months of dodgy accommodation, insects, heat, sweat and fishing
nightmares, it seemed strange to be finally leaving South East Asia for the
western world again- via a quick stopover in the amalgam
that is Singapore. However, after a while it became apparent that the only
difference really was
the expense of the dodgy
accommodation, insects, heat, sweat and fishing nightmares.
very late sir..." said the nice young lady behind the Singapore Air
desk at K.L. airport.
Yet again I had just checked in for the flight by
the skin of my teeth, this being something which was becoming a bit
of a regular occurrence - providing I even remembered the date I was
flying on and then actually turned up to catch it. A short hour or so
flight later the plane touched down at Singapore for a couple of days
stopover. I managed to work my way through the sparkling metro system (which I
was impressed with immediately cos there were 'No Durian!' signs in
evidence right through the system- these blokes have got the right idea!) to the
cheap part of town for accommodation in Little India and ultimately Dunlop Street.
After walking for what seemed like miles, I collapsed on top of
my bags in the reception of one of the hostels there... only to be
told they were fully booked and I'd have to look somewhere else. I
now have some idea how those blokes feel when they're training for
the SAS, and they've ran ten miles with full pack, think they've
finished, and then Colonel Bagshot kicks them up the arse and tells
them they've got another two miles to go.
Singapore is a bustling, busy, safe
and spotlessly clean place from what I saw of it, but to be honest,
I did next to nothing for the couple of days I was there, except for
checking out the local nightlife after dark, and cowering away from
the crippling heat and humidity in any air conditioned space I could
find during daylight. I guess the shopping would be good too, if you
had a fat wedge of cash you wanted to get rid of sharpish. Nice as
it was, I also
personally had the impression it had a bit of a 'sterile' feeling, having been in
'Asian Asia' for so long, and then going to a kind of 'Western
Asia', being pretty much lacking in the haphazard lunacy of the
other South East Asian cities I'd visited. The dozens and dozens of spectacular
buildings there - towering blocks of glass and
A brief Singapore stopover in Little
reaching for the clouds right across the city and dominating the
skyline, are often found to be the Singapore Branch of international
hotel chains. Not too coincidentally, that reminds me of
of an untoward incident that I was tangled up in on my first
evening out there.
I was heading for the
where I had been told by Swedish Erica on the Perhentian Islands
they had a club/bar type thing right up on the 72nd floor that was
worth checking out.So I put on my jeans and
Welcome to Sydney...
shirt I have
with me that has a collar and some buttons, and then wiped my
trainers with a wet paper towel, before strutting off downtown to
find said watering hole. This done, I joined the queue in the ground
floor bar, paid my twenty dollars entrance fee
("What!!??"), which included a token to get your first
drink 'free', and then had an ear-popping elevator trip up to floor
The place was packed with the young, the rich and the beautiful,
all dolled up in their designer tackle, and it was all pretty
sophisticated I have to say. Correspondingly, the view was amazing
right across the millions of blinking lights of the city. After a
cramped wait of at least twenty minutes at the bar, I eventually
ordered a large vodka and tonic ("shaken, not shtirred, Missh
Funnyfanny"), handed over my token, and turned to wind my
way through the crowds to find a pew-with-a-view.
Despite the hip
and trendy ambience of the place, the music was by and large crappy,
cheesy disco stuff, with the odd 'Jive Bunny' kind of montage of rap
tracks such as Vanilla Ice's genre defining seminal
Ice Baby' (...!) thrown in for good measure. Still, most of the
middle-aged ex-pats on the floor seemed to like it and were busy
shaking their Farah slacks and hard-earned honches down to the
ground. As I picked my way through the masses, all suave and
debonair as usual in my disco-Reeboks I held my drink up head-high,
making an effort to not splash the booze down someone's back.
And a warm welcome to the Northern Territory!
as it passed over the head of one of the microscopic four foot six Asian
girls in there, by sudden impulse she decided to lose the plot
completely and pogo up and down to whatever tune was on: "Ba-Doink!!"-
her head smacked the underside of my glass, pitching my arm in the
air like a one-man Mexican wave, showering her and her bunch of
mates with vodka and ice.
