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The Danger in Fishing Alone


wazatherfisherman
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One year on our annual houseboat trip, half the guys had to leave early for work commitments. Nothing new about that happening, it's always hard to coordinate 6 or 7 people for an entire 5 day trip during the week. Weekend trips weren't as difficult to organise, but with either work or family commitments, the longer trips would normally have at least one or two early retirements. So by day 4, there were only three of us left aboard, John M, Myself and our other mate who I'm going to call RB, as the following story did embarrass him. The RB stands for Red Bull, his favourite drink and it contributed in part to the events of the night.

After dropping off three of the guys at Cottage Point where their car was, we made our way back up to Waratah Bay in Cowan, where we'd stayed a couple of nights already that week. There's only two public moorings in the bay and even during winter, it's hard to find one free, we did have one the previous night, but as you can only stay on them for 24hrs at a time, generally, as one vessel vacates, another quickly takes it place. Having a mooring to tie up to is very convenient and also takes the worry of both anchoring and being moved around by the wind- which can be a common occurrence during the strong westerly winds of mid winter.

By the time we arrived back at Waratah, the moorings had both been secured by other craft, so we decided to anchor in the deep water on the downstream side of the bay, out towards where the bay merged into the main part of Cowan Creek. We've caught a lot of different species while fishing this deep area, other than the main target of Hairtail, we've got Bream, Snapper, Flathead, Mulloway, Tailor, Salmon, Frigate Mackerel, John Dory and even a 16kg Blue Groper- just to name a few, plus quite a few small sharks. As the spot is virtually at the entrance to the bay, almost anything can turn up and each new incoming tide brings the expectation of a new school of fish arriving.

We'd had a good trip this year, with plenty of quality fish caught, no Hairtail, but the other fish landed were really good size and as long as a few get caught each year, the year's trip is deemed a good one. The bulk of the catch were Bream and good sized Tailor in the 1.5kg+ size range, they always give you a good fight on the 4-6kg tackle and taste great when cooked on the boat's BBQ. Those who don't like eating them may never have had one cooked super fresh like this- cooking them in the fat left after doing a few sausages gives them a real nice flavour.

After anchoring with both bow and stern anchors, we re-set our burley containers and fished for Yellowtail for a while- we still had a fair few live ones in the box we keep them in, but you can never have too many, as they supplement the nights cube burley as well as being the prime live bait. Once the Yellowtail have turned up in the burley, they generally stay around the boat pretty much all night- which is great for attracting all the bigger fish that feed on them. Catching these Yellowtail is a really simple matter, a size 12-14 longshank hook on 4lb line, with a tiny piece of split-shot pinched on about a foot above the hook for weight is all you need. Bait for them can be literally anything, but a really tiny piece of any type of Tuna or Bonito with the skin left on is perfect and you can catch stacks of them on one piece of bait by basically just 'poling' them in.

Yellowtail secured in the laundry basket hung over the side, burley cut up in readiness for the night and an early dinner for us, well before dark. Nobody ever thinks of doing anything other than fishing during the prime time of dusk, so dinner is either well before dark or some time late into the night, not that dinner is usually very complicated, as we've got used to taking a few pre cooked meals like lasagne's in individual disposable foil containers. Having food pre-cooked and in containers for each crewman, means you eat when you feel like it, just placing dinner containers in the boat's oven. Simple measures like this contribute to an easy trip, in fact, quite often, the only meals that require cooking are the breakfasts or the occasional fish meal done on the vessel's BBQ.

Another 'big' factor with taking pre-cooked meals is no washing up is necessary! Sounds lazy I know, but it's just part of making for an 'all fun-no stress' type of trip each year and we like to think we've 'refined' it down to maximum comfort and fishing time.

Usually on these trips, the houseboat's supplied tender- an 'unsinkable' poly rowing boat complete with oars, gets a fair bit of use fishing wise. These little boats only come supplied with oars and a bailing container, no anchor or anything else at all, as they are basically just used for transport from the houseboat to the shore or riverside store at Cottage Point. Daylight hours have the boat in use for getting in to the sandbanks, which lie at the end of pretty much every bay in Cowan. Accessing these banks you can stretch your legs, pump nippers or have a fish on the edges of the drop-offs that connect the banks to the deep water and undoubtedly some of the guys will have a fish along these spots.

