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Port Augusta Fishing (Memories Of How It Used To Be) - By Sam Pilton written in 2001

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As far back as I can recall my first fishing attempt using a boat was approximately 71 years ago.
Horace Wrench, Jack Fullerton and myself borrowed the Swimming Club dinghy, a small craft of 12ft with 2 paddles.
We paddled as far south as Patterson Creek (Concrete Ck) where we camped on the bank. There were plenty of King George whiting in the creek which we relied for food for the 4 days away from home.
Apart from the few arguments about whose turn it was to row , the only other occasion that I remember was early one morning all 3 of us were lying in bed which was made up of 2 blankets and a waterproof camp sheet over seaweed when I was awakened by a rifle shot and loud abuse from Horace. Apparently Jacky spotted a Brown Joe hovering above and he shot it and the dead bird fell smacked Horace in the face.

60 years ago the upper gulf was a fishermans paradise and snapper of all sizes could be landed from boat and beach.
Yellowtail were netted by the ton. Jack Packard and Toby Rankin reported they had all their lines broken when fishing at the Narrow Neck near the Redbanks, I assumed the fish were large snapper so my wife, Toby and I visited the spot that evening and were rewarded by catching 25 large snapper.
I had made arrangements to go south the next day with the Heath family for Easter, I suggested we go up the gulf to hook more snapper and we visited the Narrow Neck using our 2 boats on the Thursday night.
We were disappointed and could not catch a fish so decided to go further north to the last bend near the Old Salt Works. The bottom in this area is covered with mussels, a favourite ground for snapper.
By this time it was dark and we could not see the channel which is only 100 yards wide, I tested the depth and was satisfied I was in the channel.
The Heaths anchored 30 yards away, in a short time both boats were landing large fish.
I do not remember what our total catch was but I recall what was happening in the Heath’s boat, as their boat went aground and they continued to land fish when in only 2 feet of water remained around the boat.

Not long after our Easter success I offered Jack Packard and Toby Rankin a night out in the “hole” just off the Salt Works bridge, at low tide the area around the “hole” was always high and dry.
I cannot recall at what stage of the tide snapper where biting. We caught 84 snapper ranging from 1lb to 8lb in weight.
There were many people who visited the Narrow Neck and fished from the bank. Two of these regulars were Otto Rieschmuller and Dr Thompson, if you can believe all their bragging they regularly caught plenty of fish.
For most of the 70 years I fished I held a licence but rarely used nets.
I was a hook and line operator plus a dab netter for Garfish.
There was one night while dabbing I found myself inside a Garfish hauling net, dabbing fish, no doubt Ronnie Collins must have taken a dim view of me netting his fish but as I recall he did not sound off and helped me get clear of his net.
Ronnie Collins was one fisherman I admired and he certainly contributed to the decline of our snapper, I recall on one occasion when he had tons of snapper trapped .
Ronnie was working with Jimmy Whitaker and they filled their 2 boats and also the boats of Micky Gefkin and Joe Tomlin.
Ronnie realized the damage hauling was doing to our fish stocks and despite the cost of a hauling net and the huge catches, he decided to rely solely on gill nets.
I can recall on one occasion when my father wanted a couple of snapper for friends in Adelaide and Glen Copas had whetted his appetite when he reported catching a few snapper just south of No. 4 beacon on the weekend.
On Monday night my Dad and I motored down to No. 4 and were lucky enough to land 22 large snapper.
The next night I went back to No. 4 but had no luck so decided to drift south and we again struck the fish and landed 93 over night.
On the Friday night I went back to No. 4 but there were 5 boats around so we decided to try our luck further south.
When we reached the south end of Eastern Bank my wife reported that something splashed her , I stopped the engine and shone my torch around. There were blood worms everywhere and I could see splashes caused by fish feeding on the worms.
We were again lucky and caught another 93 large fish.
The boats back at No. 4 area could not believe my luck but showing the fish is believing, the boats at No.4 also landed fish that night.
There was another occasion when I was lucky, I fished for Whiting during the day and met up with the Heaths at No.2 light.
We decided that if either of us was lucky enough to strike fish we would give 3 flashes on the torch. The Heaths fished the channel at the end of the No.2 weed bank and I went north to try the Run.
At sun down we started to catch fish between 1 lb and 3 lb in weight so as agreed I gave 3 flashes. The Heaths did not turn up until morning, they had 26 large snapper and I had 800 lb of the smaller size.
There is another occasion when I was fishing the Double Ender in the Flinders Channel, Mick Gefkin was fishing about 100yds to the west of me. I was not getting a bite but when I heard Mick stamping his feet and singing I realized he was catching fish so I joined Mick and also caught a few snapper.
On a calm night when the snapper are biting it was essential to prevent snapper flapping around on the floor boards, fisherman nearby are attracted by the noise of the fish.
There was such a night I was fishing over a large school on the south end of Martridges Bank.
We attracted Bobby Peabody, he motored up and asked if he could anchor nearby.
We had been fishing for hours and had over 60 fish so decided to go to bed.
Apparently Bobby had run out of bait and came alongside and asked if we had any bait to spare.
We had also run out and had only legal size black whiting.
We gave Bob some whiting and he eventually caught 50 snapper that night.