Home of the legendary Barramundi I was somehow hoping to get taffled up
She went down like a Japanese
sniper was taking pot-shots from the tower block opposite, and dropped
into the seat behind her holding her head and grimacing, looking
round for her assailant. The women in the immediate area all seemed
to be squealing and removing chunks of crushed ice from their cleavages, while the rest of the glitterati stood around
wondering what the hell was going on.
"Watch what you're doing for
Christ's sake" shouted one of the soaked ex-pat divas over the
"Don't blame me, blame bloody
Zebedee down there" I replied, heading to the bar for a 13
dollar refill, thankful that the glass was made of heavy duty stuff
and didn't smash over her nut.
therefore I left steaming Singapore, heading for Oz having made quite a lasting
first impression with the ladies, I'd say.
After flying out of Singapore, some seven
hours later me and my monster rucksack landed at Sydney. Unfortunately my
rod tubes didn't, which fishing-wise was something that could have slung
the spanner right in the works. After sorting this out with Qantas
handling, and telling them I was heading for Darwin that night, I pushed
my trolley through into arrivals, briefly amused at the irony that they
had chosen Steve "look at this little fella go" Irwin off the
Discovery Channel as the 'face' of their quarantine poster campaign. I
mean, if there was one bloke you'd like to stick in quarantine should he
actually set foot in your country...
Now, I realise that August means winter
down in the southern hemisphere, but no one had prepared me for the shock
of having steam on my breath for the first time in months. It was bloody
freezing, and I had to grub deep into my luggage to find the one
sweatshirt I had with me. There have been many times when I suspected that
life in a cold
climate perhaps didn't suit me, but the fillings dropping out of my back
teeth as I took my first breaths on Aussie tarmac was the final
confirmation. I was relieved I had a flight out of there
soon, but once I had booked what I had left of my luggage in for the evening
flight at the domestic terminal, I was left with 8 or 9 hours to kill
before heading back to the airport.
Always use a reputable guide.
This meant that as knackered as I was after
a sleepless overnight flight, I just had to go out and about and have a
mooch around the city- after all, it's rude not to isn't it? It could have been
tiredness, but it was strange how surreal it felt to finally actually be
there; the Harbour Bridge to my left and the Opera House to my right- both
structures I must have seen hundreds of times, but only on TV or in books
and magazines, but now this time I was standing right in front of them.
Luckily, despite the cold, the weather was crisp and clear, and the whole
area looked glittering in the bright sunshine- ideal for getting a few
nice snapshots. Along with the four thousand other tourists all taking
exactly the same pictures.
Darwin Harbour and my first Aussie Barramundi. Good times.
in Darwin after another four hours in a packed plane, even at midnight the
temperatures were much more like what I had become accustomed to! In
fact, at this time of year, the weather really is as close to perfect as
its possible to get, with daytime temperatures of 32 or 33 degrees,
cloudless skies, and low humidity, it seemed a mere light relief in
comparison to recent times up in Asia.
First things first, and the following
morning I was getting my bearings around the city, while looking around
for a tackle shop. No problem there, and after a brief chat with one of
the assistants, he handed me a small blue card, with the name and number
of a bloke called Chris written on it:
"Give this bloke a ring", he
says, "he's pretty reasonable and knows his way around the inshore
fishing in these here parts".
Despite advice that the water was still a bit
on the cold side at this time of year (the word 'cold'... honestly, not a
clue...), a couple of
days later I was dragging myself down to the Dinah Beach boat ramp at
8.30am to meet up for a day pursuing the local 'legend amongst fishes' -
the Barramundi. Unfortunately I should have been there at 8am, but due to
the nocturnal attractions of Mitchell Street (and my alarm clock not being
loud enough) I only just caught Chris in time, ringing his missus to tell
her that he was on his way home "because the useless pommie bastard
hasn't turned up".
"Happens to us all mate", was his
reply once I had apologised.
And in next to no time
we were heading into the creeks, mangroves and mudflats of Darwin
Harbour in search of some fish-based action. The time of arrival had
calculated to coincide with before low tide, since this was when the
bait fish and prawns would be forced to leave the sanctuary of the twisted
mangrove roots and brave the muddy creeks and channels for a few hours, a
situation which would be exploited to the full by the predators patrolling
the shallow margins as the water lowered. Within minutes of the anchor
being lowered, a school of large mullet sprayed from the surface as a
Queenfish ripped into them, stirring the shallow water into a brown
maelstrom, and despite chucking the rubber shad lure into the middle of
the mess, no hook up was achieved. Not so surprising, seeing as the lure
was a mere 65mm long model and the panic-stricken mullet were a pound or so in
told me this was an 'Estuary Cod'. Now, I'm sure I saw loads of these in
Asia (or same same but similar), so therefore I will call this Grouper No
1583 for the sakes of argument.
look! Another Snapper. Whoopee.
