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||Surf Casting and Angling Club of W.A. (Inc.)
Jonah goes back to Kalbarri - April 1963.
Member "A C Gull" published this report in the Club magazine "Reel Talk" May 1963 - 38 years ago. In those days the "road" to Kalbarri was a sand track for 40 odd miles (70 odd kilometres).
Those of you who fish at Kalbarri will see that some things change, and some stay the same. When the fishing is good it is really good, but when it's off - it can be really frustrating.
This report of their trips to Kalbarri is one of at least four published in the Club Magazine "Reel Talk" covering trips in July 1959, June 1960, June/July 1961, and April 1963.
After months of organising, preparing for and looking forward to, it was with a feeling of relief and satisfaction that we pulled out of the Perth Ice Works at ten minutes past ten on the evening of Good Friday, April 12th.
In the back seat of his trim station sedan, loaded to the axles with all kinds of gear, was "Uncle Snow", a dour, tenacious rodman of the "never let up" type. We had made the pilgrimage together the previous year, and a better companion for this type of junketing would be difficult to find. In tow was a sizeable trailer carrying, among other things, two insulated tea chests of bait and two capacious ice boxes.
With us was a well known Fremantle identity "R.C.Allen", a tireless, eager and accomplished angler. He appeared to attract fish the way football draws fans and, given a single hander, I believe he would fill a bag from the balcony of the pub at Wiluna. With him was his wife, and if she can fry fish the way she fries a chicken, her husband's passionate devotion to the sport can readily be understood.
The remainder of the party comprised Commander Douglas R.N.V.R. and his wife. They had preceded us by some seventeen hours and were to spend the night at Geraldton and join us at Kalbarri during the morning. Apart from celebrating the anniversary of his birthday which was due to commence on the 19th., the contemplation of which filled him with delirious reflections, his main ambition was to sink his hooks, and his teeth, into an albacore. He carried his ship, No. 2117 on top of his utility.
As the roads were practically deserted and the night fine it was not long before Midland Junction was left in our wake and we were speeding along the Great Northern Highway. While passing through Upper Swan very dense and persistent dust storms reduced visibility to a few yards, and slowed us down considerably. These were rapidly lost however as we made our way up the slopes of Bindoon Hill.
We stopped briefly at New Norcia for petrol and light refreshments and were quickly on the way again. On the other side of Mingenew we paused near a blazing log to enjoy a belated supper of deep fried chicken and coffee. I would cheerfully walk the whole way back barefooted to repeat this delicious experience. On to Dongara, where we had some difficulty in rousing the attendant at an all night service station. Some little distance from Geraldton, which we passed through at four twenty in the morning, I was given a turn at the wheel.
I had hardly got to the other side of the town when it came on to rain heavens hard, completely drowning the gentle snores of my companions. To make matters worse the only stretches of road repair work we had encountered on the whole journey, and they were fairly extensive, all managed to cram themselves into my watch; and it was with a sigh of relief that I handed back to "Snow" at the rabbit proof fence.
The track in was in very good condition but almost completely covered with water following the heavy rain. Here and there some deep ruts had been scoured across the surface but we were able to make very good time and were at Kalbarri at twenty minutes past eight.
After getting settled in. having some food and a little rest we joined forces with the gallant Commander and went to the Red Bluff in the hope of knocking off a swag of tailor. To our dismay and disappointment there were no tailor whatever, but we were enlivened and encouraged about five o'clock to see a mackeral jump clean out of the water a short distance to our right. Some twenty minutes later Allan had him in the bag; a beauty of thirty three pounds who had been doing himself well on a diet of gardies and blowfish. We returned for an early tea and turned in immediately after to make up some arrears of sleep.
Sunday dawned cloudy and threatening and gusty easterly wind. After breakfast we went to the Red Bluff but could not raise a nibble at any of the recognised spots. "Snow" and Allan went around the shoulder and saw plenty of Mackeral feeding out at sea. Apart from two nice tailor bagged by "Snow", the morning was barren.
After setting our two cray pots in likely looking situations and capturing two octopus in the operation, we crossed to Oyster Reef, where conditions were splendid with a strong easterly to flatter our casting, and a dead calm sea. Nor did we lack for action and excitement. "Snow" bagged two mackeral, thirty six and a half (fifty five inches) and twenty five pounds, and Allan likewise got a brace, each of which went thirty one pounds. I had a vigorous run but did not make firm contact. In the evening I caught a small Kingie of about seven pounds at the mouth, while Doug and Allan spent some time spearing crayfish on the reef and getting twenty five, which together with five from the pots they cooked at midnight.
Monday broke fine and clear with a fresh easterly and a flat calm sea. "Snow" and Doug got under way fairly early and cleared the pots getting twenty, which the ladies very obligingly cooked. After breakfast we crossed to Oyster Reef and put in a weary, boring and unproductive morning. We returned again about four thirty in the afternoon by which time the wind had shifted to the south and was blowing hard making conditions extremely difficult with short casts and bellied lines.
About sundown Allan hooked into a mackeral of some twenty pounds. Before returning we tried the point of Oyster Reef for tailor, in the hope of enjoying similar sport to that provided by shoals of big fish at this spot the previous year. They were there right enough although not in anything like the same numbers, but were laying off in the channel on the opposite, or seaward side, and were very hard indeed to get at. Allan got two boomers under extremely difficult conditions, while I got a modest Kingie on the sheltered side.
By Tuesday, the exodus of Easter holiday makers had reduced the population of the settlement to normal proportions, and the waterfront was quiet and deserted. "Snow" and Doug again cleared the pots getting a haul of twenty five. After breakfast we made for Oyster again with a fresh easterly blowing and the sea rising on the reef. To our great astonishment and unbounded satisfaction, I shortly found myself at grips with a submarine eruption. By the time full realisation of what had occurred dawned on me, practically all the line had been stripped from my reel, and I had to address myself to the patient and skillful task of bringing my catch to gaff.
