Some JB Reflections

By Steve Starling

I moved to the Nowra/Bomaderry area with my family early in 1973, not long before my 15th birthday. My first visit to the famous rock ledges of Jervis Bay (places I’d already heard so much about) involved a walk into the Outer Tubes with my father one weekend that summer. It was a busy day on the rocks with a good number of anglers in attendance. From memory, we saw a nice mackerel tuna (kawa kawa) landed and a couple of fish lost and I marvelled at the quality and calibre of tackle in use, quickly realising that my own very basic gear fell well short of the mark necessary to take on serious land based game (LBG) fishing, but I also knew that was I wanted to do!

By autumn 1974 I was regularly visiting the rock ledges on the south side of the Bay, between Bowen Island and Steamers Beach. My favourite was a location we called The Pimple. Reaching it to fish at first light required a pre-dawn walk of nearly an hour and a strenuous rope climb down some sheer ledges. We enjoyed fantastic sport there (and at nearby St Georges Head or Corangamite), mostly lure casting for salmon, tailor, kingfish, smaller tuna, bonito, trevally and juvenile Samson fish. I caught my first “big” fish here in 1974… an 18 pound (8 kilo) mack’ tuna spun up on an old Iron metal lure cast off a Mitchell 499 eggbeater and Butterworth rod… I was hooked!

The loose group I fished The Pimple, Corangamite, The Tubes, Beecroft and Devils Gorge with in those years included the likes of Jeff Dowle and his wonderful father, Noel (who usually acted as the driver, minder and mentor for us younger blokes), Roger Apperley, John Monaghan, Gordon Croote, Paul Winchester and several others, mostly from the Nowra Sport Fishing Club.

I finished high school in 1975 and also penned my first article for a fishing magazine that same year. It was called “Nowra’s Rock Hopping Juniors” and I submitted it to Ron Calcutt, founder and editor of the old “Australian Angler” magazine (later to become “Fishing World”). You can imagine how ecstatic I was when Ron (my idol right through my late teens) wrote back to accept the piece and offer me payment of $50 upon publication! (From memory, that Mitchell 499 reel had cost me $49, so 50 bucks seemed a lot of money to a 16 year old!) The piece was published in the February, 1976 issue of the magazine and marked the beginning of my career as a fishing writer and communicator.

By this stage I was live baiting and spinning the rocks around Jervis Bay at every possible opportunity, and continued to do so through my university years whenever I could get a lift (I had no car and no drivers licence). Fortunately, my slightly older best mate Roger Apperley and I were virtually inseparable and he had both a car and a licence!

My favourite spot was the Outer Tubes where, every weekend, we found ourselves rubbing shoulders and sharing live bait drifts with some of the iconic names in early LBG fishing. These included the likes of Dave Mayne and Bobby Russo (it’s a reflection of the lack of political correctness in those days that Bobby was almost always referred to simply as “Bob the Wog”!). There were also a couple of highly respected LBG guns from Sydney who, I believe, belonged to the Kuringai Fishing Club. I’m almost certain one of them was named Dave Lindfield. He was an LBG angler I greatly admired and I would hang on his every word when he offered tips or advice. Later we were joined by others like Mark Hanlon, Simon Cassettari (both of whom wrote for magazines in the 1980s), Sean Fitzgerald and many others whose names have long since slipped through the cracks in my memory. The “vibe” was not dissimilar to the surfing scene, with the older guys greatly admired and looked up to by us emerging “grommets”.

The fishing itself was demanding and character-building. We often went a long, long time between strikes from decent fish, although the smaller salmon, tailor, bonito, frigate mackerel, mack’ tuna and the like fortunately filled in many of the big fish gaps. We also did ourselves no great favours by sticking doggedly to the old ANSA 20 pound line class as our “heavy” tackle! This proved well and truly under-gunned on many of the better fish we hooked.

High points for me through those intensive LBG years from 1974 until 1980 included landing a couple of yellowfin tuna in the 18 kilo (40 pound) class and a slightly larger longtail of just under 42 pounds (we called then northern bluefin in those days), along with various mack’ tuna and smaller yellowfin to 8 kg or so, kingies to a similar weight, hammerhead sharks and so on. We also lost more big yellowtail kingfish than I could possibly count! However, my biggest heartbreak was battling a monster yellowfin tuna for several hours one afternoon, only to have it cut off by a passing pleasure boat when almost beaten and finning tiredly on the surface 250 to 300 metres out… I still occasionally wake in a cold sweat from nightmares of that loss more than three decade later!

I have more memories and vivid images from that five year period than I can ever hope to re-tell. I suppose the climax of my LBG career came on a morning in early January, 1979, when I walked into The Tubes with Peter Dore carrying buckets holding a load of small, live yakkas (yellowtail scad) that Pete (a sailor) had caught at the HMAS Creswell navy wharf. Carrying live bait into The Tubes was a bit of a “coals to Newcastle” exercise, but we must have had a reason! Maybe they were hard to come by that season? Anyway, my first bait out was eaten at about 8AM and I hooked and landed my first-ever black marlin: a fish of 51 pounds (25 kg) that jumped and fought spectacularly on 20 pound line. Carrying it up the hill and back out to the car park was a draining effort, even for a pumped-up 20-year old! I doubt I’d get halfway these days… (We always believed in those days that the first LBG marlin had been taken off The Tubes somewhere between 1969 and 1972, although there’s now reason to believe that others may have been caught even earlier than that. By the time I caught mine, at least a couple of dozen had been landed and many more lost.)

I left the coast to take up a teaching posting shortly after that, then returned to Sydney in 1981 to work with my idol, Ron Calcutt, and eventually become editor of his “Fishing World” magazine (1981 – 1984). I fished the rock ledges of Jervis Bay (north and south) quite a few times during those busy years and watched younger generations of budding LBG anglers go through the same great learning experiences I’d enjoyed there, helping to celebrate their journey in the pages of that great publication.

At the beginning of the 1990s, having relocated to Gerringong after a year or so living and working in Canada, I once again became a regular visitor to the ledges of Jervis Bay, this time concentrating on the south side around Salt Rock (south west of Steamers Beach). By now I’d become quite keen on fly fishing and would often fly cast for salmon, kingfish, bonito and tailor from these wave-washed ledges. A particularly large salmon I nailed there on fly during this period remains an IGFA world record more than 20 years later and is still officially the largest Australian salmon (kahawai) ever taken on fly anywhere in the world, either from the shore or a boat. It’s a record I’m particularly proud of.

The rock ledges of Jervis Bay, the fishing I’ve done there and the people I met along the way form a crucial part of my character, and contributed more to my development as an angler and a fishing communicator than any other single region on earth. Those amazing rocks and the water that fronts them lie at the very core of who I am, what I feel, and how I think as a fisherman. It is vital for my spirit to know that they are still there, protected, and available to others to share and enjoy. It would not be a long stretch at all to refer to the rock platforms between Currarong and Wreck Bay as the Holy Land or spiritual home of Australian land-based recreational fishing… they really are that significant to those of us who know and love them.

Steve ‘Starlo’ Starling

Fishing Writer, Author & TV Presenter