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Doing it the WA way
  |  First Published: February 2005



While spending three months travelling the coast of Western Australia just over 30 years ago, I soon noticed that sandgropers had a fiercely independent spirit. They felt proud to have been able to brush aside the indifference of the eastern states and get on with doing their own thing.

I’ve just returned from my second WA visit, and I’m happy to confirm that the WA independence is still there. And they’ve obviously done very well, thank you!

Nowhere was that independence more clearly demonstrated than in the fishing scene, particularly in the development of Australian saltwater flyfishing. Back in ’73, I was privileged to meet and fish with two of the pioneers of the sport in our country, Ron Pearson and Max Garth. When it came to starting out in the SWF world way back then, the only place I could source quality tackle was from a shop in Perth! WA led the SWF scene for many years, producing ANSA’s first Fly Rod Masters award recipient, and to this day the state is home to a number of innovative and enthusiastic adherents.

This fact was hammered home when I was invited to address the Perth Fly Fishing Club, on the same card as the legendary Ron Pearson. Ron and I had already caught up on a trip with Craig ‘Noddy’ Radford, chasing big samsonfish living around a sunken wreck west of the metropolitan beaches.

We didn’t manage to land a samson, but no fishing trip is ever a wasted experience – particularly when you get to see somebody else’s backyard in 1.5m of swell made even more confused by 20 knots of Freemantle doctor. Ron did hook up on one beast but was unceremoniously bricked in very quick time, something for which big samsonfish are famous.

Prior to the flyfishing meeting, I also caught up with my other SWF mentor: the inimitable Max Garth. Max, Ron and I spent a very enjoyable afternoon reminiscing 40 years of fishing experiences.

After spending much of his adult life in the Kimberley region pulling giant tropical speedsters on heavy fly rods, Ron has retired to sleepy Bremer Bay on the southern coast between Albany and Esperence. He still visits the north every winter but had to find some means of satisfying his fishing passion while in cooler climes.

Ron’s solution was to target bream on light gear, in particular 2wt and 3wt fly rods. A significant portion of his address to the Perth club involved espousing the joys of his latest bream techniques.

Not surprisingly, a couple of days later I found myself with Ron’s 2wt rod in hand casting flies to Bremer Bay’s substantial bream population.

Turning a bream into a mangrove jack is simple when you fish such light rods. I was annihilated by two sizeable beasts that dived sideways into the nearest pile of sticks, and there was little I could do to stop their rushes.

While we saw quite a number of the big, blue-nosed bruisers that get your hands shaking, they all seemed to be exhibiting the lethargy that prevailed during my visit. Ron’s aim of putting me on to a 40cm-plus ripper model wasn’t to be realized, and that probably concerned Ron more than myself.

The fishing, the environment and not having to drive somebody else around meant that I had an absolute ball. My enjoyment was such that on the way home I bought a 4wt rod, the best compromise I could see between southern and northern smaller species flyfishing.

No visit to the southwest is complete without visiting some of the region’s magnificent beaches and harbours, while taking in the wildflower and forest flora along the way. Denise and I also visited Margaret River and Pemberton for some wine tasting. To get the most out of the wine tasting experience, I recommend that you head out with one of the local tour operators first to get the lay of the land. That way (if you stay sober enough) you can plan future private excursions more specifically.

Overall, we found the Southwest ideal for a family holiday. Although the major centres were busy, traffic was rarely heavy and crowds were never a problem.

A wide range of reasonably-priced accommodation and well-promoted tourist attractions made it easy for us to plan each day’s excursions. Don’t miss the old Albany whaling station, the Valley of the Giants forest walk and the Margaret River limestone caves.

My thanks to Ron and Margaret Pearson for their hospitality and to Budget Car Rental in Perth for their assistance.

THE HOME OF HALCO

Being based ‘way out west’ has never been a problem for the Halco Lure company. It has been one of the leaders in the Aussie lure market for decades and, in spite of the recent invasion of cheap ‘Asian’ imports, has maintained its share in an ever-expanding market.

I’ve used Halco products almost daily in my charter business for many years, so when owner/manager Ben Patrick offered a tour of the factory he didn’t have to ask twice!

Halco continues to operate its manufacturing business in downtown Freemantle, while all around it, many of the old factories and store fronts have become trendy shopping outlets. My wife Denise and daughter Melanie were happy to hit the shops while I did the ‘men’s business’.

When Ben took me out on the factory floor for a comprehensive tour, I soon saw why Halco was such a serious contender in the Aussie lure market.

“We are totally committed to producing a quality product,” was Ben’s mantra, and that was supported at all stages of the manufacturing process. Machines stamped out ABS plastic Scorpion bodies in two halves and the waste frames were discarded. Waste can be heated and reused, but it loses a degree of tensile strength in the process and any such weakness aren’t good enough for Halco’s rigid quality control.

The body halves were fitted with figure-of-eight shaped hook hangers and then joined and welded ultrasonically. The finished lure bodies were then pressure-tested in a specially designed water tank and individually checked for leaks under a bright light. Any faulty bodies went straight in the bin – there was no second chance.

The lure blanks then headed to the paint room, some via a very interesting piece of machinery which applies a silver aluminium plating under vacuum conditions. Investment costs in such a hi-tech piece of gear are high, but the finish is superior to most conventional plating techniques. Again, Ben wants Halco’s products to be the very best available.

Each plastic bodied lure is hand painted by a cheery bunch of ladies in two large paint booths. They do their jobs so well you’d be hard pressed to find any differences in a batch of lures of similar colours.

The comprehensive range of Halco plastic lures includes the RMG Scorpion, Laser Pro, Trembler, Rooster Popper, Relic Doc, Combat, Night Walker and Poltergeist. The balsawood-bodied Tilsan range is also assembled in-house.

Ben prefers to have at least 200 of each colour lure in stock, which means there can be somewhere near 200,000 on the shelves at any time. That figure doesn’t take into account Halco’s traditional range of metal slices and spoons, which are also manufactured on-site.

The latest in the Halco range is a baitcaster-sized Roosta popper (105mm and 30g) which has evolved from its successful big brother. Prototypes of each new model are extensively field tested by Ben and Halco staff prior to the factory tooling up for a production run.

Weipa fish will soon find any weaknesses in a lure model, particularly those arm-stretching trevally, and I had the rear anchor point pulled out of a Halco Crazy Deep by a particularly stubborn individual. I took the lure with me so that Ben could have a look.

“Yes, had that problem happen a few times,” he said. “We have already beefed up the thickness of the body around the anchor point on that model. The extra plastic has increased the strength at that point substantially.”

Problem fixed! Good one Halco!

Overall impressions? A quality fish-catching product manufactured by an Australian company with accomplished fishers at the helm. Now, that’s difficult to toss. I’d rather pay a few cents more for a product that has this kind of pedigree, wouldn’t you?

[CAPTIONS]

1) Catching WA bream on a 2wt rod – way to go!

2) Ron Pearson with a typical Bremer Bay bream. No matter what kind of fishing it is, Ron enjoys himself.

3) Ben Patrick unloads freshly plated lures from Halco’s state-of-the-art vacuum plating machine.

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