Western Australia fly fishing road trip adventure

Meanwhile, Out West…

Yankees wandering the Bush of Western Australia with rod, reel and goon chasing queenfish, permit, giant trevally, golden trevally and blue bones.

 

“Every man’s got to find themselves, and I found myself in bloody Western Australia, of all places – there was as far away as I could.”

– Nick Cummins

 

 

Sharks. I was wading alone… a couple hundred meters from shore in waste-deep water. It was sudden. They appeared out of nowhere. I was surrounded… more than fifty, maybe. They were mostly reef sharks. But, a couple big bullies* were also in the mix…

————–^———-

 

DIY fly fishing adventure travel films, photographs, blog posts

I know… I’m dangling a juicy carrot in front of you. But, before I continue with this toothy tale let’s move away from the click bait and gain a sense of place. Sense of space would be more apropos. There’s no shortage of it out west on the largest island in the world. Western Australia (WA) was everything I thought it could be with coastlines as rugged as any I’ve experienced, yet surprisingly accessible. The landscape is dynamic and desolate. The ocean is true blue, akin to any water you’ll see in those gratuitous Caribbean travel magazines. We navigated pristine highways and rumbled down gnarly, 4WD roads negotiating soft dunes (getting stuck more than once) and gingerly zigzagging around sharp limestone. We perched on precarious edges of dramatic seaside cliffs. We hunkered down for days on brilliant stretches of remote beaches. We lived life on the road! To explore is to be human. This primal desire to experience “new” with relative regularity is a vital component to who we are. This is a truth often forgotten in today’s world. For us, that place had a whole lotta “new”. It’s a chunk of this great earth unlike any other. But, when you get down to the bare bones—we were just a couple yankees wandering the Bush of Western Australia with rod, reel and goon* chasing queenfish, permit, giant trevally, golden trevally and blue bones.

 

 

Sand creeps over the road entering Exmouth Gulf Station

Western Australia fly fishing road trip

Cape Range National Park

 

Leaving Sandy Cape

 

Faunapalooza

The wild critters in WA are unique and, in my eyes, totally obscure. While the locals are used to them this newbie couldn’t get enough. Monitor lizards with crazy, ornate patterns randomly patrolled the fringes of massive dunes. White-bellied sea-eagles and ospreys surveyed vast, coastal waters. Pandemoniums* (yes, “pandemoniums”) of raucous galahs* were often seen tracing the shorelines on early mornings and late afternoons. Huge, prehistoric-looking emus moved cautiously yet with intent across the arid Bush. Big buggahs, these birds! In fact they are the second tallest of all the bird species on earth. We spooked green sea turtles and loggerhead sea turtles in the shallows and praised the octopuses caught in the tide pools. We saw chucks*, sheep, crows (crows with the craziest calls), gulls, terns… the list goes on.

 

Western Australia fly fishing road trip

 

We did not see any dingoes or dingo hybrids. We heard about them though. We were informed of their murderous rampages on livestock across the land challenging the livelihoods of pastoralists. We were warned of their unpredictable nature if encountered. But, nary a howl did we hear during our sojourns. But, like the experts say of big sharks, they were, more than likely, just beyond our view. On a different note, we did see kangaroos. It wasn’t until about a week into our trip, but we saw them. These famous, large marsupials are supremely agile and possess “claws that will shred your torso and hind legs that will knock the wind out of you, permanently”—a sobering image provided by a friendly Aussie from Perth early in our trip. They’re a candid lot, these Aussies. The sad truth is we saw more roos* laying dead on the side of the road than we saw gracefully bounding across the dusty terrain. The kangaroo numbers are substantial which makes navigating across WA’s vast landscapes a bit nerve-wracking. The locals seem to be well prepared for just such an encounter. Just about every two out of three rigs we saw in Western Australia were equipped with beefy guards on their front bumpers for added safety. It’s no wonder many rental companies forbid travel after nightfall outside of cities. In fact, many companies penalize drivers for not only traveling at night but also for exceeding speed limits. Flashback: I’m reminded of driving in low-light conditions through the Hill Country of Texas dodging herds of whitetail deer—white knuckle driving at its finest. It only takes one direct hit to ruin a vacation. Needless to say, we heeded the warnings and limited our driving to daylight hours. You might be asking yourself what about all the dangerous Australian snakesThe only thing we saw resembling one of those slithery, venomous serpents of Australian lore was a fully intact snake skin. I found it hanging in the bushes next to our beach camp at Point Billie in Ningaloo Station. Other than that—nada. My mom would be pleased.

