Unicorns – Andy Pennell – 2017

Fishing is a funny past time when you break it down to its barest elements. Some blokes like to think its not madness and take themselves very seriously at times but the truth is we just want something to pull some drag in the end. I’m sure we all have more rods and reels and lures than we really need. But I can tell you categorically the next tackle store I go into I will come out of with more goodies.

I can’t tell you why it happens, it just does. We are a strange breed and you can tell that when you talk to someone who doesn’t fish. You know that “wouldn’t it just be easier to buy some Taiwanese bottom dwelling suction eel fillets from the Colesdelly” look. I’ve seen it many a time. But that’s not just what its about is it? It’s about cross-generational knowledge and the thrill of what might eat your bait, lure or fly next. It’s about the tall tales and the epic fails. For me it’s about the quiet and the challenge of getting out of my head and into the fish’s. We all have our reasons because lets face it, there is nothing else wed rather do. So when I read Michael Raisback’s article in Fish & Boat recently about taking his mum out for a fish and his recollections of fishing with his late father I thought to myself this fella gets the big picture.

It started me thinking back on some of the fishing experiences that have meant a lot to me. Some of them involved me landing a big fish, some of them involved getting someone else a special fish and some had exceptional settings, which made them significant. On most occasions though it was more about who I was with that took them up a notch.

One particular night after a long and hot western Queensland day I had the feeling that I needed to get out for a fish. Something in my gut just told me that even though it had been a long day I needed to be on the water. After a quick ring around to find that all my usual fishing compadres were either working or wanted elsewhere I convinced my long-suffering wife to come for a fish. I explained that I had a feeling some good fishing could happen. She looked at me with one of those looks that said, “did your crystal ball tell you that you clown?” before saying “alright you pack up the boat, lets do it”. I launched the boat as the sun slid slowly behind a low mountain range and we motored slowly over to where I thought the action would take place. We noticed straight away that there where big long tom cruising the area and they appeared nervous. As darkness fell one of the most memorable little sessions I’ve ever witnessed began. Within 10 minutes I landed a nice Barra around the meter mark before releasing it and hooking into another one the very next cast. This time I handed the rod to Lee-Anne and watched her immediately turn to jelly. You forget just how overwhelming it can be holding a fishing line attached to an animal going a rate of knots in the opposite direction.

She fought the fish well and a nice little 77cm Barra slid into the net. She was chuffed before saying “It doesn’t really count because you hooked it”. “Your right” I said “so hook one yourself” and that’s exactly what she did. After launching the lure back into the area that seemed to be the honey hole and tweaking the green Bomber a few times she got crunched. This time though I could tell the fish was the next size up, and she roared, “wow” as the fish tore 30 meters of 20 pound Fins braid off the little Stradic before slowing and eventually finding the net. At 93cm I said, “that’s a real one” as she slipped the fish back in the water. My next cast was met with one of those hits that leave you on the floor. I was attached to a Barra that felt like a 200-pound wild boar on a rope. The weight and power of the fish had me thinking the whole show wasn’t going to end well. Then out of the blackness this mammoth silver body came tail walking straight past the boat at warp speed. Lee-Anne recons she could see the red of the big fishes gills as it powered past us at eye level. For the next 15 minutes my heart remained in my mouth. It made run after surging run before staying deep to recharge its batteries and repeating the process. Finally I caught a real glimpse through the water column with my headlamp. It was big, properly big. After a few more lunges shesurfaced and swung into the net. There it rested, my unicorn Barra. We struggled to bring her aboard for a few happy snaps. I estimate the fish at around 30 kilos or so, but the sheer dimensions of the fish were staggering up close. It took both of us to again cradle the fish back in the drink before I spent a minute or so getting her charged enough to swim strongly away. I sat back up in the boat caught my breath and said, “ I told you I had a feeling”. We didn’t even make another cast, there was no need. Barra fishing can be hours of boredom with brief periods when everything is golden, so we figured we would head home on top for once.

I will remember that night as long as I live. If I had been fishing by myself that night, that fish wouldn’t be half as important to me as it is. Fishing offers us the chance to fashion experiences like this, whether it is with grandmothers, sons, fathers, wives or good friends, it doesn’t matter. So take someone for a fish, be patient and maybe you just might get your unicorn to top it off. Until next time.