Amateur hour at the fishing hole.

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The absence of salt in the water shouldn’t change too much, surely. If you can fish on the coast, you can fish in the outback, right? Casting with a rod shouldn’t be too different to an archaic hand reel. Until a few months ago these were the steadfast rules of fishing. The assumption was more wrong than a person pretending they need a wheelchair to use the disabled toilets. I might as well have walked onto a football field and pretended I could catch.

My childhood was a tangle of fishing lines, stabby hooks and fresh catch that my dad would fry up over the campfire while I trotted off to fetch my favourite part of the meal – hot chips. My dad and I spent hours in the boat. Actually that was his chance to corner me to have the sex talk. Nothing to hide behind with water lapping at every oarlock. Of course we caught our fair share of slippery creatures. I know all about holding the rod up high when you’ve hooked a bass, I’m an expert on hook knots and still believe that crashing around the boat making more noise than a mechanicanically-challenged airplane is a recipe for fish of the line. Admittedly the landing net was never my strength and plenty of beauties have clocked up a second chance at my fumbly hands.

Despite this rich history it’s a different story in the Bulloo river, the only river in Australia that doesn’t flow to the ocean and also, interestingly, the only water system out here that is free of carp. The first hiccup was the casting. My fishing companion demonstrated casting a hand reel with an ease that would have put the great Rex Hunt to shame. The line swung neatly in a double arc and plopped half way out the river. My first attempt hit the dirt behind me and was met with a healthy dose of mirth. The second slapped the water, but it was so close my jeans needed to sit in the sun for an hour to dry. After a few more lessons my cast touched the middle of the river. It was a satisfaction akin to a dinner when the guests return for thirds.

Even after these in-depth tutorials my casting is still as unpredictable as a jar of jalapenos. On Monday I took out a healthy eucalypt branch about ten feet above the river. Apparently I let go too late that time.

Then there is pulling in the bloody line. Apart from the saga of ensuring you don’t tangle the line around enthusiastic ankles – either mine or the dog’s – there is the difficulty getting the necessary pull so that the bloody fish doesn’t jump off the line and find some less dangerous prey. A few weeks ago we made a spontaneous Sunday arvo trip to a new fishing hole. On a mission to impress the new folk I met at this hole I decided to catch the biggest fish of the day. Nothing was left to lady luck with the crafty slow-pull-in technique I mastered that day. My fishing line was treated with the same respect you’d show an antique violin.

Sure enough, the fish of the day jumped on my line and with a measured excitement I asked someone to please hold my bottle of wine. It was on, more excitement than a kid with a toffee apple as that behemoth was dragged closer and closer to the shore. With one final pull I jagged that monster a few millimetres onto the sandy bank. But the crafty bugger had other ideas. He spat that hook as if it had no barbs and attempted a backflip back into his territory. He didn’t see Bernie coming. The great southwest hunter rushed into the fray, sacrificing his rum can and dry clothes. A big call when it was the last rum can and a mild winter’s afternoon. That yellow belly was a goner. Bernie rolled that fish up the bank as if he had been a rug salesman in a prior life. Of course, I still took credit for the freshwater beast and took a lesson home about getting those sneaky fish up onto the bank.

I never thought the fishing could be so different. This was confirmed a few days ago on another expedition with a fellow coasty who had her fair share of fishing expertise. I garnered a glimmer of understanding of how frustrated my boyfriend must get at my feeble attempts at outback fishing. We ran through how to hold the reel and the slick casting action. My mate stood on the bank with her purple hand reel and declared, “This is going to be a cracker. Just you wait.” Her yabbie was spinning at rollercoaster speeds as she deftly aimed towards the expanse of murky water. It let out an almighty smack as it crashed into the shore at her feet. Ironically the yabbie was a cracker – it cracked into pieces and spilled across the bank like a bag of marbles. It evoked the sort of laughter that’s usually reserved for watching people slip over on their own litter. A brilliant moment in my fishing life.

Regardless of these nuances I reckon spending time on a riverbank or in a boat with a line in the water is one of the most tranquil ways to spend an afternoon. That is, unless you’ve got rogue yabbies, amateur casting techniques and multiple hook-ups. Even then it’s a brilliant excuse to sit around a fire and have a beer with your mates. All in the name of catching a bloody slimy animal that’s difficult to fillet.

When yabbies become a hobby.

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It seems brutal at times. Completely counterintuitive for hunting and killing to be part of any courtship routine. Actually, it fits quite well. Perhaps it’s the hunter, gatherer instinct.

Recently my county beau and I have stepped this up a little and I’m not talking about when we went shooting feral pigs on a Sunday – that was a one-off.

It’s the crayfish. They consume my thoughts and have even clawed their way into my dreams.

Yesterday we checked our traps three times, all before 5pm, and the haul was smaller each time. Perhaps we are checking too often, or we need to move the traps. These are in depth discussions with an intensity akin to a bikram yoga workout. My third waking thought this morning was about the traps. How many yabbies would have fallen prey to our cunning trap last night? But grand final fever has taken over and trap checking will have to wait. Apparently there are more important things than yabbies on such a historic day. It’d be like watching a documentary instead of the Olympics. Ridiculous.