Due to both the cold and heavy condensation levels of the area after dark, the little boats aren't often used of a night and we generally moor them amidships against the houseboat where they don't get in the way of fishing.

With only three of us left aboard for the final night of the trip, we set plenty of live baits out for Hairtail and established a constant cube trail to supplement the other two burley dispensers we had out all afternoon. One of these has basically just mashed Pilchard and 'flaked' Tuna while the other is only finely mashed bread, which drips out constantly and keeps the Yellowtail mass close by. Everything set, we waited while the last bit of daylight quickly merged into darkness- prime predator time.

It was a really large incoming tide, the water was nice and clean and the bioluminescent life was making every water movement 'glow'. For those who haven't seen this glowing effect, everything that moves in the water disturbs the tiny bioluminescent creatures (which look like tiny clear scales) and on being disturbed, emit a short amount of 'glowing light'- which reveals whatever has moved within a few inches of them. Some nights, everything from the anchor rope to your fishing lines will have a glowing trail emanating from them and everything fish-wise that moves around quickly and excitedly can be seen. Everything except the Hairtail that is, their super 'teflon-smooth' skin enables them to move around easily without disturbing anything at all and gives these strange fish the ultimate stealthy approach when chasing prey. 

A couple of hours after dark and no Hairtail had showed up, a few more good sized Tailor had come aboard and a few squid, but the hoped for Hairtail were a no show. As things got quiet towards high tide, RB decided that he'd take the tender out and have a go along the drop-off, about 250m away. There's a small creek that pushes up another 250 or so meters from the drop-off, it's only a trickle unless the tide is well in and often there are some really large Bream moving around in this spot towards high tide.

We'd had a couple of drinks, only a couple, as we'd long banned getting drunk on houseboat trips and everyone only takes enough grog for a coupe of drinks per day. It is after all a fishing trip and although a couple of drinks is fine, with cramped living conditions, it's a better trip without much grog aboard, and this has been a 'condition of boarding' for quite a few years now. RB loved drinking Red Bull energy drinks and had probably had at least 4-5 throughout the afternoon, plus a couple of Scotches after dark, but was fine to go out in the tender, as he wasn't going very far and there were two other houseboats (on the moorings) and two other small fishing boats within view. Before quietly rowing away from our houseboat, he did however grab a four pack of Red Bull cans to take with him and he headed towards the junction of creek and sandbank which was just obscured by a corner from our position. 

John and I fished on, catching a couple more Tailor and a couple of squid on the live baits before a thick fog started to descend on the bay. RB had been gone for well over an hour as the fog started to come lower and we were surprised he hadn't come back, as the night air was by now absolutely freezing, but he's a very experienced fisher and outdoorsman, so we just assumed he was getting some decent fish.

Another hour passed and the fog descended right to water level, it was one of those pea-soup thick fogs- one you couldn't see any more than a couple of meters through and it looked like ultra fine rain with smoke in our torch light. By this time, we were getting concerned and put one of our head torches on 'strobe' function, as well as all the lights on in the houseboat, before calling out and whistling for a good few minutes. No reply or sound of anything at all.

There was another large houseboat moored about 50-60m from us and before the fog rolled down they would have probably been able to see around the corner obscuring our view, but they were inside their vessel with young kids and no doubt had all the doors and windows closed and we got no response from them either. As we knew RB was going to go up the creek with the high tide, we just hoped he was getting some Bream and there wasn't some sort of problem because we couldn't really up anchor and drive a 50ft houseboat around in that sort of fog safely anyway.

Time passed and the tide was dropping considerably, which meant that RB would have to get out of the creek before he became stuck for the night, but still no response to our calls and for those knowing the area, of a night, with no wind at all, you could hear a pin drop- it's that quiet. It was now over 4hrs since he'd left and we could no longer see the other houseboat's lights or in fact anything at all. No good calling anyone, as with the fog like it was, visibility was basically only a few meters for everyone.

