At long last a new fishing tale, this time from Terra Australis. And a new boat! She’s the cleverly-named PEACE TRAIN, a 24-foot Caribbean (made by Bertram). Two berths down below, half-cabin, nice open cockpit, 225HP Yamaha four-stroke engine that purrs so quietly you hardly know it’s working. Game poles for trolling for the really big guys offshore, maybe even a 300 kilo marlin, he-he-he. Really a great sea boat, set up as a FISHING MACHINE.
The beautiful thing about fishing in a new place is that sense of discovery and challenge. It’s never easy and rarely obvious, and like all great sports there’s plenty of uncertainty. It’s all about being clever, learning, thinking, asking, trying, and having a willing crew with determination, pluck and of course patience.
Determination, pluck, patience. My brave crew had these all in spades. The usual surly first mate Austin, who greets the captain’s commands with phrases like “…uh, hold on a minute…” or even better “why would I do THAT, you STOOGE!” He knows fishing and boating like a second language by now, though, and when it counts he gets the job done.
The rest of the crew was, to use an Aussie phrase, a bit of a “dog’s breakfast” (meaning a mix of this and that). One Aussie and one POM (which is slang for Prisoner of Mother England, in other words, a Brit). One of the pleasures of working for Microsoft is that I always get to know young, enthusiastic, bright-eyed, brilliant yet nerdy workmates. Did I say nerdy? Let me introduce you to Brian.
Brian grew up on the wrong side of the river in London. Some would refer to his upbringing as “estuarine”. Why is it that river dwellers are a lower class, more common, less refined? I thought originally that his nearly unintelligible accent was Cockney until another POM corrected me. I have a much easier time understanding Chinese cabdriver English than Brian’s truncated utterances. Oi!
Brian wrote his first computer game at age eight and by age 12 he had graduated Bristol University and had his own computer company. Then at age 30 the sunnier shores of the Antipodes beckoned. Now that he’s here, he’s sunstruck. He has always been fanatical about fishing, but in England that meant “standing on the edge of a muddy canal, your bait is a maggot, and you can’t eat what you catch!” It’s a pleasure to have him along, he goes from one wonder to the next, and his enthusiasm is infectious.
These Aussies do have a sense of humor (or I should say, a sense of humour). When Brian, the latter-day representative of the Old Enemy (i.e. England) marched into a fishing/diving shop, the Aussies knew just what to sell him. He declared “Oi wont to kiwl sum’ting!” and grabbed the biggest speargun in the shop. So the Aussie shopkeepers sold him the gun, a mask, some fins, and a weight belt…but didn’t sell him a wetsuit. Well without the buoyancy of the wetsuit, the weight belt will make you sink like a stone, thrashing to get back to the surface. He came into the office the next day with scrapes and cuts all over his legs. He must have dropped like a rock; and the shopkeeper howls could probably be heard a mile away…
Crew number three is John, typical lithe, handsome, fearless Aussie. I’ve never seen anyone able to climb aboard a boat at the bow by rocketing up out of the water, grabbing the bow rail, and vaulting over like some amphibious gymnast. Like all Aussies, he’s fiercely proud of his nation, proud of her heritage, but also proud NOT to be a colony of England any more. At one point Brian states, a bit tongue in cheek, “this is the noicest part o’England I’ve ever seen!”…at which point John’s gaze burned a hole in him…
So out we went with booming rock n’ roll clearing the way, scaring the pants off the yachties and lesser horsepowers along the route. Out Pittwater (named after William Pitt of Pittsburg fame, sometimes called the most beautiful body of water in the world), past Broken Bay, we turn right and point her out to the mighty Tasman Sea. We whiz past the seaside mansions, Rupert Murdoch, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, they do know how to live well ashore, we may not be millionaires but we do know how to live well at sea, ha ha.
The water goes from clear and green to crystalline and indigo…herds of elegant striped dolphins come to visit and play and stare at us while zooming alongside, just barely out of reach. We anchor over a reef and send down the lines…within 15 seconds we’re reeling something up, it’s always a mystery in this brand new area. This trip we caught 16 different species, everything from wrasse to ugly spiny poisonous bottom dwellers to sleek silvery bullets called Tailor (so named because they cut schools of baitfish into ribbons). No sign yet of our target species, Yellowtail Kingfish. We have caught these in New Zealand, they are gear-busting fighters, up to 40 kilos, and oh-so delicious on the grill. Fatty like salmon but firm white flesh, the perfect combination.
But it’s not to be this day. We send out a live bait suspended under a balloon, that way they’re sitting ducks and can’t swim down into the reef for cover. Twice we get a pulldown, nothing is more exciting than seeing the balloon start to zoom across the surface of the water and hearing the reel start to scream. First time he just gets away with our bait, second time the 100 pound leader is sliced clean away in a way that makes me think : shark.
So after a while we decide to head in close by the rocks and jump in the water for a look around. It’s a bit murky in close and when I jump in it feels a bit…funny. I’m well-armed though with a meter and a half long gun and a serrated diving knife. Nature didn’t give me anything to speak of in the tooth or claw department, and my ape body’s certainly not much use in the water, but the oversized brain enabled my kind to develop some very tricky devices for attack and defense.
I lead the way with Austin (unarmed) in the middle and Brian in the rear (gee, why isn’t John, the one who grew up here, joining us?) We swim about for a while, seeing various Black Drum and some other tasty fishes but nothing worth shooting. The water’s about 30 feet deep with big sandstone boulders and long trailing weeds flowing in the current. I suddenly see one of the boulders start to move. OhMyGod it’s some kind of friggin’ huge sea monster, looks like a giant tadpole. Then he turns my way and I see it’s a primitive shark, almost 3 meters long and well in excess of 250 pounds. It’s called a Wobeggong (the fact it has an Aboriginal name seems like a bad sign…they must have tusselled with his type before). It looks like Nature’s first try at a shark: huge head, camouflage in several shades of green and tan, thick body, with funny extra flutings and appendages. He swims towards me, I keep the gun between him and me, not intending to shoot but wanting to have a pointy steel thing separating us. He turns away and I look over at Brian. I swear his eyes are wider than his mask, bulging saucers. We all surface, Brian gurgles “Oi! ‘E really put the fear in me!” Austin says “I’m swimming ashore, I’ll walk home!”
We calm down a bit, the shark goes back down to his lair, so we paddle back to the boat, this time checking behind us every 5 seconds. I start thinking about why the Wobeggong would be camouflaged, is it just to surprise his prey, or is he hiding from something bigger? The swim back to the boat is a bit creepy, but boy do we feel *alive*. Once we get there, we pull out the fishing guidebook and look up the creature. It says: “Wobeggong – not considered dangerous unless disturbed by divers”
We decide the big ocean is scary so we motor back into Portuguese Bay, just a few kilometers from my house. A semicircle of brown, red, and tan sandstone cliffs, carpeted with gum trees and palms, with a tiny strip of sandy beach. We anchor into the delicious silence, just the lap-lap-lap of the boat. A kookaburra breaks the stillness with his Hollywood movie call, hooting and howling at us. The hot sun eventually drives us back into the water, and we float on our backs with our toes up, laughing at our good fortune. Truth be told, it’s a weekday and we’ve played hooky, with the richest man in the world paying for our idyll. Once back aboard we check our email on our mobile phones, make our serious and thoughtful replies, our output adding to the national GDP. We clink beers, smile, and toast our incredible luck. Tomorrow’s Saturday, where to?