Fishing with Dad

IT still feels the same as it did all those years ago … four years old, standing on the edge of a wharf, dropping a line into the water for the very first time, and feeling that sheer and utter excitement that jolts through you when those tentative nibbles give way to the unmistakeable feel of a fish on the line. Then comes the thrill of coaxing that fish into view, then arm’s reach, and finally (hopefully) landing your trophy catch!

Truth be told, it didn’t quite happen like that back then. As all parents do with their children’s milestones, my first fishing outing was photographed extensively, and fortunately captured the proud moment that I landed my very first fish – a tiny toadie, but in my mind it was the best fish that ever swam, and definitely worthy of a trophy! These treasured photographs also show my even prouder Dad (Kevin Gilkison), and my late grandfather looking on, and of course, me with the same massive grin plastered across my face that I still get today after landing a fish. What the photographs don’t show are the thrilled squeals and exuberant jumps of joy that still seem to follow a successful catch today, even after 27 years have passed.

A lot has changed since that first fishing adventure, but importantly it sparked an interest in fishing that has since developed into a passion, and it also marked the beginning of a continuing fishing journey alongside my Dad. The “fishing mateship” that we share is without a doubt what I love most about fishing. If we’re not out fishing, we’re either planning our next adventure, reminiscing about past escapades, or enthusiastically discussing the latest fishing news that we’ve gathered from various sources. Neither of us would consider ourselves experts, although we might joke that we are, but we are self-confessed addicts, seeking out every opportunity available to either fish, or to further improve our fishing skills and knowledge.

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Shondell and her dad Kevin with some average sized Australian salmon caught in the middle of winter last year from a favourite rock fishing spot.

As is often the case, fishing is a pastime enjoyed by a number of our family generations. Like myself, Dad has fished for almost his entire life but as his father was not a particularly keen angler, he learnt to fish by spending time with his grandfather who liked to target mullet and bass in the creeks and streams around the Wyong region of NSW. Together they would collect natural live bait, or camouflage cotton wool balls with a bread dough mixture to entice the fish, and I’m told they would sometimes scout riverbanks, dislodging soil into the water in an attempt to arouse curiosity and attract the fish closer to the waterline.

My grandmother (Dad’s mum) also enjoyed fishing and boating, and I have fond memories of her fishing with us right up until a few months before she passed away at the age of 82. On what was to be her final outing with us, she hooked up a ripper of a salmon off the beach, and despite the weakness that inevitably comes with age and illness, she fought it relentlessly and vehemently refused all offers of help to bring it in. I’m so glad that she did persist because it was a truly beautiful fish that anyone would have been proud to catch, and in hindsight was a triumphant finale to her lifetime of fishing.

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As you may have guessed, Dad taught me to fish, using the knowledge he had gained from both his grandfather and from various fishing buddies over the years. I can clearly recall the earlier years of using a simple hand reel, followed by the exciting transition to my very first rod and spin reel combo: my “Lucky Rod” that I inherited from Dad’s collection and still have in my own collection today. It is easily my most treasured rod, and one that I will still occasionally take out for a fish, simply because of its sentimental value and that it always produces the goods, hence the name!

Under Dad’s watchful eye and careful guidance, I gradually developed my skills and confidence over the years, and eagerly learnt everything that I could from him. He taught me (and continues to teach me) everything he knows including: rigging, casting, bait choice and preparation, fish identification, cleaning a catch, reading tides, sussing out the most ideal fishing spots and conditions, and everything in between.

Importantly, he has also taught me (and continues to teach me) what not to do, usually by way of a practical mishap, much to my Mum’s dismay. In all fairness, I would have to say that Mum’s worry surrounding our fishing trips is mostly justified, as it would be a rare occasion for us to fish without Dad sustaining some sort of injury or misadventure!

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Double trouble – waiting for a bite while rock fishing. 

Fortunately, most of these mishaps have been minor to date, mainly consisting of hooked fingers, flathead/rock cod spikes, boat breakdowns and the odd “rogue” wave washing over him whilst rock fishing. One memorable occasion involved him breaking the cardinal rule and turning his back on the ocean to clean a fish on the rocks. Completely absorbed in the task, he was caught totally unaware when an incoming wave crashed right over the top of him, drenching him from head to toe, but luckily sparing both himself and the fish from being dragged in for an early morning swim. I took one look at him, shook my head and said, “Well, Mum’s not going to pleased when she sees you!” She wasn’t either, but then again, he’s pretty used to that!

These days, we fish as much as possible, but not anywhere near as often as we’d like. Mostly, we travel to the NSW South Coast to the picturesque fishing haven of Tuross Head, where I first learnt to fish all those years ago on the Boatshed wharf. My family has been holidaying here for about 30 years now, and in addition to feeling like a home away from home for us, it is also fishing heaven, offering a wide variety of fish species to target, and a range of locations to suit different conditions and fishing styles.

