brad is a sight fisher almost exclusively. There was no snobbery involved, but Brad was pretty clear on what he was there to do. It made me question where I sit on the sight or blind scale and I think I’m somewhere in between. My trips are always booked because of the prospect of sight fishing, but I still get excited at the unexpected pull of an angry fish.
Albany Island has a lot to offer any flyfisher and I’ll be back soon! For more information on the magnificent flyfishing at Albany Island, contact Doug at Fishing Earth.
Limited space is available in Fishing Earth’s fly only package running November 7th – 12th. Price is approximately $4000. Contact Doug on 0418 777 772 for more information.