If you spend a bit of time searching around, there are many surprising areas just offshore that hold quality fish. Some of the most popular areas for offshore kayakers to target along the east coast of Australia are coffee rock reefs. These are fairly unimpressive looking, low-lying structures, often sitting short distances from some of our larger surf beaches. This proximity to beaches, as well as their tendency to hold a good variety and amount of marine life, including big bait schools, makes them outstanding destinations for some offshore action. After reading all about these reefs and seeing pictures of the mackerel, tuna, snapper, sweetlip, kingfish and all manner of other species being pulled by other kayakers, I was very keen to give one of these areas a shot. After a bit more research, a few well-spent hours examining google maps (many of these can show up on satellite images as dark patches in the water), and a few pointers from those in the know, I managed to convince dad to accompany me on a trip. It was also a chance for dad to blood his new kayak- an awesome new Stealth Surf Fisha 470.
The car was loaded with yaks, rods, reels, paddles, life jackets, tackle, baits and food by 0900hrs and we commenced the solid drive from Toowoomba with anticipation running high. We ran up the beach on a less than ideal tide and picked a nice shady spot with whales frolicking only a few hundred metres offshore. After spending a few more hours setting up camp, having a late lunch and watching the surf, we concluded it was a perfect time to launch the kayaks. This would be a lazy afternoon session looking around for a bit of reef to target in earnest tomorrow.
With just a quick session in mind, I only threw in a few lures and headed off. To my delight, my sounder lit right up after a short paddle with a big school of bait dominating the 13m of water depth. I pulled up and in only two casts with a 5 inch Zman had a mid-40s squire in the hatch. Ripper! I was just getting ready to drop again when dad called me over to cut his line from his rudder. A new world record minimum time for this ‘rookie error!’ After a few minutes to fix his rudder dilemma, I then had to retrieve his paddle which apparently he didn’t tie to his leash particularly well. More ‘rookie errors!’
It didn’t take too long to find the bait schools again, and with them, snapper which were nailing jigs, slugs and plastics, with reckless abandon. I was enjoying a great session whereby as soon as I found a show of fish on the sounder, I was almost guaranteed a hit. The snapper were fired up, but we also managed a few other species of bycatch including an undersized pearl perch, a first for me in such shallow water. I also dropped a really nice snapper of around 65cm, which spat the hook just as I got colour. It was a session where it was almost hard to not have a bend in the rod. In about an hour, both of us had bagged out on squire with the best being a tad under 50cm. Salt and vinegar chip-coated snapper for dinner and off to bed ready for the morning session.
I woke up just before dawn and rolled out of the swag to be met with an awesome view of first light over the Pacific. First things first, bacon and eggs for brekky. After breakfast I rigged up a few baits to troll in the hope of some pelagic action and then launched through another easy surf break. I paddled off in high hopes, trying to not get too close to any whales. The bait schools were a bit further south on this day and once found, I quickly hooked up. First fish was a good grinner (50cm+) which savaged my carefully rigged slimy mackerel. I then jigged up a lone yakka to use as livebait out the back of my yak. Over the next 1.5 hours or so I got onto a couple of mid 40s snapper and a nice dusky flathead on micro jigs.
With my previous dead bait gone, I rigged up a garfish to troll on a mackerel rig and it didn’t take long for it to be snaffled by a 50cm snapper. With four fish in the hatch I decided it was time to head back in, so I put a sinker above the still untouched yakka to keep it down in the water column and slowly started to paddle back towards the campsite. Dad told me he was heading for the beach too, so I bade him farewell. En route I stopped in on a couple of patches of coffee rock that I could see with my sunnies for a few little maori cod and a moses perch. As I was sitting there playing around, I saw a big school of average sized tuna travelling along in one of the swells. I tied on a little stickbait to my soft plastic rod and attempted to send out a long cast. This was a mistake, as the line had wrapped around a runner and my stickbait was sent flying. That sucked!The bad luck continued with a very slow take on my yakka which turned out to be another cracking grinner- this one well over 60cm. As I unhooked the grinner, I turned around and was extremely surprised to see four big dark shapes cruising towards me- cobia!
I estimated them to be around 10-15kg, and with two of my lines out of action I frantically turned around to look for something to throw at them. As luck would have it, I had a garfish rigged up on my third outfit which I had been trolling and had all but forgotten about. I figured the 30lb mono and little TLD15 reel would be adequate for the fish that I could still see coming towards me. I surprised myself by not ‘birdnesting’ the cast and landed the garfish about 10m in front of the pack. Then, a bigger fish seemed to come out of nowhere- I honestly hadn’t seen it swimming along- and charged in for the bait. Due to the drift and the waves, the bait was now directly behind the stern of my kayak. It was an awesome sight to see as the fish inhaled the bait. Line then started peeling off at pace so I slowly eased up the lever drag and the fish didn’t slow down. The nose of the yak spun around and I settled in for a long fight on the fairly light line. 15mins later and a few solid runs and a bit of a sleigh ride had me in deeper water northeast of where the fish was hooked. I now started to slowly gain back some line.
