When fishing, you really need to keep your wits about you. Even in a populated place and with all the safety gear, there are numerous things that can go wrong. In an isolated place and in difficult conditions, you need to be adaptable and learn how to think fast.
The boys at fishinginsoutheastaustralia are all pretty switched on. Nonetheless, the recent adventure to the NT has highlighted firstly how many things can go Julia (pear shaped) and secondly, how quick thinking and commonsense can save a potentially ‘exciting’ situation. At no time did we feel unsafe (actually there were a few), but there were a few situations where the luxury of hindsight (and pure luck) demonstrated what could have gone wrong.
The first ‘exciting’ moment wasn’t dangerous at all, but could have had potential. No sooner had we put the first boat in the water, the outboard had gone on, when Dan realised the hydraulic steering was completely buggered. Within seconds of this realisation, he managed to pick a straight line and push the boat up to the bank. Without the quick thinking, he might have ended up floating down the river for quite some time before any chance of rescue using the other boat we had.
As we were launching the second boat, we tinkered around with the hydraulics, poured in some fluid, scratched our heads and asked some southerners if they knew anything about hydraulics, to which they replied, No. Enter ‘Shaun’, a burley territorian who came over and informed us he could probably help, as he happened to be an outboard mechanic. F%4k yeah! After a few minutes of men standing around trying to be manly with various suggestions as to what could be the cause of the problem, Shaun asked for a hammer and some WD40 and proceeded to bang the shit out of the steering arm which he suspected may have seized, while instructing Dan to make ape-love to the outboard and Graz to turn the steering like a rally driver. After some banging and spraying the steering arm loosened up and we all stood around feeling very pleased with ourselves (I had the job of holding the boat on shore and watching out for crocodiles; me being the only one remotely at risk). Shaun was a total legend and accepted a coldy in return for his brains and braun. He left us with stories of meteries getting caught here and there. Champion! As an aside, everyone seems really really nice in the Territory.
On to the next ‘experience’. A lot of interesting moments seemed to happen while we were anchored up over night. The first of these was on the first night, where we pulled anchor at high tide, which happened to coincide with sunrise and set off merrily drifting down the Daly river while we all slept. I (Lee) was dreaming of barra boofing when I noticed some interesting noises coming from the boat. Tonk tonk, click, whoosh, etc. Sleepily I peered over the side of the boat to see that the land was moving very quickly beside us. Not wanting to be the bearer of such news this early in the morning, I started casting at the numerous boofs in the hope that if I caught a fish, the commotion would be enough to wake everyone up. After noticing some particularly large logs floating around I adopted a safer strategy and said ‘up you get guys’. It wasn’t long before we were safely anchored up again in our little creek. Mitch went back to bed and we all started fishing. An interesting start to the day.
Later that day was my first experience with a sandbar. I was pretty tired (partly from the interesting experience in the morning) and had decided to have a snooze on the deck while we were travelling 20km or so down river to prepare for the high-tide run out to Reynolds creek. Enjoying the din of the outboard, I was jolted out of my slumber when we hit shallow water and the boat came to a quick halt. We had gone from 3-4 metres into around 1 and were dragging on the sand. The outboad was tilled up and we zigzagged around a featureless maze trying to get to deeper water. I didn’t go back to sleep after that – I was quite awake!
We also had a similar experience on the South Alligator. We had been fishing all day and decided to head back to the caravan park for a much needed shower and some R&R. We decided to fish until 8pm or so, so it was dark when we made our dash back to the ramp. About 200m from the ramp we had a bridge to negotiate and saw it in the spotlights with ample time. As we were approaching at around 40km per hour I noticed what looked like foam and debris sitting on the water’s surface. As we got within about 15 metres I said ‘slow down!’. Mitch took heed and we knocked off a bit of speed, before ploughing into what was a fully exposed sandbar. Hamish was actually sitting off the front of the boat, so we were lucky he didn’t end up on the sand. Luckily, we were able to head down the back of the boat, so the nose came up a bit, and reverse off. Otherwise it would have been a long night waiting it out on the bar for the tide to come in, on a nasty angle and surrounded by the South Alligator’s ‘healthy’ population of crocodiles and mosquitoes.
We hit one confirmed log on the Daly and something else on the South Alligator that we decided, in the end, was probably a big crocodile. The ‘log’ on the South Alligator was pretty nasty. Just cruising along at 50km/hr and BANG, a serious jolt that actually made all of our tinnys go frothy. As we slowed up, now about 100m downstream, I noticed something come up to the surface, then disappear again. We went back up to have a look and saw some commotion in the rushes, but weren’t able to get a conclusive ID. I was a bit shaken by this one, and needed to crack another beer as I’d lost most of mine.
As a southerner, one of the most awesome things to experience in the top end was the incredible tides. In some areas, the difference between high and low looked to be around 7 metres. This means you really have to think carefully about where you position the boat. One example of where we got pretty unlucky was on clearwater creek, where we decided to raft the boats up in the shade next to some rushes. As we were brewing a coffee and chilling out on the mothership, we didn’t notice that Dan’s tinny had ended up on a slight angle. Once we did notice, it was everyone into action, trying various pushing and shoving techniques to move the stubborn vessel. What had happened was that Dan had managed to pick a tiny mud bar that came out about 1m from the bank. The boat was firmly stuck and luckily, with the boats still rafted together, we were able to use the two outboards in conjunction to get enough power to pull the boat off. Had the boat been stuck, the only solution would have been to jump up into the bush, tie the boat to some trees so that it didn’t capsize and wait for the tide to float her back into action. I would have given it 10 minutes and this would have been the outcome.
Hooks are designed to hook things. So far in my 15 years of serious fishing, I’ve never managed to properly hook myself. I knew it would happen eventually, and despite being a ‘bad’ experience, was fairly pleased with the outcome. I had been casting a Halco Roosta popper at a lovely little snag surrounded by some rushes and catching the odd fish. Every now and then I was getting the lure snagged and had generally been able to get it off, with the exception of a few that were claimed by the Daly. On a particularly bad snag I was yanking on the line and the lure came loose. It flew back at me at high velocity and lodged firmly in the side of my hand. Bugger I thought. Saying quietly to the guys, so as not to attract too much attention, that I had hooked myself, I soon had them standing around and oohing and aahing and taking photos of the hand. Luckily I had rum close by, and sat back to take a sip while evaluating my options. I cut the line and decided that it had to come out. Another sip of rum and I was ready. Yanking it with my other hand, I realised that it was firmly embedded and didn’t want to come out. I asked for the pliers, which promptly appeared, gave it a yank, and managed to pull the hook off whatever tendon or muscle it was clinging to. One more little yank and out it came. I washed the blood off, splashed some rum on it, had another swig and it was back to fishing.
I hope this article has demonstrated that on a trip like this, no matter how careful you are, things can and do go wrong. However, at the end of the day, it’s all part of the fun, excitement and adventure of being in such an awesome place with a few good mates. I’d argue that it’s a lot less risky pursuing these adventures than spending 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year sitting at a desk in an office. Get out there and make it happen!