Part 1 – Kenn Reef – Doggie Central with Wilson Fishing onboard Big Cat Reality Charters

Sometimes in life you sit back and pinch yourself. I recently found myself doing just that when boarding big cat reality charters for an epic fishing expedition to the Kenn Reef in the Coral Sea. Kenn reef is located 520km NE of Bundaberg or 680km due east of Mackay close to the international waters boarder. Tackle Company Wilson fishing had organised this mega trip and invited many tackle tackle shop owners/workers, fishing charter operators and a couple ring in’s such as myself, John Carmody the MD of liquor legends and Nigel Webster from the AFN fishing show.

Although Big Cat Reality specialises in trips to the swains and several locations in the Coral Sea for many years now, there was a lengthy process in getting the necessary permits to venture all the way out to Kenn Reef for the first time.

Lunch time Monday we made our way out from Burnett Heads, Bundaberg and the excitement and anticipation was through the roof. The only downside to travelling to such remote places is the time it takes to get there. We travelled all afternoon, all night, all the next day and all the next night to finally arrive at Kenn reef early morning after a massive 40 hours of steaming.

These trips are self-guided, meaning once you reach your destination your given one of the many well equipped 4.3mtr poly tenders to go explore and fish your heart out. Big cat also has the ability to carry two of your own vessels of a bigger size which is a great option and this trip Wilson bought along a 4.8mtr polycraft and 5.8mtr plate boat. The big cat crew work fast to unload the boats and organise everything required for a quick departure to ensure you’re on the water fishing in no time.

Day 1 myself and John Carmody fished together and headed to the northern point of one reef system and it wasn’t long before we spotted some birds working to western side of it. We hooked up on the first troll past the bird life and we soon had rainbow runners and green job fish coming over the side in quick concession. After throwing back a small green job fish that had been half eaten by a shark, I saw a big fish (not a shark) nail it on the surface not far from the boat. I quickly worked my Zerek Zeppelin stick bait past the area and it got smashed instantly, leaving a mass of white water on the surface. After a solid fight we had a nice GT in the boat but it was clear this wasn’t the fish that smashed the half eaten job fish on surface moments before but rather a much larger predator that inhabited the Kenn reefs.  

We continued to troll the area and caught more green job fish before we hooked a line screamer on the Zerek Pelagic Z hard body lure. After several strong runs I caught a glimpse of colour under the boat and we soon had our first Dog tooth tuna in the boat. What a great start to the trip and we soon backed that up several more dogtooth tuna and green job fish before heading close by the edge of the reef to jig a nice 15 mtr plus ledge we had come over. John was using a slow pitched metal jig while I worked the new mustad bucktail big eye jig with a 4.5 inch Zerek flat shad plastic on it. It was long until I got absolutely smashed and had line pouring off my reel and the venom 350g PE 3-8 jig rod fully loaded up. The fish ran straight for deeper water and we had to go chase it as my jigging master PE5 reel was getting low on line. After gaining plenty of line back I could feel a change in the fight and it soon turned into a dead weight. That would normally only mean one thing and sure enough up came a big head of large dog tooth tuna that had unfortunately been sharked.

We headed back to the Big Cat for lunch and it wasn’t long before a few boats decided to head around the eastern side of the reefs to a small area on the maps that showed an extended rise east of the reef but dropped away very quickly each side of it. By now it was absolutely bucketing down rain but be braved the conditions and made our way around the outside of the reef. We started trolling the eastern side in about 30 to 40mtrs of water and the action was crazy. Double hook ups on good dogtooth tuna left right and centre and looking around every boat was hooked up to good fish. Most of us hadn’t even made it the area of interest yet but Troy Dixon was there first in the Wilson boat and soon let us know that they had caught some monster Doggies over 50kg on the troll. We all made our way there and decided to jig a nice ledge running from 60 odd mtrs to 90mtrs with lots of big fish along it. Nigel Webster and the camera man was on Troy’s boat and was first to drop as we positioned our boat beside them. It wasn’t long before Nigel got smashed and line was screaming from his reel at a ridiculous rate. Johnny and I hit bottom and begin working our jigs which were both eaten quickly but they were only small fish. Johnny’s turned out to be a small cod and mine was a beautiful coronation trout that once again had been eaten in half by a shark. I dropped the jig down again and this time hooked a monster fish and watched the 130lb jerry brown braid pour off my boss accurate reel with a stupid amount of drag pressure being applied. The venom PE 5-10 jig stick was loaded up to the max and I quickly went to sunset on the drag in hope of slowing the monster down. Unfortunately it wasn’t working, the reel was super-hot from the crazy drag pressure and all I could do was lock myself in the corner of the boat to make sure I didn’t get pulled out.  Moments later the monster busted me off all while Johnny was in a world of hurt himself and his stella was screaming on a big fish. I watched in amazement as he pulled the hooks on that fish and hooked up moments later to another massive fish that screamed back towards the bottom. Johnny was in some serious hurt but the hooks pulled again and he seemed somewhat relieved but it wasn’t over yet and as he began winding his jig up he smashed yet again not far from the boat. He was yelling no not again and was totally exhausted from the two prior fish giving him a massive workout. He was running massive drag pressures and this time the assist hook cord on the jig broke and the battle was finally over.

Nige had landed his fish which was around 30kg and Wilson’s Clint Fanning and Russell Bowman from the lure shop tackle world in Cooktown had also trolled up a horse of a doggie not far away. Unfortunately we had run out of time and needed to head back to the big red cat but what an epic day and it was only day one of six.

Day 2 the wind had increased and we were all forced to fish the western side of the reef which was protected from the wind. Most of us jigged up plenty of jobfish, coronation trout and doggies on the closer deep pinnacles before throwing stick baits along the reef edges for beautiful big Coral Trout and GT’s before heading back to the Big Cat for lunch.

With the windy and rough conditions James the owner/skipper of big cat said he was happy to take us out trolling and jigging from the big boat where we could hit some of the areas we wanted to target. We trolled out past the southern end of the reef system and started catching green jobfish and rainbow runners which was soon followed up by a 3 way hook up on dogtooth tuna. The fishing was red hot and we wouldn’t get far before another reel would start screaming. James the owner of big cat had his young son Charlie along for his first ever trip and we quickly encouraged him to come and pull a fish in. He was a little unsure at first but after some quick guidance from Dane and myself, we had him pumping and winding a great fish in which turned out to be a solid GT and an awesome sight considering it was his first ever decent fish.

Unfortunately soon after the mayhem we had another big hook up but one of the rail mount rod holders failed and among the commotion of other hook ups and the shifting around of rods a lanyard wasn’t put back on my Stella 20000/venom rod and it shot out the back and disappeared into the deep blue. To say I was devastated would be an understatement and even worse knowing that so much care was being taken to ensure lanyards were on the reels trying to prevent such a thing from happening.

After trolling around locating some pinnacles in 45mtrs of water we went back to jig them. It was a cool sight watching everyone line up down one side of the big cat ready to drop a jig down. The action was crazy and there were hook ups left right and centre with Gregg Chapman from The Secret Spot bait & tackle in Yeppoon pulling a cracking coral trout up and many others pulling up a range of species including some good dogtooth tuna and high fin amberjack.

The next day was howling with 25 plus knots of SE wind and once again we spent the day fishing on the big cat in some pretty ordinary conditions but it was still comfortable and there where loads of fish were caught including GT’s, doggies, yellowfin tuna and much more.

Click the link for part 2 of our wicked Kenn reef expedition where the fish get bigger.

Kenn Reef highlights video