Travel Brief: Lord Howe Island

This island off Australia is an idyllic spot for offshore big-game fishing

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Dramatic landscapes await those willing to make the trek to Lord Howe IslandJohn Ashley

Some 330 miles off Australia’s New South Wales’ east coast, you’ll find one of the prettiest islands imaginable. Lord Howe Island is a tourist’s delight and a fisherman’s paradise — it even earned a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1982 for its outstanding natural beauty and exceptional biodiversity. The waters surrounding the island were declared a marine park back in 1998, to protect the area from commercial netting and longlining. However, local fishermen and tourists can still enjoy the fishing; at present, seven charter boats operate in these nearly pristine waters.

The island is home to more than 130 different species of birds, most of them seabirds, and over two-thirds of the island is designated a natural park reserve. The spectacular reefs around the island boast more than 90 different types of soft and hard corals, and an amazing 500 different species of fish swim in the pristine water. The huge lagoon on the western side of the island sees a number of quite rare marine species only found in these parts, and large bonefish have been caught along the shallow, sandy beaches.

We cruised to Lord Howe Island from Sydney with a mothership-and-game-boat operation and spent five weeks fishing in the prime late-summer and early-autumn months of March and April. The marlin fishing proved outstanding with black, blue and striped marlin hitting the lures daily. The grounds suit big Pacific blue marlin since a 1,000-fathom drop-off runs extremely close to the island. The reefs between the island and the deep outer edge were loaded with baitfish every day we fished, and at times the columns of bait filled the depth recorder's screen from top to bottom.

The other star attraction that helped keep the big marlin hanging around were the schools of yellowfin tuna that swim close to the island every day. According to the local fishermen, these tuna school around the island most of the year. We hooked plenty of tuna weighing up to 50 pounds on our big 14- to 16-inch marlin lures; however, the biggest one we caught on the trip was a solid 200-pounder.

We also encountered wahoo on a daily basis, and I have to say I’ve never fished any place in the world where they were so thick! They’re known as the razor gang down in these parts, and we had many troublesome days when they trimmed down the plastic skirts on our lures with gay abandon. We weighed one 90-pound specimen, since it was the biggest wahoo ever taken on the boat. A local restaurateur soon grabbed that monster off us, and we traded it for a feed of crayfish.

The fishing possibilities were endless, and some days we trolled 16 miles to the south of the main island and stopped near a huge rock jutting 1,800 feet vertically out of the ocean called Ball’s Pyramid. The rugged reefs surrounding this eye-opening rocky peak are home to some of the biggest yellowtail kingfish in the world, and hooking a few by accident on the marlin lures one day was an absolute disaster, even on 130-pound tackle.

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Ball's PyramidJohn Ashley

These big resident kingfish only know one way to fight, and that’s dirty — straight down through the reef, stripping the line to threads. We learned our lesson the first time we trolled near Ball’s Pyramid, and we made sure we cleared the marlin gear within half a mile of the place! These unstoppable kings gave us some amazing battles on 50- and 80-pound stand-up tackle, and our metal jig supply soon vanished in our effort to land a decent one. I got lucky one day and managed a 75-pounder, which is still the biggest kingfish I’ve ever caught.

A good mate of mine, Michael Smith, who’s also a light-tackle specialist, just came back from a weeklong trip to Lord Howe Island with considerably less luggage. All the brand-new metal River2Sea knife jigs he took over were lost to the local yellowtail kingfish population around Ball’s Pyramid. Smith managed to land a 58-pounder on 20-pound tackle after retiring the 8- and 12-pound gear he was using as a joke. The rugged terrain around this area makes it very difficult to land one of these hard, dirty-fighting kingfish on any size tackle, let alone on the light stuff!

Smith did manage to bring home most of his surface-trolling lures, but many of them had very short and tattered skirts. Every day they trolled, the big wahoo were on the job between the strikes from black marlin and yellowfin tuna. Smith told me he had sore arms from catching so many fish! His best wahoo went 68 pounds on 12-pound, and he reckons there are world-record wahoo waiting to be caught. The biggest black marlin he released was a 300-pounder on 20-pound.

Smith fished from Carina, a brand-new Aussie-built 34-foot Stebercraft with twin Yanmar diesels. The boat is well set up for trolling light to medium tackle with plenty of rod holders, outriggers, etc. With so many species on offer, though, Carina also specializes in bottomfishing and jigging and live baiting for the monstrous yellowtail kingfish that roam the shallower reef grounds in vast numbers. Group charters of two to six anglers are welcome, which makes the cost of $1,200 (AUD) a day very reasonable.

The Wilson family, the owners and operators of Carina and Ocean View Apartments, are fifth-generation islanders, and anything they don’t know about fishing around the island and its surrounding reefs is hardly worth knowing. The Wilsons also share their local knowledge, including where to find the best mountain hiking trails and where to study the amazing local birds, with visiting fishermen and their families. Hand-feeding all kinds of fish in the shallows of the lagoon is another huge attraction.

We spent an evening moored in the gorgeous lagoon, and the fish life we saw in the gin-clear water was truly overwhelming. Although none of us scuba dived while we were there, the snorkeling along the lagoon’s outer reef edge blew our minds. For those willing to travel to Australia to get a shot at the giant blacks on the Great Barrier Reef, schedule some time for a Lord Howe Island trip; the fish might not be as large, but the wide variety of game fish and the island’s natural beauty make it a perfect place to fish and relax. Few anglers make the trip — you could be the next one!

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Dramatic landscapes await those willing to make the trek to Lord Howe IslandJohn Ashley

Trip Planner

Apart from reaching Lord Howe Island by sea, there are regular flights with Qantas Airways. Flights from Sydney in New South Wales leave daily, and from Brisbane in Queensland they only leave a few times, on weekends. The flight time from either city is around 11/2 hours.

For general information on the island, contact the tourist bureau at www.lordhoweisland.info.

Accommodations