Chili Beach – A great read by Dave Donald – Dec 16

Ah, fill the Cup: – what boots it to repeat

How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:

Unborn To-morrow, and dead Yesterday,

Why fret about them if To-day be sweet!

(The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam)

There are probably plenty of people out there who think I’m a bit of a silly old bastard but I’m more than happy to agree if that gives them satisfaction. As the years pass, the realization that your days are well and truly numbered needs to take precedence in any decisions you make. With age also comes the unwelcome certainty that you may no longer be able to do what you planned for your latter years. That bucket list may suffer major deletions just when you expected you’d be raring to go!

If the above seems like an excuse attempting to justify my making a rash decision, then we can agree to disagree. Truth is, I don’t give a rat’s anyway!

The quandary I faced was whether or not to attend the 60th birthday bash of a long time mate. What’s so difficult about that, you say? Well, not much, except getting there entailed driving over 1000k’s each way, about half of that via unsealed roads with the wet season fast approaching.

Another insidious manifestation of ever greying hair is a growing sense of caution. As thoughts went to and fro, the ‘what if’s’ threatened to overwhelm my once abundant self-confidence – a sort of a ‘retired’ persons version of workplace health and safety.

In the end, the decision was as simple as uttering a well-known four letter expletive and ignoring all the doubts! Such an opportunity was not to be missed at a time of life when events like this might not be achievable sometime soon. Baz’s big 60 bash here I come! I chucked the camping gear and tackle in the Cruiser and hit the road.

Barry and Shelley Lyon and their family have been special friends for more than 25 years. I’ve seen their children grow up to have kids of their own, while along the way, son, Josh, ended up working for me as a fishing guide for many years, becoming one of the best around. The Lyon’s worked for National Parks on the Cape for decades and now run a wildlife reserve on the Wenlock River north of Weipa. Finding a couple who are more intimately familiar with the flora, fauna and history of Cape York Peninsula would be extremely difficult.

There’d been a late change of plan that made the trip even more interesting. The family was camped over at Chili Beach, on the eastern side of the Cape, enjoying some snorkelling, spearing, beach combing and fishing and I was welcome to join in. I turned right off the Peninsula Development Road north of Archer River at the Portland Roads sign and was immediately wading through a series of deep bull dust holes that quickly had talcum powder-like dust engulfing the vehicle. Thankfully, the road improved a bit about 20k’s further on.

That final leg took about 2 hours but any vestiges of fatigue vanished when the blue waters of the Pacific appeared through the coconut palms lining the beach. The well-shaded camp nestled amongst the overhanging branches of huge trees with only a short walk through the palms to the sandy beach. A cuppa or a beer was offered amongst the handshakes and hugs. Gripping a frosty gold can, I was immediately drawn to the magnificent beach with its towering coconut trees.

During the trade winds of the dry season, it is rumoured that dogs have disappeared off their chains while tied up at Chili Beach but as the wet approaches, the winds ease and move to the north, morphing the place into a tropical paradise. Several boats were anchored along the shoreline, most of them owned by Weipa locals who were well aware of Chili’s charms at this time of year.

The fare in the camp that night was very ordinary – not! Crayfish dip followed by coral trout cooked Thai style in a red curry sauce proved to be as good as the tucker found in any 5 star restaurant! Camping with the Lyon pride is always a culinary delight.

With the weather looking near perfect for the following morning, a plan was quickly hatched to visit the outer reef, about 50k’s east of the beach. Josh, Wade and Richo were very keen to spear some big trout along the drop-offs then try some line fishing once our need for a couple of feeds of fresh fillets had been achieved. The rest of the crew could do some snorkelling while the lads did the hunter gathering.

Two Yamaha longboats departed the beach after an early breakfast next morning in calm conditions for the run to the wide reefs. The forecast, for once, was spot on with hardly a bump during the 80 minute trip. We anchored along a reef edge in spectacular conditions, the snorkelers heading for the shallows while the spearo’s explored the deeper stuff.

