Hi again! Me here, about to fill you in on what I think was one of my best weekends yet in Australia! There have been heaps of great weekends in the last five months, but pulling in a fish like I did this weekend doesn’t just happen every day! So, shall we?
So the week before the long weekend is a four-day week pretty much everywhere that celebrates Easter, and being as excited as James and I were, Friday morning couldn’t come fast enough! Life has been busy here at Wentworth, as it’s branding time and the Low Stress Stockhandling school is coming up and the goal is to have the property and the houses immaculate for our guests. Thursday afternoon, I wasn’t done work until after 7:30pm, which was the longest workday yet, but Dyan was away and I wanted to make sure everything was done for her return Friday morning. Needless to say, come 7:45pm, that rum and coke went down niiiiiicely! We were sleeping at a good time, and were up and getting packed and organized by 7:30am – or at least I was up by then, apparently James was like a kid on Christmas morning, up at 6:00! We waited for Ben (the friend of James’ I met last weekend at the campdraft) and his girlfriend Chloe, and once we were all collected and the Esky (what the Aussies call a cooler) was packed and on ice, we hit the road! We were expecting about a five hour drive, but that five hours turned into a departure at 9:30am and an arrival at 7:30pm. PROPER LONG DAY. There were some events leading up to that extended travel time, which I’ll get to in a pinch.
James and I were in his ute, with the dog cage behind the cab of the truck, our swags, fishing rods and our Esky. Benny and Chloe were behind us with the same haul, minus the dogs. The day was perfect for driving, and we had the windows down and music cranked. A few clouds, sun shining, and the promise of an amazing weekend in the air.
Ever had a moment that completely stops you in your tracks and puts your thoughts on pause? One that stretches a smile across your face, and fills your lungs with air, making you feel so at peace and so happy that you wish it would last forever? Driving down a highway, not saying a word, just listening to music in a comfortable silence between James and I, I had my arm out the window catching the sun with the back of my hand. We passed a large mob of moving cattle being mustered by some Aussie ranchers. James pointed out to the left and said, “ay, they’re musterin’.” – That’s when my moment hit. James and I both waved, and the grazier waved back with a smile on his face, a wordless acknowledgement and greeting, while riding at the end of his mob. I felt the urge to scream and tell the world that I LOVE AUSTRALIA.
Dyan and Richard own another station called Strathalbyn, which is about three and a half hours from here, and was only slightly off route towards Home Hill, where we were headed for the weekend. James was to deliver a dog to the station manager, Greg, on Friday. We stopped in for a cold drink and a visit before heading back out on the road. Greg and his wife Anna have two little boys, and have a third little one on the way. They’ve been there for a few years now, working and managing the property. Strathalbyn is about 84 000 acres, and is in a gorgeous mountainous area with lots of trees. Home Hill is near Ayr, so you can locate it on the map if you’re interested. We were south on the coast, from Townsville, then inland 30km or so.
Leaving Strathalbyn, about thirty minutes out, James and I realized that Benny and Chloe weren’t behind us anymore. We pulled over and waited five minutes or so, then turned back to go find them. They were several kilometers back, with a nasty blown tire! The boys put on the spare, but the pressure was too low, so they took it back off and took it back to the last station to fill it with air. That set us back about an hour total, but luckily the tire, or “tyre” as they spell it here, was filled and we were safely back on the road. Once we got to Home Hill, the boys got gas and we all got a small bite to eat, knowing we’d be eating barbeque dinner once we arrived at the camp.
When we finally arrived, no one was there! They were all still fishing! Lucky bums! We waited, and after cracking a cold one, heard the truck and buggy coming up hill. Everyone was well into their long weekend, with smiles on their faces. Three fish had been caught, all about 30-35cm long. “Pan sized!” We gathered in the shed and socialized for a bit, while some organized dinner and others watched some tv to wind down from their day. There were heaps of kids running around too! One fella was right into the drink, and was talking to a friend of mine about fishing. After finishing his thoughts, he looked at me and mumbled out, “ah, well you don’t even know what we’re talking about because you don’t know how to fish and you’re too blonde to get it anyways.” Then he turned to Chloe and said, “and you, well, you just look too fancy to even be here right now.” I kept my cool, but said to him as sternly and politely as I could, that “I in fact have two degrees there, chum, and I could talk you in circles about pretty much anything. I know quite a bit about fishing, as I’ve done it the majority of my life, and I’d be happy to show you.” He avoided me for the rest of the night, and got the hint that I wasn’t about to tolerate his flack. (You’ll understand why this little run in ended up being glorious!!)
