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Back To Malaysia Onto Australia Part 2 Return To Home

After 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.

"You're 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 India.



aluminium 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 Swisshotel, 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...

the only  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 72. 

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 


classic, 'Ice 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!

Just 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 with.



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 music.

"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. 

And 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.

Landing 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 originally been 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 weight! 

Chris 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.


Oh 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 flat: 
"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 it was 

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 say.

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 asked.
"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 parting words. 
"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. 

Sharp. 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 hum. 

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.

While 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. 

Now, 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 plan! 
"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?!

A 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 exclaimed.
"You seriously want to catch one of these stupid critters?"
"Too bloody right mate. I fancy a tear-up with a T-head!"

I 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.

 That night 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...

Now... to the Outback.

Back To Malaysia Onto Australia Part 2 Return To Home


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