Master-baiters, Fishnets, and the Hilton! Part II

If you haven’t already read it, please have a quick peak at Master-baiters, Fishnets, and the Hilton! Part I before going any further. It will fill in a few gaps about the trip.

To write… or not to write? That’s the question that has been plaguing me. On one hand, I could share a yarn about one of the best fishing locations I have been to in a very very long time. The mischief, the mayhem, and that prized fish. On the other hand, I could be giving away information about a piscatorial paradise and breaking the great oath of “what happens at Cowell stays at……” Sh%t! Damn it! Too late now, I’ve just given it away! Oh the burdens we must carry.

Cowell [noun] (pronounced cow-well). Meaning nothing to see here, nothing to do here, a town with no beer and definitely no fish.

If someone ever tells you that Cowell is a “fishing paradise located 490 kilometers north-west of Adelaide”, or that it’s “a place of mischief, mayhem, and that once in a life time prized fish”, they are lying and you shouldn’t ever trust the words that come from their mouth. In fact, the word from the local constabulary is that people who go into Cowell never come out alive! Scary stuff! I have two suggestions… Firstly, heed my warnings and just continue on to Port Lincoln. Secondly, stop reading this blog right now.

Hmmm… you’re still reading this? Oh well.. um…. the rest of this yarn will be about a remote fishing spot in Northern Australia.. somewhere near Darwin…. or Broome…. or Bamaga. Definitely not about a town called Cowell nor the fishing at Cowell. Now that that is clear, let’s continue on. Without further adue, the “Cowell Hilton Fishing Club. Cross vs Troff March 2012″ officially begins….

… and there’s no better place to stay then the Cowell Hilton itself!

The sun has just come up, the wind is almost non-existent, and as Big Kev used to say… “I’m excited!”. The boat is hooked up, the gear is packed, it’s time to show the Troffs how to fish. :)

Whack! Bloody mozzie! It’s freezing cold and I’m wondering how on earth the mozzies are around this time of year? Back home they’re only around during the summer…. strange. Anyhow.. I digress….

We amble our way through the town-that-shall-not-be-named and make our way towards the boat ramp. You can feel the anxiety in the air…. a mix of “I hope we can get these Queenslanders onto some fish”, with a splash of “I hope we catch more fish than these mexicans”.

When we arrive at the boat ramp, I’m gobsmacked… not from the shear size of the harbour or the well thought out boat ramp, but because of the number of Queensland number plates parked at the ramp. 1…. 2…. 3…. 4…. 5…. and on and on and on. “These chaps are a long way from home?” I proclaim. “Yeh… they’re here raping and pillaging the crabs.” is the laced response. Apparently there is a tribe of Queenslanders that make the trip down every year, crab all day long, pick the meat from the crabs, and then get the cryovac machines out and package it all up. Whilst that doesn’t sound too menacing, it’s doesn’t just happen for one day. It is every day without a break for weeks! And to make it worse, they then sell the meat on the sides of the road or at the local truck stops, doing the commercial chaps out of business! I’m completely embarrassed, but it actually gets worse as I find out later on at the cleaning tables. They don’t even get all the meat out! I kid you not, these cretins of society leave at least a third of the meat in the shells, and don’t even bother picking the meat from the claws! Seriously… if you are one of these mongrels, p!ss off and take your cryovac machines with you. You’ve already caused enough damage in Queensland, don’t spoil other parts of Australia.

Anyhow.. enough of my rant. There’s some fish to catch!

We’re on our way. Uncle Kym is the Captain, Dad is the navigator and movie maker, and Brett and I get started prepping the rigs and bait. 32 years! It’s been 32 years since I was last here. This trip is going to be a cracker.. I can feel it.

And before I forget. Brett is an absolute champion. He didn’t stop for the entire four days of fishing, making sure we had our best chance of hooking up to some scaly critters. He was constantly setting up the burley pots, keeping the fresh baits prepped, checking the pots, etc etc etc. Thanks mate… really appreciated it!

