The sea was violent all day, huge waves coming from all directions. It was like we were in a giant washing machine. Steve’s boat pitching and rolling, the two dories bobbing around bravely in the whitewash being towed behind the main boat. It was a very humbling experience, eating dry crackers and spewing me guts out every second wave.
By the time we reached the top of the Wessells, I felt like I’d just done a twelve-hour shift on a mechanical bull… in top gear.
My stomach didn’t know if it was coming or going… mostly going, but I made sure not to whinge or show any signs of faltering to Steve, because this is what fishing is all about. I thought, these are the conditions and I’m getting paid so I tried to just do my duty, thinking all this huge seas and stuff was the norm. Stick with it, I kept telling myself, Livin’ and workin’ on the land still playing over and over in my mind.
We anchored in a bay out of the extreme weather, although the wind would have still blown a dog off the chain, but the sea was a little calmer there, which gave me stomach a little reprieve. Steve ‘vibed’ on to Sea God in the deck chair on the bow and I prepared a few lines for the morning.
It looked like we were gunna give it a go.
Well … 4:00am came around unbelievably quick and I woke in me swag on the deck, wind cuttin’ into me and nearly blowin’ the clothes off the make shift clothes-line on the bow. Steve was chafin’ at the bit. Kettle on, dories fueled up, he was that hyped up like he’d just been electrocuted by the toaster – and survived… he was wired.
So after a cup of coffee strong enough to put hair on the chest of a coral trout, we saddled up, and after some last minute instructions from Steve, who assured me he wouldn’t be far away, we chugged off in our respective dories, into a raging black wilderness.
Now I’ve had some nerve-wracking jobs before. I’ve caught crocodiles, mixed it up with crazy horses, had a gun pointed at me, but mate… you can multiply all that by ten and you still wouldn’t come near the fear involved in mackerel fishing.
We left the relative shelter of the bay and I immediately started to get buffeted by a wild sea, waves smashing into the dory from all sides. And as it was still dark, I couldn’t even see. Steve, who assured me he would stay close, disappeared straight away and I found myself bobbing around like a cork, singing all four verses of living and working on the land in full ‘soprano’. I honestly thought I’d be puttin’ the cue in the rack, cashin’ in the chips, you know… I wouldn’t be seein’ smoko. This was it. It’s over, Red Rover. I’d be hangin’ me shirts in ‘Davey Jones’ locker before I knew it.
First light started to glow from the horizon and I suddenly remembered why I was actually out there in the first place, and so I threw me two lines over.
Catching mackerel was definitely the last thing on my mind.
Staying alive was taking pride of place at the moment. I tried to keep the dory’s nose front-on into the biggest waves. If you copped one side-on, it would have capsized the dory without even tryin’. Then, as the sun came up, I caught a glimpse of Steve spearing down the face of a huge wave out in the distance. It was like a surfing version of the ‘Man from Snowy River.’ Then I lost him again.
Then Bang! One of me lines went stiff. Shit no! I’m thinkin’, all I need now’s a friggin fifty-pound mackerel to make life even harder!
So, like the well-trained fisherman I was, I sent the dory into a circle and patched up, getting smashed by waves and trying to pull the fish in, and this thing was fightin’. I finally got it up to the dory and lifted it in. It was a ‘Big Mack’ all right, and like I’d been taught, I grabbed the club and went to belt it on the scone. Waves were comin’ over the dory and I tried to concentrate, but I swung the club and the bloody thing slipped out of my hand and went into the water.
Now without a word of a lie, before I even had time to reach over and grab the club, a shark came up from nowhere… and fucking ate it!
You could have knocked me over with a mozzie coil.
Now you didn’t have to be ‘Jacques Cousteau’ to work out this had just put a completely new perspective on mackerel fishing. If a shark just ate the club-and it did-what the hell is going to happen if I go in the drink?
We’re talkin’ hamburger mince.
I’d gone into shock thinkin’ I could be part of the food chain at any minute, when all of a sudden, Steve emerged out of a wave, yelled get back to the boat, it’s too rough… and revved off. Well, that was the best news I’d had for a while. So back to the main boat we slogged.
Steve had caught a few, and I had my unclubbed 50-pounder. So we set about filleting them and within no time at all, a great collection of sharks, giant cod, trevally and even school of garfish had formed up at the back of the boat, competing for the skeletons and off-cuts of the mackerel being discarded into the water. Believe me… there was serious hunting and gathering going on at the back of the boat, trevally being bitten in two by sharks, cod the size of 44-gallon drums also giving as good as they got from the sharks.
It was a frenzy.
The garfish were even having a go, but suffering huge casualties.
They still zipped around but they did it tough. Anyone who believes in reincarnation, whatever you do, don’t come back as a garfish, I’ll give you the big tip.
So later that day, after a Steve’s special coffee that strong it would have put fire in the belly of a Himalayan snow leopard, we saddled up once again and chugged off in the dories, bound for Hell or high water… hopefully the latter.
The one good thing about fishing in the afternoon as opposed to the morning was the fact you could actually see where you were going. But now, knowing what lurked within the depths, ‘constipation’ was never going to be an issue again, not on this trip anyway, that’s for sure.
Phil O’Brien (born 31 December 1930) is a former Australian rules footballer who played with Hawthorn in the Victorian Football League (VFL).
This story is an extract from Phil’s book ‘You Can Always Find Someone To Have A Beer With!’, a very entertaining collection of stories in the life and times of Outback Raconteur Phil O’Brien. Reckless, financially irresponsible and prone to bad luck, Phil OBrien has turned drifting around Outback Australia into an art form! Containing about 30 short easy to read stories [including pictures] this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, from city dwellers who enjoy an escape to country folk that will relate to the real-life events and characters. Also, travelers looking for a light read while in transit and overseas tourists looking to take home a genuine piece of Australian literature. Stories are based on Phil’s adventures across the Northern Territory, the Kimberley region and beyond.