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Spent a week and a bit fishing earlier this month. Dad's just retired and wanted some family time, so my sister and I went with him, up to the place on the NWW south coast we always used to go for family holidays when we were kids. Sister only stayed a few days - we learned a long time ago there's not much to do there unless you're interested in fishing - working that out probably didn't help family harmony all that much back when sister was in her teens, but anyway.

The resorty-thing we stayed in hadn't changed at all - still the same fibro cabins, dodgy restaurant, overpriced general store that's only open for a couple of minutes on the hour, shelves full of ancient airport potboiler books in the games room. The lake, on the other hand, had changed a lot. The entrance to the sea had silted over during the droughts, and while last year's floods had opened it up again, the channels and the tides and the wheres and hows of the fish were very unfamiliar. All our old tricks didn't work - trolling silver wobblers in the upper lake didn't find any tailor, the flathead at the yellow peg weren't interested in our bass yabbies, and hours of pumping bait on the sandflats at the entrance only rustled up a handful of weedy-looking sandworms to tempt the whiting with.

We started to work it out towards the end of the stay. Finding some bream at the entrance, getting flathead (in between the damn stingrays) with pilchards in the hole off the end of the jetty, salmon on the northern surf beach. You learn to adapt, when a waterway changes. But it was still nothing like it used to be.

I talked to some of the older guys there, on and off. It seems like everyone was having similar issues. One bloke in particular stuck in my memory though.

He was saying how it was nothing like it was in the old days, when you could pull twenty bream out from between the oyster leases in an hour or so, then motor up to the upper lake and fill an esky with thumping flathead, plus the odd mulloway, prawns on a full moon night, blue swimmer crabs or whatever else happened to show up. You could do this all day, every day, if you wanted. Fill the freezer with all the absolutely best, sweet, white-fleshed eating fish. But now everyone was balancing on the ocean rocks at the entrance, dodging the spray and pulling up grey-fleshed luderick because they seemed to be the only things around.

It was just very surreal, listening to him talk about how he (and a couple of dozen other long-term regulars) would go up there and pull anywhere from 20-50 fish each per day out of the lake, every day for a couple of weeks, every year for 30 years, and then in the same breath bemoan how the fishing had gone downhill and the lake wasn't the same as it used to be. The possible connection between the former and the latter just didn't seem to occur to him.

I reckon probably 10% of fishermen catch 90% of fish. Not only is there's a considerable learning curve, but it's an activity that rewards dedication and time investment - travel to remote spots, willingness to camp in the middle of nowhere with a shovel as your toilet facilities, time spent catching fresh bait, money spent on boats, depth sounders and GPS, the years of experience spent learning a waterway to find holes, reefs, drop-offs and other features. Some of the 10% are pure sportfishermen, practising catch and release, using light line, keeping only a small percentage of the catch when it's hooked too deeply or whatever. But the others, the slightly older guys usually, who grew up with fishing being a way to feed the family, who'll grimly go out and fill the boat with the same types of fish in the same way, day in, day out. Hell, I remember one bloke who once simply gave us something like four kilos of flathead tails because his freezer was already full. Why do you keep killing fish if you've already filled the freezer? How do you justify wasting half the (very tasty) meat on a flathead by tailing it rather than filletting it? It's not even like he had kids young enough to be worried about bones. We gut and gill our flathead and then bbq them whole, wasting nothing, not even the cheek meat.

I just don't get the attitude. They don't fish for the same reason I do. I can spend a day fishing and enjoy myself even if I don't catch anything, just wallowing in the relaxation and time in the wild. If I am catching fish, I'll keep enough to cover my immediate needs. And I enjoy the challenge of fishing a new place, catching different types of fish in different ways, much more than I do just mechanically hunting meat like I was on a production line.

I hate to be the one who cries 'badwrongfun!', but I'll make an exception now. One day I want to be able to take my kids fishing, and give them half a chance of catching something. If you like to fish, then fish in a way which means your grandchildren will be able to enjoy it just as much as you did.

Edit: ooh, and I'd almost fogotten. Was a seven hour drive to get to the lake, and on the way dad played a lot of his old early 60s stuff. Any my god, talk about horrifying sexual politics! 'Working for the man' is bad enough, but 'Bobby's girl' really takes the cake. Times have seriously changed...

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humbleminion

February 2012

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