It scares me to think about where I have taken a boat in the hope of catching a fish. From the dreaded stormy waters of Lake Superior and the outer reaches of California’s offshore banks to remote bays of the Sea of Cortez and the vast Mississippi River Delta, the promise of fish has pulled me like a tracker beam far from the main channels.
Yet there’s one boating experience that stands out as the most adventurous ever. It was in waters between the Timor and Arafura seas, amid the bays and lagoons of the Cobourg Peninsula at the top of Australia’s Northern Territory.
I was on a charter aboard a 50-foot sloop, but we also had an outboard-powered aluminum boat. The young captain, Roger, was as keen on fishing as was I, and so we’d sneak away to fish for barramundi in the mangrove-rimmed creeks when the tide was right.
Mind you, these shores are as remote as you can imagine. In four days, we didn’t see any other boat nor another soul. Help was days away. Yet there we were, miles away from the mother ship, out of VHF range, trolling tidal creeks infested with tiger sharks, saltwater crocodiles and box jellyfish – all deadly. Above the water were green ants that would drop from the mangrove limbs to inflict searing stings on any exposed flesh. It hurts. Trust me.
And then there were the tides themselves. Best fishing occurs on the latter part of a falling tide, though God help you if you fish too long. You’re literally up a creek. Stuck in muck. An easy feast for a hungry croc.
Hey, it was worth it to hook a barramundi – what Crocodile Dundee called a “bloody big fish.”
But that just wasn’t adventurous enough for Captain Roger and me, so we decided to venture out at night to scour the reefs of the Cobourg for oysters and lobsters at low tide. As we picked our way around exposed coral and tide pools in the dark, Roger warned me about the tiny blue-ringed octopus that inhabits such reefs. “One bite and you're a goner in less than an hour,” he says in that understated, yet a bit cocky Aussie way.
“Now you tell me,” I retort, my hands full of oysters.
Our foray on the reef was cut short by the rising tide, and as we pushed off, I glanced skyward at the Southern Cross and thought of the song of the same name by Crosby, Stills and Nash. I recited under my breath, “You understand now why you came this way.”
Fish brought me here. But it was the boating adventure that I took back home.