The fish then bolted straight at me, sat under the yak for 5 secs, dove and headed out to sea again. Another 10 mins saw this trend repeat itself, but this time it came a bit closer to the surface and just in range for me to see a bit of colour. Once again it didn’t like the look of my yak so it bolted away and down deep. The fish seemed to be tiring as the next retrieve cycle took a bit less time. This time I got a good look at it and it was definitely bigger than my first impression when it ate the bait. What got my heart racing was that I also noticed the hook had pinned it in the pectoral fin. As it turns out, this proved to be a surprisingly good hold despite the awkward angle for putting pressure on the fish. I had the fish close enough to grab the leader and I sort of waved the gaff in its face in a mildly threatening, but obviously futile manner. I had ensured my reel was in freespool in preparation for the imminent big dive, which happened soon afterwards.
It took another 10 mins to get the fish in range again, and this time I sort of managed to poke it in the side with the gaff which annoyed it immensely. It promptly started barrel rolling before taking off downwards again at speed. It was around about now that I reflected on the numerous cut lines I experienced from spanish mackerel at last year’s Adder Rock comp on single strand wire. In response I went way overboard when rigging for this trip and changed all of my leaders to 125lb 49 strand wire. I knew this tackle wasn’t going to kink, break or abrade no matter how much twisting, rolling and turning this cobia performed. My over-reaction proved right!
With the second attempt with the gaff and the resultant big dive complete, the fish settled into the following pattern: go for a big, hard run out wide, come up near the surface, come in next to the kayak, “how the f**k am I going to gaff this thing- it’s too wide and its skin is too thick”, big deep fast dive after just getting the rod in hand, and repeat. This happened probably another five or six times over the course of an hour and by now the GoPro battery was finished.
Eventually the fish came up closer to the yak than ever before, so I struck hard with the gaff and managed to pierce its skin. I very quickly found this was a big mistake as the cobia wasn’t done yet. Fortunately it twisted off the point before I either dropped the gaff or went for a swim. After that big burst of energy it only had two more runs left before it was laying beside the yak properly tired out- with the big single hook still sitting nicely in the bony pectoral fin.
Figuring out where I could actually gaff the thing still took me a while. I settled for the mouth and after a few goes with shaky hands sank it in nicely. I was then really wishing that dad hadn’t headed in to shore. Time to try and land the fish- why the hell not? I braced myself and tried to lift. Nope, no way! That thing was not coming aboard. I tried again. Still not happening. On my third go, I managed to get half of its weight into my lap and a hand in its gill. From there I managed to slide its broad shoulders and the rest of its body forward into the hatch……just. The tail of the fish still hung out quite proud but it jammed in with a little ‘persuasion’. With those of my rods that were two piece collapsed and with their reels off, they only just managed to slide in on the top sides of the hatch.
The paddle home was definitely a bit nose-heavy, and I capsized nicely in the surf zone when trying to return to the beach. I didn’t feel too bad about it though, because dad had done exactly the same thing only two hours earlier.
Once ashore, I struggled to get the fish out of the yak. Even after gaffing it through the pectoral fin, I still had to enlist the help of a passerby to pull it out of the hatch. ‘Trev’, the bloke in the campsite next to us, was extremely helpful and even took a few snaps for the family album.
At 1.65m on the measuring tape, this is easily my largest fish from the kayak and after a bit of consultation with length-weight charts, some blokes in the know and comparison to a 25kg model caught and weighed the next day by Chris ‘goatfish slayer’ Cooper, which was a fair bit shorter; I now feel pretty comfortable in saying that this fish weighed over 35kg. A PB I’m not likely to beat in a very, very long time. I’ll certainly take it for my first ever cobia! It took a fair effort to get the fillets in the esky, but I’m happy to say that the chunks are all vacuum packed and frozen in top condition, with the first lot proving to be a mouth watering feast in the smoker. Cobia is definitely a top quality eating fish. What’s more, Trev reckons the tail section on the BBQ was beautiful.
After my first experience fishing one of Queensland’s many coffee rock reefs, right next to a beautiful surf beach, I can attest to how much fun this style of fishing can be and would highly recommend it to anyone with a bit of a taste for the bluewater and a kayak capable of handling it. If you’d like to order one cobia to go, with a double shot of adrenalin, get your coffee fix offshore…..