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Road Trip to Weipa – By Scott Mitchell

 

After two family trips on the Queens land “big” barra impoundments where my wife Katrina caught the largest fish on both occasions, a change of tack was in order if I was to re-gain some credibility.

 

Having done nine mothership trips along the west coast of Cape York between the Love River in the South and Seisia in the North, I elected to head for Weipa. Maybe a little past experience would give me an edge on the girls this time round!

 

I have to say it’s a little daunting looking at a map of our big brown land and the distance between Cooma in NSW and Weipa in far North Queensland. It’s 3363 km to be precise; with the last 560 km from Lake Lands being on what can be one of the worst dirt roads in the country. The Peninsular Developmental road can vary seasonally, but is generally graded by the main roads team after the rains have stopped each April/May and then again in October/November. So we elected to try mid-April with the idea that we should encounter at least some graded sections either going in or heading home.

 

I will also state that I wouldn’t have attempted this trip had I not already had some experience fishing out from Weipa and have quite a few friends who are professional fishing guides in the area. It is far easier to fly into Weipa and hook up with one of the well-established fishing guides via a fishing package, which will include all connections, accommodations, meals and great fishing. But if you have the time and desire to do the correct preparations it will be a trip long remembered.

 

*Boat made it to Weipa in tackle and spotless after we de-wrapped it

 

The Preparation

 

My first thoughts where how do I get my beloved custom built 475 Quintrex Hornet to Weipa intact? After hearing numerous stories about the carnage which can occur along the way .We where told in Coen that there’s at least one trailer a day in need of repair along that Development road through out the dry season. Most if not all-standard production trailers just won’t be up to this trip. With this in mind we looked at freighting the boat around from Cairns on the weekly barge. This is an option, which a few use and will cost you around $1500.00 return. But I thought with the amount of miles we currently do already and with plans for future trips already on the cards, we would get a new trailer built for the job.   

 

After quite a lot of research and advice from Joe Day at Merimbula Outboard Service, we settled on a new Custom built Easy Tow trailer. Easy Tow has been building quality trailers since 1965 with each trailer being customized to suit the hull shape of each boat. With our trip in mind the boys at Easy Tow recommended going with a tandem axel design with load sharing leaf spring suspension. Any thing over three tones must have this system fitted by law, but the general consensus was that it was the best choice when you’re doing a lot of kilometers on rough country roads or corrugated, washed out dirt tracks. This system incorporates pivoting “shared” spring assemblies that ensures the load is evenly spread over both axels and allows each to work independently.

 

We looked at other more complexed, independent suspension systems but settled on springs as they can be replaced fairly easily in the event of a mishap. We where also governed by the width of our garage at home and wanted to keep the boat as low on the trailer as possible for launching in shallow areas. This meant the boat had to sit slightly over the top of the guards with little room underneath.

 

The frame was beefed up to 100 x 50 3mm channel, with a fixed track of 13 rollers down the keel. Heavy-duty nylon side skids where the entire length they contacted with the hull run and we welded them to the frame once adjusted to balance the boat. This would ensure they couldn’t slip down along the way. Mechanical over-ride brakes where fitted to the front wheels. The front A-frame area of the trailer was then fully meshed in to stop stone chips coming up from underneath. The wheel guards also had sold back panels to stop stones. The boys at Easy Tow even supplied a swinging number plate holder!

 

Most trailer makes give little thought as to how you’re going to tie the boat down to the trailer. This is most important on rough roads as movement between boat and trailer is where you’ll suffer damage. Easy Tow added two heavy duty loops on the end corners of the trailer to allow us to fix the boat back from both sides via stainless steel loops fitted to the engine transom bolts. There was another loop at the base of the winch post to allow the bow to be pulled down tight as well. We then used H/D turnbuckles with lock nuts, chain and D-shackles to fix the boat down at these points. I checked these regularly along the way and can say the boat didn’t move a millimeter the whole trip. Finally we had a rigid motor support bracket made to take some of the weight of the Mercury 75 Opti Max off the transom. 

 

*Pallet wrap is great stuff - You really need to keep that red dust out of all your intakes and exhaust etc - I also used a full outboard cover from Outboard covers Australia over the top.

 

A real nifty trick we came up with this trip was the use of pallet wrap to cover just about everything. We had been told to wrap our motor in Cling wrap to keep the dust out of the air vents, intakes and exhaust, which is a great idea. Katrina made a few enquires at PFD foods in Cooma and came back with 500 metres roll of pallet wrap. This is basically heavy-duty clink wrap a little over half a metre wide on a jumbo roll. We initially wrapped the whole outboard from cowling to skeg, and then decided to wrap the outside of the boat as well to prevent our full boat cover from any potential rubbing along the way. I was surprised at how tuff this stuff is once you get a few wraps on, with the trick being to really stretch it as you go around .I have to say there where a few impressed travelers in the caravan park when we un-wrapped the rig in Weipa with hardly a speck of dust on anything. Our custom-made boat cover from Ron Alcock in Cooma (Ron’s Motor trimmers) also played a big role. As did the full outboard cover from Outboard covers Australia.