Then all of a sudden, we heard a noise towards where we knew the shore was, and recognizing the sound of an oar splashing the surface, knew it was RB coming back. When he appeared out of the fog, he was kneeling in the little boat and using an oar like a paddle. As he got up close to the houseboat, he still hadn't replied to our greeting and we knew something was badly wrong. On reaching the side he said "help" and we gaffed the short tow-rope on the front of the tender and pulled him around the back to where the boarding platform is and got him out of the boat.

RB was soaking wet and had some shocking scrape marks on his head and hands, with plenty of dried blood on his forehead. He was absolutely freezing and shaking dreadfully, but could barely speak, and just said "drink quick", so we got him a water and he gulped it down. Only then he managed to speak and said he'd fallen in and become disorientated as to where we were, in relation to where he was. 

We decided to put him in the shower to warm him up and he recovered enough to tell us what had happened, but was suffering from hypothermia from being wet and freezing for an extended period. After getting dry from the hot shower, we got him straight into his sleeping bag and put a stack of the houseboat's supplied doona's  on him while John and I talked about correct procedures for hypothermia, although we both have work-cover accredited first aid certificates, neither of us had ever treated the condition before. It took a while, but RB finally stopped shaking and started to warm up, before relaying what had happened after he rowed away from us.

He said that after fishing along the edges for a fair while and slowly floating up to the sandbank at the inner side of the bay-right where the creek came out- he'd spotted heaps of good sized fish disturbing the bioluminescent life and thought they were Bream and he'd try for them. Every time he got close though, the 'glow' from the little boat's movement would spook the fish, which moved further up into the tiny creek. So he decided to tie the boat up against the shore and stalk them on foot.

He got out of the boat and moved along a little, but the side of the bay he was on has basically no access along the shore, so he decided to go upwards. This proved to be a bad move because he continued going upwards and soon found himself pretty much on the side of a sheer wall about 15 or so meters above the water. He could still see the bioluminescent movements almost below him and moved slowly along the edge, high above the water. His plan was to come down on the only accessible large boulder a bit further up and fish from it just above water level.

The stone part of the 'wall' ended and was replaced by really steep bush with a soil base and he moved along this edge by grabbing saplings and hillside vegetation to steady himself. He was wearing work boots, but they didn't have a great tread on them and he had wet weather gear on and was pretty hot from his climb. After making it along to above his destination rock, he drank his fourth Red Bull can and started the near vertical descent down. 

About 10 meters above the rock he started slipping and regardless that he grabbed plenty of vegetation on the way down, he picked up speed and tumbled at least 5 or 6 meters down the last bit, landing between the only two boulders at water level. Everything on the level he landed on was covered in oysters and he cut himself as he tumbled and slid- only his expensive wet weather gear saved him from more skin loss, but his $600+ jacket and waterproof trousers were torn badly. He actually landed on his feet and never lost contact with the hillside or he would have been injured really badly and was also extremely lucky to have landed between the boulders and not on one, how he didn't at least break an arm was genuinely miraculous, but injured and shocked he was.

He was also lucky that landing in the water, albeit shallow, helped to cushion the fall, but he did bang his head badly and had a lump on his head by the time he got back to us. He was completely saturated and had lost his expensive rod and reel and small bag of bait and tackle. When he realised he hadn't broken any bones, he waded back through chest high water to where he'd wedged an oar in the rocks and tied the boat to it, but couldn't pull the oar out of where he'd wedged it, so decided to use the remaining oar like a paddle and headed in what he thought was the direction back.

After paddling for a while, he realised he'd gone the wrong way in the fog and was totally lost, no other craft visible to him, so he turned back and managed to find the creek mouth eventually, in part because the school of fish was now coming back out of the creek and their glowing trails were his markers. When we asked why he hadn't called out? He replied he was so dehydrated from drinking Red Bull and chain smoking cigarettes that he couldn't even call out, which was what he was like when he finally made it back to the big boat.

As we weren't sure if he was suffering from concussion from the lump on his head, we decided to keep him awake, with John and I talking to him, we finally let him get a bit of sleep several hours later, when the silence was broken by the sound of a reel's ratchet alerting a fish had taken a live bait. As fishing had been completely forgotten since RB's return, lines hadn't been monitored at all and the ratchet heralded a decent fish was moving with a bait.

