My husband and I were both what was termed “frying pan fishermen”, meaning if you can’t eat it; don’t bother trying to catch it. Not for us big game fish, but small sweet winter Whiting, Bream, Flathead, and Moses Perch. The occasional Flatfish we caught, such as Sole or Flounder, generally went to my mother-in-law as a form of rent. I loved the little chopper Tailor which Don and I caught off the beach with a rod. They needed bleeding, but that was no hassle.
When they were in the bucket, one had to keep an eye open for greedy Pelicans who would attempt to steal them whilst we had our back to them and were making the next cast. The leaky boat with heavy oars that I had to bail while Don fished was replaced by an aluminium boat known as a “tinny”, complete with a motor. This meant that we could both fish, and when the children reached the advanced age of three and four years, fishing became a family affair.
Don would use a light rod, while the children and I would use hand lines. They soon learnt to feel when a fish was biting at the end of their line, and even to recognise what kind of fish it might be. Soon they could manage their hand lines without getting them into incredible tangles, and to both bait their hooks and remove the fish and place it in the bucket in the boat where our catch was kept. Even while young, they would help us to collect bait.
We discovered the best spots to pump for yabbies (Ghost Shrimps). Don and I would pump vigorously with our yabby pumps until we had four or five yabbies out of their hole and on the surface, and the children would follow us, picking them up and never complaining about the occasional nip. When older, they learnt how to use a rod and line, the art of rod binding, the safe use of a knife, and how to rig up their lines.
My daughter was just as an enthusiastic student as any of the boys who joined Don’s tutorials. When our children had grown up and gone to the big smoke in search of fame and fortune, it was Don and I alone that went fishing. There was nothing more wonderful than to be out in the early morning on a mirror-like sea heading for “our spot”. On the way, we would keep an eye open for the Dolphins, Turtles, and Dugongs that were common in those days.
When we were in the “right place” we began our drift, baiting our hooks with squid, worm, prawn, yabbies or whatever the fish seemed to be biting on. Generally, it was Winter or Diver Whiting that we were after; not big fish, but delicious. As I told my brother-in-law who came from the Northern Territory and would boast of the Barramundi he had caught up there, “Any fool can catch a big fish, but it takes skill to catch the little ones”.
On a good morning, we could catch a hundred or so of those delicious little fish within a couple of hours, and then it was time to head for home where the real work would begin. First the scaling, then the filleting, then the belly boning so that each fillet would be guaranteed to be bone free. When completed, I would begin to pack for the freezer, leaving some fish fresh for the evening meal.
Last, of all, I took the skeletons to the beach and threw one or two into the sea. The Seagulls were the first on the scene. Their cries attracted the notice of other birds, and it was not long before we had Terns and Pelicans joining the “green” clean up. On one occasion when my husband was feeding the Pelicans in this manner, one crafty Pelican crept up behind him, and on a backward swing took a bite out of his hand, gaining both fish and flesh.
We got to enjoy the fruits of our labour later when the fish hit the fry-pan and were then served on our plates, along with lemon juice from our own lemon tree. Surely this was the food of the gods!