You’ll recall (from Issue #25) the sun was just about to rise over a barren looking island. Actually, all of the islands in this part of the world seem to look the same. Tough gnarly rocky outcrops, and what vegetation there is, is bent and broken by the relentless pounding of the wind and sea. The landscape looked like the perfect Bonsai garden from a distance. Despite being in the middle of the ocean you get the feeling you are still in the desert. by John Featherstone
Quick check of the watch and it is 6:47am, I look over the back of the boat and the water looks clear and inviting despite the lack of light and I can clearly make out the bottom in about 12m. Leigh’s words were still echoing in my head. “First one in the water will probably shoot a Big Red!”. Tim is kicking around the back of the boat as I start to suit up. “Are you going to wait for the others?”. I think the look and the silence pretty much said it all. After being all but a spectator for the last couple of days due to being so under the weather (ok maybe I shot the odd fish), the old cliché, “He who snoozes loses” bounced around my head, but a simple “No!” said it all. I hung off the back of the boat for a few moments to make sure there was no current as Tim peered over the side. “How’s it look?”. A quick thumbs up, but a school of “something”, already had my attention. A school of BIG Chinaman were swirling under the boat. In Western Australia Chinaman are not implicated with Ciguatera and are actually very good eating so I keenly set my sights on a species that I had never shot before.
Reasonably curious by nature I picked out a healthy looking specimen and fingered the trigger, when a misplaced shape in amongst the schooling fish materialised. After 4 days on the boat I had learnt that pretty much everything the boys had told us had come to fruition, so I was not the least bit surprised when the form of a nice Red emperor took shape in the middle of the school. The Chinaman could wait! He was right onto me and as soon as I spotted him he moved away from the Chinaman school and started to head into the low lit gloom beyond. A couple of solid strokes of the fins and the RIFFE Euro did the rest. First dive at the back of the boat and I pop up and look up at Tim smiling. “You’d better get the camera!” There was some serious cajoling from the boat, I had no defence so I didn’t even bother! I got written up immediately on “the board” we had been keeping for dubious acts and karma caught up with me later on in the day! Fortunately for me there were another two nice Reds taken amongst us so the “pressure” was off a little for my unscrupulous act. I might just add at this point that I am a stickler for spearfishing etiquette, so I was reluctantly forgiven for my misdemeanour. There were also some great Chinaman taken at this spot and a few nice Blackspot tuskfish. The same species as the East coast but with distinctly different colouration. The West Coast fish have a yellow chin whereas the East Coast fish maintain a beautiful iridescent turquoise. We moved on after an extended photo shoot. The next spot was dirty and the accompaniment of VERY large Potato cod everywhere was a bit of a deterrent. After one tried to drag Tim back to his lair to have his way with him we thought better of it and moved to the third locale for the day. As I mentioned, Karma eventually caught up with me and my 4 shots to land the one Chinaman had me wondering! Head Shot, stoned! Chinaman have heads like rock, and the flopper doesn’t engage and it falls off the end of the spear to the bottom 18m below. Reload, dive down, another head shot but hits the rock behind and fails to penetrate, get halfway back to the surface and it falls off again. Reload, dive down, miss....who knows? I should have probably just grabbed him off the bottom, but he just had enough in him for me to think twice about it. Reload, dive down, shoot just behind the head this time (I’m learning), but the spear wedges in the bottom. Get back to the surface and give it a good yank and the mono snaps at the shaft. It had had some serious abuse in the last 24 hours and I should have probably checked it. Floating on the surface just laughing to myself at the ridiculousness of it all when six 20kg Spanish swim past about 3 feet away from me with a speargun with no shaft. Finally dive to the bottom and yank the spear out of the rock and swim my Chinaman back to the surface.....that be Karma! I swam back to the boat for a moment of R&R and checked out the nice mixed bag that had come in. Leigh was all excited because he had seen a big GT and was keen to get back in. Now, I wouldn’t shoot a GT, but if you have never shot one and you
are prepared to eat it then I wouldn’t hold it against you. So I set off with Leigh in search of his “GT”. Swimming casually side by side in 8m of water Leigh is looking left for his GT as a cracking Spanish mackerel glides between us just below. I swing the gun around promptly and put a solid shot on it right in the top of the head from the surface.....ridiculous! My guns disappears in an instant and Leigh turns back to me and says: “Did you just shoot my GT?”. “Nope, big Mackerel”. “Crap I didn’t see a thing!” Considering he was only about 3m away I found that quite amazing and had a little chuckle to myself. I swam after my float and the Mackerel conveniently tows me just about back to the boat. I grab his tail and realise he is a sizeable specimen and tips the scales at 27kg. It was a gorgeous day and we steamed South
for a couple of hours and I just chilled out in the sun catching up on some much needed rest. We throttled off and the sounder revealed some really nice structure although a little deeper and those three little words “Large Mouth Nannygai” (LMN) escaped Leigh’s lips. As the anchor went out, shoals of bait erupted a hundred metres from the boat and a Spanish mackerel launched out of the water leaping 3-4m in the air. It was a sight that I had never seen on the East Coast, but leaping Spanish mackerel had become a common sight in the last few days. It was follow by another explosion and a sailfish added to the already distressed bait’s woes. Very COOL! Tim and I buddied up in the deeper water and his first dive produced a nice LMN of about 6kg. Not a stomper but a very respectable fish. Behind us the lads had set up a nice burley trail and “Hammy” managed another nice LMN that had swum right up off the bottom to pinch some burley. There was some commotion coming from the boat and I looked up to see a sailfish smashing bait only about 50m away and heading on our direction.
