The thrill of fishing

John 'Bear' Willis — 24 January 2017

Regular readers will have some understanding of my angling philosophy by now. Fishing isn’t just about the catching; it’s more about the fun you have just doing it! It’s important to know your species and target your efforts, but the thrilling thing about fishing is that you never know what is going to take you by surprise.

Imagine being surrounded by a school of tuna covering an area as big as the MCG, all busting the surface in a feeding frenzy that goes on for days and disappears as quickly as turning off a light switch. Then there’s the wonderful natural connection between man and beast as dolphins and whales play in your wake or bow. Perhaps it’s the knee-shaking awe that envelopes you as a great white erupts next to your boat, or the spine-chilling effect of looking straight into the deep black eye of the devil of the sea, the mako.


There are thrills everywhere in nature. Fly flickers get the same excitement ‘polaroiding’ a wily brown trout in a mountain stream, and then there’s the comical sight of an echidna doing its funny little breast stroke across a forest-lined estuary, and the fear of a tiger snake that has taken a dislike to your canoe in a remote backwater.

For many anglers, it’s not just about what is in the water; often, what is going on around you takes you away from your ‘catching’ mentality to an even more satisfying experience, such as the sight of a pair of ospreys or wedge-tailed eagles cruising the thermals in search of their prey.

Recently, I watched a busy platypus foraging as a beautiful sunset filled the sky on a central highlands river. I spoke last month of the deep understanding of entomology (bugs and critters) of a fly fisho. It can be the study of current flows, weather patterns, moon phases, tidal flows and barometric pressure and putting it all together to angling success. Then, how about the primeval savagery of a croc crashing a barra, or some other unfortunate beast that ventures too close to the hunter’s lair?

Fishing takes us out of our comfort zone, opening a whole world of nature. I was reminded of all of this on our recent excursion to Robe, SA, for the Offroad Camper Trailer of the Year competition run by our sister magazine Camper Trailer Australia. Thankfully, we had a couple of opportunities to drown bait in the cool waters of the Southern Ocean at the far eastern end of the Great Australian Bight.

The area is famous for its monster Australian salmon, huge mulloway off the beaches and, of course, its many crayfish ledges. There is also a terrific offshore fishery for species such as whiting, snapper, gummy and school shark, and further afield are blue eye trevalla, southern bluefin tuna and even bigger sharks!

We wandered to a likely ledge on a headland with a terrific looking gutter between the rocky shoreline and an offshore bommie. This gutter was at the end of a long beach and I expected it to be a wonderful crow’s nest from which to search for salmon, sweep, gummy sharks, and that prize mulloway. We would have been in trouble with the latter two species as I hadn’t thought to bring a cliff gaff, but we gave it a go, anyway.


Now, I’ve got an old trick for catching crayfish from rock ledges. As I drove between Millicent and Robe, I realised that I had forgotten my stockings. You see, there’s an old forgotten method of catching crays that once kept me well fed with these tasty morsels when I haunted Victoria’s west coast in another lifetime. Simply fill the stocking with a handful of bait, nearly anything will do, chuck in a rock and heave it out near a fishy-looking ledge (tied to a rope of course!). You will see the crays come out for a nibble and get their prickles entwined in the fine mesh of the stocking. The trick is getting them back from the ledges without snagging. It can work for crabs as well, but be warned to check the legality of doing so in your own state.

The hours passed peacefully until I set the hook on a rather unusual, smallish bight on my heavy rock fishing gear and felt the unmistakable flap-flap-flap of a crayfish on the other end. Yep, there it was in all its glory, my by-catch making me an instant hero among my companions. A lovely little South Aussie rock lobster – yahoo! It’s not the first time this has happened, either. I have done it before during a boating expedition along the remote (in boating terms) northern shoreline of Kangaroo Island.

The following evening, we decided to follow the advice of a couple of locals and head down to a secluded beach in search of gummy sharks on sunset. The locals had beaten us to the limited amount of space in the best gutter so we surrounded them, keeping a courteous distance apart.

Blow me down – the next thing one of my companions was hooting, hollering and whooping as he hooked into an obviously solid fish and struggled to keep it away from a rocky offshore bommie. Five minutes later, a glimmering 3kg snapper hit the shoreline in the late afternoon light – beautiful! Ten minutes later he followed up with another. How exciting! Only problem was, it was November 1 – the first day of the closed season in South Australia, so all of the fish were set free to fight another day.

Once more, I stood by and watched others catch the fish while I returned empty handed, and not one of us had actually caught our target species for the entire trip. Care factor: zero. I had a whale of a time, and as the sun set on yet another day I reminded myself of how good it was just to be there. That’s fishin’!

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #521. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month! 


fish fishing gear


John 'Bear' Willis