It's FIshIng_ JIm_

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 It’s FIshIng, JIm,
 Significant technological advances
 in fishing equipment have made
 catching big fish easier and
                                       T   here’s an old saying among wily tackle
                                           dealers: “Fishing tackle is designed to
                                       catch fishermen.” And almost every angler
                                                                                     The humble handline appears positively
                                                                                     primitive when compared to today’s
                                                                                     space-age chrome, smooth-geared fishing
 far more accessible for the           has at some time or another walked out of     reels (some even with electric motors!),
 vast majority of recreational         a tackle shop laden with an array of shiny    impossibly light and strong carbon fibre
 anglers. But with more fishers
                                       lures, state-of-the-art reels and rods, and   rods, low diameter line and chemically
 better ‘armed’ than ever before,
 Ben Carlish looks at how this         goodness-knows-what ‘can’t fail’ gizmos       sharpened hooks.
 technology works and the impact       and gadgets, when all they went in for was
                                                                                     With an estimated 565,000 recreational
 it’s having on our fisheries.         a packet of hooks.
                                                                                     anglers in Western Australia alone (that’s
                                       Basically, the quality and variety of         nearly a third of the State’s population),
                                       fishing tackle available today has allowed    the pleasurable ‘piscatorial’ pursuit is
                                       the modern angler to boldly go where          worth between $500 million and $1 billion
                                       anglers have not gone before and seek out
                                                                                     a year to the Western Australian economy.
                                       new waters with more effective ways of
                                       catching fish. The game has fundamentally     While the only genuine can’t fail fishing
                                       changed – it’s moved on light years from      technique is a walk to the fish-monger,
                                       the days of split cane rods, ‘cat gut’ line   in the hands of an angler with just a little
                                       and centre-pin reels.                         knowledge and experience, modern,

 38 Western Fisheries SEPTEMBER 2009
                                                                                                       Heave-ho: customers get
                                                                                                        stuck into some serious
                                                                                                    fishing with Mills Charters.
                                                                                                             Photo: Ben Carlish

affordable, gear can make the business
of attracting, hooking and landing fish
infinitely easier than even 10 years ago.
It’s not just rod and line either. While the
economic climate may have seen less brisk
trade in the boat yards, there are still more
than 72,000 registered owners of water
bound vessels out there. A high proportion
of those boatees are also fishos and have
installed in their boats state-of-the-art
GPS (global positioning system) plotters
and high resolution colour echo sounders,
often referred to as ‘fish-finders’. These
sophisticated devices read reverberating
sound transmitted underneath the hull of a
boat to map out the fishing ground (even
                                                A nice rock cod is drawn over the
in deep water) and pinpoint with unerring       awaiting net. Photo: Ben Carlish
accuracy the location of target fish.

                                                                                    Western Fisheries SEPTEMBER 2009 39
Once a productive fishing spot or ‘mark’       strict size and bag limits set on them, with   “You used to be able to go out, and not that
is identified, anglers can lock in its         only two of any of these fish allowed per      far either, and pretty much guarantee big
coordinates into their GPS and return to       person on board.                               catches almost every time,” he says.
the exact same spot – within a metre, as
                                               It’s a regulation of which skipper Neil         “Now it’s a lot harder, and you’ve got to
well as building up a comprehensive map
                                               McDade is all too aware – the company’s        be prepared to go out further and be a lot
of similar spots in the GPS memory. But
                                               operating licence depends on adherence to      more mobile. We’ve more than 3,000 marks
just how much is all this high-tech gear
                                               these limits. He keeps an ongoing tally of     programmed into our GPS plotter that
really helping us catch fish and to what
                                               all the fish caught and kept on board for      we’ve located over the 25 years we’ve been
extent is it impacting on our fisheries?
                                               his logbook, and to make sure he and the       operating. It means we’ve every chance of
It’s an unseasonally warm and calm autumn      other crew members are aware of when           putting our customers on the fish at some
morning as the Mills Charters boat makes       bag limits are approaching.                    point in the day. But even though we did
it way out of Hillarys Boat Harbour. Mills                                                    great yesterday, I don’t like to return to the
                                               The day before was a case in point, he
is Western Australia’s longest established                                                    same marks because I don’t want to ‘kill’
                                               tells me, as he effortlessly steers the boat
charter operator. Today, there are 20 eager                                                   them. You’ve got to give each area a chance
                                               out past the reef and in the direction
and expectant fishers on board from places                                                    to recover before going back.”
                                               of Rottnest. He had a full boat of 28
as far flung as Ireland and Canada. They’ve
                                               fishermen on board and having ‘bagged          A piece of black masking tape obscures
each paid $150 for the chance to do battle
                                               their limit’ of 56 high risk fish, Neil        where the GPS coordinates appear on the
with some of Western Australia’s most
                                               dutifully turned the boat around and           plotter screen. Neil makes no apologies for
prized demersal (bottom dwelling) fish
                                               headed back to port.                           being so protective about them.
species including breaksea cod, baldchin
groper, pink snapper and the ‘holy grail’ of   Neil says he’s seen a decline in the           “We get guys coming on board using a
WA waters – West Australian dhufish. All       quality of fishing since he started as a       hand-held GPS to sneakily record the
these fish are classified by the Department    deckhand with Mills as a 15-year-old,          coordinates of the marks we’ve identified.
of Fisheries as high risk species and have     some 15 years ago.                             Then they’ll come back in their own boats

