Albany Island

Joshua Hutchins explores the fly fishing potential of a remote island at the tip of Cape York Peninsula

Last year was tough. But amidst the shadows of loss, silver linings emerged. People spent more time at home, commuted less, slowed down and saw the wonder in their own backyard. This was particularly true for fly fishing. With guests unable to travel abroad, we focused our guiding on some new and different offerings in Australia. While the ever-changing state-based Covid situation made things hard, it was good to explore while we could. I had visited the tip of Cape York in 2019 and was awed by its appeal. Red dirt roads, abandoned 4WDs, remote beaches, and stretches of space — it sweats adventure. Standing at the very tip, preparing for my token photo beside the ‘You are Standing at the Northern Most Point of the Australian Continent’ sign, I stared into the distance. A group of islands to the east caught my eye. “I wonder what fish are there?” The thought left as quickly as it came, and I smiled for my tourist snap. But like the Google ad that keeps appearing for an item you’d only thought about, a connection to those islands was soon to come into view. BEATING THE WET TO BAMAGA Albany Island or Pabaju, 6 km southeast of the tip of Cape York, is 6 km long and surrounded by coral reefs. Doug Leoni and Brad Morris have been exploring fly fishing opportunities in the area and Doug contacted me earlier in the year. I was keen to visit but after going back and forth on various dates, nothing came into line. Finally, with state border restrictions easing, Doug put forward the first four days of December. Despite the wet season approaching, I was willing to risk it. We locked it in. The visit was to follow a month of back-to-back travel — I was quickly making up for the lack of activity earlier in the year. I met my friend Rory Brookes in Cairns and jumped onto our connecting flight. Landing in Bamaga — a tiny regional airport consisting of one red-roofed shed — it was hot and humid. The blue sky stretched out before us and the wind seemed low. Fishing conditions were looking good. Doug met us at the airport and we headed down the red, dusty road. Lined with trees and scrub, it was just as I remembered. Brad was waiting with the boat and after a short trip we arrived at Albany Island Lodge. Like an attentive concierge, a blue bastard awaited us at the end of the beach the moment we pulled in. Shaded by palm trees and wedged into the mountainside, the simple lodge was cosy, clean and comfortable. What a cool place. The sun was shining so we didn’t waste time. After quickly unpacking we loaded our gear into the ute, cruised to the far side of the island and prepared for an entrée session. Following the track as far as we could, we hiked the rest of the way. We were headed to ‘Seven Stitch Bay’ as Doug and Brad referred to it (named after the seven stitches their dog needed when attacked by a croc). There was just enough light for Rory to open the trip with a beautiful blue bastard. VARIETY IN NUMBERS Wind is no stranger to the eastern side of Cape York, and despite ‘glass-out calm’ conditions the week before our trip, the wind was predicted to increase. For that reason we decided to fish the furthest and least protected flats on our first full day. I was excited for what was ahead. After a tasty breakfast spread, Rory, Brad and I were ready to explore. On arrival, the flat was still too deep and the tide unlikely to favour shallow wading so we stuck to the boat. A couple of very small islands attracted our attention and we headed in their direction. Two big blue bastards caught us off guard, and then schools of 1 to 3 kilo GTs came cruising through. At times it was a fish a cast for ten casts in a row. We had a heap of fun. Not to be forgotten, swarms of golden trevally decided to join the party. Cornering themselves between us and the island, they were eating anything we’d throw at them. There were fish everywhere. We made our way to the second island and the story was the same. Amidst the chaos, a 20 kg GT entered the flat. Sneaking along the inside edge of the reef, he made himself available for an easy cast. My fly flew into the water and his eyes locked onto it. Strip, strip, strip. His mouth opened and I felt the tension. “He’s on!” I was ready for the fight ahead, but then the big GT swam in one direction and my line went in another. I was attached to a much smaller fish. It must have snatched the fly in the final moment. Dealing with the disappointment, it was time to move flats. BB’S IN THE MANGROVES Brad had a bunch of tricks up his sleeve and took us to a variety of locations. Arriving at a new island, we tied up to the mangroves and started having lunch. But eating our packed wraps was quickly cut short when blue bastards began swimming past the boat. What the guys had been telling me was true: there are a lot of blue bastards around Albany Island — A LOT. Singles, doubles, schools of six and even a school of ten BBs presented themselves along the mangrove-lined flats. Despite the majority being small to medium in size, it was incredible to see. Seven or eight blue bastards later, along with an eager ‘tuskie’ that I somehow landed after it ran me through the entire mangrove system, and it was time to go. It had been a very satisfying day. Riding on that success, we stuck to a similar plan next day. Waking early to a sun-filled sky we loaded the boat and headed towards the flats. However, we were quickly distracted. In the channel between the island and the mainland we saw several large, disturbed sections of water with bait being showered in every direction. We knew it would be wrong to pass that up. So, we didn’t. Big bait-balls, smothered in GTs and bigeye trevally kept us amused until they eventually went deep. And then things really came into play. Every good trip has a day when everything just falls in line. There’s less wind, more sun, better knots and tighter loops — this was going to be our day. When we arrived at the flats the wind was low and the water gin-clear, lit up by the growing angle of the sun. We saw some huge tuskies but sadly missed our chances. Then slowly the BBs started to show up, then more and more. The wind eventually increased but we navigated the flats on the lee-side, and I was surprised by how protected we were. There is the odd croc around the islands, so even though wading is my preference we only ever did so when 100% certain that it was safe. That day we left the boat on several occasions, catching BBs and golden trevally from the beach. The baby mangrove bays were a hot spot for the BBs, and sitting on the shore felt like being somewhere in the Caribbean. It was beautiful territory. We even saw a fleeting school of small permit. Another great day. MANGOES, OYSTERS & COCONUTS I loved the island experience. Excellent meals, beers by the fire, fresh coconuts, killer views over the water, and tales of the area and its unexplored flats. One morning while backing the boat in, two mangoes fell from a tree into the boat. “Well, that’s my morning tea taken care of.” The weather finally got the better of us. It clouded in and the wind made it tough. Rory managed a nice GT off the back of a ray, and a few other odds and ends, but the final day was hard. However, even that challenge offered a silver lining. Lochie, who with his partner Ella run the lodge, took us looking for fresh oysters. “How far do we need to go?” I asked, wondering how epic this adventure might be. Lochie casually pointed to the beach. Tools in hand we ventured no more than 100 metres up the sand and knocked off a dozen oysters. Fresh and Kilpatrick, they were sensational. This was my last trip of the year and I was glad it fell into place. The weather was starting to turn, and with travel restrictions not far away we had snuck in a pretty cool adventure. It won’t be long before I head back to Albany. Plenty more flats to explore and, being the off-season, we hadn’t even touched the barramundi. It’s always good to give yourself excuses to return. Any excuse will do.

Current FlyLife Subscribers can login to read the full article.
To access this article, back issues & more Subscribe to FlyLife today.