Category Archives: Short Takes

Knotting is Safe

Ultimately, the fish is the most deciding factor in any encounter. The fish doesn’t care how flash your reel is, or whether you have a Portuguese cork grip on a custom built rod. All the fish cares about is getting that weird but amazingly strong little creature out of its mouth. With all the stresses created while the fish is doing this, weak points are put to the test. Knots make or break the day. Continue reading Knotting is Safe

Changing Tactics – The Lure of the Bright and Shiny

We all know the story – we wildly dig into our tackle box yet again, sure there must be some hidden gem that will bring the day back from complete failure. We’ve tried hard plastic, soft plastic, wood and metal; but there has to be something that they’ll bite on, right? Well, who knows? The next day, here we are looking back through the box thinking “what the hell do I have all these things for! All I ever use is that thing anyway!”

When is it time to change lures? Should we have on hand a solid selection of 30 odd to choose from; or should we focus on a small assortment of tried and tested workhorses – making sure to get placement and retrieve correct before anything else? Continue reading Changing Tactics – The Lure of the Bright and Shiny

Cheers to September 1st

Just for opening day… Dick will be heading back into bass country this afternoon!

She’s sitting in the shadows now
Away from morning sun.
Beneath the singing river oaks
And cicadas endless hum.

The scrub wrens, and the cuckoo doves
They make their presence known.
But no one knows, save but she
Her hidden, murky home.

The months have passed since last she stalked
These hollows, snags and holes.
She travelled far, and back again
By instinct forced to go.

The estuary, it made its call
She answered it in time
And rode winter floods down to the mouth
To meet with others of her kind.

And dance they did, through those shorter days
And brackish winter nights.
The schooling shoals holding in the deep
Trusting sea grass to shelter life.

And now she’s back, she’s home again
And hunting are her dreams.
Fast and lean and travel scarred
Are her flanks of olive green.

Her fins a-fan, to hold in place
Her bulk against the murk.
To dart at once at what those eyes they track
And let jaws do their work.

The shoaling smelt, well they know
The dangers of the dark.
And clicking shrimp, and water nymphs
Fear the shadows as they pass.

As stretching days begin to warm
And Christmas beetles fall from grace
She hits them as they flounder
And waits for cicadas to take their place.

And sure enough, here comes the drone
The ceaseless, whirring hum.
Her hidden eyes watch the air above
For sure now they have come.

There! Above, but descending fast
She surges to meet the crash.
As the bug tries to right its wings
She meets it with a splash!

Triumphant, and excited for the kill
Fins splayed and eyes aflare
As feeble clicking dies between her jaws
She drifts back to her lair.

She stares in silence from her home
While plastic hulls lumber by.
She’s been around for long enough
To steer clear and not ask why.

And so she lives, another summer spent
Away from morning sun.
Beneath the singing river oaks,
And cicadas endless hum.

A Bit of Spin

Everyone that has spent any time in the bush knows that a key life skill is to be able to tell a good yarn. Sitting around fires with all sorts of people over the years, I’ve heard plenty. That being said, I’ve gotten involved in as many situations that make a good story too. Just for kicks, here are a few of the golden ones that I’ve seen or heard about lately.

The Fencer

The summer of 2012 found our ecology team spending a lot of time on the south coast of NSW looking for the threatened green and golden bell frog and Australasian bittern. The swamp we spent our time surveying took a fair bit of effort to get about in due to the thick growth of cumbungi and common reed that carpeted the area, as well as the fact that the entire place was inundated by up to nearly three feet of water. At some stage in the past, the landholders had worked on drainage of the swamp by constructing a series of drains running the boundaries of paddocks. The digging of these drains also created raised bunds that provided the only hard footing in the place.

One such summer day found myself and the ever keen Jim wandering about in the thick of it counting frogs, falling in hidden drains and steaming ourselves to a nice juicy consistency in chest-high waders. By midday we had covered the section of swamp that we wanted and were ready to head back to the vehicle to go and check out another area. Getting to a bund was a nice change from forcing through the almost impenetrable reeds that grew everywhere else and we were glad to get a slight reprieve on this metre wide corridor.

