• Published:December 2, 2020
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What might just be the greatest heavy tackle fishery the world has known,

Cairns, Australia has been the mecca of black granders since the first over 1000-pound fish was caught in 1964 by Captain George Bransford and his mate Richard Obach. Since then, anglers from all over the world have travelled to Cairns, located in the far top right of Australia, to fish with one of the most experienced charter fleets on the planet. Mostly all of the top captains on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) spent at least 10 years on the deck working for some of the most experienced captains learning the trade and swapping techniques amongst the crews, so any visiting angler is near guaranteed to fish with a certified pro.

I first went to Cairns in 1989, helping to bring the Backlash up the Queensland coast from Brisbane, a trip of around 850 nm. Back then as a young 18 year old, we used paper charts, time and distance and the radar to plot our way up the coast and avoid the myriad of reefs and sandbars along the way. These years before GPS and plotters taught you the knowledge that had been used for eons and passed along by the old salts. Today with modern technology its easier and less worrisome to know exactly where you are, and less of questioning “is that bit of reef just over there, or, is it just over there?!” The fishing knowledge that these men had seen over decades of fishing here is passed along to those that wanted to really learn the intricacies of tides, moon phases and water movement.

Since I began running my own boat TRADITION in 2005, we have had the advantages of technology, and the last few years has seen the next generation of touch screen electronics and Chirp take over, along with internet access out on the reef. Today we can look at our phones / ipad / computer and pull up FishTrack and get so much knowledge right away to set us off for the trip in the right direction, as we can know before we head out where the best looking water is, rather than having to go out and see for ourselves and move if its not there.

One of the biggest factors in finding the big black marlin on the GBR is proper water clarity and current. If we can find where the warm oxygen rich purple ocean water is pushing up against the reef, that’s the spot to start and follow the water from there.  The big fish come in from all over the Pacific each September to December to breed, and they want that purple ocean water to drop their eggs and breed with the any smaller males that swim with them.

Being able to look ahead at the FishTrack charts and track and follow the good south current, the nice warm water and chlorophyll levels, allows us to start our week to 2 week long trips in the correct area. We generally start and finish our main season trips out of Cooktown, which puts us in the middle of the area we fish, about 50 miles to Lizard to the north, and 50 miles to Linden Bank to the south more towards Cairns.  Normally around the end of October and the first week of November we tend to move back south towards Linden Bank, but knowing that another body of good water is going to hit the Ribbons, most of us would prefer to head back that way for another trip as it gives us more options for bait fishing, snorkelling , spearfishing as well as fishing up against the hard edge of the reef.


Back when I started fishing for black marlin, we set out 2 rods - a swim bait on one rigger and a skip bait on the other - whereas the last 7 to 10 years I’ve introduced a 3rd rod, a stinger or shotgun bait, generally a 5 to 10-pound skip bait or a big lure. If my bait supply is running a bit low, or the razor gang, (mackerals, wahoo, and barracudas) are around, I tend to fish a big Pakula Lure or Moyes BCK back there to produce great results.

The last couple of years we have started to catch the smaller marlin off the big skip bait on a 30/50 lb outfit which is great fun and the hook up rate goes way up as the 100 to 200 pound fish generally just get tangled up with a 15 pound tuna or mackerel bait rigged on a big 130 custom RodsbyDru set up. We have also pitched quite a few off the dredge when the weather gets below around 15 knots and there is less chance of the drop back blowing around in the wind.

If you ever get the chance to fish the GBR and really experience heavy tackle fishing, Cairns is the best destination to learn from some of the best teams out there.

Capt Tim Richardson