One of the many successful captains to emerge from Cairns, Australia’s heavy-tackle black marlin fishery is Corey Hard, who runs the Aussie-built Assegai 55, Askari. Hard began his fishing career working on a longline vessel out of Cairns in his early 20s until he saved enough to buy a 21-foot, single-screw mackerel boat. Fishing commercially on the Great Barrier Reef taught him a number of invaluable lessons, such as learning how the entire reef system worked and where to find bait when it became scarce. Once he made the transition to charter captain, the black marlin grounds were already second nature to him.
Q: How was last year’s black marlin fishing out of Cairns?
A: We have been the top boat for the past five heavy-tackle seasons, but 2018 was our best ever. We caught 144 black marlin, many of which were large fish—way over 400 pounds. But it’s also interesting to look back at some of the big numbers of marlin that were caught back in the heyday of the Great Barrier Reef in the 1970s and 1980s: Capt. Peter Bristow caught 192 blacks in 1973 and 160 in 1974 on Avalon; no one else has ever come close to those numbers.
Q: You grew up in Sydney. What made you head to Cairns?
A: I left Sydney when I was 24 for a better life in the tropics. As a kid, I spent 10 years in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, with my father, and I was always fishing. Once I got to Cairns, I walked the docks asking for work, but the only job available was on a longline vessel that was fishing way out in the Coral Sea. The fish I saw there were incredible. One day I witnessed a huge marlin eat a 150-pound yellowfin tuna right next to the boat—that sight made me start asking questions. One of the other deckhands had crewed on the old Cairns charter boat Sea Baby, and some of his stories intrigued me as well. Then I purchased an old 21-foot mackerel boat and worked on it by myself for a couple of years. It was a great experience— I learned a lot about fishing and the reef.
Q: How did you become involved in charter fishing?
A: Working out on the reef every day, I saw so many people hooked up on sailfish and marlin, and I thought being a deckhand on one of those boats would be great fun. So I sold the mackerel boat and got a job on a game boat.
Q: How many heavy-tackle seasons did you work the deck, and what was the biggest black marlin you were ever involved with as a wireman?
A: I was on deck for five seasons, and the biggest marlin catch I was part of was a 1,389-pounder on Desperado with Capt. Craig “Sparra” Denham.
Q: You worked for Don Tyson of Tyson’s Pride fame many times. What was the largest black marlin you caught together as a team?
A: I had some very memorable times with Don. One year, we caught a stack of marlin, including 12 big blacks over 800 pounds, in a stretch of 10 days. He liked to tag and release his fish, but one time, a big mother was tail-wrapped, and we couldn’t revive her. That marlin weighed 1,017 pounds.
Watch: Fishing for a tournament winner? You need to master the use of a flying gaff. Our experts show you how.
Q: When did you make the transition from mate to captain?
A: I moved up to the helm in 2004 and ran the 43-foot O’Brien Desperado. It was a great fishing machine and was set up as a liveaboard to fish out on the reef.
Q: What are some of the funniest moments you have had on the water?
A: Some of the best times are with old clients, reminiscing about previous seasons. Some have had awkward moments when they arrive in a vibrant city like Cairns, and like many of us who enjoy getting away from work for a break, they usually cut loose the first night to unwind. Once, two American gentlemen had such a big night, they forgot the boat was in Cooktown. When they strolled down to the Cairns dock to board Askari, they felt pretty silly when the crew on another boat told them we were leaving from Cooktown. Their pre-booked flight had already gone, and there wasn’t another plane until the following morning, so they had to organize a car and drive to Cooktown—losing a day and a half of fishing in the process. They laugh about it now, but at the time, it wasn’t very funny.
Q: What’s involved in a usual day of fishing on the reef?
A: The early risers get to see a magnificent sunrise over the Pacific. Usually before breakfast, many anglers like to have a snorkel or even spear a coral trout or two to eat. Where we anchor behind the reef, the coral and reef fish are everywhere, and it’s usually only a 20-foot dive to get up close. After breakfast, it’s up to the anglers whether they want to bottomfish or chuck poppers for the giant trevally. And if we need bait, catching it can also be great fun. We use all kinds of species, from 20-pound yellowfin tuna to large scaly mackerel and scad. Usually the heavy tackle doesn’t come into play until around 11 a.m. Depending where along the reef we’re working, we could be trolling baits so close to the outer reef edge, you can hear the waves breaking on the coral. Most anglers love trolling along the beautiful Ribbon Reefs, right up to Lizard Island. We fish until late in the afternoon, then anchor behind the reef for a rum drink or two, then some dinner.
Q: You were involved with the biggest black marlin taken off Cairns—1,389 pounds—since Capt. Peter B. Wright’s 1,440-pounder in 1973. Have you seen or hooked any bigger ones?
A: We hooked a monster fish that ate a 30-pound dogtooth tuna one time that looked much bigger than the 1,389-pounder. We pulled the hook after an hourlong battle. There are definitely bigger marlin out there.
Read Next: The southern end of the Great Barrier Reef produces some giant marlin like this one.
Q: It must have been frightening when your deckhand was snatched overboard while wiring a 1,100-pounder. What went wrong?
A: It happened in the blink of an eye. We estimated he went 30 feet through the air. He was standing on the starboard side of the cockpit and obviously took a bad wrap on the wire around both gloves. When that big fish jumped and took off again, he flew between the rod and the angler’s legs in the fighting chair, and went straight over the port covering board. When he hit the water, luckily the wire came loose and he managed to get himself free. When we pulled him back aboard, he was really shaken up, particularly when all the sharks showed up right beside the boat. He quit the next day and has never decked again for heavy-tackle marlin fishing.
Q: How do you feel about bananas on your boat?
A: I have mixed feeling about bananas. After spending plenty of time with superstitious fishermen from Hawaii and Papua New Guinea, I must admit I sometimes feel uneasy about having them aboard. But, I also had a time when someone hid a banana on my boat and we won the 40th anniversary Cairns Black Marlin Tournament, so they can’t be all bad!