ANZAC day was coming up fast and the untouched paradise of Bernier & Dorre Island was calling. While I was feeling a bit guilty for missing the dawn service I kept telling myself that the old diggers would be proud to see a few young blokes celebrating this day seeing some of this great land, sinking some beer and catching some fish.
Bernier & Dorre Islands are two separate islands nestled alongside each other 34 miles west of Carnarvon. It’s a long drive with 5 people in the car and 3 ton of boat. The monotony was broken just after 440 road house when I saw a familiar car with a white ass poking out the window. In it were mates of mine, Scotty and Dumper off to Quobba. They had spotted the boat and decided to give us their own salute, WA is certainly a small place.
We drove through the night and had the boat in the water by dawn. Two hours later we had arrived at paradise. It was a little bay on the lee side of Dorre Island known to the locals as Holiday Bay. We set up camp and before too much longer realized that boat wouldn’t start. With two mechanics onboard, only too keen to get their hands dirty, I saw no need to worry. To everyone’s disgust I proceeded to swim off the shore to leave everyone else to take care of the motor. By the time they had finished rooting around I had 8 crays all over 2kg and was ready to catch some fish.
The outside of the reef was like a millpond and presented us with the opportunity to get right up against the island. It wasn’t long before I had a good selection of coral trout, mangrove jack, bald chin grouper, snapper and black spotted tusk fish hanging off my gun. Our skipper’s love affair with reef fish is legendary. I knew it would be a hard ask to convince him to move the boat out into the big blue to go after the game fish when so many good reef fish abounded. After a few attempts to persuade him to move to deep water I decided that I would have to go it alone. The drop off was only about a km out so I dumped today’s catch in the back of the boat and set off into the sunset.
Like any fishing burly always helps and spearfishing is no different. After shooting ½ a dozen big trevally and chumming them up I had a nice burly slick and a feeding frenzy was starting to appear. 100kg potato cod hovered around the bottom and sharks darted around in the mid water. One cheeky bastard almost took my elbow off. I wasn’t paying him any attention as I was chumming up. He seized on this opportunity and swam up to the back of the gun and started to chew on the tail of the fish I had just been cutting. Nevertheless my hard work was soon rewarded as I saw the silhouette of a Spanish mackerel in the distance. In the clear water it was hard to coax him close enough to have a good shot so I let go from some distance and fortunately found my target. The shot had hardly penetrated the soft flesh. I couldn’t afford to pull him straight in as the spear would fall out. I let it take plenty of line off my reel, swam with him and hoped that he would tire soon. The main problem with doing this is if they don’t tire before it gets to the end of the line the fish has something to pull on and will dislodge the spear. The other thing is that sharks love wounded fish. I playing him for some time, pulled him in gently and had a good fish at 19 kg. Unfortunately my day was cut short by the boys coming to pick me up, slightly pissed off that I was so far away from the boat and that they had spent ½ an hour looking for me, fearing that I had been eaten.
The next day I would rate as the best dive I have ever had. We set off early and I was determined not to waste half the day shooting more reef fish. Once again we anchored in the shallows so I took a few quickly shot at some 7kg blue bone. I needed to be able to say I got some fish just in case I came up empty handed with the pelagic’s. Then a long swim off to the deep water. After chumming a few trevally another feeding chain appeared. Schools of bait fish, sharks but today plenty of mac started swimming through. I was happy with my diving and was comfortably descending to 25m taking a quick look around the bottom before returning for a breath. I would spend one minute down then one minute on the surface in the hope that a mackerel would appear while I was down on the bottom. If you are not already underwater when a pelagic swims through it is very hard to dive on them without spooking them. The idea is to be in the mid water as they are coming through. I continued doing this for about three hours and shot a few good sized mackerel before I saw it; it was like a 44 gallon drum with a tail. The electric, florescent yellow streak could only mean one thing, a yellow fin tuna. I went straight down and positioned myself for a good shot. I read the fishes’ reactions correctly and anticipated he was not just passing by but instead was determined to stay and have a feed. Rather than rush the shot like you normally have to do with these fish, I waited and took my time. I aimed straight for the back bone and as he turned to greedily take another mouthful of trevally I let fly. My shot was good, and had grazed the back bone. The fish was stoned momentarily and I seized this rare opportunity to pull myself down, hand over hand, onto this powerful beast. I was being very careful not to get tangled in my line. If you do get caught up in the line when the fish dives it is very hard to cut. They have been known to drown an unsuspecting diver. I just got my hand in it’s gills as it came alive. I pointed it to the surface and it swam me straight up so I could take one gasp of air. Once on the top it started rolling me in circles. I was getting more and more tangled as we waltzed underwater. I knew as long as I held on through the gills I had no fear of him taking me down. The next thing I started thinking of was I hope one of those hammer heads or tigers I saw before don’t confuse me with the tuna. The water was thick with blood and we were both completely enveloped by it.
I steadied myself enough so I could wrench my knife from it’s sheath and swiftly spiked it’s brain. One violent shudder and it was over as quick as it had begun. I was ecstatic. Some people spear their entire life without getting a shot at one of these magnificent creatures let alone catching one. It was a long swim back to the boat with 4 big mackerel being towed behind me and a tuna that would later weigh 40kg but I hardly noticed it. Everyone was happy and I couldn’t wait to brag to my mates about Bernier & Dorre.
On the way home one of the boys, not content with upsetting the aquatic life, thought it would be a good idea to disturb the feral goat population as well. Shane suggested that we try and run a goat down on foot because he couldn’t be bothered mowing the grass in his back yard and a goat would be the ideal solution. Shane - an ideas man:). Nevertheless it sounded like fun so I accepted the challenge. I was talking to an SAS mate of mine recently about this very topic. He insisted the best way to catch them is to wear them down. Jog after them slowly then as you wear them out then sprint and tackle them. Armed with these words of wisdom I set off, however I soon discovered that it might be all very well if you are in the SAS but let me tell you I now know that you need more than a jog to keep up with them. I consider myself fit, I arrogantly thought that boxing and football would make this goat easy work. After 10 minutes of what seemed like sprinting and ½ a lung this thing was only showing small signs of tiring and I was ready to die. Fortunately for me it stuffed up and ran straight into bush, I jumped and Shane had himself a new lawn mower.
As we drove off into the sunset with the goat bleating unceremoniously in the back, I was already looking forward to the next dive trip. Wondering how it could possibly get any better than this and thinking how lucky I was to live in such a wonderful place. What a weekend, big fish, good weather, good mates and even a goat thrown in for good measure. There are certainly not many places in the world like WA