As people started to hit the hay in preparation for an early start on Saturday morning, James, Chrisco, Benny, Chloe and I all headed down to the river for a big bonfire and a few drinks. We talked and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company for hours! The fire was huge, with big pieces of driftwood, and we all had folding lawn chairs to sit in. We were down there until around 3am, when we finally decided to head back up to the camp to sleep. All in the back of Benny’s ute, we were ready to head up the hill. But in order to get to the bottom of the hill to drive up, we needed to get across the beachy part of the river, which was actually the bottom of the river when the water is really high. There were some different sandy banks that we needed to go up, some areas steeper than others. Benny was a little too ambitious, and bottomed out his ute in the sand! - aaaaand that’s where it stayed for the night! We all just walked up, which is only about 500m or so back to the camp.
We were up around 7am, and breakfast was being cooked up! Eggs, toast and bacon! We all had a quick feed, and god the boats and lines ready for an 8:30 start on the water. James, Chrisco, Chloe, and Benny went in one boat, and Wade, Charley, their two four year old twin girls and I went in the other. There was a third small boat, but the others didn’t come down until later that day. We were fishing for an iconic fish of Northern Australia, called Barramundi, or Barra for short. In Queensland, they predominantly occur in the central and northern coastal regions, and we were on the Burdekin River, near Home Hill. We were using 30lb test line, but I couldn't believe when my friends told me that Barra can grow to be 1.5m long and up to 40kg, but most common is 80-120cm for a big Barra. The season runs February to November, and there are pretty strict size limits for size and quantity taken home. Between 8:30 and 2pm, Wade caught a small Barramundi, and that was it! We went home basically skunked and pretty discouraged, and that made me want to fish even more. I had to show that guy I could catch and clean a fish!
We went back up to the camp to eat, and the girls went down for an hour or so. The plan was to go back out on the water around 3pm, but that turned in to getting ready around 5pm, and on the water by about 5:30. This time, everyone went out. Wade, Chrisco, James, Chloe and Benny were in one boat, the guy who called me dumb, his broad and some backpackers were in another boat, and Charley, the twins and I were in the third boat – an 8ft tinny!! It was so small and tippy, but Charley and I were beyond determined to catch at least one fish. Each boat went to a unique spot along the edge of the river, around “structure” – logs and fallen trees in the water. We laughed a few times about “structure” and making sure to cast near the structure, but not on it! Charley and the girls and I tied our boat to a “lucky structure,” where we’d been early in the day but only had a few bites, nothing serious. We casted a few lines and weren’t there long before I decided to try a more colourful lure than I’d been using. First cast, I hit the money. The lure had just hit the water, and was diving into the river when WHAM! A huge hit! But I had remembered what everyone had warned me about Barra – they have a soft mouth and even can spit treble hooks out quite easily! So I left it set before cranking the end of the rod up to reel it in. Barramundi are a sport fish, and let me tell you - reeling in the Barra I caught had me shaking with adrenaline and excitement! I thought a good bass was fun to catch, but it was nothing like pulling in that Barra! (Mind you, this was the biggest fish I've ever caught!) It was like reeling in a whale, especially since the drag wasn’t set properly, so every time I’d crank it in, the line would go out twice as much. I was screaming and laughing so loud that it caught the interest of the people in the other two boats, and they started to make their way over. I knew it was a fish. You know when you’re fishing and you have a fish on, that it’s a fish. However, it was real when it jumped out of the water completely and let Charley and I see it! IT WAS HUGE! At this point, I’m shaking in excitement, and Charley is just as excited. The girls can’t really grasp what the hell is going on, and why I’m screaming so loudly! (Whatever happened to staying quiet in a boat was lost with this fish on my line!) Within seconds of it jumping out of the water, it felt like the fish had wrapped itself around a log, of huge solid “structure” at the bottom of the river, and there was no give in the line or give and take at all. I kept working the line, and Charley kept saying “I hope it isn’t s snag now! I hope it didn’t wrap around a log! You have to get that fish in here!!” Especially now because the two boats were within a few meters of our boat, watching the entire episode. It crossed my mind how devastated I’d be if I had in fact lost it, even more so now having attracted the others and making such a wild scene in the boat! Luckily, the Barra came back out from wherever it had been tucked, and that was some liiiiiiiive action! It even crested the surface of the water so everyone else got a glimpse of the beast on the end of my line, and you could feel the excitement soaring even higher! I was still screaming with excitement, and when it finally got to the side of the boat, I kept the line tight while Charley pulled the fish into the boat! SUCCESS! We finally got a good look at the fish too, which had me even more excited! I couldn’t tell how long it was right off the bat, but I knew it was huge! It was pretty lazy in the boat, which was for the best with the twins, and stayed pretty still. Something that big flopping around in a little tinny with two girls is hectic! I was riddled with excitement and adrenaline. My hands were shaking, and so were my legs! I couldn’t tell you the last time I was that shaken up with pure excitement.