 

A pair of galahs, The Pinnacles at Nambung National Park

 

A kangaroo and her joey, Cape Range National Park

 

Western Australia fly fishing road trip

Roo skeleton, Coral Bay

 

Exmouth Gulf octopus

Octopus at Exmouth Bay

 

Western Australia fly fishing road trip monitor lizard

Monitor Lizard, Coral Bay

 

Green sea turtle surrounded by bait fish along the shores of Exmouth Gulf

 

Springtime in the Pilbara

From what I hear Australia can get hot, sizzling hot, unbearably hot. A local told us that the coastal water sometimes gets so hot that wading anglers can burn their legs while standing in the shallows. As of this essay’s post date Australia is (and has been) enduring a record-shattering summer heat wave with temps regularly reaching 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit). Having traveled during the southern hemisphere’s late spring we endured much milder conditions. The temps reached lows into the mid 50s Fahrenheit at night, topping out in the mid-80s during the day. For the most part the nights were cool (great for sleeping) and the days were pleasant (great for wading). The water temps gradually increased during our month long stay. This translated to moderate to good fish activity. Generally speaking, as regional water temps increase so too does the fish activity which brings a higher probability of seeing and landing the big boys. In short, summertime is primo for fishing. And the masses are well aware of this fact. Human impact to the beaches and the fisheries during the summer increases exponentially. Would we trade crowded beaches and awesome fishing for empty beaches and good fishing? You betcha! In my humble opinion, our timing for this trip was just about spot on. Sure I shivered in the fetal position during a few painful nights… but it was worth it!

In truth, our biggest challenge was the sustained 20-25 knot winds (wind model above provided by earth.nullschool.net) that barreled up the coast from the southern ocean. The wind added a chill to the air and unwanted knots to our fly leaders. Let’s just say it limited our casting efficiency to cruising targets. It also limited our time with the Advanced Elements kayaks. But, without the wind we might’ve simply been eaten alive by aggressive sand fleas and ceaseless flies.

 

Chasing fish while battling wind at Cape Range National Park

 

Sunset at low tide, Giralia Station

 

Cleanliness is next to Aussie-ness

The few remote towns we passed through appeared surprisingly grandiose upon entering but proved quite sleepy from within. With it being the off-season these municipalities were largely void of anything resembling a substantial population. And, they were the cleanest towns I’ve ever had the privilege of getting lost in. We saw no plastic bottles.. no Q-tips… no plastic straws… no food wrappers. Gutters were clean. Trash cans were maintained. Having passed hundreds of waste bins along the highways north of Perth, we should’ve predicted the pristine nature of these population centers. Not only is waste management a big priority for the country and the state, it’s refreshing to see an obvious drive to push sustainability and eco-friendly practices.

At a glance, it seems that being a kid in WA has its perks. There were no shortages of parks with squeaky-clean basketball courts, manicured fields, creative playgrounds and, well… space. And, isn’t space really the only thing a kid needs? Shorelines aren’t choked by buildings or restaurants. Aesthetics seem to be a high priority. Views of the ocean are largely unobstructed. Often, the only thing built along the beaches are walkways for active pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists. Western Australian towns and shires are places where one can truly breathe.

 

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding plains

– from Dorothea Mackellar’s “Core of My Heart”

 

 

Fair Dinkum

A fair-dinkum* Aussie is what the locals call someone who embodies the nation’s values… someone who is genuine and true. I can honestly say that each and every Aussie we encountered during our trip truly embodied this ideal. In my mind Aussies are a cross between a New Yorker and a Southern belle. They possess no-nonsense, genuine curiosity combined with the unconditional love of a warm hug. Aussies will literally buy fuel for your car. No, really—they will! It happened. Well, at least we were offered as much by one such gentleman before we figured out how to get Ryan’s debit card to work at the pump in Coral Bay. Even the Perth airport fostered an environment of cordiality. Right out of the gate, the Australian Customs official smiled from ear to ear as I approached. We chummed it up to the point of advising me on our upcoming journey while the line behind me grew uncomfortably long. I remember feeling the searing, frustrated eyes firmly fixated on my back.

By the time we were in the town of Exmouth (it’s pronounced exactly how it’s read) my sleeping situation was in dire straits, no pun intended. After hearing that I was looking for a decent sleep pad, the nice lady at the local liquor store made a phone call to the owner of the nearby camping store. He quickly returned to his shop a good half hour after he closed it for the day just so I could contribute to the local economy whilst improving the health of my achy back. Good on ’em!

 

 

We met one incredible person after another as we continued deeper into Western Australia. There was that nice fly fisherman Wayne who caught two small GT’s* from the beach north of Exmouth while Ryan and I waded 100 meters off shore in search of the big buggahs, unsuccessfully I might add. He bestowed upon us some primo fishing tips for the Exmouth peninsula—where to go… which times were best… what flies to use and how to use them… which fish were good eating. Here’s a bit of gold for y’all: flatheads yield 4 fillets and are delicious! But the tough-as-nails blue tuskfish, aka “blue bones“… now they’re the cream of the crop. You can research all you want, but knowledge heard directly from a local is, most often, unparalleled. On a side note—Wayne, 65-ish, was born in Iowa to an Aussie mother and an American serviceman father. They met in Australia during WW2… started their life together in the U.S. heartland and ultimately bounced back to Australia when Wayne was ten-years-old for a “better life”. In his later years, Wayne moved to Exmouth so he could fly fish everyday.

