I am in a very fortunate position in that I get to sample some of the greatest fishing locations the world has to offer on a monthly and, at times, weekly basis. Producing a total of 10 one-hour and 30 half-hour episodes of IFISH with Tackleworld every year keeps the crew and I on our toes... well, on a lot of aeroplanes and boats anyway.
In the last 12 months I have fished from Florida to Scotland and from Dubai to Mexico, but at the end of the day I still call Australia home - home to some of the best fishing destinations in the world.
From a fishing perspective, Australia is blessed with so many options, locations and species that it is nigh on impossible to do them all justice. What I'm attempting to do with this article is present the five best experiences I've had with a rod in my hand over the course of my career. I'd encourage anglers to consider adding one (or all) of them to their personal fishing 'bucket list'.
Dirk Hartog Island, WA
This Western Australian gem blew my mind on every level - the history, the fishing, the accommodation, and the people. I always say that fishing is also about faces and places and this island has it all.
Dirk Hartog Island Lodge is owned and run by the Wardle family of Kieran and Tory and their children Will, Ollie and Sanchia. Once we had known each other for 10 minutes we already felt like old friends. When this happens, you know you'll love a location even more.
Did I mention the history? This island is the birthplace of our great nation. Dutch sailor Dirk Hartog and his crew landed on Dirk Hartog Island on October 25, 1616 - over 150 years before Captain Cook. I was so stoked that my wife Cristy, son Jet and I got to stand on the very spot where Hartog had erected the famous inscribed pewter plate 399 years ago.
Then there is the fishing. There's only one word for it: wow. We fished land-based and in the boat and caught a multitude of species, including whiting, bream, snapper, bald-chin grouper, red emperor, coral trout, mackerel and many, many more.
My favourite session took place in a sheltered little bay fishing in knee-deep water with Jet. It was blowing 40 knots and we had chosen a location purely based on respite from the wind. Within seconds we were both hooked up and basically had a fish each cast for the next three hours, including many double-header bream and whiting. Jet was very excited when the sharks moved in and he got to catch one around a metre long on his bream gear. What is it about sharks and kids? I can still hear his squeals of excitement.
Unfortunately, the swell kept us from the giant tailor hotspots, but I suppose tailor up to a metre in length are a pretty good excuse to have to go back.
If you ever make it to Dirk Hartog Island I have one other piece of advice: do not leave until Tori has made you one of her famous pavlovas. We still dream about it!
Fraser Island, Qld
I am almost embarrassed to admit that it took me 39 years to get to the biggest sand island in the world - but I am happy to report that it was well worth the wait.
Once again, I was lucky to be travelling with the family and we had a blast. From the barge crossing to the 4WD-traverse across the island and the endless kilometres of pristine beach driving and fishing, Fraser Island impressed on every level.
In just one day we accomplished so much: we started with an early morning mud crab session, then darted off the beach and onto a few whiting holes. After ticking those boxes, we set up in a gutter for the evening to target the big tailor that Fraser is famous for and hoped to snag a mulloway, too. As the sun started to dip, the fish began to bite and we struggled to keep up with some serious bent-rod action. It was tailor after tailor and they got bigger and bigger as the night went on. We even managed to snag that mulloway. Not a bad day's work, in my opinion.
My fishing guide was Andrew Betteridge, the local mechanic at Fraser Island's Eurong Beach Resort and all-round nice guy. He knows the island like the back of his hand and has some great contacts, too. One of these is Lindsay Frangos, also known as 'Lindsay the wormer'. Beach worming is an art very few anglers seem to master and Lindsay is the guru. Watching him work was like watching an artist paint a canvas. He showed us again and again... and then we stuffed it up again and again. I am happy to report that the Worsteling family did eventually 'pull' four worms in an hour of trying! You get that on the big jobs.
Can you even begin to imagine my excitement when Mark Rolle, from Helifish Darwin, called to tell me he wanted to take the Worsteling family on a 'helifish' for barramundi in Darwin? All the things I love rolled into one - barramundi (one of my favourite fish), Darwin (one of my favourite places), travelling by chopper (the only thing better would be a magic carpet ride) and doing all of this with my family (my best mates).
This day was going to be very special, I just had no idea how special it was going to be.
Jet was so excited about the helicopter and the wildlife on the floodplains, that catching a barra was the last thing on his mind when Mark landed the R44 on a white sandy beach just westwards of the Daly River's mouth. A 20m walk and we were into it. As excited as I was, Cristy, Mark and I stayed very croc-vigilant and kept Jet as far from the water's edge as possible. You always need to remember that you're in their environment and must be respectful of that at all times.
The barra 'boofs' were increasing by the minute and with every cast I knew we were drawing closer to success. Then my rod loaded and a big silver fish flew into the air. The fight was short, but brutal, with the barra actually beaching itself on one of its many aerial displays. It measured in at 102cm and was released to swim another day after a quick family portrait.
A few small barra and threadfin later, Mark suggested a move to another hotspot, this time on the floodplain. After a 15-minute scenic flight, he landed the chopper on the junction of two small drains. The location was full of promise and it didn't let us down. It was a barra per cast for at least 20 casts, with soft plastics working a treat. Jet caught his first-ever barramundi, then his second and third. Cristy got in on the action and landed a personal best of 85cm, while a crocodile looked on from a safe distance. It was the sort of barra fishing you dream of.
While Cristy and Jet took a break from the hot sun by shading in the chopper, Mark took me for a small walk to a likely snag. The 'drain' wasn't more than two metres wide and I hooked up on the fifth cast on a white Squidgy shad, rigged weedless.