                                                                                                                  Dawn inspection: checking
                                                                                                                  the fishing gear is all ready
                                                                                                                       to go before departure.
                                                                                                                            Photo: Ben Carlish

40 Western Fisheries SEPTEMBER 2009
to the same mark again and again until
                                                  Chop-chop: deckhands Tristan
they’ve fished them out.”                         and Brad slice up fresh bait.
                                                  Photo: Ben Carlish
Neil gives me an able demonstration of the
GPS and plotter’s deadly pinpoint accuracy.
As he steers the boat, a cluster of coloured
shapes appear on the GPS white screen to
the left of the wheel – this is the first mark
of the day we are approaching. As we get
closer, Neil slows the boat down and the
undulating contours of the seafloor begin to
show on the fish-finder. A big spike appears
in the line at the bottom of the screen –
above it are a cluster of white blotches.
“The spike is coral reef, which often holds
fish. It certainly is in this case because
those white blotches you can see are fish,”
Neil explains excitedly. He gestures to
Tristan, the senior deckhand for today, to
take the customers through how to bait
up and use the tackle. There is a buzz of
anticipation on board – it’s a big part of
the magic thrill of fishing.
“Aside from colour on the screen, the big
advance these days is that you can be more
accurate,” says Neil. “The old system
would run off four satellites – these run
off about 12, so you can zoom in further,
program in more spots, see more depth
contours, the kind of ground you are
fishing over and all that kind of stuff. You
can see there I’m within a metre of where I
wanted to be.”
Department of Fisheries Senior Policy
Officer Nathan Harrison explains just            and octopus-baited hook hits bottom in 70         resulting in a couple more ‘sergeants’,
how much this capability can impact on           metres of water. Hushed concentration is          finally one of the guys is into a ‘proper’
fish stocks.                                     etched in each fisher’s face, as Neil and         fish. A lovely breaksea cod of two or three
                                                 Tristan energetically pace up and down            kilos is drawn over the net. Its captor is
“What we have seen is a big leap in fishing      shouting words of encouragement and               beaming with pride as we snap pictures of
‘efficiency’,” he says. “For example,            advice. “Remember, guys, keep striking and        him holding his prized catch which will
if you look at the recreational catch of         taking a couple of winds on your reel to see      make fine table fare.
dhufish – the annual catch we recorded in        if you’ve got something on,” urges Neil.
1996 was 125 tonnes. When we carried                                                               Everyone begins to get among some fish,
out a survey of the fishery in 2005/06,          Within a matter of 30 seconds one of              but it’s Mark and Brad at the stern of the
the catch had gone up to 186 tonnes.             the guys is into a fish. Judging by the           boat that seem to be the busiest. Both lads
It had increased by nearly 50 per cent,          slight bend in his rod, it’s no monster, but      are Mills deckhands who have come out
despite the fishing ‘effort’ (total days spent   cranking in a pound of lead and whatever’s        on the boat to fish themselves on their
fishing) only going up by 15 per cent.           on the end of the line from 70 metres of          day off. Both of them are using different
This demonstrates how increased fishing          water is hard enough work judging by              tackle from the customers. On their rods
efficiency has allowed anglers to target         his gritted teeth. Finally Tristan shouts         they have shiny, chrome multiplier reels
                                                 “colour!” – which indicates the colour of         loaded with low diameter braided line,
this species much more effectively.
                                                 the fish is visible in the depths below as        whereas the ‘punters’ on board fish with
“Recreational anglers used to have to rely       it draws nearer to the surface. A prettily        big drum Alvey reels loaded with thick
on marine charts and compasses to plot           patterned, long red and white fish is drawn       monofilament line.
their bearings – but now you can download        over the landing net.
                                                                                                   Braided line is another important advance
the GPS coordinates of productive marks
                                                 “It’s a sergeant baker,” proclaims Tristan.       in the modern angler’s armoury. Its low
from the Internet. It means the fish haven’t
                                                 “Not a great eating fish – but the dhuies         stretch, low diameter-to-breaking strain
really got anywhere left to hide.”
                                                 love ‘em. We’ll keep this one for bait.” In       ratio makes it ideally suited to deep-
Neil sounds the ship’s siren, signalling the     less than five minutes we’re off to the next      sea bottom fishing. Fishing in water up
anglers to start their ‘drop’. Each lets their   spot – Neil keeps things moving unless            to 120 metres deep with conventional
reel free-spool the line out until the sinker    there are instant results. After another drift    monofilament line makes the detection