What a rush!! Best part? The fella that told me I was a dumb blonde who knew nothing about fishing and told me I couldn’t fish, WATCHED me bring in the biggest fish they’d seen in ages, properly! (Minus the excessive volume levels! Hahaha! I couldn’t help it!) PLUS HE GOT SKUNKED! Didn’t pull one in all weekend! Did that ever feel good!! The front treble hook is what landed it, and the other two got stuck in it’s throat, hence the chopped look in the picture. We had to bleed it out, and did so while cutting out the lure. You can see the happiness splashed across my face! We measured it on the ruler sticker in Wade’s boat, at 80cm, and weighed it when we got back to the camp at ounces away from 13lbs. I was thrilled with the circumstances! The Canadian caught one of Australia’s most iconic fish on her first Australian fishing adventure! (and the jerk got skunked!!) Although I know how to clean and fillet a fish, I’d never expected to have to clean and fillet one so monstrous! Wade helped me out in that department, and then cooked it up the proper way for everyone that night. We ate the fish within an hour and a half of catching it! Wade cut the filleted white meat into pieces about a centimeter thick, and as big as the palm of your hand. We lightly battered it in a peppered flour batter, then deep fried the pieces until fork tender, and sprinkled a bit of salt and fresh lime juice onto it. DELICIOUS! I think it tasted even better because I caught it and fed over 10 people with the fish, but I seriously think it was the best fish I've ever eaten. Absolutely melted in our mouths, and has the most pleasant, almost sweet, fish taste. I was even approached later that night and told I did a good job bringing in that fish, and that he was surprised I didn’t lose it since they can throw lures so easily, by you know who. I soooo did not require his approval at this point, but knew he felt silly, so that was rewarding.
After we had a huge feast, (Barra, steak, burgers, veggies), the same five from the night prior headed down to the beach for the night. We packed up the ute, and brought our swags and an Esky this time. We were all exhausted, and sleeping at a decent hour; the sun does that to you. We each found a spot in the sand and laid out our swags. James and Chrisco apparently had the better ideas – Chrisco was in amongst some trees for some shade when the sun woke up, and James was under the smoke that was coming off the tired bonfire, to keep the mossies (Aussie term for mosquitoes) off. I woke up around 3am from being completely and utterly tormented from mossies. That annoying high pitched buzz that we can all relate to, was unavoidable and was such a nuisance!! I found some AeroGuard and showered myself in it, which helped, and I was able to fall back asleep. Not for long though, as we were up shortly after the sun was.
Oddly enough, in the middle of nowhere, we must have been near a cell service tower, because I had full service! This in the outback is like hitting a goldmine. I was able to call Mama and Papa and my Mom and Dad! - that was all my morning really allowed me time for, or else I would have perched myself on a rock and called my entire home contact list for a chat. It’s always so nice to hear the voices of those you miss the most.
I took the buggy up to the camp, and brought down the portable barbeque, and Wade and Charley and the girls came down for breakfast. We had all brought meat and ribs and such, and that was the best breakfast I’ve had in a while! It was a mean feed! Just what was needed, especially for another attempt at catching some huge Barramundi!
We wrapped up our fishing weekend with a group adventure out to the “rude fella’s” TOP SECRET SPOT, where there are apparently heaps of Barramundi just waiting to be caught. He catches one every time he goes… We all got skunked. Minor waste of a few hours, when we could have been back on the river where we were all happiest in the boats!
James and I left and everyone else stayed, since James had to muster on the holiday Monday. WHAT AN AMAZING WEEKEND! The picture below is a little fuzzy from the steam and smoke from the barbeque, but from left to right, it’s Wade, Chrisco, James, Charley and Benny. Chloe was still sleeping, the little devil!
LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE!