Fighting from beneath the waves
by Lee Brake on 8 Dec 2013
The world suddenly went silent and as I looked above me I could see a line of bubbles and the little glass rod, dubbed 'Greeny', silhouetted against the shimmering surface of the water above. Even a metre below the surface I was still going through the motions and I desperately turned the reel's handle to retrieve the slack I had created with my fall from the deck of the Jezebel. Everything was dark except for the radiant, iridescent blue of the world above, so with a slight bend back in the rod, I decided that now might be a good time to kick for the surface!
The very wet author and “Greenie” with the unlucky barra. Lee Brake
But, I am getting ahead of myself. It was early in 2013 and I was a guest on the in-law's 32 foot displacement cruiser, nicknamed The Jez. We were anchored up in Al and Lea's (the in-laws') favourite hole at Seaforth. It's a simple, unassuming spot with a gentle drop-off at the back of the boat, some rubble bottom and a drain within casting distance. It had also been the sight of some great catches over the years.
Al and I headed out to catch some bait early and after a while my ineptitude with a cast net quickly began to show. With only a handful of livies in the bucket, I put my hand up for a voluntary redundancy and swapped spots with Al. Al put me to shame within minutes and we quickly had enough herring to last the night.
With our bait supply full, we tied the little tender to the side of Jez and went about setting a spread of rods. I had an almost immediate response to the live herring I'd deployed and had a feisty little trevally aboard within minutes. Then the comedy of errors continued. The same rod, my missus's 3-5kg Shimano, loaded up again and this time rather than an easy scrap, I was in real trouble. The fish showed all the signs of being a big mangrove jack and it was making a beeline for the mangroves like Michael Clarke charging for the wickets after a dubious single. I tightened the drag; it kept charging. After a quick mental coin toss I gambled that the 12lb mono I was using would pull the fish up or break in the attempt, so I palmed the spool and heard a slow creaking crack as the rod folded... Guess I was wrong – but at least the fish stopped. I fought on with a broken rod and was rather disappointed when a medium size giant trevally appeared. It was not quite worth the broken rod! But there were replacements aboard, so I went below deck and appeared with Lea's 4kg-ish, 20-plus year old glass rod dubbed 'Greenie' due to its colour scheme.
We were soon joined by another tinnie containing one of Al's work colleagues, Darryl, and his wife Jacinta. From there we settled in for a relaxing hour while we waited for the last of the run-out to arrive. We cooked up a feed, popped a few tops and chewed the fat. Everything was all rather relaxing until Darryl's rod loaded up in a big way...
He was no slouch on the fishing front and knew what to do. He quickly had the rampaging fish turned and back near the boat, but that's when the real fun starts. Most fish are lost at the boat and when said fish has the Jezebel's rough bum, big prop, and two tied tinnies to choose from, it takes some serious defensive manoeuvring to keep you connected and in control. Darryl danced nimbly around the prop and onto the rocking tinnies like he was Kevin Costner in 'Water World' and not once did he look like losing the fish (maybe I should have studied his technique closer...). Once clear from under the tinnies, Al swooped in with the net and Darryl had himself 50cm of fiery red mangrove jack. He was pretty pumped and we quickly learned it was his new PB jack. Photos were taken, more tops were popped, and we were ready for round two. It didn't take long.
Al was next to strike as his little graphite rod loaded up and the fish charged along the side of the Jez, making straight for the anchor rope. Now, Al's little combo is the ultimate surprise packet. It's a 3000 Daiwa Tierra with 20lb braid and a 6'6' graphite spin stick around 2-5kg that he'd rescued from the dump. From this he runs a running sinker rig and 20lb 10x leader. It rarely lets him down, but this night he was in trouble. Darryl and Al were walking the gunwale and making their way for the bow, while I stayed behind and grabbed the landing net. Sure enough I heard the shout, 'It's on the anchor rope. Grab the net!' So I handed it forward to Darryl who leant in low and hoisted up a net once more filled with angry crimson. Waaahoooo jack number two!
Al's fish was in the high forties, but didn't trouble Dazza's PB – despite a little initial ribbing to the contrary. By now all the herring had sucked their last breaths and we were all using dead bait. Mind you, I don't think we were very worried at that point. It was nearing midnight and everyone was pretty happy to veg' out. We all kind of assumed the serious fishing was over. Then Greenie started screaming...
Lea was on it in seconds and we all heard the splash as whatever took the bait got airborne and then re-entered with a thud and a spray of white-water just at the edge of the deck light's radius. Lea started trying to palm the rod off at that point, but we weren't about to let her miss out on the experience, so we all yelled encouragement (probably something about teaspoons, concrete and hardening up). But she became more and more adamant as the powerful fish headed for the bow. By that stage I realised Lea was either going to have to walk the gunwale or lose the fish to the bottom of the boat, as that was the angle the line was taking. I told her as much and when she refused I allowed her to pass me the rod. I was up and moving along the gunwhale in a flash and Darryl and Al were with me like shadows, Al with the net in hand. I made it to the bow with some help from guiding hands and then managed to stop the haemorrhaging of line from the 4000 spin reel attached to Greenie. But the fish wasn't done yet. It turned and headed back down towards the tied tinnies. I had no choice but to follow. I looked down and judged that the distance from the Jez's bow to Darryl's tinnie was reachable, turned and asked for a hand down. I felt Darryl's grip, braced myself and leapt.
And that's how I came to be fighting this fish from below the salty depths. I think I'd landed on the tinnie only to have it shoot out from below my feet, but the adrenalin of the moment meant that all I remember was grabbing Darryl's hand one moment and then looking 'up' at the glistening surface the next. I wasn't sure what was going on above, but later on I found out that Al was trying to work out how he would net me when I suddenly popped up to the surface and threw my elbows over the side of the tinnie and locked them there. The rod was still loaded up and my hands still worked at the reel's handle. I fought the fish like that for a few seconds until I felt that I was gaining some line and then decided that I probably didn't want my legs dangling in the dark estuarine depths for much longer. After all, if you fall in with a splash, chances are, if something toothy is out there, it'll hear it. I then threw my legs up one at a time, pausing after the first one was in place to retrieve some slack line.
Then I was up – it had all probably taken seconds, but it felt like an age. Al was behind me and I caught a reassuring glimpse of the net still in his hands. He asked if I was alright but I could only cough out a reply. It's funny I don't remember swallowing water...
Then the fish came into sight beside the tinnie, a nice barra. Al got ready with the net but I croaked for him to hold till the second pass. I'd done too much work to net him before he was well spent. The second pass did the trick and Al scooped him like a pro. Cue backslapping and handshakes all round.
The barra went 79cm and Lea and I happily shared the glory. Photos were taken, backs were slapped and the events were repeatedly reminisced about.
And that folks is the story of how I fought a barra from below the waves, if only for a few seconds. It was probably the most fun I have ever had landing a fish and it makes for a great yarn.
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