Flying high! Family fishing adventures at Dampier Archipelago

The couple who fishes together, stays together? [Part 2]

Flying high! Family fishing adventures at Dampier Archipelago

Dave:

I clearly remember watching a documentary during my final year of high school on the battle to stop the Franklin and Gordon Rivers in South-West Tasmania from being destroyed by proposed hydroelectricity dams. One of the masterstrokes of those who pushed for the protection of this World-Heritage listed wilderness was to take a bunch of politicians on a whitewater rafting trip through some of the pristine canyons that were facing destruction, so that they could actually see what all the fuss was about. When interviewed at the end of the multi-day expedition, an elected official was openly weeping on camera as he described how passionately he would fight for protection of this wilderness, now that he had actually experienced what was as stake. And so it is that personal experience can make all the difference when it comes to one’s perspective.

That being the case, maybe I am a world-class bonehead for not having sooner taken Kim on a proper fishing trip in one of the plethora of spectacular locations that I have been fortunate enough to frequent at some point over the past sixteen and a half years!

Whilst there is no doubt that our family fishing experience on this trip has reached a crescendo (as I expected it would) whilst exploring the Dampier Archipelago with my good mate, Simon Tocas, the first murmurs of the tectonic shift in Kim’s attitude towards angling pursuits (and boating generally) began to show when we were a few hundred kilometres further south in the mining town outpost of Onslow. Having checked into Onslow Beach Resort for a couple of nights to escape the confines of Chelsea the Caravan, our post-breakfast conversation turned to what the day’s activities would entail. Whilst not verbatim, in what can only be described as a bizarre role-reversal between Kim and I, the discussion unfolded something like this:

Dave: Why don’t we just spend the day lounging by the pool? The kids can swim and we can relax, maybe read a book…

Kim: Nah. I want to take the boat out to the Mackerel Islands. Let’s do it!

Dave: I dunno honey. It’s over 10kms of open ocean crossing, our boat is pretty small, and it might just be a bit much. Maybe we should just chill and enjoy the resort?

Kim: C’mon – let’s do it. I’ve double-checked Windfinder and the forecast is perfect. You can even take us fishing while we’re out there. Let’s make the most of it and go on an adventure.

Dave (by this stage wondering whether he is hallucinating and/or still asleep): Umm… Ok. I’ll get the gear ready.  

As it turned out, we had an unforgettable day exploring Direction Island. Not only did we do a bit of fishing, but as we came up into the shallows of a coral flat adjacent to the island, we unexpectedly crossed paths with a huge dugong that was completely unperturbed by our presence, allowing us to admire it from near touching distance for several minutes before cruising away. Then there were the two nesting White Breasted Sea Eagles that perched proudly on the corner of the Island. As I have said so many times to Kim, going fishing is just like being part of a David Attenborough production.  

I think Kim has done a far better job of describing her ‘conversion’ to a bona fide fisherwoman in her blog than I possibly could. So, whilst I will resist the temptation to simply say, ‘I told you so’ and leave it at that, I will just add my take on a couple of snippets from each of our three family days on the water in the Dampier Archipelago. Hopefully they will provide a glimpse into the angling evolution that my dearly beloved has undergone.

On the first day, Kim became fully initiated after landing an impressive Golden Trevally all by herself. It turns out that I was not the only one who was startled by the transformation that was taking place – when she posted a photo holding the fish (wearing a characteristically dazzling smile), on her Facebook account that evening, the image would ultimately rack up more ‘Likes’ than the proud social media announcements she had made for the arrival of any of our three kids!

On the second day, Kim (not a typo) enthusiastically suggested an early morning start, so we were on the water not long after 6am. One of the aesthetic consequences of that decision was that, at least for first couple of hours, Simon’s boat had no less than three occupants who were fishing in pink pajamas. Mia was not to be outdone on the fishing front on this day, valiantly landing a solid Queenfish (which was longer, if not heavier, than her mum’s now famous Golden Trevally). Whilst my passion for fishing has never been motivated by a desire break records, I have no doubt that Mia achieved a world angling first by landing her ‘Queenie’ attired in both shorts and shirt emblazoned with matching unicorns!

Family fishing adventures in the Dampier Archipelago
Livy fishing in her PJs
Family fishing adventures at Dampier Archipelago
Mimi in her unicorn PJs, with her big Queenfish

Our third family day on the water was spent on my boat, which seemed comparatively puny after being spoiled rotten on Simon’s stalwart vessel. Despite a vastly reduced range in our capacity to explore the archipelago, we still managed to find fish without much effort. As a rod buckled over in the holder during our first trolling run of the day, I made the all important inquiry, ‘Who wants to reel in this one?’ Despite the fact that my question had clearly been directed towards Olivia and Mia, Kim made the impassioned declaration that it would be she who would be doing the reeling in on this one. Before I could offer any words of moderation, she sprung to her feet and grabbed the buckling rod, nearly toppling our two eldest daughters overboard with her rampant enthusiasm. Whilst a man can dream, I never really thought that three of my precious princesses would actually be fighting over who got to reel in a fish…

