When Things Don’t go to Plan
  |  First Published: April 2005

Most trips away fishing never seem to unfold as we hope. Some work out better than expected but usually we only catch a fraction of the fish we would love to land. Isn’t it funny how most of the calm sunny days occur during the week while we are all at work? At least it seems that way!

When we do it really tough, on yet another trip away with wind, rain and only a handful of fish, some of us drive home saying, “Oh well, it was nice just being out there” or ”you don’t have to get many fish to have fun.” After all, we go fishing not ‘catching’. Secretly though, all who say this are really wondering why the fishing gods are so bloody cruel at times.

The weather always plays a big part in the mix and it can make or break days away. That’s where this story begins. I had just seen the weather forecast for the coming three days. It wasn’t pretty! Gale warnings, storm alerts and plenty of rain. I kept packing anyway, thinking about where I might fish, to gain some protection from the weather. In the worst case, I’d figure it out on the drive down. This was going to be one trip when the fishing gods would watch from above, probably giggling their heads off! I wasn’t even sure I’d get on the water, let alone land a fish.

With these negative thoughts locked into my head, it was a longer than usual drive to camp that night. I rolled out the swag in the back of the canopy covered ute at about midnight. The storm hit at about 2am. I thought the wind was going to blow my 4WD over! I turned the torch on and anxiously peered at the small holes in the canvas roof.

The rain stopped for a while at first light and the wind died down to a gale. I was keen to get on the water regardless. With my wet weather gear on and black clouds looming in the distance, it was going to be a tough day on the water. I fished about four hours, flicking lures and soft plastics while the wind pushed my kayak around. I didn’t manage to raise a scale or even get a bump. Not a good start! It was about this time that I thought the trip was going to be a real flop. Little was I to know that over the next two days, I would land nearly 70 fish. And all on soft plastics!

After resting for a couple of hours hoping the weather would break, I pushed my kayak back onto the windswept lake again and began flicking a small Squidgy around. Fingers crossed, there’s be a weather hardened bream or flathead looking for a meal! Eventually, I connected to something small but the hook pulled after a short tussle. That was an encouraging sign and I wondered how long it would before my next encounter. No long after, I landed my first fish, a 28 cm flathead. Then another larger specimen that measured 42cm. Both were quickly tagged and returned to the water.

Next came a 38cm estuary perch and five minutes later a 36cm bream. I was starting to smile a little and was caring less and less about the wind and passing showers. After releasing a few bigger flathead to 51cm, I was starting to think that this trip might just turn out alright.

Just before dark, I lifted a giant 79cm lizard aboard the kayak. By far my best fish for the day and my second best flathead ever! I started wondered what tomorrow would bring. Maybe an even larger flathead if I persisted long enough. I left the water a content man and was looking forward to reviewing the images I’d taken during the day with my bow mounted digital camera.

The next morning it was still blowing. The clouds were low, heavy and steely grey, and the water was choppy. All I wanted to do was get out there and amongst some more flathead. The first fish fish of the day was a 42cm bream that ate my plastic from shallow water. It took off at a million miles an hour in about six inches of water. Soon after, I landed five flathead in a row between 44cm and 56 cm. Two more bream measuring 27cm and 31cm and I was expecting my tagging gun to start smoking. Four more flathead between 35cm and 54cm followed, the fourth already carrying a tag. Judging by the amount of growth on the tag, it had been released some time ago.

I could tell it was not a fish I had tagged because of the position of the tag. Having cleaned the tag to read the number, I measured and released the 43cm fish carrying a newly inserted second tag. Upon arriving at home, I rang the Victag hotline (ph. 1800 677620) to report the details of my capture and get some information about its initial capture. The fish was tagged 12 months prior by Carl Hodgkins and had measured just over 40cm.

With the morning nearly over, and a quick bite to eat to keep me going, I paddled off in search of more shallow water flathead. The sun broke through the clouds and the wind seemed to die a bit. I tied on a Squidy Jelly Prawn and send it sailing through the air in search of another victim. Bang, I’m on, a better fish this time with some real weight behind it. I slowly load the rod right and before I know it, the hook pulls! I wait, leaving leave the plastic to sink again knowing that the culprit is probably not far away. A few more tweaks and my plastic became visible on the bottom. In the blink of an eye, the lure disappeared. It took me a second to realise what had just happened. A monster flathead had pounced and gobbled the lure, from virtually below the kayak. What a sight!

I lifted the rod and before I knew it, the beast started to tow me around! I knew from the start that this could be my first 10lb ‘croc’ because it just kept pulling me around.