But the yabbie fervour will continue. There are grand plans afoot to create a habitat of yabbies and breed them. Of course the poor critters will be sold as bait but they will have an enriched life. No cage yabbies out here.

For me, the excitement is in the catching. Pulling in a trap to see how many have been fooled by the liver bait is more exciting than a double-yolk egg. I have even learned how to hold the scary looking beasts without their gnarly claws finding a way around my fingers. That was a proud moment.

An interesting fact about yabbies for you – they are vegetarians but you can catch them with meat because they try to get it out of their space. Also they are vicious. One big sucker took his mate’s claw off the other day while they were in the bag together. Brutal.

It’s been a learning curve for me. I’d never been yabbying before and not all of the moments have been a source of pride. The first trip out was an interesting affair.

I assured my yabbying companion the end of the rope was secure after he had baited the trap.

“Are you sure,” he checked. “Yep.” Surely I could hold onto a piece of bloody wire.

He cast the yabbie pot into the brown murky water and the thin strip of red electrical cable, our only tenuous tie to the trap, slipped straight out of my slippery hand.

“You said you had it!”

“Yep,” I replied. And we watched the pot sink into the muddy water in murky silence.

He enlisted a stick for help, plucking at the water in a lucky dig that was never going to produce more than a wet stick. I rolled up my cargo pants – the only sort of pants you can wear on such an expedition – and began my journey into the middle of the pond with serious trepidation. It was bloody freezing and the clay more slippery than a freshly mopped bathroom floor but that yabbie trap came back out and I hung onto the wire the next time.

Now, these shenanigans are just part one of the hunting tale. Once we decide to attach the crayfish to a fishing hook things really get out of hand. That’s another tale for another time. I’ve got to go and check the crayfish pots.

 

Footie fever for the uninitiated

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For most of my life football has stood alongside who-can-stay-quiet-the-longest as a game I would never be interested in. Swimming with saltwater crocodiles held more appeal than a game where grown men run at each other in pursuit of a funny-shaped ball. Granted, hand-eye coordination has never been a strong point for me, so perhaps jealousy was an issue. Nonetheless I loathed footie. Not to be picky I hated all codes with equal enthusiasm. Until the move out west.

I was strolling through the grocery store today picking up kilos of bacon, eggs and sausages for tomorrow’s pre-game brunch when it hit me, yet again, how much my kill-joy attitude to sport has morphed.

In an attempt to avoid volunteer canteen work I purchased a rather expensive camera and these days I take photos of the games so the lads can marvel at how fit they look in short shorts. I don’t even get paid for it anymore!

Yesterday I helped string up a makeshift orange fence for Saturday’s grand final. I couldn’t think of a less useful way to spend an afternoon but I was happier than a dog in a sewage bog to attach those cable ties. The local newsagency has run out of black and white crepe paper a few times already this week. Football has replaced the weather as the number-one standby conversation topic. Surprisingly it’s not overwhelming or annoying.

It’s hard not to love the community that comes with the sport.

A few weeks ago we were called to Wog’s house for a post-footie fry up. Wog had gone away for the weekend but that didn’t stop half the footie team and their wags using his outdoor facilities. He has a better outdoor setting, apparently. (Please note Wog is a self-imposed nickname and any other politically-correct names are not tolerated.)

The coach was elbows deep in chops and bacon but wouldn’t allow any picking. The boys rehashed the big hits from the day before and the girls talked the talk as if they’d been kicking shins on the field. It was a feel-good moment, especially for someone so new to the town.

This weekend is the corker. We have a home grand final and the shenanigans that come with it. It’s hard to find a spot in town that doesn’t have balloons or crepe paper adorning their shop front, lawn, car, head, whatever. Magpie fever has swooped into town and I doubt it will be gone anytime before Tuesday.

Traditionally I have adopted an I-hate-footie stance at these sorts of events and my ignorance of appropriate grand-final etiquette has never been called into question. But this year I will be embracing the spirit with more enthusiasm than a dog with a full bladder near a lamp post. But I still have questions. For example, how early does the after-party start on Sunday morning? Will Saturday be an all-nighter or is the bigger celebration at the presentation night? And are the boys going to be so out of order that it’d better to stay home and sort out the linen cupboard? What about Monday – is that an honorary public holiday?

And of course, what happens if we lose… Oh it’s too hard to even contemplate that one. Suddenly I have respect for the way South Americans cry when they lose at soccer. I’m not saying I’ll well-up at the footie but I understand what it’s like to care about a game enough to invest emotion in it.

I reckon I’m ready. Spinach has been picked from the garden so we have treats to eat at the game, the house is clean enough to be trashed, enough meat has been purchased to feed a footie team and the camera is charged. So here we go – my first ever grand final weekend.