Family fishing adventures at Dampier Archipelago
Kim photobombing our fishing photo to show off her latest catch

It must also be said that our unforgettable family days in the Dampier Archipelago were marked by a different dynamic than the many previous trips when I have fished with Simon (who was formerly a full-time fishing guide) over more than 15 years. Those times have included bruising sessions of absolute tunnel vision; with the earliest start being around 2:30am and the latest not finishing until many hours into the full dark of night. In contrast, even on our days that began on the water PJ-clad, the family fishing time for this trip was still interposed with frequent and generous interventions for other activities, including paddling the SUP in the aquamarine waters, surfing a unique island beachbreak, swimming, and just chilling on deserted beaches whilst marveling at the total absence of footprints. This time around, I didn’t have a chance to cast even a single fly at a rampaging Giant Trevally or the ever-flighty yet enigmatic Permit. But, here is my confession as a hardcore Fisho: quite frankly there is no contest – I’ll take the shared family experience any day. Unicorn PJs and all.

SUP at pristine Dampier Archipelago
SUP time at Dampier Archipelago
SUP at Pilbara Islands - family fishing adventures
Kim having a break from fishing on her SUP among Pilbara Islands
The couple who fishes together stays together

The couple who fishes together, stays together? [Part 1]

The couple who fishes together stays together
After sixteen years with Dave I finally caught a fish!

Kim:

For the past sixteen and a half years, the ‘issue’ of fishing has, at times, been the single greatest point of tension in our relationship. It wasn’t the sport itself that had caused so many arguments. Rather, it was the sheer amount of time that the man who I loved most spent completely consumed and obsessed by something that I had absolutely zero interest in. As the duration of ‘me time’, shortened with the arrival of each of our daughters, I found it completely unacceptable that Dave’s need to relax was at the mercy of tide, wind, boat, and barometric-pressure. In fact, it really infuriated me that the need to have a bit of time out could not simply be satisfied by joining the local gym or catching up with a friend for coffee. Given this context, it is little surprise there was a serious shift in relationship dynamics following the day I caught my first proper fish.

For almost as long as I have known him, Dave has been fishing the Dampier Archipelago in WA with his mate Simon, who also just happened to be the best local fishing charter guide. ‘It’s my favourite place on earth,’ I would so often hear Dave declare as he virtually drooled over piles of photos of him and the boys holding big fish caught from Simon’s boat. When the penny dropped that leave passes to fly himself over to WA once a year to go fishing were not as readily available with kids, Dave took it upon himself to take up a side gig as a fishing journalist for one of Australia’s top fishing magazines. ‘This is an opportunity of a lifetime‘ I remember Dave proposing shortly after Olivia was born as the fishing magazine had just offered to fly him to the Kimberley to board an exclusive week-long charter consisting of helifishing and exploring literally uncharted waters. Accordingly, it was no surprise that as we arrived at the Dampier Transit Caravan Park, Dave had big expectations for the week.

Persuaded by the promise of deserted islands, crystal clear waters, a decent surf break, incredible marine life, and the epic company of Simon and his lovely family, I was also excited about several days on the boat exploring the Archipelago. I went from stand-up paddle boarding next to turtles, to surfing the unique beach break at Angel Island. I also found myself repeatedly asking Simon how tourists had not overrun this paradise. Indeed, Dampier did not disappoint.

SUP at pristine Dampier Archipelago
Stand up paddle boarding at pristine Dampier Archipelago
Not a footprint in sight - swimming at pristine Dampier Archipelago
Not a footprint in sight

It was about an hour into the first day that I caught my first fish. To say that the experience was nothing like I had expected would be an understatement. For many years, I had imagined sitting for hours with a rod in hand on a muddy river bank waiting for luck to strike and for the so-called prize to be a smelly, slimy sea creature. This was not the case. As I felt the rod pull and buckle, I was filled with a huge surge of adrenalin. I had no idea that when a big fish was at the end of the line, there was actual skill required. My inner competitiveness kicked in and I was not going to let this fish off the hook. To some I may have looked like I was running around the boat like a crazy woman, perhaps even a slightly negligent mama with my determination. I used all of my strength to pull my first catch briefly out of the water before experiencing the satisfaction of releasing it back to the depths. I was overwhelmed with satisfaction and joy. There was also a part of me in awe that, when the tastiest species came along, I could participate in the harvest of something that our family would later enjoy over a meal together.

There is no doubt that my newfound enjoyment in fishing has left Dave most pleasantly surprised and excited about the prospect of future family fishing adventures. Actually, scratch that, he is absolutely frothing! This trip has really provided each member of our family, on an almost daily basis, with the time and space to learn new things about one other and ourselves.

Family fishing adventures, Dampier Archipelago
Olivia, Mia, and I on our way to our fishing spot in our PJs