A Few Beers With Brownie

My first fishing experience was catching lobbies with mums old stockings tied on a stick, with bits of meat inside, in the creeks around home at Bulimba … many times I brought dinner home! Mum was a whiz at cooking them. Then I graduated to estuary, creeks and river banks using a Coca Cola buddy bottle with some of Dad’s old fishing line and a few of his hooks, swivels and sinkers. Still really young and fished for fish, crabs and prawns for the family to eat with Dad, using my first wooden handline, a birthday gift, and Dads line and terminal tackle.



At about seven or eight years of age I used to go and watch dad catching luderick. I helped him make floats, gather weed, make burley and rig the lines. When he was fishing, I’d watch his technique, observe the protocol of the “blackfishing schools” and net his fish. At about 9, he let me fish with him in a big blackfish school of about 20 anglers along a bowl bank in the Tweed River at Cobaki. I didn’t cause any problems, tangles or arguments, caught a few good fish and got told by a grizzly old bloke … “you done good son”. Even better, Dad said he was proud of me and we spent the next few years fishing for luderick and exploring new places to do it. At about 14 I discovered, girls, sailing and surfing. Enjoyed sailing … was a trier with girls and severely caught the surfing bug. By 16, it was the early to mid 60’s and I was going away on surf trips with mates who had licences in cruisy old cars we’d all chip in a few quid or later dollars to buy, sleeping on the beach or in nearby bush … or in the car if it rained. Flat broke most of the time, so caught tailor, bream and whiting for food, with whatever gear we could take with us or scavenge. I worked sporadically making surfboards and developed the schedule of going away and doing deckhand work on charter or resort fishing boats from Cape York to the border and saving my money. After a few months, I’d have saved enough to finance 6-9 months of nomadic, counter culture, surfing life. A shitload of fish caught, filleted and iced during that time … the reef fishing was insane back then. In mid to late 69, after a longer than usual trip working on the Hayman Island boats, I’d saved enough to catch the Orcades to Durban, South Africa. I’d seen film footage of Cape St Francis and wanted to surf there and other remote African beaches. The return ticket was $425 (flying was only for the very rich back then) and I arrived with $150 in my pocket.

Ian Botham and Mike Gatting - 86.

Ian Botham and Mike Gatting – 86.

Arriving broke, I had to get a job. I scored one on an old coal burning steam tug in Durban Harbour, The JD White. I volunteered for night shift, so I could surf all day and there was less ships coming in at night. Fished off the aft deck and dropped crab pots over the side when we were alongside, which was a lot of the time. I surfed Durban beach breaks every day and being broke and saving money, used to join the Indians on the beach catching shad (tailor) to eat. I graduated to being a so called fitter and turner (no qualifications) in oil refineries, explosive factories and the dry dock. Great money for those times and soon accumulated enough money buy a Kombi, to drive around the east and west African coasts surfing … The shad rod was usually on the roof with the boards.

On the southern Namibian coast I stayed a few weeks at a place called Elands Bay, living in an old house on the point. Great waves, hot on land and freezing in the Atlantic water and crayfish were as thick as cockroaches in a slum. Used to help the local cray fisherman unload their small boats in return for a few crays. We lived on crayfish and watermelons and pumpkins growing in our yard. You can only eat crayfish cooked different ways, watermelon and pumpkin for so long … so after a few weeks it was back up the coast to Durban, via Jeffreys Bay, no houses there then and fantastic waves. Once again, shad were often on the menu.

My first wild barra.

My first wild barra.

More shutdowns and more money saved and a couple of mates and I snuck off to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. It was paradise with an ocean view, bugger all if any development. We lived in a house on the beach in the peaceful little fishing village of Tamarin Bay, still pretty much unknown then, but today is recognised as one the top reef breaks in the world. A lot of seafood eaten, provided by either the local fisherman or catching our own.

I came back home to Australia in 1974 and the working on charter fishing boats/saving money/going surfing schedule resumed. Soon after arriving home, I scored the deckies job on the then biggest and best boat on the QLD coast … the Odyssey owned by Keith Williams. The boat was chartered by the Royal Society of England, ANU, QLD Uni, Stanford Uni and Cardiff Uni. The job was to geographically and geologically map the cuttings between the Ribbon Reefs, created by river systems on the mainland. Caught heaps of reef fish to feed the charter and saw the beginnings of the Ribbons being developed as the new “go to” place to catch giant black marlin.

The next move was to the northern beaches of Sydney in the late 70’s. I rented a house on the Pittwater beach front at Palm Beach, 100m away from the big jetty which in those days was owned by a slipway. During winter … stacks of big “Bronza” luderick were under the jetty and I removed many from their home, much to the delight of my neighbours and myself who regularly ate fresh fish for dinner. I was working in the media and became the first weather man on Good Morning Australia. We’d finish at 9am and I’d race back down to Palmy … removing make up and tie on the way, get changed into work shorts etc. and race over to Coasters Retreat opposite Palm Beach on the Pittwater and net fish with John Alldritt for big sand whiting (they call them Blue Nose Whiting down there), BT’s … and mullet in the winter. After the nutty TV world it kept me sane.