Now I wouldn’t shoot a sailfish either but the same rule applies as GT’s! I had my eyes trained on the direction from which I thought it would appear sure enough the bait came showering past and HOT in pursuit was a majestic sailfish. He came right under my fins. I was never going to shoot him but as he swam by me I heard a gun go off and “someone” had missed from point blank and a string of colourful verbs and nouns escaped his lips. I took a dive onto the reef below and saw some smaller LMN but nothing outstanding, so I took aim at a Rankin cod that didn’t look “too” big....wrong! I tried to put some pressure on him as he headed to the bottom and realised that he was a horse! Tim took up the pressure from above and I started to swim back up my rigline. Something made me take a look upwards and I could make out 3 silhouettes on the surface. Tim, Kade and a freaking massive Greater hammerhead shark. I actually had to divert my course slightly so I didn’t run into him on my ascent. Next, BIG Silver fringe whalers are chasing the Rankin cod off the bottom and the Hammerhead is waiting for him on the surface. Getting only half of my Rankin cod was a little disappointing as he was great fish, but probably lucky to even get that! Last stop was another offshore lump, I was loving these peaks. After a week at sea Tim’s sinuses
were starting to play up so he spotted me whilst I checkout the life on the bottom. I guess after all we had seen, to see it crawling with nice Mangrove jacks with big Jobfish filling the water column was not surprising! Between the “lads” they managed to miss another Wahoo (about the 5th for the trip), whilst Leigh (with a somewhat dubious shot) and I picked up nice Mangorve jacks and Dan got a good size Jobfish. It had been a great day but it was time to head back to port and the couple of hours travel time gave us a chance to give the boat a good clean and pack everything up. Back in port and to have feet on solid ground was pretty awesome! We had a couple more days in Exmouth, but the forecast wasn’t great so we decided to head down South into the bay the following day to chase some Mud Crabs. It was something I had
done very little of, but I loved “Muddies” so was pretty keen to have a change of pace after being on the boat for a week. It was a blast and of course me pulling a BIG buck (male) out of a hole with somewhat dubious skill was noteworthy! “Hey Leigh, I have got my wire stuck” “Just jiggle around and it will come out” Jiggle....Jiggle....out it comes with a big Mud Crab holding onto the end of it. “Don’t worry it wasn’t actually stuck, it was just a BIG MUDDIE!” Leigh shakes his head.... Back at the Marina Leigh produced his custom Muddie cooker and we enjoyed an ice cold beer and Mud Crab on the back deck of the boat as the sun set over the ocean. FIVE STAR.
By now we had ticked the box on just about everything we wanted to target on the trip and I did some quick calculations and for 7 days I had only shot a handful of fish, but they had all been crackers! I had never intended to shoot a lot of fish and WA fisheries regulations are fairly strict so prevent you from doing so anyway. So with some reasonable weather and two days left before we departed I was wondering what we might do next. As I gnawed away on a Muddie claw, fate cast another chapter to this epic story. A friend of Leigh’s, just “happened” on by. It also “happened” that he “happened” to know a fair bit about Marlin fishing out of Exmouth. And it also “happened”, there had been a few small Black Marlin about....as it so “happened”. Well what do you do? Couple of days left, some
great weather again, 4 keen guys, a Tinnie, some great local knowledge, a couple of teasers and we were set for our first “crack” at shooting a Marlin. Now to be honest I really thought we’d just be killing time. I thought our “chances” would be slim to none! I know of plenty of great spearfishermen who have spent MONTHS chasing Marlin out off the Continental shelf on the East Coast with no success and to them I now humbly apologise for the tale I am about to tell you. With my scepticism keenly engaged, we deployed the teasers as we had been told and worked a zigzag pattern in the prescribed depth. Tim was on first watch, actually in hindsight, I’m not sure how he scammed that, perhaps as I mentioned I was pretty sceptical that we would actually raise anything. After about 3 minutes (my attention span for these things), the joking started. Dan and I were up the front of the 16ft Tinnie to assist the ride in the slight chop, as you do with all big Marlin Boats! Dan was on lookout from the Marlin Tower (fish box) and I was in charge of deploying the floatline and float (deckie). We were thinking of putting in a fake call to Tim who was sitting facing backward on the transom, but decided that was probably sightly cruel.