The first thing that hit me when I finally squeezed half the fish into my net was the magnificent coloring and markings covering its body. I was almost mesmerised by her proportions because the width of its head compared to its body length defied logic! I got on with the job of taking its measurements and posing for a quick snapshot. This is no easy task when confined to a small kayak, especially with a large fish that’s so keen to regain its freedom. I weighed the fish on two sets of calibrated scales and wasn’t surprised when they indicated a fish just shy of the magical 10lb mark. I reckon if the fish had eaten that morning, it’d probably have reached double figures. Nonetheless, it was still my biggest flathead yet! Before long, I had the fish back in the water, swimming it around. It swam off majestically, descending into the depths and out of view several metres from the kayak.

I checked my rig and reflected on a fish of a lifetime. I must have had a grin from ear to ear. I checked the digital camera to make sure that some of the photographs had turned out well. I was happy. There were a few beauties!

Still floating on cloud nine and with my brain a little numb, I resumed casting. A light tap echoed its way along the braided line to my rod tip. My rod doubled over again as another big fish felt the sting of the hook. I eased the drag back a notch or two in readiness for the first run. Could this big even bigger than the last one? Topping my personal best so soon would be a real treat! Before long I got a quick netting chance. I took it and soon enough, had very green fish aboard. At just under 7lb, it was a beauty! I returned the fish quickly without taking a photo. This would have been unheard of years ago when a fish of this size would have warranted half a roll of film.

For the rest of the afternoon I searched far and wide around the more protected waters, trying to keep out of the westerly blow. I tagged a good run of fish but nothing over 60cm. On dark I decided to employ my latest trick. A surface swimming plastic that floats, and makes noisy ‘plops’ and ‘bloops’ as its retrieved. Three fish responded quickly but none stayed connected. A big tailor smashed the plastic from the surface followed by two bream that measured 29cm and 24cm.

Watching bream take a surface lure is exciting and additive. It’s a deadly form of fishing once you become confident with the method. Another tailor turned the water to foam as it shredded my leader with an aggressive run. As dark set in, I tied on a surface bug. Two more missed fish and 34cm bream brought me to the end of a terrific day. I’d fished from dawn until dusk and clocked up over 40 fish with pictures and memories to last me forever.

Next morning I was on the water at 4:30am and gave my surface bug another swim in the dark. As the sky started to lighten up I heard a loud ‘gloop’ in the distance. It was right about where my last cast had landed. All of a sudden I was connected again and soon enough landed a 40cm estuary perch that was subsequently tagged and released. I finished up with three more bream and two tailor, all taken on the surface lure.

I switched strategies to target some more flathead reverting to my bottom bouncing plastics. By 9am I’d tagged a dozen of them to 64cm. A great start to anyone’s day and enough for me to tie on the surface plastic again despite the rising sun and increasing light. Not something I’d normally do but given the start I’d had earlier, it was worth trying something new. There wasn’t much action for about half an hour until ‘boof’, a solid hookup from an explosive strike! Soon after a dusky flathead just under 4lb was released. A flathead on a surface plastic during the day. Now that was something a bit new!

I missed two more aggressive strikes over the next hour and a half, but the wind and choppy water wasn’t helping the method. A south westerly gale had set in and I considered packing up and going home. I decided to put in another half hour and despite the ever increasing headwind that would face me on my return to the car.

Before long I was into another big flathead. This time is was a seriously big fish! When I got my first look at it, I started thinking double figures again. The huge flathead towed me around for a while and did not like getting close to my kayak at all. I eventually dropped the anchor to try and horse it in, but this was a bad move as the fish twice wrapped me around the anchor rope. I finally netted her, still tangled in the anchor rope, and then paddled for shore to take its details, snap some photographs and stretch the legs.

As I lifted the fish from the water in the net, the frame broke. My heart rate accelerated as I wondered if this beast would make it ashore! I feverishly untangled the fish and eventually cut it loose. To my horror, it didn’t swim off immediately. After 10 minutes of trying to get water through its gills, the fish was still at my feet, struggling to come to terms with the freedom on offer. In desperation, I just pushed the fish into the water and prayed it’d recover out in the deep. It didn’t get far and I had to accept that I had a big dead flathead on my hands. From now on, I won’t be netting big flathead because of the time I wasted getting it free. Next time, I'll try to beach them. Anything to avoid killing another magnificent creature like that. What made things even worse was that the fish tasted pretty ordinary. I’d heard this from others and my experience confirmed their thoughts. I extracted the otoliths from its skull and sent them to the laboratory. Under the microscope, otoliths indicate the age of fish just like growth rings on a cross section of a tree. All up, the fish measured 88cm and weighed 11lbs. My celebrations were somewhat soured with the knowledge that I’d been unable to release this grand old fish!

Despite the appalling weather, the trip was probably one of the best three days lure casting. There were lots of big flathead, a few bream, some tailor, perch and even trevally. For once, I was glad things didn’t go to plan!

Image 1This 40 cm estuary perch finally took a small Squidgy Wriggler after having three goes at it.

Although bleeding a little, it swam off strongly carrying a tag.

The author’s biggest flathead to date at 88cm and 11lbs. Quite a fish!

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