Chris turned out to be a very good guide-
as well as a very dry, funny and slightly unhinged (in the nicest possible
way) personality, explaining readily about why we were searching various
areas, pointing out spots where various channels emptied into the harbour
from the mangroves, and explaining several aspects of Barramundi behaviour
as we went. And as it turned out, after an hour or so of snooping about
and dropping the odd cast in here and there, a Barra crashed at my lure as
we fished a depression in the mud just on the edge of an emptying
"Right- we're hanging in here for a
bit then mate". Some twenty or so casts later I was doubting the
logic of it all.
"Won't he have spooked off the
place?" I asked.
"No way mate. He'll be sat back there
in his hole again. Your job now is to piss him off enough to have another
go. Just keep throwing the f***ing thing in there!". Fair enough...
So I carried on chucking a lure in there,
and sure enough, a few throws later the surface erupted in a spray of mud
and foam, and at last I was hooked up to my first Barramundi. A nice, head
shaking, tail-walking scrap later on the light spinning outfit and it was
lifted aboard. Since the fish measured 65cm, it was a legal 'keeper', so
knocked out with a thwack on the back of the bonce and then bled
out, before being stuck in the fish box on ice for later - the minimum size
for retention in the Northern Territory being 55cm.
And so the day
passed under the clear blue
skies, with several other strikes which either jumped off or fell short,
another couple of smaller samples, and a stray Estuary Cod, which I am
sure is just an advanced stage of Grouper, falling to the lures, along
with Chris showing off with demonstrations of his fly-casting
(fluff-chucking!) abilities. A very nice day out under the sunshine, I'd
As we strapped the boat to the trailer
during the late afternoon, Chris remarked that we would have done much,
much better after the start of October- when the water had warmed up a few
degrees, this being the off-season for Barra.
"So what is it the season for?" I
"Spanish Mackerel are on", he said. And
so after consultation with the tide tables, a trip in pursuit of another
tooth-ridden adversary I was yet to cross swords with was arranged for a
few days time.
"You'll need to be at the boat ramp at
6am, so no pissing it up in town the night before, right?!!" were his
"No problem!", I replied, making
a mental note to get someone to barricade me in my room the night before.
But this left a few days to kill in between,
and that night, while barbecuing the Barra back at my room (and making some friends cos there was far too much of it for me to eat alone), some
blokes who were staying there arrived back from a charter with tales of
large Black Jewfish they had caught, a couple over a metre long, during
their day out. Having never caught one of those, I was tempted, against my
better judgement, to book myself on one of the 'party boat' charters
operating out of Darwin - their leaflets seen laying around everywhere in
hostels, hotels, tourist information offices, trash cans and recycling
bins all over town.
Very! "Lemme see those fingers!!"
I say 'against my better judgement', since I had seen
these type of set ups operating in Florida years ago- basically a boatload
of holidaymakers in flowery beachwear and floppy hats out for a day to
fill their freezer. Not really my thing, but weighing up the many cons
against the possibility of catching a few new species, I decided to give
it a go.
A day of crossed lines, being told to wind
in each time someone hooked anything over a couple of pounds in weight,
catching a snapper a chuck (again), being confined to one two
metre square corner of the boat (towards the bows and far uptide of the burley
trail...great...), just dropping down bits of squid and pilchard to the bottom. Ho
When one of the blokes at the stern accidentally hooked a Black Tip Shark of
over fifty pounds I remember thinking how much I'd have loved to have had
the scrap with it, but aboard the boat its capture received nothing but
open disdain; "Oh shit it's a f***ing Noah" being about the
level of excitement. I'm certain they would
have been more excited with yet another two or three pound Snapper. I
suppose I did catch a three or four new species, including Threadfin
Salmon, but nowt to really flick my switch.
Dawn breaks heading out for a day on the
Arafura Sea. Another "My life is shit" moment I'm afraid.
