I love to look through old photos and reminisce about epic trips, adventures and captures. A conversation recently turned to monster Dogtooth Tuna and a couple of proud photos came out… Well I’ve never caught a monster doggie myself, only a few pups, but I did have the unforgettable experience of helping to drag a monster over the side for a mate on an exploratory trip to Kenn Reef. Upon searching through my photos to find it, I remembered more and more about an insane trip that I never really talked about. So, albeit a little delayed, here’s a story about an epic trip to the largely now closed off Kenn Reefs.
It was early in 2018 when I got the call up from my then boss that an opportunity had come up that I may be interested in… ‘How would you like to go to one of the outer most reefs in the coral sea, on a week long mothership trip, just to test out some of the greatest fishing tackle available…?’
Uh… where do I sign?! After about the 2 seconds it took me to think about it, I started planning.
So the deal was – An ‘exploratory’ trip to Kenn Reef aboard Big Cat Reality, hosted by the awesome crew from Wilson Fishing, with some adult treats supplied by ‘JC’, the legend behind Liquor Legends, and fishing alongside a massive bunch of awesome people from leading tackle stores around the country. All I had to do was come along and test their gear to the max. Sound like a good deal? Yeah it was pretty bloody good.
Kenn Reef is one of those truly untouched places out in the Coral Sea. Its just a lazy 40hr trip by boat from Bundaberg where we left from. 520km. Its so far out that very few people have been fortunate enough to go there, and not only that, we were to be the last crew to go there and fish it before the top 2/3rds became a no fishing green zone. So effectively we were the last people there able to fish the entire reef in all its glory… legally.
“How would you like to go to one of the outer most reefs in the Coral Sea, on a week long mothership trip, just to test out some of the greatest fishing tackle available…?”
So the time rolled around and in June 2018 I drove to Brissy and met up with Greg from Wicked Fishing, and a few of the other guys at the Wilson Fishing headquarters, and we then continued on the rest of the way to Bundaberg. Once we made it to Bundy, it was just a quick pit stop for a feed then down to the marina to meet the rest of the crew and start loading up.
It was a number of hours loading the boat, it takes time to load about 15 mad fisho’s worth of gear, 2 pallets of booze and 7 tenders in total – 5x of Big Cats Smart Wave boats plus 2x Wilson boats, a Polycraft and GS Marine (both those boats were unfortunately stolen early in 2020 from one of Wilsons warehouses). Late in the afternoon we were loaded, on board and getting a briefing from the crew. This wasn’t just any normal mothership trip however. This was an ‘industry’ trip, a bit of an insider type deal that I somehow managed to be a part of. As such it was a little more laid back than a standard mothership trip you might have to share with a few people you don’t know. For example, the bar was left unlocked and you simply served yourself… I don’t really think theres much more explanation needed from there.
After leaving Bundy in the afternoon, steaming all night, all through the next day and then right through the second night, we woke up around 5am on day 3, arriving at Kenn Reef. it was amazing to be there. It really makes you understand how far away you are when it takes so long to get there – unlike just flying in and not really getting to appreciate the distance.
I was fishing with Chappy from The Secret Spot in Yeppoon, he is a bit of a micro jigging specialist and we spent the first day exploring and seeing what we could turn up on jigs. We had an awesome day catching all sorts of fish from Red Bass to small Doggies, as well as getting blown away by the odd unstoppable thing.
We thought we were killing it with our mixed bag until we got chatting to a few of the other guys who on the first day stumbled upon some honey holes scoring trophy dogtooth, GT’s, Wahoo and even missing a sail! So day 2 we simply had to find those spots!
Day 2 dawns and the weathers gone to shit. We all had a bit of too and fro in the morning about what to do and in the end the Skipper of the Big Cat simply made a call – ‘Lets have a big boat day’.
We left the tenders all anchored up within the safety of the southern end of the reef, and then proceeded to explore the entire reef system, from the 25m Cat. It really is a hectic thing to see, watching a spread of 8 rods being trolled from the back of a 10m wide catamaran, have the skipper call out ‘get ready’ and then watch 6 rods all go off at once, and only one of them get stopped…
It was around lunchtime when we came over a shallow outcrop that was loaded with Green Jobfish. Feed a lure out the back, drag in a donkey Jobfish, repeat. It was crazy. A moment I will never forget was seeing a jobfish hit the deck and have the chef come running from the kitchen, unhook it and knock it on the head then race back into the kitchen. About 5 minutes later a massive bowl of beer battered jobfish bites comes back out, straight from the fryer and it had to be one of the best tasting fish I’de ever eaten. Maybe had something to do with the fact that only 6 minutes earlier it was still swimming around the reef!
I hooked 3 or 4 massive dogtooth (I assume) that same session, when we stopped and jigged a deep patch of reef we found. I got smoked by every one. I was fishing a 20,000 Stella with 80lb braid, over a PE10 Venom Jig rod and I simply couldn’t stop these fish. You’d set the hooks and they would start running, you’d give the drag a little crank and they’d run harder. It was as if you’d try to slow them up, and they’d just laugh.
“I hooked 3 or 4 massive dogtooth (I assume) that same session, when we stopped and jigged a deep patch of reef we found. I got smoked by every one.”
Chappy and I spent the remaining 3 days of fishing exploring everywhere we could around the reefs and had some epic moments of double hook ups on big GT’s, more run ins with the local doggy population and battling trout on everything from plastics and bucktail jigs, to stickbaits and poppers. Fishing the shallow patchy reef areas was insane with dinosaur trout following your lure out from the bommies, and basically making you look like an idiot if they ate because you couldn’t stop them. Between the dogtooth tuna in the deep water and the trout around the bommies I basically lost every jig, plastic and small stickbait I had. It certainly was an expensive trip theres no doubt about that. But I’d do it all agin in a heart beat – I’d just take more gear…
The trip for both Chappy and myself was definitely topped off on the last afternoon when we were sitting of the Northern most point of the reef and Chappy locked horns with his trophy dogtooth. After 5 days of not being able to stop these things we were really starting to go insane, but eventually it showed that if you’re persistent, eventually you’ll either run out of gear, like I did, or get lucky and stay connected, like Chappy did. And it was unforgettable.
So far in my life, I’ve had 2 trips that I consider as ‘once in a lifetime’ trips, and Kenn Reef was definitely one of them. The place was simply amazing with varying reef systems ranging from shallow sand and isolated bommies through to edges that drop away to the depths with unstoppable monsters patrolling every corner. A few small cays with the odd ship wreck from unfortunate mariners, and we even found an old NSW DPI FAD that was washed up on one of the cays. Its incredible to think of the journey that it must have had adrift for who knows how long and to end up there is mind blowing. We sent photos and info to DPI about it and explained we’d be happy to take them back and show them where it was, but I never heard anything more about it…
For a final bit of Kenn Reef goodness, Greg from Wicked Fishing also put together an fantastic edit from a bit of collated footage from everyone on the trip. Check that video out below and a huge thanks goes to Greg for being my ride from Brissdy to Bundy, JC from Liquor Legends who kept everyone well hydrated the entire trip, the Big Cat crew for taking us on an amazing trip and the team from Wilson Fishing who made it all happen.