                                                                                                  Western Fisheries SEPTEMBER 2009 41
                                                                                      Tools of the trade: fish have nowhere to hide from this kind of
                                                                                       equipment. Note the masking tape over the GPS coordinates.
                                                                                                                                  Photo: Ben Carlish

of bites very difficult. A large bow forms      to tangling and it’s expensive. A lot of the       fishing and has developed a range of
in the line between the rod and the             guys who come out with us are beginners, so        products aimed at protecting fish that have
weight on the bottom – this reduces its         monofilament is just a lot more hassle-free        been caught and encouraging the safe
sensitivity and allows quick-biting fish        and cost-effective for our customers.”             return of fish. These include ‘environets’
to ‘pinch’ the bait off the hook without                                                           – landing nets that minimise damage to
                                                With the right knowledge and experience,
the angler realising. This is why Neil and                                                         the fins and protective slime coating, and
Tristan keep urging the anglers to ‘strike’     in the right hands, fishing tools like braid
                                                                                                   ‘bragmats’ – that cushion fish from the
                                                make the catching of fish a much more
regularly and reel in the line to see if they                                                      abrasive surface of the boat’s hull. Using
have got a ‘hook-up’.                           scientific process.
                                                                                                   a bragmat allows the angler to record
With braided or ‘gel spun’ line though,         Shimano is one of the world’s biggest              an accurate measurement of the fish,
with practically zero elasticity, every         producers of fishing reels and rods.               while unhooking it, before its safe return.
nibble and bump on the line registers on        Shimano Australia Sponsorship and                  Promoting such products and a sustainable
the rod tip, giving the angler a much better    Promotions Manager Luke Wyrsta says                fishing ethos generally makes business
chance of hooking up.                           the company is constantly striving to make         sense, says Luke.
                                                its rods and reels “smoother, stronger and         “We need to recognise our fisheries are
“Basically braid is a lot less forgiving than
                                                longer-lasting”, enabling them to land             a precious resource that should not be
monofilament so, unless you know what you
                                                more big fish.                                     abused,” he continues. “To put it simply,
are doing, you are more likely to lose fish,”
says Tristan. “It’s also much more prone        “Today’s carbon fibre rods are more                if this resource isn’t available or severely
                                                powerful and better equipped to land the           depleted then we are no longer in business.
                                                bigger fish,” says Luke. “Braided lines are        We aim to educate our customers about
 Fish for science!                              up to ten times stronger than monofilament         looking after the resource because we want
                                                                                                   to be able to ensure its availability for
 The Department of Fisheries can use            lines in the same diameter and are a
 the remains of your filleted dhufish,          lot more sensitive – so you have much              years to come. If it’s no longer sustainable,
 pink snapper and baldchin groper               more chance of connecting with bites at            then we all suffer in the end.”
 frames (skeleton, from head to tail,
                                                depth. Reels pick up line faster and have          Meanwhile back on board, Dallas Lehr,
 with the guts intact) for research
 purposes to help protect fish stocks.          smoother drags, so when hooked fish do             visiting from Canada, has just landed a
 Take your fish frames to designated            take line, it’s a lot smoother – less jerky –      fish that will probably provide a lifelong
 drop off points and go into a draw for         resulting in fewer lost fish. So, all in all,      memory of his trip here – a stunning 15
 fishing equipment prizes. For more             you have much better balanced equipment            kilogram dhufish.
 information, go to the Department’s
 website at                  improving anglers catch rates.”
                                                                                                   It’s an absolute ripper of a fish – by far
 and click on the ‘Send us your                 But Shimano is also trying to encourage            and away the biggest fish Dallas has ever
 skeletons’ button.
                                                a responsible, sustainable approach to             caught and it’s smiles all round. This fish

42 Western Fisheries SEPTEMBER 2009
Respect dhu: Canadian
tourist Dallas Lehr proudly
shows off his 15 kilogram
dhufish of a lifetime.
Photo: Ben Carlish