Over the years while being employed by the Commonwealth Railways I had the pleasure of entertaining important guests of the Commissioner as at this time we could almost guarantee a successful days fishing.
I can recall entertaining 3 of our Chief Mechanical Engineers who had visited Pt Augusta to decide whether they would settle in Pt Augusta.
As I recall all 3 were impressed with our fishing potential.
The outing that stands out is the day I entertained K A Smith, who eventually became Commissioner KA Smith.
I do not recall how many whiting we caught but I broke all records being able to catch 18 small Yellowtail.
These fish always schooled around the beacons near the Power House and previously the most fish I had ever landed was 4, as you can guess Mr Smith was favourably impressed.
I can recall 2 occasions when I organized a fishing trip for Railway Commissioners and Mr Hanaberry advised me that I could take the Assistant Chief Mr Heath as my anchor boy, he was aware that we were old friends.
We fished for large black whiting all day and a count was organized, we had 19 dozen fish. Mr Hanaberry asked if we might get a snapper to impress his visitors.
We were not far from the Double Ender snapper ground so we decided to try our luck. I will never forget the pandemonium when Joe Heath hooked a fish before he had time to tie the line up, he handed the line to Pat Hanaberry who landed the fish.
Several of the men lost their first fish, their gear was too light so everyone was given a strong hand line and everyone had the pleasure of landing a fish.
We eventually caught 18 large snapper and it was decided that I arrange to freeze a fish for all aboard. We filleted the whiting on the way home, and Jack Fullerton the local butcher agreed to freeze and bag the fish.
The other outing I clearly recall is the occasion I entertained the Commissioner’s guest from America, he was a director of General Motors who supplied some of our Locomotives.
I was advised to go down the gulf the next day to catch bait, it was arranged that I meet up with Mr Keith Smith at No.2 light at 5pm.
Everything went according to plan as I had plenty of bait and collected my passenger. I noted that Mr Smith was entertaining our Commissioner Mr Hanaberry, Mr Heath, Mr Clough and Dr Thompson.
We anchored a few hundred yards away and I decided to use thin lines, (40lb) on my 2 heavy reels, fish always prefer light gear.
It was about 8 pm when our first strike was made. I gave my friend the rod and he apparently was not used to using rods and broke the line. I tried to explain that large fish had to be played until they gave up charging and were tired so they could be reeled in.
Another strike was made and he broke off again so I suggested we put some stronger lines over but he insisted that he would not break off again.
During the night he landed 3 fish and the pleasure he had needed to be seen to be believed.
I recall he was on his knees stroking the fish and saying what a beautiful fish.
The next morning we visited Mr Smith’s boat and everyone was overjoyed that we had caught 3 fish. The Commissioner showed his appreciation by giving me a bottle of Whiskey.

It will appear that I had been blowing my bags about all the fish I have caught, these catches were common occurrences for fisherman at the time Ronnie Collins, Jack Waterman and Mick Gefkin and many others landed similar catches.
My object in drawing attention as to what it used to be like is to advise people that the fisheries department failed to heed obvious warnings over many years that when at times when there were 7 haul netters from other ports taking tons of fish from the upper gulf.
I recall on one occasion the Port Broughton fishermen netted a large school of snapper which they worked on for several weeks. The haul net is a destructive piece of equipment, at time it can wipe out hundreds of undersized fish, King George Whiting, Tommy Ruff and Garfish.
One obvious fact that these ignorant managers failed to appreciate was not only the fish they caught, it was the millions of fry that was destroyed when pregnant fish were prevented from spawning.
The netting ban at present in force from Douglas Bank to Port Augusta was organized by Council.
The deputation was headed by Joy Baluch and they convinced the Premier Mr Tonkin that our fish stocks were being wiped out.
It may be hard to believe that even at this late stage when all fish stocks in the upper gulf had been drastically reduced the ban was arranged without the support of our Fisheries Dept.
In conclusion I wish to again draw attention to the miles of coast line where the tidal flats could only be described as a desert.
I organized for an inspection to be made and a meeting was held at my shack. I made my 2 boats available and I ferried Dr Jones about in my runabout and Mr Woodforde, Mr Rutter and Fisheries inspector used my cabin boat.
I tried to convince Dr Jones that at least a five year ban was required.
Would you believe it when a meeting was organized by Council to decide what was required to protect the areas devoid of shell fish I was not given the opportunity to have my say.
The 6 months ban they organized for the west coast proved a total failure as there was also miles of the Eastern Bank that needed protection.
I now have my doubts that a 5 year ban will effective. I suggest that everywhere where shell fish and sea grasses are scarce a ban should be imposed until the areas have recovered.

Old Salt
Sam Pilton