Report: Fishing with Dave

I MET Dave one morning on the popular rock fishing ledge at Pretty Beach on the NSW South Coast in the mid 1980s. I was among a group of keen young fishing mates swept up by the new wave of land-based game fishing. We were fully taken by LBG’s possibilities: big kingfish, tuna, sharks and even marlin could be hooked from any number of rugged rock ledges along the East Coast by those prepared to put in the time and effort. Laden like packhorses we’d arrive on harsh stone platforms well before the sun and scamper around perilously close to the water’s edge to catch our precious live baits – mostly yellowtail and pike, the latter of which big kingfish were especially partial to. If we were extremely lucky, some mornings we’d catch slimy mackerel. Arriving early also ensured a prime spot for when the serious fishing got underway.

That day Dave just stood and watched us, taking everything in, waiting his turn. Later on another morning, squadrons of menacing kingfish to around 40lbs patrolled up and down the edge of the Pretty Beach ledge as our baits swam around in the froth under balloons like treats dangled in a lolly shop window. One by one they were picked off. Big Daiwa Sealine overheads with tightened star drags growled and we took turns at trying to reel in the reef-bound trains we’d become attached to. Most of the kings were too strong and powerful and the whip crack-like parting of 40-50lb mono regularly rang in the air. We did though land several manageable kings of around 20lbs or so.

Dave was excited by all the action but hadn’t made a cast. He’d just stood in the wings with rod at the ready and waited. Later when we got to know him better, Dave said he would have loved to cast his Lefty’s Deceiver flies at the rampaging kings that day, but he hadn’t wanted to get in our way.

We went on to see Dave more and more on LBG trips up and down the NSW coast from Batemans Bay to Ulladulla. We also got to know him and he, us. Dave was a pretty unique character. While a “fisherman”, he was solely a fly fisherman. He didn’t practice any forms of bait or lure fishing then – or since. As Dave tells it, he just prefers the challenge that goes with fooling fish with fur and feather.

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Dave and a nice bream that took a liking to one of his personally designed flies.

As a few of my mates and I were novice fly fishers, meeting Dave proved very fortuitous. While he was (and still is!) very protective of some of his vast fly fishing knowledge – specifically to do with locations, personally honed techniques and “secret” flies – he eventually went on to share much of his fly fishing knowledge, with myself and a few lucky mates. It changed our fishing lives.

While catching big kings from the rocks on fly proved a largely unsuccessful scenario for Dave, his success with other species on fly has been nothing short of meritorious. Never one to beat his own drum, over the years Dave has perfected the catching of most Aussie sportfish on fly – apart from those he won’t suffer a severe bout of seasickness to target – including bream, tailor, salmon, trevally, flathead, bass, estuary perch, luderick, drummer, queenfish, golden trevally, mangrove jacks, mackerel and northern bluefin tuna, GTs, mackerel, bonefish … the list goes on. And many lure fishers would probably give their right arm to land the numbers of jewies Dave has now amassed on fly.

While somewhat of a fly fishing quiet achiever, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Dave is amongst the best there is. When fly fishing aficionados like Rod Harrison and Bushy sing his praises you know there’s something in it. It’s not just all about his casting either, although Dave’s well up there in that category. He’s one of those gifted anglers that easily analyses every facet of what works and why. Dave designs many of his own flies and modifies and hones them until they regularly catch fish. His tackle has never been of the “pretty” high end category – I recall him in the 1980s casting saltwater flies long distances from the rocks using rods rolled from Ugly Stik blanks and homemade leadcore shooting heads – but is always functional, workmanlike and often innovative … I’d like to be able to expand more on some of his more recent innovations, but unfortunately I’m sworn to secrecy!

Apart from a trip to Christmas Island a couple of years ago, Dave and I haven’t fished much in the past 10 years or so. That all changed last week when we got the chance to get together for a few days of fishing in East Gippsland.

After a seven-hour drive I met up with Dave around lunch time. He’d been fishing solidly for two and a half days and reported that the fishing was fairly slow. “Slow” by Dave’s standards isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so I was hopeful of our prospects. After a quick catch up we hit the water in Cupcake, Dave’s diminutive 3.2m Stessl tinny. Typically, the little rig proved ideal for the next two days of non-stop casting, which was occasionally interrupted by short spurts of action. Fitted with a 15hp Mercury two-stroke, Minn Kota bow-mount electric, Furuno sounder, front and rear casting platforms and tackle locker, Cupcake is a perfect example of how to make the most of available space on a small boat.

Unfortunately, the fishing was nothing to write home about. We did enjoy sporadic action with flatties both on fly and soft plastics (for me) and caught a few quality black bream, although Dave bemoaned that the success was below par of what he’s used to at this time of year.

The mornings were bloody freezing with the mercury well below zero at night and not much above for most of the morning – never again will I wear gumboots in winter! The water temp was below 10 degrees and while I suggested it may have contributed to the sluggish bite, Dave wasn’t sold.

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Yep, that’s frost on the side deck!

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A silly hat and a nice bream for the author.

On the last morning, overnight cloud cover had kept the frost away and carried on into the day providing ideal looking conditions for surface luring – despite being late July. It proved the case as tiny surface lures fished around snags accounted for some quality estuary perch and bream. A particularly good fish unfortunately took off for good with a little clear Towadi that had been receiving most of the strikes. Typically, Dave was right amongst it and landed several perch and bream on his sub surface flies.

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Dave and an average sized EP taken on a sub surface fly.

It was a fun little session and ended the trip on a high note. On the long drive home I reflected on how enjoyable the two days had been. As always, I’d learnt plenty from fishing with Dave. We’d worked hard (and long!) for any fish we caught, which is something I often recall from past trips with him … I also lamented the fact it had been way too long since we’d fished together and hoped it wouldn’t be too long before we got around to it again.

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This nice EP took a surface lure fished around a snag. 

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Black bream release.

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