Freezing weather and big tropical crayfish

It’s early Friday morning and I’m driving down to the Gold Coast to pick up one of my best friends and dive buddies Dylan for this weekend. We have decided to head south (way down south) which is kind of counterintuitive because in Winter most people in my part of the wold go north chasing warmer waters. The forecast was not very good very strong westerlies but on the positive side there wasn’t much ocean swell which is rare for this part of the world.

We roll up to our Hip Camp spot, and Mike the local farmer’s there to give us the grand tour. He points out our sweet digs, a cozy little paddock for the weekend. It’s like a ghost town for campers, we’ve got the whole joint to ourselves all weekend long. Camp’s set up in a flash, and we catch up with Kichi and Nate who had the jump on us the night before. Quick as a hiccup, we pile into my ride and cruise down to the local boat ramp. Now, this is where it gets wild – locals are giving us the side-eye, probably thinking we’re nuts. The wind’s howling, a solid 25 knots from the west (later I check Seabreeze and see gusts hitting 50 knots). Let’s just say, this isn’t exactly the recipe for a smooth sailing day.

We’re out, soaking in the mind-blowing scenery like it’s our personal playground. No drama with bar crossings, just smooth sailing. But, and here’s the kicker, the water’s got this odd hue, like that Central Queensland green. It’s not exactly Instagram-worthy, but hey, we’re here for the adventure, right? So, no beating around the bush, we go for it. Wind’s doing its best hurricane impression, and we all agree – drift diving or having someone ride the rollercoaster in the boat is a no-go. They’d just be tossed around like socks in a washing machine. Smart move? You bet. We anchor down, right behind the swell that’s playing its heart out on this killer Pinnacle. This thing’s like a rock star – it shoots up from 20 meters deep to a mere 3 or 4 meters. It’s on, and it’s epic!

After dropping the anchor everyone was pretty quick to get in the water because it was absolutely freezing being on the boat. Dylan hopped in first and we could tell from his excited screams that the conditions were actually pretty good – apparently there was 10 to 15 meters of visibility and the reef was totally covered in kelp and looked like a complete alien landscape compared to what we used to. We didn’t need much more convincing and we all hopped in. Dylan must have been in the water for 2 minutes before spearing a perfect eating size Kingfish of about 1m. It was this point we realized that the diving was going to be on!

With the ground looking amazing for crayfish (known as lobsters outside of Australia) we decided to whip out the torches and have a look. Well it didn’t take Dylan too long to find a nice big tropical crayfish which was very surprising given that we that there was there was very little coral Coral on this kelp covered reef! We then decided to do a loop around the reef and just take it all in. There was plenty to check out heaps including a tonne of species we don’t see up in Queensland: types of King Wrasse, Sweep as well as all of the Southern Classics including Red Morwong and Black Drummers.

Picture this: up in the reef’s wash, a whole bunch of fish are throwing a speed race that’d make your head spin. Taylor, my friend, Taylor in all their zippy glory. These are not exactly regulars in our local waters. K’gari, up north, they score the jackpot on these fellas, but somehow, we miss out on the party. So, here’s the deal – I’m dead set on landing my first Taylor, but let me tell you, these critters are on turbo mode. Me and Dylan, we’re tag-teaming this, diving down, trying to line up a shot on these speed demons. It’s like a fishy racetrack down there, and those Taylor? They’re like rockets with fins, zipping by faster than a blink. Small ones – they’re all game, darting around, just out of reach.

I’m about ready to throw in the towel, call it a day, and I start drifting, taking in the underwater scenery. Suddenly, out of nowhere, this mega-school of surgeonfish swim by, like they’re on a mission. And smack-dab in the middle of this squad? A big, cool-as-a-cucumber tailor, just cruising along. This is my moment, my chance. Swift as a ninja, I let loose, and BAM, my shot’s on point. With a little help from Dyl, I’ve got that fish in my grasp – my very first tailor, a trophy of speed and skill.

We’re weaving our way around the reef, and I spot a snapper that’s practically the size of a float – no kidding. My luck takes a nosedive, though, as my sinuses are still on a post-cold strike. I can’t venture beyond a measly 5 meters. We’re all feeling the fatigue, the wear and tear, so the decision’s made – let’s head back in. I’m tailing the gang, tagging along for a few dives. Along this ledge that just screams crayfish hideout, I’m creeping like a ninja. Out of the blue, like a finned posse, four colossal kingfish show up, each weighing in at a whopping 20 kilos, give or take. Now, here’s the deal – Dylan’s already locked in on one kingfish, so I decide to let these big boys be, no spears involved.

We made it back in before dark and the wind was still absolutely blowing its tits off. Back at camp our good mate (and my little Canadian brother) Frankie had lit the fire for us. We all sat by the fire, warmed up and ate a delicious meal, swapping stories for hours.

Next morning we got up and bumbled around for a couple of hours when we really should have just gone straight to the boat ramp. There was almost no wind early in the morning and we were meeting another Sunny Coaster (who happened to be on holidays in the area) by the name of Alejandro. By the time we got to the ramp it was about 9:00am and Alejandro had been waiting for at least 2 hours. The wind was really starting to blow hard again but this time it felt like it was coming more from the south. This meant that the small amount of protection we were getting yesterday from the land would not be available today. As we came around the corner of the Headland we got smashed by the wind – it was really really fierce and we could only sit on about 12 knots.

