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Tight Lines: Does the catch justify the chase?

By Steve Starling, 11 Dec 2015 Opinion

Tight Lines: Does the catch justify the chase?

Sometimes you travel a hard road only to realise that what you’re fishing for was nearby all along.

We all know that the farther you drive and the rougher the tracks travelled to reach your dream destination, the better the fishing will be when you finally arrive, right? Well, yes and no…

Over the years, I’ve certainly enjoyed my share of rewarding fishing in remote and difficult-to-access places around the country. A few magical spots along the west coast of northern Cape York Peninsula – between Weipa and the Tip – spring to mind, as do other gems hidden away in Western Australia’s wild and woolly Kimberley region. These make up a list of special places that dwell in the happiest recesses of a fisherman’s selective memory.

Up the Top End, the infamous Four Mile Hole on the Wildman River system in Kakadu has a well-deserved reputation for breaking vehicles and drivers. But if you get it right, and are among the first crews to reach the Hole after the Wet Season, the calibre of barra fishing is often nothing short of excellent. It’s the stuff of legend!

These days, it’s rare to have Four Mile Hole to yourself. In fact, by mid-August there can be a hamlet of tents, camper vans, boat trailers and caravans parked before the tree-lined edges of the deep buffalo-made ruts in the black soil. It’s getting harder and harder to find isolation each year. There’s nothing for it but to climb back behind the wheel and push on farther into the wilderness.

Without doubt, there’s something especially rewarding about doing the hard yards to earn a glittering prize. Fish caught at the end of the road less-travelled seem to grow bigger, fight harder, look sexier and taste sweeter than anything found closer to home.

But as great as it is to go the extra mile, it’s surprising how often we drive past truly great opportunities while we rush to what can sometimes turn out to be a mediocre experience. While this grass-is-greener truism applies to a great deal in life, it’s certainly applicable to fishing as well!

I remember a day, many years ago, that was unexpectedly spent on a little mangrove-lined creek somewhere along the North Queensland mainland, up the back of Hinchinbrook Island, between Townsville and Cairns.

My companions and I were full of expectation as we launched the boat at first light. Our aim was to blast out of the short creek and across Hinchinbrook Channel to explore some of the wilder, less-fished waters on the inside of that mountainous island.

What’s that line about the best-laid plans of mice and men? With a sickening crunch everything went pear-shaped just a hundred metres from the launching ramp as we hit a submerged rock, destroying the outboard’s gearbox. Game over… or so we thought.

As the vessel crawled back up the creek, now powered only by the bow-mounted electric motor, we couldn’t resist flicking a few lures towards the snag-lined banks. To our surprise, we immediately hooked a couple of worthwhile fish, all with the sound of traffic whizzing along the Bruce Highway in the background. Interesting.

To cut a long story short, we fished that short creek between the highway and the sea for a solid five or six hours until the electric motor’s battery drained and we had to disconnect the defunct outboard cranking battery and use its juice to limp back to the ramp.

We caught at least a dozen different tropical fish species, including some quite nice specimens. Truth be known, we probably did better than we would have on Hinchinbrook!

My point is simply this: don’t be in too much of a hurry to make tracks for distant horizons. It’s amazing how often the greatest prizes of all are at your feet.