Bob Jones kicks back in the skipper’s chair and casually surveys the sea ahead, eyes flicking occasionally to the array of instruments filling the dash. We’re on the spacious flybridge of Fascination II, Riviera’s game fishing flagship, heading out to the marlin grounds several kilometres off Southport on the Gold Coast. The sea is relatively calm, the sky is a brilliant, cloudless blue and Fascination’s big MTU Detroit Diesel engines are throbbing away contentedly beneath the deck, giving us an effortless cruising speed of 22 knots.
We’re Riviera’s guests for three days aboard the big 51-footer. Joining me is my long-time fishing mate, Mark Robinson and my son Jack, 9, while taking care of us are crewmates Karla ‘Legs’ Herbert-Evans and ace deckie, Colin ‘Wombat’ Grimes. Karla is a self-described “jack of all trades, master of many”, who also happens to have her Master 5 skipper’s ticket, while Wombat is a compact, nuggetty character who’s forgotten more about handling big fish at close quarters than most mortals will learn in a lifetime. As we head out to the target area, and with Legs and Wombat preparing for the day ahead, we manage to pin Jones down for an insight into the life and times of one of Australia’s most colourful and accomplished game fishing identities.
In appearance, Jones is almost the archetypical old salt; a crusty, battle-scared veteran of a thousand battles with the denizens of the deep. He’s 57, lean and fit, with leathery tanned skin that bears testament to years spent at sea under a blazing sun. And he’s got a look that says: ‘been there, caught that’. When you’ve been around Bob for a while, you get the feeling that not too many big ones got away.
For someone who makes a living from seeking out and doing battle with large, wild animals, Bob has a laconic, easy demeanour. But the calm on the surface belies a quick mind and fiercely competitive nature. You don’t underestimate Bob Jones – or if you do, you won’t for long.
“Cairns,” he says emphatically, when asked for the world’s best game fishing location. “Best fishin’ in the world, without doubt. They’ve been looking for an alternative (to Cairns) for the last 50 years, but they haven’t found it and they ain’t gonna.”
As far as specific areas go, Jones says the Ribbon Reefs north-east of Cooktown in far north Queensland are his favourite hunting ground.
“From Lizard Island to Linden Bank through the Ribbon Reefs it’s all good. Probably the middle Ribbons and the top end you tend to favour more because it’s just a nicer area; the reefs are better and it’s a little bit more remote. It’s just a nice part of the world to be in and I always feel lucky to be there.”
What about fish; which stand out in his mind?
“Every time one of those big marlin sticks their head out of the water is impressive,” he says, with a gleam in his eye and a hint of a grin. “But those blues (blue marlin) are a different kettle of fish. We call them ‘line burners’. You get a decent-sized one on the line and they’re completely different to a black. They’ll rip that much line off you it’s embarrassing.”
And what about specific fish and fishers that he’s had on board over the years?
“The best fish? That’s a hard one. We set a couple of world records off Cape Morton in the mid-‘80s, in particular, one with Jack Erskine and another with my wife of the time. Both of them were black marlin caught on 2kg line. Jack’s was 33kg. They weren’t that big, but it was very light line. Definitely memorable, though.
“As far as anglers go, Jack Erskine was probably the best on light tackle. On heavy tackle, I’d have to say Johnno Johnson from South Australia – he’s as good as I’ve seen on heavy tackle. Then there’s Tom Ellsworthy, who’s the Riviera dealer in California. He’s probably every bit as good as I’ve seen. Tom could really stick it to a fish on 130 (130-pound line) and fish stand-up with 45-60 pounds of drag. That takes a bit of doing,” says someone who should know.
And how about favourite target species?
“Any marlin, basically. Striped marlin fishing off Port Stephens is probably as good as anywhere in the world. And the blues; they’re just that next size up and a lot of fun, too. But those big blacks off Cairns… there’s just nowhere else in the world where you’ll see as many big fish as you do up there. They look just like a bloody Mack truck sticking their head out of the water and they feel like one when they take off, too.”
Over a professional game fishing career spanning nearly a quarter of a century, Bob has spent a lot of time on a lot of different game boats. He says boat size and fit-out have changed enormously over the years.
“The average size boat when I started up was a 40-footer. Now they’re getting up to 60 and 70 feet, and with a lot more gear on them. When we first started, we had cold showers – salt water showers with a fresh water rinse-off. At the time we’d only carry 50 gallons of water on board. Now we all have water makers that are very compact and work really well. People are a lot more demanding now when it comes to comfort.”
As far as fishing innovations go, Jones says the introduction of circle hooks has had the greatest impact in recent years.
“They’ve (circle hooks) really changed the style of fishing. If you get a bite with a circle hook, and if you know what you’re doing and you’re patient, you’ll miss very few fish.”
