Precious times – By John Boon
How long do we have? A very touchy question that can be answered in so many different ways. To most of us it would be somewhat rhetorical, as nobody really knows anyone’s timeline and when it’s suppose to finish.
When fishing with friends and family every trip and every minute should be cherished as you just never know what’s around the corner. A few years back we lost a very good friend in a tragic boating accident. An accident that was well and truly avoidable. Unfortunately, all the holes in the Swiss cheese lined up and a life was lost.
It was at this point that we had a good hard look at our own lives and started making changes. I’m a strong believer that the secret to life is to be happy. If you’re constantly doing tasks or making decisions that make you happy then you will certainly look back without regret if something was to happen.
Ageing does creep up on us all. I looked at my old man back in the day when he turned 40 and thought “geez he’s getting old”. Would you believe it that I just clicked over 40? If I’m now 40 then that makes my old man 70 this year as we are 30 years apart.
The last 18 months has been a bit of a battle for my Dad. A few health issues had kept him from getting out on the water which did frustrate the crap out of him. He’s still in the age bracket of meat fishing though. He loves to chase ‘esky fish’ and have fish in the freezer so he can pull it out whenever he desires. Who can blame him for that though as we all love eating fish, especially what we have caught ourselves.
To be honest, I really lost the drive for offshore fishing over the last two or so years. I guess when you’ve done a particular style of fishing for a long time then you start looking for other techniques or species to explore.
A few other reasons while I had put offshore on the back burner is the price of fuel and the amount of time it chews up. There’s a few hours to get the boat packed up, an entire day to go fishing then probably another good half day to clean the boat and fish. You see, our kids are now 14,12 and 8. They do sport and other activities. The older they get, the more time that’s consumed with pick-ups, drop offs and spending time supporting their hobbies.
These days to get the amount of time I need to get a proper offshore mission in is rare. Both the weather and opportunity need to line up in order to make it work. My wife is absolutely amazing supporting my passion but she just can’t be in two places at once. So, if I’m required to help, then fishing comes a close second.
Not too long ago all the stars lined up. Unfortunately, I still had to be back for school pick-up but an early leave would still give us plenty of time to put some fish in the esky.
I went into the fishing room and had to locate all the reef gear and blow all the dust off. My Tranx jigging reel still had tape around the spool from its last service. I was starting to think ‘geez I hope I remember how to do this’.
The boat was packed and the alarm went off at some ungodly hour. Troy showed up at my place with anticipation and gear for the day. We met my Dad at the ramp and threw all the gear in the Cruise Craft.
The trip out was a bit slower than expected with a bit of residual swell. We were heading in an east south east direction down towards the old Fitzroy River bed. The plan for the daylight bite was pretty simple. I wanted to fish a small fern patch in the dark and for first light. I wanted to see if this old mark would pay up in red diamonds.
We got there just in time. It was still dark and there were some really nice bait schools starting to show on the Humminbird Apex. It was non-stop action from the start but unfortunately not the action we wanted. Between small sharks, slatey bream and the bloody hussar stripping baits quickly we could barely get a keeper in the esky.
We persisted and did manage to put a few on ice including a legal red. I had high expectations, but the fish had other ideas. The sounder was absolutely lit up (see hectic sounder screenshot) with activity which made it frustrating.
It was a bloody hard decision to drive away from the activity we were viewing on the Apex. We had plenty more spots up our sleeve. We hit a few other fern patches close by but the results were the same. It was time for a change. When what you’re doing isn’t working then doing something different can be all it takes to turn the day around.
We went from fishing fern country to now concentrating our efforts on wonky holes. For anyone who’s never heard of wonky holes, they are an underwater spring that has popped up through the seabed floor. The holes generally have gravel around them and at the right times can be flowing fresh.
Because they are only a small mark they will attract fish life from a wide area. These sorts of small, hard to find spots will generally hold better quality fish. There’s a simple reason for this. Small structure in the middle of a flat ocean sand floor will pull fish life to that area from a long distance.