                              Western Fisheries SEPTEMBER 2009 43
is a male and is likely to be anywhere       and it’s been an invigorating day out at sea      “We can say the rate at which fishing is
between 18 and 26 years old, and capable     into the bargain.                                 reducing temperate demersal scalefish stocks
of producing enough milt (sperm) to                                                            is too great at the moment,” says Department
                                             Skipper Neil is satisfied. “The way the
fertilise thousands upon thousands of                                                          of Fisheries Senior Principal Research
                                             fishing has been recently, it’s been a good
dhufish eggs.                                                                                  Scientist Rod Lenanton. “The rate of fishing
                                             day,” he reflects. “If you’d have asked me
                                                                                               is far too high relative to international
Removing this fish from the ecosystem        three weeks ago, I would have said it was
                                                                                               standards and if you look at the age structure
will in a small way have an impact on the    average. We bagged out three times in
                                                                                               of stocks, most of the old fish have gone.
number of dhufish available in the fishery   one week then. But that’s why it’s called
                                                                                               Essentially, we’ve got to somehow reduce
in years to come. But as one of Western      ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching’. It’s the luck
                                                                                               catch and effort by at least 50 per cent and
Australia’s most iconic species, with its    of the draw. Once I’ve parked the boat and
                                                                                               get things going in the other direction.
prized flesh fetching around $70 a kilo,     the drift’s on, we can advise on technique,
it would be hard to deny Dallas the right    but the rest is out of my hands.”                 “Technology has undoubtedly had a
to take this fabulous fish. What’s more,                                                       huge impact. GPS in combination with
                                             Charter operators like Mills are just one
fishing in the depth of water we are now                                                       improved echo sounders means you pay
                                             small part of the picture and, certainly in
at would vastly reduce the chances of the                                                      a few bucks, get yourself a decent GPS,
                                             Mills’ case, their responsible approach
fish’s survival if returned to the depths                                                      go out and mark all the spots where you
                                             ensures bag limits are adhered to and at least
using a release weight.                                                                        catch the fish, and whack it in the memory.
                                             fish in some specific spots are given a rest in
                                                                                               As a result, you build up this huge map of
It’s been a reasonably productive day’s      between being hunted. But the Department
                                                                                               where you caught what, when. There’s no
fishing as we head back to port. All up,     of Fisheries research scientists and fisheries
                                                                                               guessing anymore.
there’s been 32 legal size fish taken,       policy makers reason that the evidence
ranging from pink snapper to breaksea        strongly suggests the growing population,         “Then there’s the equipment you are
cod, to silver trevally and a beautifully    combined with rising numbers of anglers           working with; boats are much faster, more
marked queen snapper. Nearly all the         and increased fishing efficiency, are all         comfortable and longer ranging so you
anglers on board have caught something       contributory factors to declining fish stocks.    have the capacity to go further, safely.

The Mills crew share
out the spoils of the trip.
Photo: Ben Carlsh

44 Western Fisheries SEPTEMBER 2009
                                                                                                              Top tips for
                                                                                                              sustainable fishing
                                                                                                              Barbless hooks, release weights and
                                                                                                              the most simple of equipment (like
                                                                                                              a wet rag or a foam landing mat) will
                                                                                                              all help with ensuring the quality of
                                                                                                              fish caught and sustainability of our
                                                                                                              fisheries. Top tips on taking care of
                                                                                                              fish that are caught, releasing fish as
                                                                                                              quickly and carefully as possible, and
                                                                                                              storing your catch can be found in
                                                                                                              the ‘Catch Care Tips for Recreational
                                                                                                              Fishers’ brochure on the Department of
                                                                                                              Fisheries website at

 A battling barra is drawn over Shimano’s kinder-to-fish Environet. Photo: Shimano Australia

And when you get there, there’s a huge
spectrum of better ways to catch fish.”
For most anglers, better equipment means
a better day’s fishing. It means that getting
youngsters switched onto the sport is
easier now too, with better gear making it
easier to locate and catch fish – reducing
                                                       Bragging right: Shimano’s Bragmat helps protect the fish in the bottom of the boat, improving its
the boredom factor for restless minds. But             chances of a safe release.
if they are going to take up the sport, the
fish have to be there in sufficient numbers
for them to enjoy it. And if we are not to
rob them of the pleasure we derive from
fishing, then it is up to us to ensure we use
this raft of amazing gear responsibly and
in a way that ensures the sustainability of
one of our most prized natural resources.
Perhaps the last words should go to Tristan:
“Of course I worry about the future of our
fisheries,” he says earnestly. “I want to be
a skipper myself one day, but that won’t
happen unless the fish are still there. I also
want to have kids one day and I want them
to be able to catch fish as well.” g
The author would like to thank Mills
Charters and Shimano fishing tackle for
their assistance in the writing of this article.

                                                       Reel beauty: today’s reels help the angler land more fish than ever before. Photo: Shimano Australia

                                                                                                          Western Fisheries SEPTEMBER 2009 45