30 years ago – the Kimberley
  |  First Published: September 2003

HERE in one of Australia’s remotest areas Denise and I were to meet a man whose fishing prowess has become the stuff of legend – Ron Pearson. He’s certainly one of the most enthusiastic, accomplished and affable fishers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Vic McCristal had suggested that we contact Ron and his family while in the Kimberley and we ended up spending the most amazing couple of weeks of our entire trip as guests of the Pearson family.

As well as a love of fishing, especially flyfishing, Ron has great respect for the local Aboriginal community and spent almost his entire career as a teacher in the Kimberley region administering to his second ‘family’. This empathy became evident to Denise and I when we were introduced by Ron to the predominantly Aboriginal children at the school just across the road from the Pearson’s modest residence on Camballin cattle station, and they all greeted us warmly.

It was a week to the start of the school holidays and Ron wanted us to accompany the family to a place called Cygnet Bay, the site of an Australian-owned pearl farm on King Sound, north of Broome. With an offer like that, how could we refuse!

In the meantime, I serviced tackle, wrote a couple of articles and developed some black and white prints between excursions to the local Fitzroy River. The real daily action started as soon as school finished when Ron would load his own kids and as many Aboriginal kids as could squash into his Land Rover and large trailer (with myself and sometimes Denise, of course).

The after school sessions consisted of a flurry of barra fishing usually followed by wild pig and kangaroo hunting. The Aboriginal kids were particularly adept at catching the pig suckers, often fearlessly running in amongst the larger animals to grab their prize. Of course, the week wouldn’t have been complete without the outdoor picture night where, because the cattle station was American owned, southern fried chicken and home-made donuts were part of the fare.

Ron’s encouragement and enthusiasm had me casting a baitcaster and tying a respectable Deceiver fly in no time. My first baitcaster-caught fish, a 6kg Fitzroy barramundi, was taken on one of Ron’s outfits.

My diary recalls, “Ron used fly gear and I used Ron’s 6000C Ambassadeur, my first try with a baitcaster. The good snag didn’t produce but I landed my first baitcast-caught fish at the one just downstream. It weighed 12 pounds and was tethered to the bank to be collected later.”

However, Ron was adamant that I was not allowed to practice any fly casting. He wanted to show me how easy the process was by helping me catch a fish on my first ever cast with a fly rod!

The chance came a couple of days into our camping trip to Cygnet Bay. Ron was pulling queenfish, trevally and mackerel tuna on his fly outfit much faster than I could match with spinning tackle.

The tuna were feeding hard and close to the boat when the fly rod was thrust into my hands. With his typical devilish grin, Ron informed me that now was the time!

With much swishing and flailing, the fly landed barely 10 metres from the boat. I started to strip then lifted the fly from the water just as a tuna was about to climb all over it. Ron was bitterly disappointed and it was somewhat of an anticlimax when I landed a fly-caught trevally sometime later.

The 10 days at Cygnet Bay were the highlight of our trip and I never really appreciated the depth of Ron’s incredible fishing knowledge until I became a full-time guide some 17 years later. He knew just where the fish were going to be at any stage of the tide right through the fortnightly tide cycle.

Denise and I were a little sad when we waved goodbye to the Pearson family and departed Broome to undertake the roughest stretch of main road of our entire trip. The corrugations and bulldust were horrendous and it took us an entire day to reach Port Headland, a dirty, desolate place located on an uninspiring beachfront. We left for Roeburn and Port Sampson the very next morning.

Next month: the Wild West.

1) The author’s first baitcaster-caught fish, a 6kg barra from the Fitzroy River, WA Circa 1973.

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