Curiously for someone who’s been around fishing most of his life, he much prefers to leave the angling to others. Sitting up on the flybridge directing the action is much more to his liking.
“Nah, not interested in catching ‘em,” he drawls. “Especially those big fish – they pull too hard and I’ve seen too many blokes suffer trying to pull them in. I got into driving early on and never really got into the fishing side of it after that.”
THE BEST THING
As for career highlights, Jones pats the side of his chair and says, “This project is about the best thing I’ve done,” referring to his work with Riviera and engine supplier, MTU Detroit Diesel on Fascination II and its predecessor, Fascination I, another 51-footer, but with an open flybridge.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with MTU and Riviera. It’s a privilege to be driving a new one of these every year. It’s very satisfying to be involved in the design and planning and then be able to bring a boat of this quality into the (game fishing) fleet.”
Jones explained that the original idea of building a game fishing-dedicated boat was put forward by Riviera CEO, Wes Moxey. The concept was to build a boat that could demonstrate Riviera’s game fishing credentials. In addition, the Fascination series would act as mobile test platforms for such things as engines, which was how MTU Detroit Diesel became involved. The boats would also be used for PR purposes and to show existing Riviera owners how to fit out their boats for hardcore fishing.
“Wes got the project going a couple of years ago with Fascination I. When he asked if I’d be interested in being involved, it took me about one second to say ‘yes’.
“It’s been a great project for both MTU and Riviera, especially from a PR point of view. My role really is to develop and fine-tune the boat so that other Riviera owners and buyers can see how their boats can work as fishing rigs. They can ring me and I can tell them what will work and what won’t. They can even jump onboard and we’ll take them out so they can see for themselves.
“It (Fascination II) has also been a good way to develop both the engines and boat. For instance, when we first fitted the MTUs, we had a bit of a fuelling problem where the engines weren’t quite quick enough on throttle response in a game fishing situation, where you need to move quickly if you’re fighting a fish. But MTU flew some people out from Germany and we showed them what we wanted to do and within a month they had it fixed. Now it’s as good as a 51-foot, 32-tonne boat gets. Throttle response is great.”
Jones is not one to mince words when it comes to issues affecting game fishing and he’s particularly concerned at the growing trend to seal off large sections of the Great Barrier Reef from recreational fishing.
“They’ve (the Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Authority – GBRMPA) just over-reacted. I think Australia’s biggest problem is that we’re underpopulated and over-governed – and GBRMPA is a prime example.”
Jones says he feels that GPRMPA is too authoritarian, arbitrary and hostile in its attitude to recreational fishing and has sealed off far too much of the Reef to casual anglers and game fishers.
“There is some cause for concern (regarding fishing stocks), but I worked with them in the early days and was told that they were determined to shut down one third of the Reef to fishing, like it or lump it. How do you argue against that?”
NO HARM DONE
“Game fishing is all done in the top two metres of water and we’re generally fishing in 100 fathoms or better. So in reality, we aren’t doing any harm to anything. Fair enough, in places like South-East Asia, where you’ve got huge populations, you have to have some serious concerns. But with a population the size of Australia, I really can’t see how they can justify sealing off so many good fishing areas. Sometimes it seems like they won’t be happy until no one can drop a line in the water anymore.”
On a lighter note, Jones says he’s had a couple of humorous episodes over the years, one of which wasn’t too funny at the time, but raises a chuckle in hindsight.
“I lost (game fishing identity) Dean Butler out the back one day and he got chewed up a bit by the prop. He grabbed the wire to the fish just as the latch door opened and he flew straight out the back and into the water. It wasn’t that funny at the time, and he ended up with a lot of stitches. Still remembers me every cold morning, he says.”
Another time he had a deckie embarrass himself trying to impress a couple of lady guests.
“Yeah, he was really out to impress the ladies and was trying to wire a shark when it pulled him straight into the drink. It was nighttime and it was a bit scary. Didn’t take him long to get back in the boat, as I recall…”
As far as the future goes, Jones says he’s looking forward to continuing the Fascination series, working with Riviera and MTU Detroit Diesel to develop bigger and better boats. And, of course, have as much fun as possible along the way.
And when he’s not aboard the big Riv, you’ll still likely find him out on the water as he continues to run private charters when the time permits.
For the record, our three days aboard Fascination II were mostly a bit quiet, apart from the occasional humpback whale or pod of dolphins. We did manage to raise a couple of fish, though; much to the delight of Jack. Our final scorecard read: one 80kg blue marlin and a 60kg stripey. Not a bad haul overall, but we have higher expectations for a coming adventure when we rejoin Bob and crew onboard Fascination II for the ultimate game fishing experience, competing in the 20th Anniversary Riviera Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic. Should be a ripper! Look for a full report soon.