I was sore tried and much distressed however before I succeeded in moving him an inch and was beginning to despair of ever hauling him a full couple of hundred yards. I was supported and comforted by my good friends however and felt more and more confident as the hours passed by, although I could not escape an uncomfortable feeling that my left arm was likely to drop off at any moment. Doug had taken a firm grip of the waistbelt of my pants to prevent me going for a slide as some strong surges were coming over the edge, and I did not have much say in where I was going to be at any given minute. "Uncle Snow" was at my elbow with good advice and words of cheer and encouragement. Allan, like the Lord High Executioner, was standing, imperturbable, near the edge of the reef with the "kiss of death" held firmly in his hand. From time to time he issued instructions as to the precise spot where he wanted the reluctant and uncooperative monster delivered to meet his doom.
The climax to all this occurred at a time when I thought, and hoped, that the end was near. I had bullocked the blighter to within sight of the reef and despite my frantic efforts to introduce him to Allan, he nonchalantly swam in the opposite direction and nestled down nice and comfortably under the ledge of the reef, where the slightest movement on the part of either of us caused the line to rasp against the rock. The trusty "Water Queen" however remained true to its reputation and I was able eventually to yank him out into the open where Allan swooped and in a flash it was all over. The warmth of my companions' congratulations was tempered by a suggestion, to which I found myself unable to agree, that I should chuck him back again because he was foul hooked. Sure enough there he was, the whole thirty eight pounds of him, with the hooks firmly embedded into his chest if a fish has a chest, midway between the pectoral fins.
Anyway he provided me with all the excitement and exercise I wanted for that morning and I was quite content to sit around and to take a leisurely photograph of Allan dealing with a nice thirty pounder until I was told, rather peremptorily, to "drop that bloody camera and grab that so and so gaff". Thus I was able to take a hand in landing Allan's fifth, and the teams' eighth mackeral in four days.
A strong sea breeze curtailed activities during the afternoon, so the time was spent taking a reconnaissance of the sheltered side of Jacques rocks, from where shoals of mackeral were seen feeding out at sea. Doug managed to get a couple of tailor, while Allan made contact with something bulky which eventually threw the hooks.
For the next eight days weather conditions were most unsettled with some rain and very unfavourable winds making it impossible to fish the productive spots or even to lift the cray pots. We tried the Red Bluff with balloons, live herring, trawled gardies and fished the bottom with little success. On one occasion "Snow" turned his back temporarily to deal with an over run and was promptly bowled head over pickle and skidded up the rocks by a big white one. Apart from some minor scratches, a pretty bad shaking up and the loss of some gear he was none the worse for his experience. We tried Chinamans and the Blue hole, and at times in desperation had to settle for black bream and the river mouth. In between times when conditions appeared to have eased a bit, we nipped across to Oyster Reef and if it was unsafe, which it nearly always was, to fish for mackeral, we tried for tailor, kingfish and black bream from the southern end.
Although they were hard to get at we landed some splendid tailor, which would average four to five pounds, several Kingies up to fifteen pounds and all the black bream you could possible want up to one and a half pounds or so. With single hander these Bream provided a very agreeable alternative to seeking the more exciting larger game. It was returning from one of these forays in the dark, that the nautical gent got himself bushed in a "grog fog", stalled the engine and shouted "every man for himself". We made a crash landing on a nearby bank and had a long haul back to base with our gear.
On a couple of occasions the more adventurous members of the party set the trestle up and had a go for mackeral. In this fashion, Allan landed a thirty pounder during the morning of Sunday the 21st. Allan and Doug tried this expedient again three days later and were unceremoniously dumped, fortunately without injury. While this was going on and a couple of limp shags were collecting and securing the stand again, "Snow", myself and a friendly and agreeable neighbor, Fred, caught eighteen splendid tailor averaging four pounds from the tip of the reef, together with a nice haul of black bream.
By Thursday the 25th the day before were to leave, conditions had improved immensely and were really ideal. The tide was low, wind fresh from the east and the sea flat. Fred was with us again, and between the five of us we had at least ten strikes. Allan landed two of twenty seven pounds each and I got a twenty eight pounder. "Snow" was most unlucky to play one to the edge of the reef and lose him. Fred atoned for the morning's disappointment by landing an enormous sixty six pound Kingfish in the evening from the rocks near Chinamans. It appears that the big Kingies were commencing to enter the river at about this time as two of forty four pounds and one of thirty four pounds had been caught during the previous few evenings. I have heard since that some very large hauls of Kingies were made after we left.
It would seem that our departure was to a signal for the return of good fishing; weather and conditions. Our last morning broke fine and clear and calm, and while "Snow" and I made preparations to leave by lunch time, Allan and Doug delegated that chore to their wives, and with Fred paid an early visit to Oyster and were back again soon after ten with a mackeral each, Allan twenty nine pounds, Fred thirty one pounds and Doug thirty three pounds. It seems that everyone on the reef that morning either got a fish, a run or broken up. It was with a feeling of regret, and a sense that fate had dealt us a rather scurvy back hander with the weather that we abandoned a couple of tea chests full of bait in perfect condition, and pulled out shortly after noon on the long haul back.
On reflection however I suppose we had little to grumble about on the score of sport. We had caught fourteen mackeral aggregating four hundred and eighteen pounds, possibly three to four dozen size tailor, each of which was a joy to do battle with, more Kingfish and black bream than we knew what to do with and crayfish to burn. Never the less the loss of a week's fishing and possibly another fourteen mackeral still rankles.
A. C. GULL
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