Next thing (well after exactly 20 minutes) Dan was screaming “MARLIN” at everyone and I’m thinking “I thought we decide to hold on the practical joking!” until l look back at the lures and see the flash of a Marlin Bill! Surprisingly the water entry ran very smoothly except for Tim diving in with his hat still on. Leigh throttled back smoothly, but kept the boat moving forward, I deployed the floatline and float in double time and Tim dove..... Then everything went into slow motion. 10, 15, 20 seconds and nothing! No rocketing float, no Tim, just the quiet hum of the engine, as we troll the hookless lures past Tim. Then he pops up! My assumption is that he has not got a shot off as the floatline is sitting slack in the water or worse he has missed! In chorus we all are yelling at him to tell us what happened? “I just stoned it!” No FREAKING way I am thinking! Tim frantically tells us that he is pretty sure the shot has hit the spine and hasn’t penetrated and the fish has just sunk down to the combined length of the Floatline (30m) and the Bungie (7.5m). I jump in with another gun and we are both just staring down the floatline as it disappears into the depths with a Marlin hanging off the end of it.
We discuss; if we pull it up and it starts to run we could lose the fish, but we can’t leave it there so the plan is to “gently” bring the fish up and put another shot into it as soon as possible. Tim gently starts to bring the fish up knowing that at any minute the shot could pop out. It’s silhouette begins to appear and I make a deep dive down to the Marlin. I can see the end of the slip-tip, and it becomes obvious that it is just wedged in the fish’s spine - precarious to say the least. I have NO idea how big it is so my intention is to make sure I am right on top of it before I place a second holding shot. Mostly because I would never, ever hear the end of it if I missed, spooked the fish and then we lost it! Down, down, (heck wish I’d taken a better breath!). Finally the Marlin materialises, I get close enough so I know I “ain’t gonna miss!”. A securing shot is placed, I am relieved of a lifetime of ridicule and the fish is in the bag! STOKED! Tim is rapt and we are all a little bit stunned to say the least. Black marlin in 20 minutes flat! To be honest I am still a little sceptical even though we have just landed a fish, I mean, what are the chances of getting another? Pretty good apparently! 12 minutes later I am being screamed at. I
haven’t seen anything but I grab a big lungful of air as I plunge off the back of the boat at speed. I go straight down to 5m and wait, and wait, and wait. Just as I start to think I have been a victim of my own previously conceived stupid practical joke a Marlin in full flight and colour comes back and crashes the lure! Holy CRAP! His speed and agility is unbelievable, I am waving the gun around like some crazy drunk from an old Western movie, trying to track him as he is on my right, and a split second later on the left. He arcs past me and suddenly sees me in the water and props and stops for a split second. The shot is instinctive but I know it is good and he screams off out of sight. MAN that was crazy! The sliptip has toggled perfectly and the modified RIFFE Euro 130 has worked beautifully (3 x 14mm
rubbers + 8mm, sliptip and breakaway). I can’t help but feel a little remorse and I pull him close, what a beautiful fish, what an amazing moment. Leigh shoots his first Wahoo off the teasers on the way back to shore and it rounds out an awesome day! The celebrations continue well into the night and it all gets a little fuzzy as the night wears on! Luckily I have Tim to remind me what I got up to the next day. I guess you can see why now I had to make this a two part story! This was 10 days in XXX-Exmouth! To all of the “lads” in Exmouth and Karratha, you know who you are, Tim and I both cannot thank you enough for your friendship, hospitality and being part of one of the most memorable experiences of my lifetime.
To my wife and children I can’t express to you how much I missed you whilst I was away. It was the longest I had EVER been away from home and I felt pretty homesick towards the end of the trip. For those of you who are away from home weeks at a time my hat off to you I simply couldn’t do it. Thank you for the opportunity to let me live out my dreams and supporting me whilst I do it. To my brother in arms Tim Mc, simply, thanks for coming, it wouldn’t have been the same without you. To Mrs Mc and the boys thanks for letting him come. I know he missed you all just as much as I missed my kin. Finally to you the reader, I know I have taken a few liberties in filling SDM with my story. I sincerely hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it (and living it). It was EPIC in every sense of the word and I really wanted to share, so I hope you can forgive the self indulgence.