The conditions were dead calm in the harbour, and it looked as though the fishing Gods were going to be kind to us on the very first day. That’s a little strange… usually the fishing gods like to test out their prey on the first day. Oh well… let’s go out wide then! We round the corner and start making our way out of the protection of the harbour, when all of a sudden the dead calm conditions start to ripple a little. Pfft… she’ll be right… hi-yo silver! A little further along and… hmmm…. the ripples start to stand up a little. It’ll still be right! Full steam ahead Captain! And then it happened, the standing up ripples suddenly decided to turn into darker menacing monsters. The test was put in front of us, and with bravado well fed the challenge is accepted!

1… 2… 3… 4. The lines make their way to the deep dark abyss. I love this feeling…. there’s something about putting that first line in the water on the first day of a fishing trip. The anxiety, the pressure, the ……. blurghhhhh…… And on that note, Uncle Kym provides his own personal addition to the burley trail. :) I guess all the excitement got to the Captain too, causing him to forgot to take the magic pills. :)

Yep! I’m on! Now I forget who the first person was to hook up on day 1, but for argument sake lets just say it was me… or atleast it was a Queenslander. With a smile on my face, my chest puffed out, and a bend in my rod, I pull in the first squire of the day, or “rugger” as the mexicans call them. Better than nothing! For the next couple of hours Brett keeps the burley pot full, Uncle Kym keeps the surface burley trail moving, and Dad and I make sure the scales of a few more ruggers get in the boat. We couldn’t escape the dolphins, and pretty much every rugger we through back became a snack for them. Very similar to the dolphins that hang around at Harry Atkinsons back home.

After quite a few hours it was time to head back to the ramp and slaughter a few cold beers. But first, we needed to collect some bait for tomorrows session, as we all knew tomorrow can only get better. We start the drift, grab the light rods, and throw a few gents (maggots for the unacquainted) on the hooks. A few seconds later and I can recall that familiar fight of a tommy from when I was kid fishing here all those years ago. They’re great fun, and put on a decent account for their size. One after the other we slowly fill the bait bucket with these irresistible snapper jelly beans, eventually calling it a day when the hordes of trumpeter move in. I’m glad we don’t have the plague proportion of trumpeter back home as they have here… sometimes they were as thick as thieves.

The boat is loaded and we make our way back to the Hilton. We clean up all the gear, throw a few jokes around, and before we know it we’re sitting on the deck over looking the harbour and diving in to a couple of plates of nachos with cheese. Cheers lads, and here’s to a great day! For the rest of the night we shared a few laughs, told a few yarns, and generally got up to mischief. As much as I’d love to share a bit of the tom foolery, I’m under the oath of “what happens at Cowell… stays at Cowell… ‘aye”.

Day 2 and the weather gods have decided to be nice. A quick little dance around the Hilton packing the boat, and we’re greeted by a harbour that is ridiculously calm. Wooohoooo!! Let’s fish!!!

Plan A today… get out to the spot where we toyed with a few ruggers yesterday, and hopefully pull in a knobby or three.

A couple of hours passed by before we even knew it, and the only difference between today and yesterday was that The Captain wasn’t providing the extra burley. Almost like deja vu, we emulated yesterday’s trip and a few ruggers were coming on board, and being thrown back just as quickly… apart from one. Now I hate rubbing things in, especially to the Mexicans, but the first legal fish of the trip not only went the Queenslanders way, but it was mine… all mine! 1-0 to Queensland and we rub as much salt into the wound while we can. :)

“Yep! I’m on!” Line is peeling off Brett’s reel and everyone’s excitement suddenly lifts! We all start offering words of advice on just how to land the fish… be calm, let it run, don’t rush, take your time.. etc etc etc. The fish is putting up a good fight, but Brett knows straight away that this fish isn’t the allusive knobby that we’ve been chasing… there’s just none of those familiar bump, bump, bump head shakes that you get from snapper. Whatever it is, it’s giving a good account for itself, but eventually gives in and becomes a dead weight. In unison, both Uncle Kym and Brett call it for a ‘dog shark’. That’s got to be alright I’m thinking to myself.. shark’s pretty tasty…. But then I see it. What the mexicans call dog sharks, we call port jacksons.. and no…. it wouldn’t be tasty and is usually protected. A little deflated, but still happy to hook on to something substantial, Brett lets the shark go and we’re all ready to head back in to the harbour. We covered some good ground out wide, fed plenty of squire to the persistent school of dolphins, and tried without luck to hook onto some very shy squid.