We left RB in his pile of warmth and went out to attend to the fish, which was on one of John's rods. It was a big Tailor and had been on the line long enough to have swum several laps around the boat, picking up every other line in the process and causing the most monumental tangle of all time. All the lines had to be reeled in and the resulting mess and line snarl had to be cut off- no chance of untangling multiple live baits that'd swam around and around each other.

By the time we reset all the baits, RB was sound asleep and seemed to be breathing OK, so we let him sleep and kept an eye on him, before resuming active fishing again. We caught some good fish before dawn, but as soon as it was light enough, John got back in the little boat and went looking for RB's gear. About 20 minutes later John was back with the lost rod, tackle bag and the missing oar. He said there was a huge 'slide mark' on the side of the hill and we should have a look at it before we left.

When we'd had breakfast, John and I rowed over to the slide mark to check it out and sure enough, where RB had come down was in the small gap between two large boulders. He'd taken everything in his path down with him as he slipped- soil, shrubs and dirt were all over the rocks below the slide, indicating exactly where he'd come down and we just shook our heads as we looked- he never should have attempted what he had-it was far too dicey.

We rowed back to the houseboat and found RB up making a coffee, so we knew he was well enough to question more, especially after us seeing his accident site and John retrieving his expensive Sustain reel and custom rod.

The trip finished that day, but at the post-trip meeting, it was decided in the future, nobody was to take the small boat out again after dark.

RB was extremely lucky to have survived that night, if he hadn't been able to find us he may well have frozen to death and that's after missing landing on the rock, hitting the oysters and becoming dangerously dehydrated from only drinking Red Bull. It could have been a tragedy and it's the one thing we've never made jokes about, even years later.

 

 

 

 

 

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Great read Waza. RB was lucky things didn't turn out more serious, that's for sure.

I still do most of my fishing on my own. Nothing as adventurous as that these days, but I just enjoy the solitude of being alone on a beach or riverbank.

Edited by Green Hornet
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I guess one of the reasons that you and your mates had become such capable anglers was that you (collectively) took some calculated risks whilst fishing. RB was very fortunate in surviving the slide AND the freezing cold water. In true spirit you looked after him and luckily he was alright, but it must have been a real worry for you and John M.

You certainly have a great memory for detail Waza, and a real talent for writing your adventures down, so that we may all enjoy reading them. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us. bn

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4 hours ago, Green Hornet said:

Great read Waza. RB was lucky things didn't turn out more serious, that's for sure.

I still do most of my fishing on my own. Nothing as adventurous as that these days, but I just enjoy the solitude of being alone on a beach or riverbank.

Thanks Pete if he wasn't such a tough bloke he would have been in dire straits- no more alone trips up there after dark

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3 hours ago, big Neil said:

I guess one of the reasons that you and your mates had become such capable anglers was that you (collectively) took some calculated risks whilst fishing. RB was very fortunate in surviving the slide AND the freezing cold water. In true spirit you looked after him and luckily he was alright, but it must have been a real worry for you and John M.

You certainly have a great memory for detail Waza, and a real talent for writing your adventures down, so that we may all enjoy reading them. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us. bn

Hi Neil he never should have attempted the climbing part and there wouldn't have been a problem. We were powerless to even look for him without the little boat and I dare say he wouldn't have survived the night if he hadn't made it back by himself- it was absolutely freezing.

When we were younger we dubbed the creek "the coldest place on earth" as we originally fished there in car-top aluminium boats.

I was really glad to have another first-aider to reference with that night because we couldn't have got him out of there or got help in due to the fog.

Glad you enjoy reading these posts

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1 hour ago, Burger said:

Another good read waza, RB was a VERY lucky fella.

Hi Stu he doesn't gamble usually but we told him to get himself a lottery ticket with that luck. It should also be noted that large quantities of that energy drink are also no good for you!

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Great story Waza, well that's if you're not RB. When I went to the Solomon Islands in 2019, I remember one night I went to sleep in our 'cabana' and when I stepped out of the door in the morning one of the guys we were travelling with was out cold with 2 empty bottles of Cointreau next to him. So that along with this story is enough to put me of drinking when I'm old enough.

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