One of the great things about fishing is the fact that you’re often moving slowly and methodically through a particular environment. Be it walking along a beach, drifting across the estuary or wading up a stream, fishing forces you to slow down and observe what is happening around you. It differs from other activities, such as walking or riding, in that you often spend a few minutes, even hours, in a particular spot. Because of this, you tend to see some amazing things. It’s partly because of this extra time to observe, but also because you’re actively looking for things around you. In this post, I wanted to share some of the cool things I’ve seen while fishing.
Many of the coolest things I’ve seen relate to wildlife. Because you are treading quietly and carefully, it seems that the animals around you forget that you’re there. I remember wading through the upper Tuross river in search of trout when I saw a large rise about 5 metres away. Focusing my attention, I was about to have a cast when I realised that it wasn’t a trout at all, but a beautiful platypus. Every minute or so it would surface, sometimes only a few metres away, then duck back under in search of food. I felt privileged to have seen it, as had I been walking through, I would never have had this encounter.
Another example of where being quiet and careful can lead to incredible encounters is when I was fishing for natives down on one of Canberra’s urban lakes. Earlier in the evening, I came across a large water dragon, who seemed oblivious to my presence. It may have just been super confident, cold or tame, but I was able to walk right up to this prehistoric animal, while he let me take a few photos with my phone. Eventually, with my camera about 20cm from his mouth, he decided to take off and scuttled down the bank and into the water. Still feeling pretty chuffed with my encounter, I had a few more casts. Something started rustling in the blackberries next to me, and I witnessed a small antichinus, which is a little mousey native marsupial, poke its head out before heading straight towards me. It scampered over and took shelter next to my boot. Seemingly oblivious that my boot was connected to me, his little nose sniffed the air, perhaps suspecting something was awry, before it continued on its way.
Not too long ago, I was fishing on one of my favourite streams on the Monaro. The fishing had been tough and I was eagerly awaiting the evening rise. Sitting down to tie on a dry fly and have a well-earned cigarette, I was soaking in the afternoon sun when a large bluetongue lizard stuck his head out of the tussocks in front of me. Edging out and looking around, he didn’t seem to notice me, and continued doing his thing. Now fully out of his little hole, I got a bit of a surprise to see another bluetongue come right out of the same little hole. I sat and watched while she crawled right alongside the male, before he jumped right onto her back for a little sexy-time. They wriggled and writhed while I watched and took photos, feeling a little voyeuristic but nonetheless intrigued. Eventually, he twigged that he was being watched and gave up on the female while he investigated my flyrod, which was lying in the grass. On becoming aware of these strange things in his environment, he eventually retreated to his hole and I kept on fishing.
I’ve also seen some incredibly cool things while fishing in the salt. I remember one day at Wonboyn, on the NSW far south coast, and Hamish and I were spinning for salmon off Baycliff, a beautiful rock platform jutting out into Disaster Bay. THe fishing had been hot, with plenty of salmon getting landed or lost. They were feeding on huge schools of slimy mackerel, with literally acres of darkened water giving away their presence. I was unhooking a fish and heard Hamish yelling. Turning around, possibly expecting a large wave, he was pointing offshore. A few hundred metres off the rocks, we witnessed an eruption of whitewater as a large shark, possibly a mako, launch about two metres out of the water through a school of slimies. I’ve seen a few sharks now, with a number of hammerheads in Twofold bay being memorable encounters. There was also a time off Greencape in horrendous conditions, and Hamish and I had been searching for kingfish. We were landing the odd fish, but the conditions were too rough so decided to make our way back to safety. Just before we left, we both saw a large shape under the boat, which appeared to turn on its side, flashing its large white underbelly. We didn’t get a positive ID, but the only thing I can think of that fits the description was a large Great White.
I’ve also had numerous cetacean encounters. I’ve been lucky to witness pods of dolphins herding salmon off the beach on a number of occasions. One of the most memorable of these was when Hamish and I were quite young, and we had been walking along the beach at Eden having the odd cast. We saw the dolphins acting strangely, and then noticed the school of salmon materialise in the shallows. All of a sudden, the dolphins grouped up and started smashing the fish in shallow water, using the waves to gather speed as they approached the shore break. Salmon were literally beaching themselves to try and escape the onslaught. Wanting to take advantage of the situation, we had a few casts and every time the lures hit the water, they were smashed instantly by the salmon. Amidst the chaos, Hamish’s reel gave up the ghost, and he was forced to cast in, hook a fish, and then run up to the back of the beach to land it. Definitely one of the more memorable sessions.
Whales are amazing. I’ve been lucky with wales, with one of the most memorable experiences being a southern right whale swimming directly underneath the 5 metre ‘tinny’ I was fishing in. Another of the most memorable encounters was a day off Eden. The fishing had been fairly slow, but there were whales everywhere. Some of the guys had decided they wanted to go swimming with the wales, so we ‘parked’ the boat a kilometre or so in front of a bull, cow and calf and waited to see if they’d pay us a visit. Not really expecting it, we started to get pretty excited when they came directly towards us, getting within about 10 metres of the boat. Perrin, Jeremy and Christian had jumped in the water and were nervously looking into the cobalt abyss. I was content to stay on the boat and take photos – call me a chicken but I would have been pretty nervous in the water! The amazing thing about this was how curious the whales were towards us. They seemed perfectly content to look at us as we looked at them. Every now and then the bull would make the most amazing noise, like a low frequency gutteral roar that you could feel vibrating through the aluminium hull.
Hopefully by sharing a few of my most memorable encounter experiences, it reminds you of some of the cool things you’ve seen while fishing. It pays homage to the notion that fishing isn’t necessarily about catching fish – it’s all the other cool things that happen when you’re out there in nature that make it so awesome.