Angler’s paradise in the Pilbara

Joachim AzzopardiCountryman

The Mackerel Islands in the Pilbara coastal region have fast become recognised as a first-class fishing destination.

Situated 22km offshore from Onslow and 1400km north of Perth, this spectacular part of WA offers the ultimate fishing experience.

The Mackerel Islands comprise 10 islands, several rocky cays and intricate coral reef systems.

Two islands have accommodation — Thevenard and Direction — as well as a range of services that offer anglers of all abilities a fishing holiday of a lifetime.

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The pristine waters surrounding the Mackerels are habitat for an assortment of highly sought-after table and sport fish, as well as migrating whales, turtles, dolphins and whale sharks.

Traditionally, the quality table species including red emperor, coral trout and rankin cod have been the focus of many anglers who visit the Mackerels.

However, during the past few years, anglers have placed less emphasis on coming home with an esky full of fillets and more effort on targeting sport fish that frequent this part of the Indian Ocean.

What sets the Mackerels apart from other popular fishing destinations is that the different fishing grounds are relatively close to one another, allowing anglers to engage in several types of fishing each session.

For instance, mornings can be spent targeting billfish out wide of Thevenard, while afternoons can be dedicated to chasing giant trevally and queenfish at Rosily Cay or another exposed reef.

Then, on the way back to the moorings, if there is that urge to pick up a red or a trout, there are plenty of lumps worth drifting a bait or jig over.

As the name suggests, the Mackerel Islands offers some of the best mackerel fishing in the world. It is rare for guests to visit the islands and not encounter Spanish, shark and school mackerel during their stay.

During April, one of the biggest Spanish mackerel ever caught in Australian waters — a 45kg fish of a lifetime — was captured by Larry Lourensz while trolling within two miles of the Thevenard Island moorings.

The Mackerels are also one of the top areas to target billfish in Australia. Sailfish and black marlin regularly turn up between the 30m and 100m contours out the back of Thevenard.

The islands were given widespread recognition for providing a first-rate billfish arena last month when Tim McAuliffe landed an exceptionally large three-metre sailfish on a trolled skirted lure in 90m of water.

On the same day, it took only five minutes of trolling in 30m for Kerry Lukies to catch her first sailfish.

The rocky outcrops, sandy spits and exposed reefs provide the setting for some of the finest trevally fishing in the world.

Anglers wanting to catch a giant, golden or brassy trevally travel from all over the world to entice these brutes on poppers and stickbaits.

Shore-based anglers spinning lures and casting flies are also within reach of some excellent species.

On a recent ‘bonehead’ pilgrimage, led by esteemed fly fisherman Peter Morse, the group of whole-hearted wand wavers caught 43 different species during their week-long stay — many of which were taken from the shores.

For children, women and those who just caught the fishing bug, the jetty, just a five-minute stroll from the beach cabins on Thevenard Island, is the perfect place to start out and get the species count up with the myriad fish that reside by the structure.

Complementing the fishing, the Mackerels boast some of the most amazing dive sites in the world.

A dive centre and a resident instructor caters for those wanting to spend a day or two diving around the coral alongside gigantic cods, turtles and colourful reef fish or for serious divers wanting to devote a week to exploring all the different dive sites.

The sunset tour along the back of Thevenard is also worth coming in early from a day’s fishing.

The island staff are keen to ensure guests depart with an exceptional fishing experience. They are more than willing to point guests in the right direction when it comes to targeting specific fish and are on hand to help with refuelling and getting to and from the boats.

Tackle, bait, ice, alcohol and groceries can be purchased from the general store.

Most guests travel to the islands and fish for the duration of their stay aboard their own vessel, but a charter boat is available at the island for those who do not have access to a craft or wish to keep the boat at home.

A resident chef can prepare delicious meals for those wanting a break from cooking, while the entertainment room and licensed bar are the perfect places to kick back after a day on the water.

Joachim Azzopardi was a guest of Compleat Angler and Camping World's annual Seafari

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