Quest for the elusive golden-spotted estuary cod

I have always loved Weipa, a small town of around 3500 people near Cape York in Far North Queensland. The town is renowned for bauxite mining and exceptional fishing.

Recently, I was begged by a small crew of loosely-termed ‘gents’ to go on a one week land-based fishing expedition. Flyfishers come from all parts of the world to Weipa to sight-fish blue bastards and permit, amongst the many other species on the menu up there. However, I had only one fish in mind: the elusive golden-spotted estuary cod, aka the GSEC. Having caught so many permit and blue bastards, they are getting boring, so I set myself this new goal.

The first thing readers need to understand, is there have been so few sightings and recorded catches of the GSEC, not a lot is known about them. From my research, I deduced that they live in estuaries and the sea, have big mouths, and require extreme talent to hook. Fly choice was going to be difficult, as no one really knows what they like. Internet reports are scant but if they are anything like their mentally-challenged cousin, the black-spotted estuary cod (see photo with Max) then they could range in size from 15cm up to a whopping 30 cm.

Max with the very common black-spotted estuary cod.

So the lofty objective was set, and first thing was to gear up pre trip. Not knowing what I would need, I decided to head down to the Flyfisher in Melbourne and just buy everything I could carry home without my wife finding out. Naturally, a new 10 weight was needed because I didn’t want to fracture an 8 weight if I hooked into a 30cm GSEC. Nine different types of lines were needed, 4 different-coloured Simms caps… and a Sage One as backup. Four leaders, lots of tippet, finger-guards for the GSEC’s likely blistering runs, fly-tying gear for a few hundred flies, and I was set.

I tied up a number of flies, but my specialty was the White Clouser with 38 strands of DNA rather than the standard 37. Their dumb cousin, the black-spotted estuary cod (again, see Max and catch) eats pretty much anything, but the GSEC is notoriously selective and to persuade it to take, requires a dead-accurate cast, followed by perfect line management and no drag. Once a GSEC eats, you must apply a half strip/ half trout strike, which I have perfected over the years.

We arrived in Weipa to be welcomed by the scorching heat. Gear was assembled, and a few days of fishing followed. While Max, Tim, Ron and I tried our best to catch a GSEC,  all we could show for our efforts was a blue bastard, 6 million queenies, tuna and a number of other species. Time to put on the heat.

Tim with a bycatch blue bastard, which snatched his fly where he thought a GSEC might be lurking. He is smiling on the outside but crying on the inside.

I instructed my guide Bargy on the best place to take the boat. He seemed really happy that I was taking over. I knew a strip of beach which had a lots of saltwater and sand. Visibility was okay, although with clouds overhead I knew spotting could be a challenge.

The guide’s buff hides his delighted expression as I suggest where we should fish next. (Max seems to be holding a fish no one is very interested in.)

Bargy positioned the boat exactly as I specified and everyone took cover before I cast (which is apparently a normal thing to do when in a boat with me). The 38-strand White Clouser was ready to rock and roll. Two long false-casts with my signature tailing loop (part of the special technique I use for GSEC), and whoosh! The line shot out the tip of my rod and the fly landed nearly 4 metres away – perfect! Strip, strip and BANG! The fish was on. I did my usual special strike which lodged the hook well into the mouth of the cod, which fought like a tennis ball. After an exhausting 3 or 4 seconds, we carefully brought the fish to the side of the boat and I marveled at the beauty of my first GSEC on the fly. Tears of elation trickled down my face and my guide also seemed to be crying; no doubt he was similarly overwhelmed.

The fish measured in at around 27cm; possibly a world record. The guide released the fish before I managed to photograph it and my fishing partner was still asleep. Luckily for me though, I was able to extract a photo from the heart-stopping GoPro footage. A special fish indeed! High fives were (almost) accepted all around and it was once again beer o’clock.

At last! Is there any more spectacular fish than the golden-spotted estuary cod?

Not surprisingly (given how hard they are to catch) the next few days did not produce any more GSECs, just a bunch more barra, queenies, trevally, tuskys, couta, mackerel, bream, jacks, salmon and other common species. Still, although only one GSEC was caught amongst the four of us flyfishers, it was still a great trip. The others are probably still retelling my story to all their friends.

The writer with more bycatch whilst fishing for GSEC.

Tips for targeting the GSEC

  • Simms blue camo cap – essential
  • 10 weight rod with 10 weight sink-tip line: best for casting tailing loops
  • Fly: 38-strand White Clouser on a 1/0 hook, tied a bit wonky (to look crippled of course).
  • Never be afraid to tell your guide what to do and where to go. They love that you are trying to get involved; after all, they do the same thing day in, day out, so they’re always keen for some refreshing new advice.
  • Never give up!