The last time I went on a fishing trip it was right out of a movie…the mother of adventures.
As you may or may not know I’m not a fan of fishing.
Why you ask? Almost every Sunday morning during my childhood I could go fishing with my father or go to church. The choice was mine.
You guessed it – I chose fishing…yes, I’m a heathen by any other name!
However, it wasn’t long before I came to really dislike fishing. I think it may have had something to do with the extraordinarily early mornings (we always left the house at 6:15 am sharp).
Or maybe the biting cold of the early morning riverbank, lake or dam.
Perhaps the overpowering smell of fish guts or complete boredom that engulfed me as I waited patiently for a fish to take my bait.
All I know is that it was just too much to handle but what could I do…go to church?
Fast forward to 1984 when I was teaching at Nightcliff High School in Darwin. A few of my fellow teachers were mad keen fisherman.
They decided to organize a High School teachers fishing competition and put out an invitation to the other five high schools in the city looking for others to join in the festivities.
And trust me there were plenty!
Darwin is situated on the north central coast of Australia, and just a short flight to Indonesia and surrounded on all sides by wilderness.
In fact, quite isolated from the rest of Australia. With a year round tropical climate it’s perfect for the outdoorsman type lifestyle.
For those of you that love to fish this part of Australia is home to the mighty Barramundi or “Barra” as they are lovingly referred to in this part of the world.
The Barra is a true sports fish – big, aggressive and hard to catch and so fishermen come from all over Australia and indeed the world to try and catch this elusive fish.
I was dreading the prospect of a full weekend of fishing, but eventually was convinced by Rosco, Griffo and Bruno to accompany them on the trip.
And oh what an adventure we had!
So on the designated Friday after school we packed up Roscoe’s Toyota 4Runner and headed out to the East Alligator river. It’s about a four hours drive south west of Darwin and deep within Kakadu National Park.
In addition to driving into the park we also had to procure permission from the local aboriginal tribe that governed that sector of the park to allow us to fish and camp on its property.
In all we had about 25 – 30 guys’ show up for the weekend, as we set up camp near the banks of the East Alligator River.
Strangely everyone camped either on the top of their trucks or inside their vehicles and never out in the open…for good reason!
Early Saturday morning (after a night of drinking and storytelling into the wee hours), we set off in Roscoe’s 14’ aluminum fishing dinghy.
Our destination was quite some distance away from camp along the East Alligator river. Roscoe knew of a fishing spot that in his words “where the Barra jumped into your boat there were so many of them”, yeah how many times have you heard that from a fisherman?
As we travelled along the river we continually trolled for the elusive Barra, and occasionally had a bite or two but weren’t successful in hooking any.
As well, we also noted the terrific number of saltwater crocodile as we cruised along the river, with them often slithering into the murky water quite close to the boat.
Until 1971 the saltwater crocodile, or “Salties” as they are affectionately named, had been hunted to the brink of extinction by croc hunters for their skins. However, once they became a protected species they once again began to flourish in this remote region of Northern Australia.
The interesting twist in all of this is that with their protected status they became unafraid of humans. In fact, perhaps began to see humans as part of their natural food chain which they sat at the top of.
Yeah, definitely not good…
A good sized “salty” often can grow up to four meters in length and easily weigh a couple of tons. These primeval beasts are a surprisingly swift, territorial, aggressive and unpredictable and hence considered very dangerous.
There were a significant number of crocodile attacks during my time in Darwin, many of them tourists and many of them fatal.
By early afternoon we were approximately 18 miles or 29 kilometers from our camp and deep into the floodplains of the broader East Alligator.
The sun was relentless, even with a hat and sunscreen I was burning to a crisp in the hot tropical sun, especially out on the river with the reflection off the water. Can you say lobster red?
In the blink of an eye the tide turned, not good by any stretch of the imagination.
Now even with the boat and its motor pushed to its limit the little boats couldn’t keep up to the change and speed of the tide flowing in the opposite direction.
We soon realized we were in deep, deep trouble. Stranded miles from our camp and without anyway of communicating our situation (yes, the days before mobile phones). 🙂
It was now late into the afternoon and we were firmly stuck “high and dry” on the floodplain.
Roscoe maneuvered the boat toward a large tree stump at the fork of the river and tributary which we tied the boats to. At this point the river was less than 15 meters wide.
Soon after we glided to shore, we began gathering as much firewood as we could find, and I mean an enormous mound of wood and lite it to create the bonfire of bonfires.
We tried to sleep close to the fire, but in the tropics it’s already sweltering hot at night. This coupled with the clouds of mosquitoes and sandflies made for a most uncomfortable and restless night camped out by the river.
At one point in the night Bruno got up to check on the boat to ensure it was still tethered tightly to the stump and with his flashlight scanned the opposite bank.
After the fifth set of eyes reflected back at him he turned the flashlight off and sat stoking the fire for the remainder of the night…
He woke us well before first light, and in an insistent and somewhat urgent voice said we needed to leave.
It was only after we were safely motoring back toward camp in the main river that he told us of the hungry eyes stalking us from across the narrow channel the night before.
I must admit as he related the story to me I felt a cold chill run up my spine as I imagined a large salty attacking our camp during the night.
We eventually made our way back to camp quite some time afterwards, and I for one didn’t put in another fishing line for the remainder of the weekend.
In fact, now that I think about it that was the last time I went fishing…period!
I guess that’s what happens when you’re young and somewhat reckless, not really taking into consideration all of the possible outcomes…
We were so lucky to survive to tell the tale!
Until next week