When Stars Align – Dave Donald June 16

What is wealth? Modern society insists that it’s all about how much money we have but this perception begins to lose some of its glitter as a few of us get older.  Those of us who’ve had to opportunity to experience the natural world on a regular basis are probably the ones most likely to become disillusioned with this concept. There are, in fact, many sources of wealth and some of the most coveted have nothing to do with folding green stuff, gold and diamonds.

That said, it’s ingrained in our psyche to aspire to win the lottery some day and recently I had the pleasure! No, don’t come to me looking for a loan, the lottery I won didn’t have a monetary reward, it had something much more special – and rare.

Somewhere in the fishing universe, all my stars decided to get in line, not just once but twice in two days. Amongst some other good fish, two fish of a lifetime came along, both featuring major problems during the fight that easily could have led to their loss. There’s really no better way to tell the story than as it actually happened. I’ll leave it up to you, readers, as to your assessment of the ‘wealth’ of my experiences.

My mate, Larry Lockwood, from LJ Custom Rods in Darwin hand makes some of the best custom rods in Australia! Now I don’t make this statement lightly, having professionally made rods myself for 15 years, as well as being a regular user of some of Larry’s superb creations over the past decade.

Larry’s an innovator who keeps up with the very latest on both the USA and Aussie scene and from what I’ve witnessed of late, has taken the ‘personalized’ side of custom making to an entirely new level. His creations are not only designed specifically to suit a clients needs, they are actually works of art. That makes them just about the ultimate fishing tools in my book.  The fact that I was using his rods at that time had a significant bearing on my ‘stars aligning’ success rate!

The story begins at a creek mouth near Harey’s rockbar following a 40 kilometre run from Banyan Farm tourist park down the mighty Daly River, after negotiating the many snags, rock outcrops and shallow sections that change year to year according to the river flow. Larry deployed the big Motor Guide in anchor mode and we began casting lures at the colour change just visible inside the gutter.

A couple of small barra and pesky catfish came along amongst some very tentative strikes. I was using a green shaded Quick Catch vibe weighing 20 grams, a lure that had proved very effective for everything from coral trout to black jewfish – and barra, of course.

Then the world suddenly moved into surreal mode!

I knew the fish was big by the huge boil it left when engulfing the lure and, almost immediately, it sprinted away from the creek across the transom of the boat towards mid stream pulling 60 meters of line off a solid drag setting, almost into the path of a boat trolling upstream.

At this point, I managed to stop the fish momentarily and thankfully, the skipper saw Larry’s hysterical gestures, sighted my taught line and started taking avoiding action. Just when I thought my braid was clear, the big mamma surged another 30 meters right underneath the turning boat.

Somehow, the line avoided his prop and trailing lures but my misgivings were far from over. With a strong current assisting, I had to work Larry’s ‘Ghoti’ rod very hard for at least 15 minutes to work the fish back near the boat. The softer action of the rod cushioned the many surges and turns made during that critical part of the fight. The strength of this fish was amazing and I began to speculate that it was actually foul hooked.

Then it jumped!

There was a chorous of choice expletives as Larry and I finally took in the size of the fish. If it wasn’t the biggest barra I’d ever hooked, it certainly came close. I tried to still my already shaking hands!

There were plenty more heart-in-mouth moments to come, particularly when I noted that the vibe was lodged in its upper jaw by a single hook point – and my trebles always have the barbs crushed to avoid unnecessary damage when releasing fish (or hooked humans). All I could do was keep the line tight and the pressure on.

Larry missed a possible net shot as the fish shied at the boat but made sure the next time round. Even with an XOS barra model, getting the giant into the net proved difficult so the fish finally hitting the deck was greeted with plenty of backslaps, high fives, deck dancing and assorted crazy ravings!

The ‘lie detector’ nearly proved not long enough when we finally calmed enough to measure the big mamma. 120 centimetres on the dot – the fisho lunatics in ‘Juggernaut” were dancing around like idiots again! The day had suddenly turned from good to unforgettable and Larry’s rod had faced arguably it’s ultimate test situation.

I sent a flurry of texts that evening! Hey, a day like this comes along extremely rarely so you can’t blame me for making some of my fishing friends extremely jealous. Savouring the moment – and geeing up your fishing mates – just adds interest to the ‘wealth’ value.

But tomorrow was another day, so we once again headed downstream at sparrow fart, this time with a passenger, none other than Brian (Haggis) McKinley, fellow Fish & Boat scribe who just happened to have his van parked next door! This time we headed a long way downriver, about 70k’s into Clear Creek, only to discover that the tide had beaten us and fishing in the dirty water was virtually useless.

Eventually, we made our way back to the Elizabeth Creek area and started trolling some lures as the first push of the tide reached that stretch.  I’d landed a couple of nice fish the day before on a green Reidy’s Big B52 but replaced it after the first couple of runs with a lure I’d been given to try – a hand made wooden offering from Ollie Hardt called a Mac-ray!

The Ollie had barely travelled 100 metres before it was crash tackled and a barra about 75cm hit the air. Wow, that’s the way to start a test session! Incidentally, my purpose built baitcaster was also being evaluated and had passed its first encounter in similar style.

Larry had fitted me up with an absolute cutting edge model based on a Sabre Genesis 5 series with nanotechnology blank featuring carbon fibre grips, spiral wrapped guides and a holographic thread wrap. The 2 metre long medium to fast, progressive tapered blank had been specifically chosen for trolling larger lures, particularly for river barramundi.

Next pass, the rod received a workout that confirmed the quality of Larry’s design and workmanship – and then some.  As we trolled with the current between a deep snag and the bank, the Mac-ray was smashed aggressively. I turned to see another big fish jump on the outside of the snag while the boat continued past the big log on the inside.

I yelled at Larry to get the boat turned around as I free spooled the line that was now rubbing the thick trunk. Hagis was convinced that the fish had jumped over the snag and my line was already free so it took quite a few mouthfuls of choice expletives before I was able to get the boat manoeuvred in the right direction. Thankfully, the line came free and I was finally direct to the fish. Then it jumped for a second time and we saw just how huge this one was. If anything, it was bigger than yesterday’s!

The Sabre certainly seemed to make fighting this monster a very smooth and easy process, it’s forgiving action and superb loading characteristics steering the advantage towards the experienced angler. That’s definitely a significant factor when the fish of a lifetime, like this one, jumps on! Once a fish is lost, there’s no second chance!

Quite a few very long minutes later, I worked the fish to the surface and Hagis swung the landing net. Just over half of the fish went in but then started sliding out again. I dropped my rod and grabbed the frame to help olmate get it aboard. It was definitely a much heavier fish than yesterdays but eventually measured 119cm, a whole centimetre less! With two of us struggling to get it over the side, it had to weigh close to the old 50 pound mark.

After the obligatory photos, this fish took some reviving, but after 20 mins of moving it steadily up and down the river, it finally swam tiredly away. I should have been absolutely ecstatic but that had already happened yesterday. Two fish of a lifetime in two days instead proved somewhat overwhelming!

Larry and I landed some 30 fish during our Daly expedition but the progression of chunky fish that made up the remainder of our catch were a little anticlimactic in the dazzling glow of the two ‘horse’ captures. It will take me a while to come back down to earth, I’m sure, and for what it’s worth, I intend making the most of this lifetime highlight, savouring the accolades and memories for quite a while yet.

And just finally, back to that wealth thing! At the moment, I’m a billionaire in barradise and life is fantastic! Money can’t buy an experience like that. What keen fisho could ask for more!