It has been a long, cold winter in WA. We’ve seen records broken for coldest day, coldest night and coldest month. Even people who generally enjoy a break from our long, hot summers are yearning for the warmer weather to return.
But for those of us who love being on and around the water it has been a miserable few months. So when asked to come up with a weekend boating and fishing destination, my immediate thought was to head north and chase the sun.
To fulfil the weekend part of the equation I settled on Jurien Bay, which is 266km north of Perth – a comfortable two to three hour drive, depending on what part of Perth you live in, and which can be made on a Friday afternoon after work.
Jurien Bay is one of those towns I have driven past several times on my way to destinations further north and is one of several towns along the WA coast that were established to support the fishing and crayfishing industry.
It was named in 1801 by French naval explorer Nicolas Baudin in honour of Charles Jurien, an administrator in the French navy, but was not settled till 1950, when fishermen started to build shacks along its shores.
Until the completion of Indian Ocean Drive in late 2010, it was a fairly isolated town, 50km off the main highway. Today, Jurien is the first town on the drive north along the scenic Indian Ocean Drive, which hugs the spectacular WA coastline.
The road has brought more traffic past the town than it has ever had before – the challenge, however, is to get more of them to stop. Plenty has been done over the past five years to encourage them to do just that – the town has spent a lot of money, helped by the Federal Government’s Cash for Regions funding, with much spent on improving infrastructure and facilities.
The boat ramp at Jurien, which is about a kilometre from the town centre, is as good as any metropolitan facility, with four ramps and nice sturdy finger jetties alongside. There is also a separate pontoon that can be used to pick up and drop off additional passengers or to leave the boat while you sort out the car and trailer if the ramp is busy.
There is plenty of parking for cars and trailers and a fish-cleaning area with stainless steel benches and water (a facility that some metropolitan councils should check out). There is also a secure compound on the north side of the marina for those who want to leave their boat and trailer overnight, for a modest fee. Use of the parking can be organised at Jurien Boat Lifters.
The town centre is a short walk from the foreshore, where you’ll find a large grassed area with picnic facilities, including barbecues and toilets, and a children’s playground. There’s also a jetty for those who prefer land-based fishing. I’m told you will catch anything from herring and whiting to mackerel in the bay and there was plenty of evidence of squid being caught in good numbers. During the season, you can also pick up a feed of blue swimmer crabs. It is well lit, too, for those who enjoy throwing a line at night.
Accommodation in Jurien ranges from holiday-house rentals (around 150 houses are available) to basic hotel accommodation and the local caravan park. We stayed in the latter, which is located right on the beach, behind the jetty and community park (see Chalet comfort).
We were told there are plans for a second caravan park as well as some resort-style accommodation, but there are no firm dates for when these projects will be started.
There are quite a few options for food, if you don’t want to cook, but we chose to eat at the pub every night because it is right next to the caravan park. The meals were hearty and tasty and it was a great place to meet the locals.
LOADED TO THE MAX
For the trip we organised an Isuzu D-MAX LS-U Crew Cab. Crew cabs have long been popular with tradesmen and people who need a vehicle that can be used for work during the week and family duties on the weekend. They have also become a vehicle of choice for grey nomads pulling caravans around Australia. I have to admit I was more than a little surprised at the number of crew cabs (with quite a mix of badges) parked alongside caravans in the Jurien Bay Tourist Park when we arrived.
The first stop on the trip north was Hitech Marine in Wangara to pick up the new Reflex Chianti 585. As we pulled out of the dealership, we immediately felt the difference in the way the D-MAX rode. With nothing in the back of the ute the ride can be a bit harsh – a common issue in this style of vehicle. Designed to carry a ton in the back, the rear suspension is quite hard, which means instead of absorbing the vast majority of imperfections on the road, it tends to hit them and bounce. The extra kilos the Chianti put onto the towball made the ute feel a lot more settled and the ride smoother.
The trip to Jurien is pretty straightforward – it’s simply a matter of getting onto Wanneroo Road and heading north. From Perth’s northern suburbs, where we picked up the boat, it does not take long before the speed limit increases and suburban life is behind you.
The road is in good condition but, for the most part, is single-lane, with occasional overtaking lanes. It is popular with grey nomads as it is more scenic and there are fewer trucks (they tend to use Brand Highway, the main highway north) so you can get caught behind a line of traffic.
For people not used to driving for long periods, it is a good idea to pack a thermos or drink and make a stop after an hour or so, just to give yourself a break. There are a couple of designated rest areas with facilities and some scenic lookouts with spectacular views of the coastline along the way.
We stopped at Lancelin for a bite to eat, but it did add about 30km, and quite a bit of time, to the trip.
The sun had just risen and the temperature had climbed to about 5°C – although it felt more like minus five – as we stood on the Jurien Bay jetty, with local Steve McLeary looking at a horizon that looked like a lie detector graph.
“It will be pretty rough out there,” said the man who has made his living fishing these waters for the past 40 years. He followed that up by telling us that, with the light winds predicted, the ocean would settle down over the next 24 hours.
So, at 8am the next morning, together with Nick Hart, my fishing partner for this trip, we headed out in high spirits. Steve had guaranteed we would come home with a feed of fish. For him that meant bringing back six prized eating fish, with WA dhufish, bald-chin groper, pink snapper, red-throat snapper and breaksea cod (more commonly referred to as black arse because of the large black patch around their, well, bottom) the targeted species.
