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Three days, seven blokes, one houseboat, one bathroom. The unknowns in the equation - will those early season southern barramundi be biting and why did I say yes to such a crazy idea?
Near Gladstone, the Lake Awoonga water temperature is around 25 degrees and the 1.7 million stocked barramundi have started aggressively feeding for schools of plentiful baitfish around the shallow edges.
The owners of the appropriately named Barra 1 of Lake Awoonga Houseboats thoughtfully provided a six pack of beer, a bottle of champagne, 7 green towels and one pink towel for the group consisting of some of Queensland's more successful anglers, Rod Harrison, Tim Simpson, Ron Calcutt, Shaun Ash and Eric Grell.
Confessions of a stereotyping author: Fear there would be a lot of beer consumed, a lot of chest thumping about previous fish caught– and worse in such a confined space with an open sleeping arrangement, an orchestra of snoring.
Night one conversation: I drifted off once it moved past giant squid to pig shooting. It was going to be a challenging three days.
But by four the next morning our remote section of the lake became business like. Coffee, rods and out in three run abouts The fellows explained the entire ecosystem of the lake, and over the next three days the entire ecosystem of anything to do with fish. Their knowledge was seriously impressive.
We were lure fishing in what was to become the dawn, lunchtime and evening daily pattern. These guys were not interested in drinking or yarn spinning, they were there to fish and fish and fish.
“It takes a thousand casts” advised Simpson. “I'm a firm believer with these sorts of fish you don't move position, you wait for one to come patrolling past and hit your lure.”
He enjoyed the first real tussle of the trip a barramundi struck diving under the boat. A ripping sound heralded the lure, released of pressure, flying upwards with one inch scales still attached. A calling card. Simpson grinned ruefully “better start the count again”.
“Why is fishing called a sport?” I wondered, gazing at the weathered rocky peaks and marveling at the change of light on the gum trees.
“Its competitive” said Ash. “We are all fishing together well, but underneath I want to catch the first fish. All of us do”.
Oops. “Err not all of us” I replied.
Later, Simpson and I munched companionable chocolate under a star filled sky methodically casting and and counting. I finished at 970 with the whine of just hatched mayflies buzzing round my hair and the shooting star count at three.
Night two conversation: giant squid, sharks, game fishing and feral cat shooting.
I had gnocchi with pesto while the boys worked through an impressive diet of sausages, chips and soft drink. “Food is fuel” declared Ash. “You just need to keep fishing.”
The snoring seemed to fit in with the atmosphere.
Day two: I picked up on the sinister undercurrent easily now. They all wanted, no needed to be the first. I cast and retrieved my lure a little faster.
Calcutt's son Alex and I eventually took a break. “Can you feel if a fish is going to bite?” he asked Simpson. “Some people can”. “Well I reckon there'll be one on the next cast” said Calcutt junior.
“May as well be me.” Cross legged I lazily threw the lure which was hit hard. The fish leapt out of the water and I leapt to my feet. Harrison's boat zoomed over, cameras clicking – the fishing paparazzi were recording every moment.
Calcutt senior caught the next fish. Damn. It was bigger than mine - not that I'm competitive.
The conversation turned sober later in the afternoon. Some had faced significant life challenges. Perhaps it was part of the motivation to get out and spend days in remote watery locations. “Fishing is an excuse for an adventure” declared Simpson. “I might spend 10 minutes fighting a fish in a 48 hour trip. I've used fish as an excuse to go to some of the best places in the world.”
Night three conversation: Giant squid, sharks and quad bikes for shooting either pigs or cats. I joined in on the squid part.
Trips end: the beer and champagne remained unopened, the only stubby cooler I saw was wrapped lovingly round a baitcaster reel to protect it.
Another set of numbers for the barramundi. Mine fed 17 people over three sittings, including curry laksa and that old favourite, gooey mashed potato fish pie.
Seven blokes, one houseboat, one bathroom. Would I do it again? You betcha.