Taking the lead, I wandered along keeping an eye out for the odd wader tearing blackberry bush. Understandably, the first patch of sunlit ground that we came onto was home to a fine example of a tiger snake; the swamp loving, black banded, bad tempered bastards that they are. While there is no need to fear a snake, being able to read and react to the individual is a valuable skill. There is also the saying of letting a sleeping dog lie.

I spotted the snake at about the same time that it saw us. True to form (I’ve never met a tiger that needed any provocation) it cocked its head up and flattened its neck in a big-noting ‘I’m thinking of biting you’ kind of way. Pulling up to observe I pointed it out to Jim saying “look at this cranky bugger”.

What I had forgotten was Jim’s fascination with reptiles and interest in snake handling. Taking one look and with a “that’s awesome!” he found a stick, squeezed past me, and poked the snake.

The thing just went mental.

“Oh shit!” was all Jim managed to get out as he realised the confined nature of his position, with no option of jumping to the side and a slow retreat at best along the way we had come. Meanwhile the snake was free to move wherever it wanted, and all it wanted was Jim.

What I watched next was the best amateur fencing match I’ve seen, with the snake advancing repeatedly only to be parried by Jim and his trusty stick. The defence was astounding, and I’m sure the nearby bell frogs listened in bated breath to the angry hisses, the clash of swamp oak against scale, and the subtle rustle of PVC wader footwork as the battle raged.

In time the snake realised the tenacity of its opponent and stopped to glare at us while we waited to let it make a decision. Eventually, and with a final flick of the tongue, it slithered off into the undergrowth. Jim turned to me saying “that wasn’t a good idea”. Agreeing, I decided not to mention the event to our Work Health and Safety committee.

The Metal-benders

My uncle was fishing for mackerel from his local pier in Fife, Scotland, one summer afternoon and was enjoying having the place to himself. One fish landed already, things were looking promising. Before long, however, approaching (loud) voices were heard and an American couple came chattering down towards him. Laden with plastic shopping bags and massive beach caster rods, the woman asked whether there were any fish about and what they were interested in.

“Yes, a few around” pointing to the fish at his feet and holding aloft the light spinning gear and metal jig that the fish had taken.

“See honey, the fish are here!” She exclaimed to the bloke and they selected a position nearby.

Setting out the shopping bags, a couple of six packs of lager were extracted and duly cracked. He began setting up a rod while she got in a quick smoke, and he handed over a baited rod buckled under the weight of a lead approaching the size of a billiard ball. Time for another can.

He was getting ready to set up another rod while she wound back to send a line out there. With amazing force, she fired the weigh out over the Firth of Forth. Taking in the slack, and confused with the lack of resistance, she wound back in to find what she hadn’t noticed; that the line had snapped when she cast.

“What’re you doing?” he cursed as she waved the broken line in front of him.

“The weight wasn’t heavy enough, put a bigger weight on!” and she cracked another beer while he re-rigged.

“Go easy, just go easy” he instructed as he handed the rod back over.

Taking aim, she wound up for another overhead catapult. Swoosh! went the rod and she squinted out into the distance to see where the bait landed. Splosh! went the cannonball as it finally landed in the harbour behind her.

“What’re you doing!” he cursed as she adjusted to fish her new destination.

“I’ll just leave it there” she remarked while looking for her lighter.

“No! Get it back out in the sea!” he instructed and she began to wind back in.

“Just go easy this time”.

He sat back down to crack another beer as she repositioned for another cast. Apparently unimpressed with the performance of the overhead cast, she must have decided to try a different approach and wound up for a sweeping sidearm cast.

The bloke was just settling back and raising the can to his lips as she rocketed another cast aimed at the clock tower in Edinburgh. Just short of his face, the weight took the beer can head on on its way past and cleaved the thing neatly in two in front of his eyes.

Staring dumbly at the surgical-grade amputation for a second or two, he then began to splutter, cough and finally roar at his accomplice.

My uncle quickly and quietly packed up his gear and left the pier to them, assuring them that he had enough for his tea on the way past. A couple of other locals that had been wandering down the pier with rods in hand turned around at about the same time.