When I saw the fish for the first time I was stunned. It was a beast - a big fat 102cm freshwater barramundi.
This was one of those days you'd normally only ever dream about. My boy's first barra, Cristy's biggest barra, and I had snagged a 102cm salty and a 102cm freshy. On top of that we got to see some of the best wilderness and wildlife that our country - no, the world - has to offer.
Flinders Island, SA
Trips like this are usually 12 to 18 months in the making and it always amazes me just how quickly they come around. Before I knew it, we were on the Coffin Bay jetty and heading westward to our anchorage at Flinders Island.
Whynot Charters had organised the trip and I knew it was going to be a gem, as Dave Clayfield leaves no stone unturned on his search for fish. Over the next five days we were going to 'do the miles and get the smiles'.
For a super-keen angler, there's nothing better than sleeping at sea. You can virtually fish 24-hours a day - and that is pretty much what we did. The main aim of this trip was to fish the waters off Flinders and Pearson Islands in search of big flathead and monster whiting. The big whiting didn't show up, but everything else sure did.
The highlight, for me, was my first southern bluefin tuna on fly. It took two hours to get the bite, but the wait was so worth it when the loose fly line sprung off the floor of the boat as the tuna headed for the deep. After a 30-minute fight, the fish was ours. Another tick off the bucket list... and fresh sashimi for lunch.
Some of the other species we encountered were monster Samson fish, yellowtail kingfish, calamari, flathead to 2.7kg, snapper, snook, whiting and several very large sharks that we just couldn't stop.
We also took the tender to Flinders Island's golden sandy beaches to stretch our legs and do a spot of land-based fly-fishing. Even that was too easy. When it comes to fly fishing, I am a really good bait angler, but I still caught several flathead, including one beast, and even a calamari.
It really is a privilege to know you are fishing waters that would be lucky to see a handful of recreational boats a year. The waters are fish-rich and virtually untouched. Every angler's dream, really.
Berkeley River Lodge, WA
If there was one word to describe this fish-rich scenic wonderland I would use it, but as that's impossible I will try to keep it under 500.
Getting there was half the fun. We flew from Kununurra on a floatplane and used the Berkeley River as our landing strip. The lodge itself was even more spectacular in the flesh than the photos depict. The vista from the main bar and restaurant, broken only by the 20m lap pool, looked over some of the best views I can remember. It was one of those pinch yourself moments, when I wanted to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I just wanted to take as much of it in as possible, but it was difficult as I was in sensory overload.
We were lucky to fish the waters surrounding the lodge for five days, both offshore and in the river, by boat, helicopter and land-based. The fishing was outstanding, with species caught including golden snapper, queenfish, mangrove Jack, tarpon, bream, sharks and, of course, the mighty Kimberley barramundi.
The highlight was when we travelled 30km up the Berkeley River to a rockbar waterfall, where the saltwater meets the freshwater. It's a natural barrier preventing fish from getting any further upstream and it didn't disappoint. We still had to work hard, but we landed good numbers of beautiful barramundi to 98cm on Squidgies and one fish measuring 85cm on fly. They were tough fish, too, with big paddle tails that stayed fit in the turbulent water.
When you go on a fishing trip like this one, it's the whole package and not just the fishing that you'll remember. The staff members were amazing and the meals were so good that we all took home a little excess baggage - not to mention the cocktails by the pool after a long, hard day under the hot Kimberley sun... I think I need to head back there soon.
Hopefully there are enough stories here to inspire you to travel our great country. I have always said fishing is a vehicle that will take you to places you would otherwise not see. Make sure you go on a journey sooner, rather than later, and enjoy the ride. I, for one, can tell you that it sure is a wild one!
Dirk Hartog Island, WA
Dirk Hartog Island Lodge
Situated in the pristine World Heritage area of Shark Bay, Dirk Hartog Island Lodge offers guests one of Australia's most unique holiday experiences.
Bookings and enquiries, tel: (08) 9948 1211.
Western Australia's Coral Coast
Visit Western Australia's Coral Coast, where you can journey through 45,000 years of history, 1100km of stunning coastline, untouched coral reefs and some of WA's best-known holiday destinations.
For more information, go to: australiascoralcoast.com.
Shire of Shark Bay
Discover the vast beauty of Shark Bay, a World Heritage-listed region, on WA's amazing Coral Coast.
For more information, go to: sharkbay.wa.gov.au.
WA's 'truly regional airline', providing service to the resource industry and to regulated passenger transport destinations within Western Australia.Reservation hotline, tel: 1300 729 924.
Fraser Island, Qld
Eurong Beach Resort
Eurong Beach Resort on Fraser Island's eastern beach, with accommodation to suit all budgets, is the perfect base for 4WD and fishing adventures.
For information and bookings, tel: 1800 111 808
Kingfisher Bay Resort
The gateway to the World Heritage wilderness of Australia's iconic Fraser Island.
Enquiries and bookings, tel: 1800 072 555
Helifish (Mark Rolle)
Helifish, based in Darwin, NT, specialises in helifishing adventures tailored to suit an angler's imagination.
Enquiries: tel: 0408 872 212
Flinders Island, SA
Why Not Fishing Charters (David Clayfield)
For information on game-fishing in South Australia, contact Why Not Fishing Charters, Port Lincoln, SA.
David Clayfield, tel: (08) 83770722, or email: email@example.com.
Berkeley River, WA
Berkeley River Lodge, WA
In one of the last true wilderness areas on earth, between Timor Sea sunrises and Berkeley River sunsets, the ultimate¬ Kimberley adventure and refined indulgence awaits at the Berkeley River Lodge, WA.
For enquiries and bookings, go to: berkeleyriver.com.au.