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June 11, 2014

Coming Back to Cairns

Still the Best Place in the World to Chase Big Fish

As beautiful as the many places that I travel to for Marlin magazine are, there are very few of them that I would uproot my family for and consider calling home. Cairns, Australia, is one of those special places where I could see myself living on a full-time basis.

For starters, the hot and muggy climate is a perfect match for this Florida boy, and Lord knows I already know what it feels like to live in a tourist town, since I grew up in the shadow of the Mouse at Walt Disney World in Orlando. As an added bonus, the people in Cairns are super friendly, and they speak English! Oh, and there are some pretty big marlin swimming around fairly close to the marina!

I hit the end of the 2012 season in Cairns, thanks to the generosity of my friends Ron Kawaja, Mike Curtis and Tony Berkowitz of Pelagic. They were going to head over and fish with Capt. Luke Fallon and his wife, Kelly, on the 56-foot O’Brien, Kekoa, for five days over Thanksgiving. Kawaja said that if I could get there, I could ride along and take some pictures. After a brief discussion with my wife over how many turkeys we’ve shared over the past 20 years, she told me I’d be crazy not to go. I booked the flight the next morning and anxiously awaited the day I’d get to see Cairns once again.

Growing Tourist Town

Founded in 1876, Cairns first supported the local gold-mining industry, but over the years it evolved into a tropical farming community, with sugar cane, pineapples, bananas and other tropical produce fueling the area’s growth. Today, more than 150,000 people call Cairns home, and, for many Australians and an ever-growing number of Asian tourists, it’s the gateway to far north Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef and a sizable tropical rainforest.

These tourists need places to eat and sleep before heading up into the rainforest or out to the Great Barrier Reef for an afternoon of snorkeling. The main drag is called the Esplanade, and it covers several blocks along the harbor. You’ll also find a colossal sand-bottom public-pool area right across the street from the Esplanade, lined with gorgeous people wearing skimpy bathing costumes. (At least, that’s what I’ve heard.)

As you’d expect, bars and restaurants abound, and with the heavy Asian influence, there’s no shortage of Thai, Chinese and Indonesian restaurants. I love eating bowl after bowl of noodles there.

Fishing Out of Cairns

If you travel all the way to Australia to go fishing, it’s best to book a trip with someone who will postpone disclosing the departure point from the mainland out to the reef as late as possible. This allows the charter boat to follow the bite up and down the reef, wherever it may be, in order to try to get you as close as possible to the highest concentration of fish. For example, if the fish are up in the Ribbon Reefs, it’s better to meet your charter boat in Cooktown, so you don’t have to travel far by boat to start fishing.

With that being said, Cairns is one of the best places to make day trips out to the reef and back, due to its proximity to Linden Bank. It’s only 35 nautical miles from Cairns, so you could easily fish Linden Bank and come back home each night — but it’s much more fun to stay out overnight on the boat! We actually saw Capt. John Phillips fishing his 31-foot Bertram, Chamois Free, on the bank several days, and even saw him venture out 50 miles while fishing the tuna schools one day.