Estuary, Sustainability

Capturing the lifetime of a fish

I caught a fish last weekend. That’s not particularly surprising I suppose given I go fishing and write about fishing quite often. But this fish was different to usual. In fact it was really quite special.

It wasn’t unique because it was a particularly big fish for a south coast estuary, I would say it was only medium sized – just under 40cm long. It wasn’t even a particularly colourful fish. With the exception of a bright yellow fin near its tail, it was completely silver. It wasn’t even the way the fish was caught, because to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even trying to catch it. When it was hooked I was trying to catch a flathead with a couple of clients on the boat. As we floated around Wallaga lake near Bermagui we were using fairly stout gear with reasonably heavy line – not the sort of gear we would normally use to target this fish with lures.

Nevertheless we hooked it and after a few anxious moments it reached the net. I had a smile from ear to ear and let out a cheer of excitement. I had never caught one this big on a lure before. But it was a comment from one of the gentlemen on board that made me think about the value of this fish and what this fish represents. It was a simple enough question; “are we going to take this one home and eat it?”

We could take it home, I have no doubt it would be absolutely delicious, perhaps deep fried with a Thai-style hot and sour sauce. But then it wouldn’t be swimming around in the sea anymore. If this were a tournament, this fish would have been a great addition to a ‘bag’ because it was fat and heavy. It might have even represented first place and thousands of dollars in prize money. But I’m not a tournament angler and this wasn’t a tournament, so it had no monetary value.

The fish, in case you haven’t guessed, was a yellowfin bream. The significance of this fish was its size, not compared to other fish swimming around in Wallaga lake, but its size for a bream. A 40cm bream is a huge bream. Bream grow very slowly, so according to the latest studies, this 40cm fish was at least 20 years old, probably closer to 25.

Graz 39_5cm bream fnf logo (1)

Bream age size chart

And in that moment, it dawned on me – this fish has seen it all. This bream probably entered the world when Bob Hawke was prime minister, and has lived through five more prime ministers since then. It has witnessed the decade-long millennium drought and the flood events that followed it. The rise in popularity of soft plastic lures, braided lines and electric motors. It has survived commercial net fisherman who make their living by fishing lakes like Wallaga year in and year out. This is an old and apparently very wise fish and it has defied the odds to live this long. That alone, I thought, was enough to earn its freedom. And who knows, maybe the next person to catch it will win a tournament or like me, just come to appreciate that this fish has been around for a very long time and take a photo or two to remember it by.

IMG_0978 Graz 39_5cm yellowfin bream wallaga lake slick rig (6)

So to answer the question; “are we going to take this one home?”, I simply replied “nah mate, we’re going to let this fish go again, it’s a bit special”.

Graham Fifield

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1 thought on “Capturing the lifetime of a fish

  1. Concerns like this have been running since my mind since I started fishing as a kid. But, some would say I am strange.

    All I can say is, every fisher should be thinking like this — and it would be a much better world if they did!

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