With fern country, the quality fish can be spread out over a large distance, but with wonky holes quality fish will either be close to the hole or feeding in the paddock around it up to 100m or so.
Our first stop was on one of the best wonky holes I have ever found and probably one of the deepest. It sits in around 45 meters of depth and has some really cool features. I’ve had a camera down on this spot. The structure and fish life is absolutely fascinating.
I had a quick scan over the mark and all the fish and bait were sitting pretty close to the hole itself (see sounder screenshot) One of the best improvements I had made to the Cruise Craft for this trip was the addition of a Minn Kota Ulterra self deploy electric motor. These tiny spots are a pain in the ass to drift across because your baits don’t get long in the strike zone.
With an electric anchoring system you can set up in the slot and just hit the anchor lock button. It’s the way of the future for offshore boating I reckon. The amount of strain it takes off the skipper is enormous. Continuing to reposition, deploying a parachute, not to mention the added noise of the outboard are just a few issues that an electric motor will save you.
We set up on the spot and lines hit the bottom. Action definitely wasn’t instant, in fact we were struggling to get anything interested. Dad was persisting with bait while Troy and I sent jigs and vibration lures down hoping for a few reaction nibz.
I tried repositioning with the Minn Kota a few times but it was pretty clear that it was a slow period. We were right on the tide change so we held out in this spot waiting for the run to pick up. Almost right on cue as the tide picked up momentum we started to get a bit more interest.
A few grassy sweetlip had made their way over the side which was encouraging.
While I was jigging away I looked over at the old man after he let out a groan. Dad had been folded to the gunwale.
Troy and myself were giving him all the best encouragement and he finally moved it off the bottom and started putting some line back on the reel.
He had a full audience by this stage as our rods got placed to the side to give Dad a hand. Colour showed deep and this large mouth nannygai got bigger and bigger as it came into view. Troy slid the net under it and it was high fives and yahoo’s all round. I think the old man needed a minute to compose himself. It’s just what the doctor ordered. There’s nothing like catching a trophy to get the mojo pumping again.
The bragging and banter took a severe turn. The old man had his tail up and was full of bloody cheek. It was great to hear the old fella school the so called youngsters.
That bite continued and we added some more mixed reef to the esky before we made a move.
In between spots the Apex showed a nice rise covered in life. A quick scan over the area and it was another big fern patch. Just like this morning, even this newly found area was just full of hussar and sharks. We didn’t stay long as the day was starting to get away from us.
I checked out a couple of old wonky marks but there was hardly any bait or fish showing so we kept pushing on.
The next wonky was absolutely stacked. Bait balls were thick and we could see solid arches in and around the bait.
We deployed the Minn Kota and sat around thirty meters in front of the mark to compensate for the tidal run. It was a good move as the bites started straight away. Some more of those big grassy sweetlip were swung over the side and the esky was now starting to look very reasonable.
I was now starting to tidy up the boat to head for home but the old man had one final drop left in him and I’m glad he did. As soon as he hit the bottom he was onto a good fish. Big runs and head shakes had everyone excited.
He turned the fish and pumped it to the surface. Yet another big large mouth nannygai was netted and swung over the side. What a bloody terrific end to a bloody outstanding day. The old man was grinning like a rat with a gold tooth.
We finished cleaning up the boat and headed for home. I didn’t have a lot of spare time before I had to pick the kids up. Guess what happened on the way home? This will always happen when you’ve got no spare time. I ran over not one but two pinnacles, both of them about 4 meters high. I had to grit my teeth and just hit the mark button on the Apex so I could have a gander on the next trip out. Talk about Chinese torture.
The name of this article is ‘Precious Times’, no one knows exactly how much time we have left. Spend it with family, friends but above all just enjoy this very short roller coaster ride we call life and fish as much as humanly possible.