We all agree that it’s time Plan B is in affect…. so start making our way back to the harbour to hook into some whiting, grab some razorfish, and russle up some more bait for tomorrow. Unfortunately, even though we could see the flash of whiting on the banks, we only managed a couple. Next phase of the plan… the razorfish.

Slurp! That’s the sound of my pluggers embedding deep into the soft sand as I jump off the side of the boat ready to collect razorfish. Pop! Bloody hell! That’s the sound of me having a blow out on one of the pluggers. Hmmm… Uncle Kym passes me his crocs to wear as there’s no way you can bare foot when collecting the razorfish… hence the name.

“Just don’t touch the broken shells as they’ll probably have a blue ringed octopus in them” is the advice I get from Brett. Great! Not only are these molluscs nasty on the feet, they’re also home to an extremely small, but deadly octopus. What a wild and wonderful place!

Now, for those of you that know me, I’m very new to the whole eating seafood scene. For some reason it’s taken me years to develop a taste of the sea… but one thing I promised myself this trip is that I’d grow up and be a little adventurous. So first up I promised the lads that I would give raw razorfish a go. It’s nicknamed the “poor mans scallop”, so at least it resembles something I have heard people eat. Brett spends a bit of time teaching me how to open up the razorfish, remove the heart (aka scallop), and I’m left to clean the rest of our catch… about 30 or so. Brett tarts up a poor mans scallop with a bit of soy sauce and salt, and hands it my way. There you go… hoe in. The scallop is about the diameter of a 20 cent piece, and doesn’t look too scary. Slurp… in the mouth it goes and I start chewing….. “bloody delicious!”. I absolutely loved it and threw down another 4 or 5…. yum! Later that evening Brett cooked some up with a bit of chilli and other herbs; if these are poor mans scallops, I can’t wait to try ‘normal’ scallops in the future!

With the sun setting out west, and an icy cold beer in my hand, I can’t weight for tomorrows adventures.

Day 3. This is our last full day here and our last real chance to get amongst the knobbies. The night before we all agreed that we would leave prior to dawn to make sure we make the most of the tide, plus we weren’t too keen to fish the expected wind change later that day.

We anchored straight on a spot that a local fisho told us had been holding some bigger fish, and dropped our baits into the dark abyss below. The moon is reflecting over the surface, and I’m staring into the ocean wondering whether there is a great white shark hovering around the boat in the darkness. The area is known for some huge sharks, and we had seen a seal or two around, which is their favourite snack.

The sun starts to make it’s way up, and we’re treated by an amazing show of light.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ………….. ZZZZZZZZZZZ………..ZZZZZZZZZ….. 0730 in the morning and we’ve got trouble. Brett is hooked up and the rod is fully loaded. Thump… thump.. thump…. yep… this is what we’ve been waiting for! Giggling like a school girl Brett works the fish, and before long the first snapper breaks the surface! I put the landing net in the water and Brett guides the fish straight in. Finally! We’ve boated the fish we’ve been waiting for! 6kg of South Aussie snapper!

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ………… Another rod loads up and we have literally only lifted the first fish in the boat. Get your rods in! Get your rods in!

Uncle Kym is looking at his reel as the line is being peeled away without hesitation. “Water! Water!” he implies expecting the drag to catch fire. “Here Mark.. Mark … take this.. it’s what you’ve come here for!” Uncle Kym passes the rod my way and unselfishly gives the fish over to me! I grab the rod and now the pressure is on… don’t drop this fish… give it time to wear itself out. Lift, and wind… lift, and wind. After a good 5-10 tussle, the fish gave up the ghost and was exhausted. It ‘popped’ to the surface and Uncle Kym had the net ready. “Come here baby…” he whispered to the snapper and like a pro, the fish was in the net and on the deck. Wooohoooo!!!! Woooohoooo!!! This was the snapper of a life time for me… my PB and everything I hoped for on this trip! 8 kg of pure South Aussie snapper!

ZZZZZZZ…… another line takes off at a thousand miles an hour! You have to be joking! I throw my fish in the esky, and see Uncle Kym’s rod completely buckled over and his arms being stretched.