The Optimist

A few years ago my good mate Forest decided to visit me for a month in the United Kingdom to see a few different things. While in Yorkshire we had a bit of roe deer stalking lined up and he was pretty keen to get out and see these little creatures up close. Unfortunately for him, he had also managed to contract glandular fever at some point just before getting to the UK and was having trouble with fatigue.

We were planning on heading to the nearby village pub with my old man and a few of his mates for a couple of pints on Friday night, before an early morning stalk on the Saturday. Forest was feeling pretty doughy on the Friday afternoon and decided to have a kip so he would be fresh for the pub. I assured him I would wake him up in time to go at 7pm.

At that time of year it was getting dark around 5pm, so by 6:30 night was set in. Daylight wasn’t until about 7am. Heading to his room, I decided to stir him up a bit. Bursting through the door and clapping my hands I woke him.

“Come on, get up! I couldn’t get you up last night mate so we left you to sleep. It’s 6:30am and we’re getting ready to head out for a deer. Get your gear on, there’s a coffee downstairs for you”.

I went back to the kitchen and informed the others. We didn’t think the trick would hold for long.

Ten minutes later Forest came down fully decked out in his stalking gear, grabbed his coffee and started lacing his boots. Having done so he sat back to take his coffee and get ready for the hunt. First he looked at me then my dad, decked out in clean shirts, jeans and dress boots. I could see him thinking as he sipped his coffee. Finally, he looked back to me.

“Why are you guys dressed like that?”

Bursting into laughter, I explained that it wasn’t actually morning and we were about to head to the pub.

“Oh. That makes sense then” he said, starting to laugh.

It turns out that when he woke up he had a text message from one of the locals asking what he was up to. He had replied that he was just getting ready to go out and look for a deer. After a few minutes of silence he got a reply.

“How will you see them?”

To which he replied:
“Don’t worry, it will be getting light soon”.

The Ethics of Killing Animals

War was sparked, again, a few weeks ago following the publishing of an article in the Newcastle Herald (http://www.theherald.com.au/story/2023595/massive-swansea-shark-catch-sparks-backlash/). Said article concerned the capture of a big tiger shark offshore of Swansea during a game fishing competition during which the shark was killed by the angler, weighed and photographed. Obviously, the photos of the fish laid out next to the angler in the boat, and strung up off the gambrel with its weight scrawled onto its hide got mixed results from readers of the paper.

Of key note here, however, is the fact that the angler expressly stated that he did not want himself to be fully named – and the photographs had blurred his face to further mask his identity. Why would he do that? I would say that he knew full-well that he had done something ethically inappropriate.

I have to say; even I was a little taken aback when looking at the photos. They were perfectly reminiscent of those old black and white ones and faded ‘70’s shots that we see from a bygone age. Those photos are amazing in their own right purely for the fact that they were taken in a different era – while it does stir a sense of loss to see dead creatures never likely to be seen again, they are still awe inspiring. And it isn’t right to loathe generations that didn’t realise the consequences of their actions. Let they who are without sin cast the first stone.

The fact is that those days are over. No longer is the leviathan dragged from the deep and displayed, its sun-parched skin and eyes glazed in the dull dead shine that signifies the end of something great. The Old Man realised his mistake and told his story for us to take notice. Nothing good comes from going out too far.

What got me most was the fact that as part of the competition more than 70 marlin were reportedly captured, tagged and released. Why were they released? Some fish may have been kept for eating, and some may have died during the fight or had to be killed due to deteriorated condition by the time they came boat-side; but why is there such a marked difference in treatment of the species? Without doubt the tiger shark is considered a game fish in these circles, but apparently not in the class that a marlin is.

That being said, let’s not get one-sided here. While those against the killing of sharks tie their environmental heartstrings in knots, we don’t see them writing in to the paper every week criticising the Friday fishing report. So let’s be honest, both sides of the argument are as hypocritical as each other.

Climax or Anticlimax?

So what is killing? How does it fit into the chase and what does it mean? I remember years ago coming to the realisation that it is not necessary to hunt to kill; but it is necessary to kill if you are to truly be a hunter. It seemed like a revelation to me at the time, but of course there is nothing new in this world and several years later I read those very words in the final pages of a book covering the extensive history of hunting in North America.