Arriving at dock that
afternoon (when the advert leaflet clearly said 'evening'... but hey, it
was all a relief to be honest), "Never again - ever," was all I
could think about as I wandered back to the room. Still, all the other punters seemed happy
enough lugging their carrier bags full of salmon and snapper fillets up to their utes
(utility vehicles, for the uninitiated) and camper vans.
planning my trip, I had decided long ago to buy a car upon arrival in Oz
to get to some out of the way places, and it was while trawling around
through the adverts in the internet places and the like around
town that I
found one for sale that I thought would do the job for the dough I'd got available.
As it turned out, the backpacker I bought it from, Sonia from Germany (yet
another multi-lingual European who made this uni-lingual Pom feel just
about hopeless), was interested in seeing a bit of fishing. Once the deal
was done for the big red 4 litre Ford Falcon station-wagon - the discerning
backpackers wheels of choice, of course... we decided to go and have a few
beers. During the conversation, she asked if there would be any chance of
her coming out with Chris and myself on my fishing trip the next day.
amongst the many subjects covered during the previous Barramundi trip, was
the phenomenon of lady anglers and their ability to catch fish out of a
bucket. Both Chris and myself agreed that there definitely some kind of
cosmic (?) aura in connection with ladies and fishing, but whether it was
just a more laid-back attitude than your average over-competitive male
angler that the kippers somehow tune into, or simply some kind of
piscatorial pheromone that somehow rubs itself off on the bait we couldn't
tell. From this I deduced that Chris wouldn't object to some extra company
on the boat the following morning- although I did throw in a cautionary
word that there was likely to be plenty of blood and guts flying around the boat during the
day - if things happened to go to
"That is fine. It will be no
problem", she said.
"Just as long as you know....."
When the cab pulled up outside Sonia's
place the next morning at 5.45am, I was most surprised to see her stood in
the darkness smoking a fag, bag at the ready to go, me having thought that
four hours of lager induced sleep wouldn't be conducive to her getting up for a day out on the
ocean. But half an hour later the three of us were speeding out into the
dawn across the Arafura Sea, and
Who's the daddy now!?
A nice Spaniard... and even nicer stuck on the barbecue in a foil package with some garlic, chilli and knob
of butter. I like it a lot.
A big, fat, dumbell of a Sleeper Shark
lumbering about in the chum trail.
"A feelet of feesh forrr ma waff"
heading for a gap in the reef where Chris was
certain that the Spaniards would be chewing their way through the massive shoals of bait fish gathered there at the current state of tide. A huge
orange sky greeted us as we arrived at the spot, and even as the anchor
was lowered, we could see schools of pilchards and other unfortunate and
troubled marine life spraying in all directions, with the long, streamlined
silhouettes of free-jumping mackerel tearing and bullying their way
through their breakfast. Surely we had to catch today?!
burley trail of mashed pilchards was set running with the tide at the
stern of the boat, and a teaser sent down on a line, it's propellers and
mirrored surface designed to attract and irritate the predators into
feeding in our lane. Within a few minutes of the trail washing down, a
school of small jacks, scad and garfish were already taking advantage of
the scraps swirling down on the tide, and a couple of drops down with a
handline and gold hooks quickly had a couple of gars and jacks secured for
bait, and in turn these were impaled on a couple of strings of 3/0 hooks
to single strand wire on 20lb class outfits. And then all there was left
to do was sit back and wait, with the schools of tiny fish being systematically
torn into around the boat. The sight of all this murder and mayhem
occurring around us was too much to endure, and I soon had a spinning
rod rigged up with a spoon on the end, and began casting it in amongst the
patches of foaming and 'nervous' water surrounding us. It took only a few
casts to hook up, and a Broad Barred Mackerel was soon smoking the braid
from the spool. After tearing around the boat a few times, it was
unceremoniously gaffed and hoisted aboard, whacked over the head with 'The
Persuader', bled out with a slice through the gills and dropped onto ice
in the fish box. A good start - unless, of course, you're a mackerel.
So the pattern was set, with a Spotted
Mackerel and a small Spaniard falling to the spinning rod in short
succession a short while later, and a couple of missed chances on the
livebait rods, with baits being cut in half, and in one case a nice fish
relieving itself of the hooks after a short fight because I stupidly
allowed it to have a millisecond of slack line, being such an amateur at
these things! The burley and teaser were clearly working well in tandem.
