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Coming to grips with the bar
  |  First Published: April 2004



IN 25 YEARS of fishing and living in this area I have never known such a long period between ugly days on the Narooma bar.

We have not had to cancel a fishing expedition purely because of ‘the bar’ since before Christmas. We Narooma offshore anglers over the years have had to restrain ourselves, knowing that the fish are on and the water is just right. When we've all gathered on the headland at first light to observe a swell of more than two metres, a rising nor’-easter and the tide about to fall, a general feeling of deflation takes over. A very messy bar means another trip has been cancelled.

On probably 60% of occasions when we can't get out over the bar we wouldn't want to anyway, because the conditions are so poor outside. Only rarely do Narooma charter operators cancel trips because of the bar and boats from neighbouring ports all go out – but it does happen. I do know some unfortunate visitors who have missed consecutive trips because of the bar and have decided to go elsewhere for fishing holidays. That’s a shame, because we have found nowhere with quite the magical combination of fishing and ocean adventure opportunities that Narooma offers.

I have crossed the Narooma Bar thousands of times in all sorts of conditions and am well aware of the respect it deserves. I have seen some tragedies and know that most were avoidable, had some simple precautions been taken.

The main points are to seek local knowledge/experience if contemplating crossing in your own vessel, and to wear a lifejacket (now compulsory for all).

The two most common errors are made exiting and entering the inlet. After deciding on the appropriate lull in the waves and exiting the shelter of the breakwalls, the driver of the vessel sees a wave suddenly stand up and immediately guns the boat to try to reach it before it crests. That’s the right response. However, upon reaching the wave, the boat continues up the wave at full throttle and becomes airborne bow up.

The vessel then drops down right on the motor/props and the shear pin fails or the motor floods – either way, the vessel is dead in the water and at the mercy of the next set. It's hard when the adrenaline is pumping, but try to back off as you go up the wave so you gently drop down its back. Then gun it again to the next wave.

The other common mistake is made entering the inlet. Again, the vessel driver is doing the right thing but makes a simple mistake. If the tide is going out at close to full strength, standing pressure waves are created and these can be clearly seen when there is little or no swell and not much chop.

When you introduce swell and chop, it can become confusing. The correct thing in this situation is to stand off and watch the pattern of swells. Choose the last wave in the set and sit on its back all the way in. Never go over the crest of the wave you are following.

Most drivers know this procedure and follow it. If they make a mistake, it is usually because they are not familiar with the standing waves on the outgoing tide.

As they follow a wave in, it can seem that suddenly the wave has slowed and they are about to go over the crest. What they are seeing is actually the standing pressure wave coming through the swell they are following. Look for the wave in front of you: It should still be there and still moving forward – stick with it!  

The immediate response for the inexperienced is to back off and then the following wave catches up and can get roll, swamp or broach the vessel.

If you do a little research, pick your time carefully when entering and exiting the bar and seek as much local knowledge as you can, you will probably not have to face these situations.

And finally don't let the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts determine entirely whether you will visit Narooma. I believe any forecast over 24 hours in advance is struggling to be 50% accurate. We've had priority strong wind warnings issued on four consecutive days for waters around Montague Island and the wind never went over 12 knots.

Locals and charter operators base our decisions on forecasts less than 12 hours old and the latest automatic weather station reports (less than one hour old) all down the coast, especially from the station on Montague Island. And, of course, we get out there and have a look for ourselves. You can always come home early if it gets worse.

AND THE FISHING?

I suppose you are wondering how the fishing has been. In a nutshell, bloody marvellous, and the yellowfin season hasn't even begun.

Beach, ocean, estuary and blue water fish are all rewarding their various devotees with a good variety of quality fish. Once again, seek out local knowledge, especially if your time here is short. You may encounter some sour old fart (there seem to be a few in most coastal towns) but persevere. I assure you most people in Narooma are warm and friendly, especially the ‘wharf rats’, and are happy to share our joy of fishing.

The Narooma Fishing Club always welcomes visitors but be warned – if you express any interest in fishing you might find it difficult to get out in a hurry!

1

Tom Wright of Griffith with a nice Montague Island kingfish.

2

The crew of Dallas – Chris Franklin, left, and the author with snapper and a kingfish from an early morning session.

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