The first nice trout came aboard within minutes followed by a nice mackerel. I decided to tempt fate and drop a soft vibe into the depths just under the boat. The lure was quickly snaffled by a small red bass that came aboard and was released unharmed.

Next time, I wasn’t so lucky! The lure was crunched in no uncertain manner and the fish powered off against an almost locked drag into the coral studded channel. A few seconds later, I was retrieving slack line to find the 60 pound Platypus leader cut in half.

Another 2 lures suffered a similar fate but I decided to try one last time! The bite was solid and I pumped line as hard and as quickly as possible. The fish seemed to be disorientated and allowed itself to be led towards the surface. I saw the big trout materialize over the reef edge and was already patting myself on the back when it suddenly found traction, effortlessly tearing braid off the big Penn before diving under a big coral head. This time, the braid cut above the leader so I decided to admit defeat and join the snorkelers. Gliding through the coral gardens soon erased any disappointment over the lost lures!

While moving between locations, Josh’s wife Casey hooked a real bruiser while trolling along a reef edge using a Halco Crazy Deep. She’s been well schooled on fighting technique and before long had the 12 kilo giant trevally close enough for Josh to swing it aboard. After the obligatory photos, the GT was released to grow bigger and stretch somebody else’s arms one day!

With the time nearing to head back to camp, both boats worked an area wide of the reef edge where yellowfin tuna and dolphin fish had been located on a previous trip. Wade’s boat experienced two massive strikes, the second spooling the reel of 300 metres of 50 pound braid in a single unstoppable run. Our boat managed to land a nice green jobfish and 3 small Spanish mackerel but couldn’t entice the ‘horses’, almost certainly big dogtooth tuna.

The camp out was focussed more on family activities than serious fishing but it was interesting to watch how the various activities all melded into an almost perfect experience. To ‘old hands’ like Baz, Shelley and myself, observing the way the grandkids were interacting with the environment gave us immense pleasure. Having raised our children in the bush, we knew that opportunities such as these are of inestimable value in developing a healthy young mind.

Our final afternoon saw the boats loaded with adults and kids for a trip to a sand cay about 10k’s out. While the kids and girls had a swim and snorkel, the boys yarned around the boats with a few cold ones. I was the only one who decided to wet a line and eventually found a patch of feisty giant and tea-leaf trevally along the submerged end of the sand spit.

Baz noticed the activity and brought his two eldest grandsons to watch the fun. Both love fishing so I handed the rod to Eligh, the eldest, to have a cast. He hooked up immediately and skilfully worked a kilo and a half GT to my feet so it could be released. Of course, Ryan wanted to try his luck, but being much smaller than his elder brother, I was a bit worried that he might not be able to control the ‘big’ rod.

Backing the drag off a couple of turns, I cast the plastic into the zone and handed the rod to Ryan to retrieve. The line went tight before he could grab the handle properly but he quickly recovered and fought the fish skilfully. Another trevally was released and two small boys headed back to the others to tell their story.

My day made, I decided that the last plastic in my pocket needed wetting and cast in the direction of the fish. The lure went unmolested but hot on its heels was a black tip around 1.7metres long that decided it wanted to swim between my submerged legs. I whacked it on the head with my rod and started backing out of the water along the submerged sand spit.

Back it came again – and again! Slapping the rod down seemed to be having less of an effect but I managed to find dry sand with legs intact. Now that’s a fitting way to end a trip – being given your marching orders by one of the local inhabitants.

Dinner that night consisted of battered coral trout followed by an Islander dish called sop sop. Both were magnificent – as usual. Sightings of the local cuss cuss and a brown tree snake enhanced the evening further.

Next morning, the camp was dismantled ready to be moved to the Wenlock River near Stone Crossing for Baz’s Birthday Bash. My long trip had already been worth the drive – but we were only half way.

And that, readers, is another story entirely.