We got absolutely drenched and we decided to check out a pinnacle that was further south than the one that we dived yesterday. Pulling up to the Pinnacle the visibility was good again – probably close to 15 M. The water was blue and the structure on this one looked even better than yesterday’s spot: huge cracks that you could see from the surface that could easily fit a whole person inside. We could see a huge carapace of an oversized Eastern Crayfish from the surface. This thing looked massive! This thing’s carapace is a work of art. Now, fitting it in these tight cracks is like a magic trick.

It wasn’t before long that Dylan told us that he had found a really big crayfish that was super deep in a cave. Now it’s worth remembering that this is New South Wales and we are not allowed to spear crayfish here. So two of us went down together (I really just went as moral support). I watched Dylan go really really deep into this cave, in fact looking from the surface you would have seen him totally disappear into the cave. I was trying to film but I was having problems with my GoPro unfortunately. Dylan tussled with this big cray and after a tense struggle he had it in his hand and it was high fives all around! It was at this point the largest Coral crayfish I’ve ever seen – kind of ironic given that I didn’t see much Coral on this reef.

I discovered a beautiful ledge and my friend Kiichi informed me that he had spotted a crayfish. Although he had unintentionally scared it away, I decided to take a dive to explore the area. I moved towards another part of the ledge. The crayfish was positioned snugly against the side of a shallow cave, leaving it with limited escape options. It had open space on its right side along the ledge but nowhere to go on its left. With this in mind, I encouraged Kiichi to have a crack. I assured him that the cave wasn’t deep and suggested he use his right hand to catch it, as it had no means of evading in that direction. I positioned myself behind him as he descended. As he went down, I witnessed Kiichi successfully seize the crayfish – stoked! Side note: Kiichi is currently recovering from Ciguatera posioning from a Spanish Mackerel speared off Brisbane. This has taken the wind out of his sales a little bit so it was awesome to see him frothing on this crayfish (he is off eating the tropical fish right now).

Picture this: we’re out on the water, right? It’s one of those moments when you pop your head above the waves, and boom, it’s like a crazy 30 knots southerly wind smacking you in the face. Total nightmare. But then, just like that, you resurface, and it’s all chill. The wind’s gone, sun’s out – it’s actually turning into a damn fine day.

So there we are, exploring this reef. We hit the edge, and that’s when things get interesting. Suddenly, it’s like predator central down there. We spot a cave, packed with these massive Moses perch. Felipe’s with us, and he nails his first one. Alejando’s jagged a beauty too. We decide it’s time to move on and head back to the boat.

Funny thing is, right under where we anchored, there’s another cave. This one’s got more of those Moses perch just hanging out. So, I unclip my gun, dive in, and man, this cave’s huge. No crayfish, but it’s a cool cave. I am super careful, ’cause shooting in a cave is nerve-wracking, but I line up my shot. Epic fail, though – I forgot to load the darn thing! Back up for air, reload, and finally, I nail one. Chuck it in the boat – those Moses perch are a mouthwatering fish.

Now, our appetite for adventure ain’t satisfied yet. We set our sights on a closer reef. Shallower waters, full of potential. Just far enough for the landlubbers to shy away, but close enough for us to check it out. Alejandro’s got the hunch that there’s a crayfish bonanza nearby. He’d scoped out the beach in the morning, crayfish shells everywhere.

After a slow start, we’re almost ready to call it quits. I decide to try the other end of the reef. Bam, there’s a ledge that’s crayfish paradise. Follow it down, and jackpot! A bunch of feelers peek out, and I mark the spot. Back up for air, deep breaths, back down, and holy crayfish, it’s a goldmine. A honey hole, brimming with crayfish treasures. Dylan’s in the boat, chilling, and I’m like, “Dude, you gotta see this!”

Now, teamwork’s the name of the game. We strategize, herd the crayfish, and bag two colossal ones. These Headland crays are an oddity, they look like they belong in tropical waters. But who’s complaining? We’re in crayfish heaven, and every ledge, every cave, is like a crayfish jackpot.

We’re on a roll, a real crayfish quest with the crew. Felipe’s up to bat – time to get his first Cray with no speargun assistance. We’re talking old-school teamwork here. Deep in this cave, we spot a gem of a crayfish. It’s a tough one to reach, but that’s where Dylan comes in. He’s like the crayfish wrangler, using his mojo to guide the beast towards Felipe. A crazy dance ensues, and boom, Felipe’s got it! The cray’s in his hands, and man, the high-fives are flying like fireworks. Mission accomplished, vibes are electric, and it’s time to call it a day and head back in.

But just before we make our way in, Dyl’s fired up again. He wants to try a pelagic drift on the pinnacle from yesterday. I drop the boys in and enjoy the ocean’s spectacles. A whale breaches right next to the boat, an unreal sight for 10m of water. It felt like the boys had been in the water for no time when I start hearing some hooting. Dylan is getting dragged around by a big fish! I bring the boat around, maybe a little too hastily and accidentally put it between the fish and Felipe who is primed for the second shot. No biggy, the boys are great at team work. A second shot is put in and the fish is on the boat. A personal best Spanish Mackerel – what a surprise for Winter in New South Wales!

We’re tired, beat up, but we’re stoked. We hit the hay, bellies stuffed with crayfish goodness.

Morning after, we’re all about soaking in the area. A hike, a surf, good vibes all around. Tired, sore, but grinning from ear to ear. This trip, man, it’s etched in my memory as one of the wildest, most epic adventures ever.

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