In fact, the teaser was working so well that it was attacked on several
occasions by irate mackerel with livebaits panicking their little gills
out only a few metres away!
Eventually a couple of the bigger Spaniards
made a mistake on the livebaits, and on both occasions the relatively
light tackle was given a proper workout, with high speed, turbo-charged
runs streaking line from the drag under a baking sun and a cloudless blue
sky. Good times...
The largest of the Spanish Mackerel
would perhaps have weighed around 12 kilos - not that it really mattered,
and it gave a great account of itself before the gaff struck home and
dragged it over the transom onto the deck in not the most dignified manner,
splats of blood sprinkling all over the boat as it shuddered on the gaff
in its side. Sonia's reaction...? A close up with her video camera and fit
of giggles as it was dispatched once and for all with a blow to the
cranium. Clearly not a girl of squeamish disposition. The fit of giggles
continued when the end foot or so of the fish had to be hacked off to fit
it in the esky,
Chris and the Deutsche Fish Pixie await a bite.
and once it was finally slid in there, it's razor sharp
teeth merely brushed against a tin of Coke, puncturing it on impact and
sending a fountain of spray all over me and the cooler. Ha bloody ha. Man,
are those teeth sharp!
Later in the day the sea seemed to go quiet
all around us for some reason. I suspected that it was perhaps due to the
state of the tide, but after a while the real reason(s) manifested
themselves in front of us, firstly in the form of a large, slow moving
Sleeper Shark, ambling its way up the burley trail, and then secondly in
the much more animated apparition of a large Hammerhead Shark- it's huge
dorsal fin slicing through the water as it homed in on the teaser and
crunched it with its under-slung jaws.
"Arghh shit!" moaned Chris,
"the dumb bloody Noahs have got the scent. That's buggered it!"
"I'll have some of that !" I
"You seriously want to catch one of
these stupid critters?"
"Too bloody right mate. I fancy a
tear-up with a T-head!"
set about rigging up a 30lb class outfit with 2 metres of 50 kilo wire, a 10/0 or
12/0 hook and another 2 metres of heavy nylon rubbing leader. You could say
that the improvised rig was the best I could do under the circumstances,
and a chunk of polystyrene was banded to the top swivel of the wire leader
to act as a float and limit the sinking depth of the bait- a large fillet of a
recently captured Spanish Mackerel impaled on the now pretty insignificant
looking hook. And so it went
that I spent a frustrating, heart-stopping hour trying to chum up and
snare the large Hammerhead (which by now we had ascertained was something
like 3 metres in length), while keeping our eyes on the reef behind us,
the appearance of which would signify when it was time to head for home in
time to allow the boat to be ramped from the water. We kept the burley
trail running with regular additions, and no less than four times I threw
the bait out behind the boat in the fish's path in the fashion of throwing a lasso,
only for the T-head to rush up to the bait and shy away at the very last
second, pushing a huge wake of blue water ahead of it, my heart pounding
in my chest as I awaited the irresistible pull of a mauled shark bait.
"He can see the wire mate", Chris
advised. Another problem was that the Sleeper Shark was quite clearly not
the brains of the outfit, since on three occasions I had to pull the bait
away from it's jaws at the last minute, since it had no such problems with
the wire. Either that or it was suffering from an advanced stage of
myopia. Much to my disappointment, the reef all too soon informed us
that it was time to split and make for harbour, and on the basis that if I hooked
up at this point, the hour or two's fight would see us marooned
with no way back, I had to abandon the T-head assault. All this aside, it
was a lovely day out on the sea, with great fishing, great weather and
great fun had by all I think. When I had a quiet word with Chris at the
end of the day, I said I hoped he didn't mind me bringing along company
for the day; "Are you kidding? It was lot better
than looking at you all day, you ugly prick!" was his response, just
oozing that characteristic Antipodean charm.
Chris took a bag of fillets home with him, and I dragged a whole carrier
bag of mackerel into my digs- and so it proved there was enough there to
feed half of the tenants. I'd also have to say that it really was some of
the best fish I've had to eat on my travels, and the barbecue was doing
overtime for quite some while that evening, as we washed down the ample
grub with a
few ice cold lagers. Oh my happy days...
to the Outback.