It looks like good karma is due for Uncle Kym, because this is one big fish! ZZZZZZZ…… gain some line back…. ZZZZZZZ…. gain some line back…. ZZZZZZZ….. gain some line back. This went on for quite some time before the fish was exhausted. We’re all holding our breath to see just how big this monster would be, and then we see colour. The fish is a horse!!!!

I grab the net and put it in the water. I’d better not lose this fish. Uncle Kym coaxes the fish into the net and I lift her up. Geez this is a heavy fish! As I get the fish closer to the boat, SNAP! SPLASH! The net has snapped from the handle and this prize fish is back in the ocean! Both Uncle Kym and I dive for the net like synchronised swimmers, and without even having time to take in what has just happened we have the fish in the boat and we’re gobsmacked!

I feel terrible that I broke Uncle Kym’s net, but what a fish! I’m sure the broken net and the little zip tie bag of some of the snapper’s scales is still proudly displayed as a trophy back at his home. :)

ZZZZZZZZZ….. here we go again!

By the time the tide had stopped running, and we’d fish a couple of hours of the change, we’d managed 7 good snapper in total! Enough for us to have a good feed, and enough for us to share with the family back home. For me, it was the snapper session of a life time. And for the record, bait definitely outshone the plastics and hard bodies this trip… which is a surprise as I swear black and blue about plastics being the only way to go.

Anchor up… and still on natural highs from the amazing morning fishing, we decided to troll a few hard bodies along a ledge and see if we can’t hustle up a salmon or two for sport. Whack! My first ever salmon has slammed the lure, and after a brief but solid fight it’s on the boat. I haven’t eaten salmon before, and although I’d heard that it’s pretty ordinary, I was still interested to taste for myself. In with the snapper you go. Hindsight is a wonderful thing… the next time I catch a salmon, it’s going back. :)

With no further hookups on the salmon, we decided we would grab a few crabs on the way home. We anchor over a proven spot, and the most amazing crab fishing I’ve ever seen unfolded. We would drop two dillies each side of the boat, and Brett would go from side to side with a periscope looking device. He would look into the water, and simply yell out “Yep!”. On his word, we’d bring the net in and low and behold there would always be at least one or two massive blue swimmer crabs in the net! It was uncanny! Only one hour passed, and using this amazing technique we had grabbed the 50 crabs we were after, and were on our way back to the ramp. We had the dozen or so to trade with the local oyster farmer, a good amount for tonights dinner, and enough for us to take home and share with all the family. I wish the dodgy crab fishos from earlier would learn from this… only take what you need and leave the rest for another time.

We arrive at the ramp, and yes, we’re proud. Smiles from ear to ear.

Let the cleaning and gloating begin. :) What I really love about the cleaning shed at the Cowell Hilton is that there is also a large beer keg that has been cut into a boiler for the crabs. Hook up the gas and away you go. Brilliant!

We couldn’t help but spend a few hours at the camp kitchen cooking up some food and sharing a yarn or two about our adventures with the other campers. Perfect way to end a perfect day!

Day 4. Unfortunately, it’s time to head back to Adelaide and return home to Brisbane. But like any good fisho, “just one more cast” was the call for the day. We headed back out to the magical spot from yesterday, but obviously the stars weren’t aligned and we couldn’t pull up a scale. But in true form, the weather was incredible, as it always is when it’s time to go home.

So there you have it. We may have started off a little slow, but we finished the job we had come to do. I cannot for the life of me remember the final score, but it was probably a drawer…. definitely not 2-7 to the Troffs. :)

Mum and Dad… thank you so much for the present, it was everything I dreamed it would be. Brett, thanks for the yarns, the hints and tips, for keeping the fish interested, the delicious chilli crab, and for the best jerky I’ve ever had. I’d share a beer with you any day of the week mate. And Uncle Kym, I’m so sorry about your net, but I’m sure it was worth it and it gives you an excuse to buy a new one. Thank you so much for taking the time to share an amazing part of your world with us, and thanks for memories we won’t ever forget. Absolutely incredible!

Until next time, I hope you all enjoyed the yarn, and tight lines. Cheers!

P.S. Let it be known for the record that Brett and I absolutely destroyed Dad and Uncle Kym in team UNO. Too easy!!! :)

One Comment

  1. Matt Smith wrote:

    Hi mate,
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