Comment: No one owns the water mate

FOR those who work a traditional week, Sunday is the most precious of days. It is a chance to spend some quality family time and what better way to do that than wet a line with them. It doesn’t get better than doing what you love with those you love, that is unless your real reason to go fishing is to get away from them!

In Darwin a couple of Sundays ago the weather gods were well and truly smiling when my wife, our young son and I launched the boat at the family-friendly time of 0700 hours. It was a rare opportunity to get them way out wide to fish a secret spot in solitude in good conditions, as when the weather plays up it’s no place for youngsters and others who aren’t used to it.

As we were halfway out of Darwin Harbour I saw a big fishing charter vessel also heading in a north-westerly direction out. As we all know you always need to keep a sharp eye out for other boats, not only for safety, but also in case someone tries to sneak up and mark your secret spot on their GPS. Up here in Darwin there’s not that many boats compared to down south so people tend to spread out a lot more and try and find their own honey-hole … but not all do this.

“Poachers” who ping other people’s spots are very poorly regarded by thinking and fair-minded fishos, and charter operators get really angry when it happens to them.
But worst of all, there are those poachers who will come up and drop the pick right next to a boat already at anchor or where a boat has tried to desperately vacate its secret spot to avoid it from being found. “No one owns the water mate” is a common catchcry poachers and their supporters use to try and justify their own actions.

Personally, I never point my bow at boats anchored in the distance or moving around slowly because that’s exactly what poachers do as they try to get a bearing on your spot. When it comes to charter boats at anchor I give them the widest berth of all to show that I am not out to steal their spots and they need not worry about me.

Anyway, as we passed by Charles Point north of the Harbour I looked back and saw the big charter vessel pull up and look to anchor. I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t heading out wider where we were going to fish our own secret spot.

After travelling another 15km further out we finally arrived at our spot. As usual there wasn’t a boat in sight and the very reason why I invest so much travelling time and fuel money to go there.

Before too long my wife and son started hooking some macs and GTs on jigs, much to our shared delight. I felt a great sense of relief that I’d been able to put my family onto some nice fish. Apart from one mac in the esky the rest were released in good condition to fight another day.

After fishing for about 45 minutes my wife looked up startled and said, “Pete … that big boat we saw earlier is coming straight at us!” I spun around and sure enough there she was, about 200m away, steaming hard with that big intent-filled bow pointed right at us. My heart sank quicker than a 300g jig as I knew they had caught me napping on the spot, so focused was I on helping my family fish and being caught up in the moment. For those unaware a big vessel like that boasting state of the art radar, GPS and sounder units can easily track you beyond visual range, and the closer they get can accurately nail your location to within a few metres if they so choose.

As it honed in on us like an Exocet missile I tried to motor away from the spot in a desperate last effort to throw them off the scent. But the charter boat went right over the spot with its sounder, turned up-current and then anchored exactly where we had been minutes before. Twenty anglers on the back deck then dropped their lines down.

I was still in a state of disbelief that I hadn’t seen them coming from a long way off. If my usual fishing mates were aboard last Sunday – as opposed to my wife and our young son – then the chances of that boat getting close to us would have been remote as three trained pairs of eyes would have kept a much better lookout.

Well with the fish at that spot holding in a tight area now being occupied by a massive charter vessel our fishing trip was over. However, I wasn’t going to leave without first chatting to the skipper. I motored slowly over to the big boat, pulled up alongside and asked “Who’s the skipper?” After a pause “We threw him overboard!” came a quipped reply. I again asked “who’s the skipper?” and one of the 20 or so people on the back deck replied “I am.” I then said to him “Now you’ve got this spot do you want to follow me back to Charles Point so you can get my jewie one as well?”

He laughed nervously and then said with no conviction at all that he came to this spot all the time. “Really?” I replied. “I’ve been fishing this spot on most neap tides for the last 5 years and have never seen another boat within 5km of here and never once a charter boat.”

The charter skipper’s attempts to justify his actions that Sunday morning were lamer than Australia’s top order batting efforts in the first two Ashes Tests. He knew exactly what he had done and looked as guilty as Shane Watson does before being given out LBW.

Laughably, his defence that he fished the spot all the time would mean that in short order there would be no decent fish left to catch as 20 anglers fishing from one boat makes a big impact, especially on bottom species. NT Fisheries research shows that most bottom fish like jewies and goldies taken in water greater than 10 metres suffer barotrauma (the fish bends) and thus are very unlikely to survive even if released. That is why in deeper water we primarily target macs and GTs on single hook jigs, which if handled correctly have high survival rates, and thus spots like this one don’t get trashed.

Now just imagine for a moment what would have happened if it was me who came steaming straight up to his charter boat and anchored on his spot. You would have been able to hear the abuse 40km away back in Darwin, and I’d probably be dodging some snapper sinkers thrown at my boat as well. And you know what? I would have deserved it.

So to the individual skippering that big charter vessel, thanks for ruining what, up ’til that point, was a great day out with the family. Thanks too for your future efforts to keep returning to the spot until there’s nothing left to catch.

Lastly, on almost a weekly basis I get asked by locals and visitors alike who is a good reef charter operator to wet a line with. Rest assured matey I won’t ever again be recommending your company as lazy and arrogant skippers like yourself give the industry a bad name.

I’m sure amongst the Fisho readership there have been instances where similar situations have occurred, whether it be commercial boats poaching spots from rec fishos or vice versa – so let us know your experiences. One thing’s for sure, two wrongs never make a right. So let’s all try to be more respectful to each other out on the water.

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