 

*Rear Turnbuckle tie downs

 

Fact Box

 

Spares that you should carry for a trip like this include:

 

Trailer Spares

 

  • At least one set of springs for the trailer, ideally two if tandem.
  • Two wheel bearings sets with grease, split pins and wheel brace. Don’t forget the lock nuts if fitted!
  • At least one spare tyre on heavy-duty rim. We carried two with the new tandem set up with 8 ply light truck tyres.
  • H/D turn buckles with lock nuts, various sized D-shackles and some chain & fencing wire
  • Spare nylock nuts to suite trailer. Regular nuts will simply rattle off. Check your nuts daily when traveling on rough roads.
  • Don’t over load your boat!

*Bow Turnbuckle

 

Car Spares

 

  • Two spare tyres on rims and tyre lever – again check your lock nuts if fitted. You’ll be surprised how many people get caught with out the lock nuts.
  • Tyre puncture repair kit and learn how to plug a tyre
  • Quality jack & jack plate for the soft stuff.
  • Portable air compressor & accurate tyre pressure gauge
  • Basic recovery gear including a quality snatch strap, at least 3.5 tonne rated bow shackles and a medium length shovel.
  • Air filter, even with a snorkel (which I would recommend having fitted for this trip) can become clogged. They are cheap and easy to replace.
  • Wading apron or car bra for water crossings. Even with a snorkel fitted these are cheap insurance. 
  • Oil filter, Fuel filter and sediment catcher in the case of a diesel engine. You’ll also need the appropriate filter wrench to get them off. It’s not hard to pick up some bad fuel in remote areas.
  • A tool box with screw drivers, spanners, couple of shifters, pliers, multi grips, spare hoses and belts, fuses, electrical tape, cable ties etc at the least.
  • Small fire extinguisher
  • A good first aid kit

The BIG Haul 

 

With some advice from mates who had done the trip from Canberra a few times previously we set off half a day early, making Parks in NSW on our first evening. We also had my good mate Lloyd Hatz following with us. Day two and ten hours on the road saw us in Roma just over the Queensland border. Day three found us in the former gold rush town of Charters Towers. We then took the Gregory development road up to The Lynd, where it continues on as the Kennedy highway to Mount Molly. We did such good time up to Lakeland Downs that we rang ahead to Musgrave Telegraph station for a road report and accomadation. The news was good, with the grader team staying there, so we pushed on arriving at Musgrave just after 7pm. Over a few beers the grader crew told us our great run was about to end as they hadn’t started on the road through to Coen and it wasn’t real good.  They weren’t pulling our leg with it taking us 3 hours to do the 107 km stretch through to Coen. Mostly wash outs and some rough corrugated sections keep us in first and second gear. We pulled into the Wilderness café in Coen for a well-deserved coffee and a quick check over the boat and trailer before pushing onto Archer river roadhouse. We had been told that they make the best burgers on the Cape and I can now endorse that personally!

 

*A great place to stop for a break and fuel up - Musgarave Station

 

The Archer River had been running at over half a metre the week prior to our arrival and I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see it down at 300 mm. The road north of the Archer River through to Weipa still had trees and debris across it in sections from severe tropical cyclone Ingrid only a few weeks earlier. We pulled into Weipa at around 3pm, where we drove straight down to the Evans landing boat ramp and used the high pressure boat wash to give our rig a quick wash down. We then booked into our self contained cabin at the Weipa camping ground, which was to be our home for the next three weeks .I can tell you that first XXXX Gold didn’t even touch the sides.

 

Our fist day in Weipa was spent organizing fishing gear and doing some shopping. Weipa is a great base with just about everything you could need for an extended fishing holiday. There’s a Woolworth’s supermarket inside the local shopping center along with a butcher, bakery, bottle shop, camping and 4X4 shop, couple of clothing store and a new Café. Across the car park there is a news agent with fishing tackle section stocking the main terminal items you’ll need and a Beta electrical store at back. There’s also a well-stoked chemist for any medicine needs.

 

*Eleasha with her 1st GT

 

There’s been plenty written about the great fishing found around Weipa so I won’t go into a blow by blow account of our trip rather high light some of the different styles of fishing we did. There can be some great fishing in the rivers around Weipa, which have been closed to commercial fishing for over 25 years. These rivers are the Mission, Hay and Embley which run down either side of Weipa’s main township. You then have the Pine & Nominade systems across the other side of Albertrose bay towards Duyfken point. There are four main boat launching ,  Evans Landing which is found at the entrance to Weipa harbour and where both the Hay and Embley rivers run into the Gulf of Carpentaria .This is an excellent all-tide ramp with pontoon ,boat wash down facility and plenty of parking. You would also use this ramp to access the off shore fishing south of Weipa and is where we mostly put in every day.