While people don’t generally consider fishing as a form of hunting, it definitely can be. Of course there is limited option of catch and release when carrying a spear, bow or firearm; but there is always a choice between sending a killing piece and not. A hook can (and probably should) be viewed in a very similar light. But the ethics of catch and release angling are a topic for another time.

So what is killing? The build up is definitely intense. Everything has to be just so for things to come together in the end; whether that be during a long and patient stalk or the fast and furious struggle of close-quarter work with dogs and short range weapons. I can attest that the build-up to a large boar charging you while you stand your ground and take him on with a boar spear takes you through all sorts of crazy emotions – but that single moment is always the same.

The moment of commitment is the climax of the hunt. That split second that seems to slow time – the boar drops his head and you know he is going to charge and that there is no longer an option to back out – you see a clear shot and begin to draw the bow – the cross hairs are sitting fine and you start the gentle squeeze of the trigger. These things happen in the blink of an eye yet, to me at least, everything else is gone. The adrenaline that was keeping me going disappears, along with the rest of the world. Everything is suddenly simple and I have all the time I need to do what I’m about to do.

Of course this state shatters as soon as the final move is made, and then it’s all downhill. The important thing is that the peak is reached before any killing is made.

The reality of the situation

So if the peak is reached before the final blow, then why continue if you don’t have to? With fishing you have this option. The mad adrenaline rush occurs when the hook sets, the rod loads up and you hang on helpless during those first few electric runs or lunges. Then you have a chance to plan the attack and regain composure during the fight before the breath-holding make-or-break moments between trying to land the fish and actually securing it. Here comes the big decision – is this fish coming home or going home?

There are only two reasons you should decide on the former. The first is that the fish is going to be eaten. Don’t think you can get away with providing it to others. If you aren’t going to eat it yourself then get out of the water.

The second is that the fish has become injured due to being captured and should not be returned. If this is the case then you should stop and consider what has happened and how to rectify it. If you find that there is no legitimate reason for this occurring then you should probably get out of the water.

What does this mean?

Relating this back to the tiger shark now deposited somewhere in a watery grave; what I’m saying is that if old mate didn’t have to kill it then he shouldn’t have. A photo and an accurate weight don’t cut it as reasons for killing. And I’m saying this for sharks, marlin, flathead and European carp. Ethically, there is little difference between the killing of any of these fish. I’m not getting into the conservation discussion here. I’m simply stating that in this day and age, the wilful killing and ultimate wastage of a food resource is not acceptable.

I hunt much less than ever right now because my freezer is full. I can’t justify killing a pig in the fake name of concern for agriculture or native ecosystems, or both, or neither. The sickening fact is that hundreds of tonnes of high quality ‘free’ protein is left to rot in Australian paddocks every year for the sake of growing low quality, obesity causing, environmentally disastrous carbohydrate. Go figure.

To relate this to fishing, perhaps a more ethically appropriate relationship to our fisheries resources is to keep more of the fish we catch, but to fish less. Something to scratch your head about.

Welcome to On the Trail!

Welcome! As this is our first post, here is a basic run-down on the ideas that led to the creation of On the Trail.

Perhaps it all started on the evening of the 31 August 2013, as my good mate Richard and I waded a shallow section of a crystal clear river in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Australia.

As we portaged our canoes up a small section of rapids I looked up at the foothills of the Barrington Tops, visible as a backdrop to the river channel, and thought ‘this is something worth sharing’. That night around the campfire, offhand remarks started niggling away in the back of my head. Why couldn’t we share this kind of thing?

When you look at a map of anywhere, there is generally an awful lot of activity. The human footprint is pretty well marked on the landscape these days, and yet, there are still little pockets of interest wherever you are. These range from overlooked creeks to vast tracts of wild lands. These places, and the things that live there, are what we are interested in.

For us, fishing, hunting and observation are all integral parts of experience. We want to share the stories of these places, and help out where we can. We don’t know it all, but what we do know we will try to share. After all, the best part of any story is being out there and making it.

Happy hunting.
Joe