Jurien Bay lies inside a massive bay protected by a ring of reefs and a string of small islands. The reef and islands create a large section of water where you can catch everything from bread and butter fish like whiting, flathead and herring to the bigger species previously mentioned. The area also contains fishing sanctuaries, so check to make sure you know where these are before dropping a line.
While Steve told us we could get fish inside the reef, he’d committed to not coming home without a catch and was not taking any chances, so we headed out to some of his best spots.
As we got further offshore, we quickly realised that conditions were going to be far from ideal. With the easterly breeze now showing signs of easing, the swell was still running at around 2m.
As we were heading out, Steve put the coordinates of his favourite fishing spots into the Simrad fishfinder/GPS on the Chianti 585’s dash.
Meanwhile, conditions continued to deteriorate as we made our way further from the shore.
With three blokes, a big esky, and a couple of fishing boxes onboard, the 6.2m cuddy cab was suddenly feeling a bit small for the conditions. The 585 has a narrowish 2.28m beam, which makes it feel smaller, especially when standing at the helm. But travelling at around 15 knots (28km/h), it surprised us all with the way it handled the following sea. My only concern was the nose never felt high enough out of the water, even with the engine trimmed up as high as the conditions would allow, and on two of the steeper swells we did end up with water coming in through the opening in the bimini.
After about 90 minutes, we had finally reached Steve’s favourite lump (he was taking no chances and took us straight to his number-one spot). We were 25km offshore, the easterly was still fresh and the swell was … well, big.
After circling ‘the spot’, a manoeuvre that had the Chianti rocking and rolling a bit for what seemed an eternity, Steve, who had taken over the helm, told us to get ready to drop our lines.
With the boat drifting at a little over a knot, it was going to be a challenge. As we dropped our lines, Steve manoeuvred to give us a chance of hitting the bottom somewhere close to the right spot.
Within seconds of my line hitting the bottom, I had hooked my first fish. With the boat drifting so fast, it was hard to tell how big, but I was excited. After about five minutes a beautiful dhufish hit the surface. Alas, it was just under size and was released to fight another day.
On the second drift, it was Nick’s turn. He brought up a double-header with a red-throat snapper and a baldy, both keepers. Steve had lived up to his promise.
For the next several hours, as conditions slowly improved, we tried another three of Steve’s special spots, all with varying success. By early afternoon we had our six fish: four bald-chin groper, a breaksea cod and a red-throat snapper. Our only disappointment was not being able to add a prized dhufish to the bag. We did catch a couple, but all were just under the 50cm size limit.
It was time to crack a beer and head home. After riding the swells out for 90 minutes, it was not a trip I was looking forward to.
With Steve still reluctant to hand over the helm, Nick and I settled into the two remaining seats.
For the early part of the trip, we were travelling at just 10 knots (19km/h) as we ploughed into the oncoming swell. But, even in these conditions, the boat remained surprisingly dry.
As we got closer to shore, the wind died and conditions improved and we were able to slowly increase speed. By the time we were back in the bay, we were skipping across the small chop at 22 knots (40km/h) very comfortably. We even managed to test the top speed, getting the 5.8m boat zipping along at just over 35 knots (65km/h).
While there was the occasional thump through the hull, the Chianti handled the conditions really well. There was no vibration through the hull and the bimini was nice and solid, with no rattles or shakes.
Its performance even drew comment from Steve, who spends most of his life at the helm of a 60ft cray boat, but who was impressed with both the handling and performance.
We did stretch the range of the 100lt tank, travelling more than 70km on the day, so I would advise anyone planning on taking the boat offshore to carry an additional fuel tank, just in case. On the day, we averaged 0.7nm/lt (1.3km/lt), which gives the boat a theoretical range of 130km. At a cruising speed of 22 knots (40km/h) its consumption was a very economical 2.2km/lt.
Because the four-stroke engine is so quiet, we did not shut it down all day.
As we pulled into the harbour, ending what had been a pretty good day on the water – considering the trying conditions – Nick and I discussed how we’d be making this trip again.
“At least we’ve got a couple of good fishing spots,” I said.
Just before we landed the boat back at the boat ramp, Steve casually reached over to the GPS and wiped off all his fishing hotspots.
“You didn’t think I was going to leave them there for you, did you?” he commented wryly.
Jurien Bay Tourist Park is primarily a caravan park, but it also has 23 fully equipped chalets scattered throughout, with plans to add another eight over the next 12 months.
The chalets are available with either one or two bedrooms – you can even get them with a spa bath if you desire.
We stayed in a two-bedroom chalet for our four-day Jurien Bay fishing adventure.
All are fully equipped, including linen, so all you need to bring is food and drink. Each has a small kitchen and there is a barbecue area in the centre of the park.
Some of the chalets have room to park boats, depending on their size, and there’s additional parking along the fence.
There are no wash-down facilities inside the park, so use the water at the boat ramp (you’ll need to bring your own hose, though). You will also need to clean and filet fish at the boat ramp – the fish cleaning facilities there are very good.
The chalets are nicely furnished, neat and clean, and even have verandahs with a little outdoor setting where you can enjoy sunset drinks. They are quite affordable, with the two-bedroom chalets starting at $135 per night.
The park grounds are kept neat and clean, with newly appointed managers, Sally and Dave, very willing to help ensure your stay in the park is a pleasant one.
We found there were plenty of options for both breakfast and dinner within easy walking distance of the park.