TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
I coordinated marine studies expeditions for school students to Exmouth every year from 2000 to 2010, which were great adventures and learning experiences for the students. Fortunately, we only ever had a few minor incidents such as sea sickness, minor heat exhaustion and the occasional kid trying to sneak out for a ciggy. However, one trip which I wrote about back in 2011 deserves revisiting, as it provided a timely reminder to me of the potential dangers of fishing.
For four days, I was skippering a 4.2m vessel with three students on board. The first two days were quite rough, so we were only able to fish inside the reef near Tantabbidi, chasing Trevally and Snapper. Day three and things were looking up with winds back to 15 knots and by day four the glass off we had been waiting for finally arrived. On this day we were at last able to do a bit of trolling behind the reef as the Mackerel were active and the other 6.1m vessel in our group had landed five over the last few days. Things were quiet for twenty minutes or so, but a lure change to a trusty Halco redhead produced immediate results. One of the students was onto a good fish, fought it with perfection and after fifteen minutes or so landed a 22kg Spanish Mackerel. Soon after, the now familiar scream of the reel was the prompt for another student to accept the challenge. Unfortunately, the line went slack and then took off again at breakneck speed, the familiar sign of a good fished being sharked. The student was struggling as the power of the shark began to tell on the gear. In the ensuing battle, the end of the rod broke off and so could not be positioned in the rod pouch. It was one of the rare times I have taken a rod off someone, but by now he was pleading for help. After another ten minutes or so a five foot shark was alongside the boat, but the problem was that it had completely engulfed the lure. I am normally loathe to bring a shark onboard for obvious reasons, but the only way I could remove all the tackle safely was to secure it on the deck and use the boltcutters I keep handy to cut through the Owner split rings and trebles. Also, being a school marine expedition, we were keen to minimise our impact on the environment and so did not wish to kill any marine creatures needlessly. The students were advised to keep their feet out of the way as I struggled to bring the shark on board. A short wrestling match ensued and the lure and trebles were removed. The only task left now was to get the beast back in the water and although I had seen a great way of doing this only days before on a DVD, in my haste I grabbed the tail by mistake. The shark immediately thrashed and tried to take a piece out of my leg, but fortunately I was able to pull my leg out of the way just in time. I then grabbed the shark under both pectoral fins, which I should have done previously, flung it overboard and sat on the gunwale, breathing a sigh of relief. Unbeknown to me, one of the female students had captured all the action on video and on viewing it later that night I realised that it had been just a little bit too close for comfort. The footage has been downloaded on You Tube and can be viewed by searching Shark Rescue-School Classroom With a Difference.