Depending upon the weather, local conditions and our inclination, we alternate between beach, rock and estuary fishing, usually land-based but sometimes from a tinnie in the estuary and river system, when we have one available.

We normally expect to catch good-sized salmon and tailor off the rocks and beach, with the occasional bream or trevally from the rocks also. The estuary will normally hold plenty of flathead, bream and whiting. Coila Lake at the northern end of town is also a good option for flathead and bream. It is possible at times to cross the mouth of Tuross Lake and head offshore, but as we currently don’t have a suitable boat for the task, we opt to travel south to Narooma, where we head out for reef and offshore fishing with a professional charter operator. In the past, these trips have allowed us to fish the waters from Narooma to Tuross Head, and around Montague Island, producing kingfish, snapper, morwong, flathead and bonito to name a few of the more commonly encountered species.

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A perfect example of why there is much more to love about fishing than simply catching fish. Watching the sunrise over the ocean on a deserted beach with a fishing rod in hand is surely a hard experience to beat. 

Predominantly, we tend to focus our efforts on saltwater fishing, and to date have generally fished using fresh or frozen bait, but are now planning on learning the art of lure fishing, with an upcoming trip booked with a reputable tour guide based on the South Coast. In terms of freshwater fishing, we have both dabbled a little in the past, but with some good locations in close vicinity to our respective homes, that is about to change! Recently we each purchased identical rod and reel combos specifically suited to freshwater lure fishing in our local river system; the Nepean, so we now have little excuse not to fish more regularly, and the identical combos should definitely make things more interesting by evening out the competition!

Competitiveness is a trait Dad and I both share, and anyone who knows us will undoubtedly say that this is a gross understatement! We take competitiveness to a whole new level, although you may be surprised to learn that neither one of us have ever entered a formal fishing competition and it was only very recently that we made the decision to become members of our local fishing club.

Usually we compete in our own informal competitions, whether it be a simple mental tally of quantities and sizes, or a more “formal” version with different categories attracting various point values and deductions for unfortunate incidents, such as losing a fish to a seal, or failing to catch any live bait! Dad is responsible for creating these more formal competitions, and they have proven to be great fun on private charters, especially if you can get the skipper and deckie/s involved to help adjudicate. A small entry fee is charged for each angler, with the winner taking all and normally using their winnings to buy the first round at the pub “debrief” afterwards. As I said, great fun.


Shondell’s dad expanding his fishing horizons whilst travelling up in Northern Australia. He had to work hard on this particular charter to land this Spanish mackerel, with sharks proving to be good incentive to get the job done quickly!

Dad has a couple of fishing expressions that he is renowned for, with the most common being, “Let’s go dong ‘em”, which inevitably precedes a fishing outing, and the other being a more deceptively casual, “So, how many have you got now?”

It is not uncommon to hear the latter phrase numerous times throughout a fishing trip, and despite the casual tone, it’s an unmistakeable indication that the competition is underway! In all honesty, I must admit to being a repeat offender of asking this same question, but it’s all part of the fun, and anyone who fishes with us will usually join in and become fair game for some good-natured banter and friendly competition. Speaking from experience, I am well aware that the company you keep can really affect the quality of your fishing experience, so I know that Dad and I are very fortunate to have established a strong network of good fishing buddies over the years.

Recently a relative stranger asked me, “What is it about fishing and the South Coast? I can tell that it’s a big part of your life, so what is it that’s so important to you?”
A little eerie considering this person knew nothing about me except my first name and birth date, and the question took me completely by surprise.

I struggled to answer, and I realise now that the difficulty came from trying to narrow down my reply to a single factor. I have since given this stranger’s question much thought, and I know that if I were asked the question again, my answer would be very different today. It’s a multitude of things. The South Coast holds a special place in my heart and constantly draws me back. This is where I first learnt to fish, and have since spent much of my time holidaying and fishing with family and good friends. Fishing itself has always meant more to me than simply catching fish. It’s the company or the solitude, the peacefulness or excitement, the feast or famine, the good times or the bad, and the constant promise of quality time spent in the great outdoors.

As Dad and I look towards the future and expanding our fishing horizons, I’m certain that this question will be revisited often, and my answer will undoubtedly change to reflect new experiences. However, as I reflect on the past and acknowledge that much has changed, I can say with certainty that my feelings about fishing with Dad remain unchanged, the same as they did all those years ago, only much better.

Many thanks to my family and friends for their help in composing this article, and especially for taking the time to proof read the finished piece.

Biggest thanks to Dad for allowing me to share these stories and for the fishing companionship – let’s go dong ‘em!

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Good times aboard Narooma-based charter boat Play Station. L to R are Wayne Scott, Benn Boulton (skipper & owner/operator of Charter Fish Narooma/Narooma Tours), Colin Scott, Shondell Tilden, Kevin Gilkison and Noel Power.

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