 

Rocky Point ramp can be found towards the entrance to the Mission river behind the main Weipa Township. This can be a tricky ramp on any tide lower than. 600 metres and has a boat wash down facility with plenty of parking. You can also launch from the shore under the Mission river bridge on the Southern side. This can be accessed from a side lane on the down river side a few hundred yards back from the bridge on low tide OR a longer route on the up river side on a high tide. Launching is fairly easy on all tides just beware of saltwater crocodiles and be sensible around the water. The fourth launching area is in Andoom creek which can be reached by heading north from Weipa over the Mission river bridge. It is just a clear bank area on the North side of Andoom creek near the bridge, again care should be taken around the water as you should every where in our tropical North. You can also head further North to the Pennifather and Wenlock rivers, we just didn’t have enough time!

 

*Finally cracked the "Blue Bastards"  

 

Fishing

 

The rivers where actually pretty quite while we where there, with a few of the local guides putting it down to another relatively dry, wet season. We did however manage some reasonable sessions in the Nominade River. There’s some great drain fishing to be had on the big drop out tides when they get down to below half a metre.This really concentrates all the bait which in turn concentrates their predators. You just need to pick the drains with plenty of bait on the last two hours of a run out tide. Anchor on the up stream side with casting range of the drain and work your lures or flies across the dirty water colour change where it meets the water from the main river.

 

*The first time I have ever seen a shark bite a Halco lazer pro in half

 

In-shore pelagics

 

As it was my daughter Eleashs’a first tropical fishing trip I thought we’d start with some big fish to warm up on. There where plenty of baitfish schools down the coast from Weipa towards Pera Head & Thud point. The long tail tuna where thick most days in this area and it was only a matter of driving around until you found a school which had a bait ball up long enough to get some casts away .Eleashs’a first tuna was a good fish around 10kg and took a Squidgy flick bait on a bream outfit and 10lb braid. After a lengthy fight I was about to tail it when a huge bull shark rocketed out from under the boat and ate it in front of our eyes ! Needless to say there where tears and a call that we should go and fish along the beach. The sharks where actually a problem in some area’s making it near impossible to land a fish even on heavy 24kg braid outfits. We did manage to find some tuna away from the sharks and had a ball landing them on everything from soft plastics to poppers. We also found enough big queenfish and Gt’s which filled in some quality time with the family. Had a couple of great sessions on some big manta rays as well with big golden trevally and cobia mopping up the jelly prawns. Beautiful creatures when viewed up close and a real buzz for Eleasha to see them roll through the jelly prawns right along side the boat.

 

*Watching the sun set into the Gulf - camped on the beach at Perra Head

 

The in-shore & beach fishing is really what you really go to Weipa for and was great as usual. We had some great sessions on the beaches, with plenty of giant herring, small queenfish, tarpon, and golden trevally etc.I also managed to finally trick a few “blue bastards” into eating a fly. Their common name is painted sweet lip or mother-in-law fish, which doesn’t really do them justice as a fly-fishing target. They do appear as a bluish smudge on the bottom, often being mistaken for a rock – after showing about as much interest in your fly as one - hence “blue bastard”! Saltwater Fly tying genius Geoff Skinner has been working with me on an “ultimate” prawn pattern for a few years and we now think we have it right. It is an inverted epoxy pattern which I basically used exclusively the whole trip and caught everything on – including the “blue bastards”. After all what doesn’t eat a prawn?

 

We also had some great mangrove jack sessions in the smaller creeks with some real thumpers being about. There’s nothing like a big jack to wake you from the repedative casting daze. Unfortunately for them they also taste pretty darn good on the barbie. There is always something to do around Weipa and each day brought different opportunities.

*Beautifully marked juvenile Queensland grouper

 

Just as we where settling into the routine of getting up and going fishing every day  - our three weeks in Weipa was up and it was time to pack the car and boat for the long haul home .  The road back out to Lakeland’s had become quite corrugated since our arrival with more traffic and road trains starting to run weekly. I was surprised at the amount of traffic which had arrived in Weipa during our stay and the amount of cars we passed on the way out. It really is becoming a popular town for those prepared to set them selves up for the trip and have the time to spare.

 

We’re already planning the next big family trip – with the territory looking good at this stage. We’ll let you know how it goes

 

Scotto

 

NOTE:Copy Right Yaffa publishing/Fishing World 2005

 

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