Our VW - 2006.

Our VW – 2006.

I moved back to QLD in the early to mid 80’s and started doing weekend weather for 9 News. I had 5 days per week to enjoy surfing or fishing and at one point I was invited to report on a game fishing tournament. I was blown away by the number of small black marlin and sailfish caught just off Point Lookout. So, I had caught “Marlin Fever” and started fishing for them 3 or 4 days a week with Bobby Jones. Great times fishing with Bob … Ross McCubbin and I would do the deck for each other and catch fish. I continued doing weekend weather, but moved to 10 News and bought Bob’s 32 Cresta and started doing marlin charters. In about 86, Bill Edwards showed us there were plenty of blue and striped marlin out wide and I quickly caught “Blue Marlin Fever”. Very exciting times …fishing for blues with lures wasn’t done much at all in Australia, so had to learn from scratch. We caught heaps of fish and had fantastic times developing this new fishery with a few other skippers, like Geoff Ferguson RIP, Bill Edwards, Bob Jones and Ross McCubbin.

In 1989, I got an investor interested and together we organised the construction of a 40ft custom Pleysier. I moved to 7 News and started doing Coastwatch reports Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in the news. I was doing those reports on the way home from marlin fishing charters … the first time live crosses had been done from a moving boat. In late 92, my business partner in the 40ft Pleysier was diagnosed with cancer and the boat had to be sold. So my marlin fishing adventures were over for a while. I got back into beach fishing for the next 10 years. I bought a house at Kooringal on Moreton Island and started targeting big whiting in shallow drains with my wife Shelly. Had the ultimate beach VW built to do that and really enjoyed fishing the beaches on Moreton in winter.

Whiting on popper.

Whiting on popper.

One of the perks of working for 7 was the use of the helicopter. Often it was our taxi to and from the island … as I was working 3 days and spending 4 days on the island. A few times we strapped rods on the skids and went chopper tailor fishing in a chopper.

In 1994, I was asked by 7 to produce and present a half hour coastal show. For the next 5 and a half years, I worked huge hours and my personal fishing adventures suffered, but I was still involved with fishing by using my knowledge and connections to produce a weekly fishing story. The Coastwatch show was axed in mid 99 due to budget constraints and my refusal to produce advertorial TV. I stayed on at 7 until 2005 doing my Coastwatch reports 3 nights a week and on radio 3 days per week. The other 4 days, Shelly and I spent at Moreton.

I quit TV in 2005 and for the next 3 years, spent the whole winter at the Moreton house chasing the elusive big whiting in shallow drains and pinging a fresh tailor for a BBQ breakfast. By 2008, Moreton had changed and was becoming too busy for our liking and when I was made a great offer on our house … we sold it.

Chasing blue marlin saw some exciting times on the water.

Chasing blue marlin saw some exciting times on the water.

My marlin fever was still bubbling away within me and I once again put a boat together, this time with a Sunshine Coast surgeon … and started hitting the shelf again chasing blues. In 2010, I managed to get a couple of guys interested in buying Megumi, a 44ft Assegai. She had gone to Fiji when she was launched in 2006 and we got her back here in Australia and Barry Martin did a refurb. I started the Brisbane Sportfishing Adventure Club, where 12 members paid 25k per year for exclusive access to the boat and paid fuel and crew wages when they used it … we caught a heap of blues. This was going well until early 2014, when tests showed I had some blockages in my fuel lines and would need a 2 artery bypass. That bought my marlin fishing adventures to an abrupt halt … and I didn’t fish much at all while recuperating.

When I did start to fish again, it was in estuaries, rivers and creeks for whiting and flathead and stocked impoundments for bass. My attraction to calm water fishing with lures grew and I had the opportunity through my good mate John Haenke to catch my first wild barra in the Fitzroy River in Rockhampton. Remembering at the time Dominic Fry had taken me to an orchard on the way to Tin Can Bay, that had dams stocked with barra … and caught my first one.

Another great experience with John Haenke was to spend two days sight fishing for saratoga in the Dawson River. Amazing stuff, casting Z Man frogs at fish we could see near the surface.These days, I’m much more relaxed about fishing, I don’t own a boat and enjoygoing whiting and gar fishing with mates using bait … and flathead on lures. Brad Smith introduced me to catching big whiting on surface poppers in the Tweed River, which I love doing. As I age, I find that watching 3 or 4 big whiting chasing the popper and one eating it, is about as exciting as watching a big blue marlin scoff a lure … I did say “almost”.

What’s next for me? … Something I always promised myself was that I’d take up fly fishing. I have arranged to be taught by John Haenke and when proficient enough … hope to catch barra and sooty grunters on fly.

Life has been good to me and fishing has always been part of it in one way or another.

My best advice to anglers is to enjoy it while you can … be kind to our

environment … and never be afraid to ask questions of other good anglers.