Western Australia Ningaloo Station

Ningaloo Station homestead

 

Western Australia fly fishing road trip Ningaloo Station Lefroy Bay

Negotiating dunes at Point Billie, Ningaloo Station

 

Ningaloo Station

We met Phil at the homestead on Ningaloo Station. He’s a man in his 70s, weathered and strong. He wore a stained baseball cap that shaded a modest mustache above a slight smile. His plaid shirt was dusted and faded… sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His jeans were tattered; his work boots, scuffed. His appearance mirrored the land he works; the land he loves. We sat down and chatted over beers. Phil was very much keen to all things “Western Australia”, even the fly fishing. He mentioned a German fella’ who returns every year to fly fish the same spot. Phil tipped the guy off on the local bonefish, however sparse they might be. Apparently this bloke caught the biggest bonefish of his life in the Station! Incidentally, we didn’t see a single bonefish during our entire trip.

Phil married into this situation. His wife is Jane, who’s family has held the pastoral lease to the 50,000 hectare (123,552 acres) piece of Australian pie for three generations of Lefroys. They’ve managed livestock and recreational users throughout that time. Whether their management has been successful or not is a topic of debate for local residents in the region. Parcels of land such as Ningaloo are designated as “stations” in Australia, leased to individuals by the state governments. Phil and Jane are fighting the state government over the imminent “changing of hands” from her family to the state. Their 80 year pastoral lease was up in 2015. It’s been a couple years, but some locals believe the government will take full control of Ningaloo Station by the end of 2018. That’s now! We just so happened to time our trip perfectly and slipped right in there in the twilight of their control. It’s sad to think that if and when we return, things will be quite different. Will the beaches still be wild? Will that feeling of isolation continue? While we were there you would never know that the great shadow of change was about to cast itself over the region. The state says they plan to implement a system of management through conservation and tourism measures. There is some local sentiment arguing that tourism revenue is the only reason the government wants to fulfill the lease and take over the land. While others argue that putting control back into the hands of the state will bring proper management of this coastal jewel and also foster relationships with the traditional owners, aboriginal peoples, who have been “locked out” of their land for generations. Click here for an article by ABC News that I found online regarding this issue. 

 

Enjoying one of our Advanced Elements inflatable kayaks at Winderabandi Point, Ningaloo Station

 

Remnants of and ancient coral seabed north of Winderabandi Point, Ningaloo Station

 

Heading out for some spearfishing at Point Billie, Ningaloo Station

 

An evening warm up at Winderabandi Point, Ningaloo Station

 

 

I don’t think we’ll ever forget Troy. He was our neighbor down the beach at Winderabandi Point (aerial views shown above) in Ningaloo Station. This dude is an Aussie’s Aussie. A salty, Exmouth local in his mid-forties, Troy was on holiday doing a bit of kite surfing mixed with some snorkeling and simple bush camping with his girlfriend and a couple friends from Germany. Like clockwork he was on the piss* daily starting around 9am with the big German fella. His “G’day” wave always included beer in hand and a slight nod with the morning breeze lightly shifting his wavy, brown hair revealing years of sun worship. He was a cool cat… rocking faded-red, salty board shorts circa 1995 and dime store sunnies*. His lower lip was perpetually smothered with zinc oxide. Minus the big knife, Troy was what I imagined all Aussie guys to be when I was a Crocodile Dundee admiring youngster. Who didn’t like Paul Hogan?! Am I wrong? And, I’m pretty sure Troy probably had a giant knife. He just didn’t wield it all the time. I remember him casually discussing middle aged life. He said he was “toning down the surfing… downsizing to smaller double-overhead waves these days”. He mentioned taking the boys (his buddies) offshore with his boat. They would catch the gnarliest fish… pretty much all the big fish I’ve dreamt of. Troy, mind you, never fished. He just knew everything about it preferring instead to drive the boat and enjoy the camaraderie. We stood there on the beach—three men talking about fishing. It felt pretty good. We discussed the queenfish and golden trevallies Ryan and I were getting into off the point. I also mentioned some of the sharks we’d seen. “Oh yeah… they’re out here. I reckon the boys caught some nice ones right near where you’re camped. It was a month or so ago.” He grabbed his cell phone out of his beat up land cruiser and proceeded to show us photos of the largest hammerhead and tiger shark I’ve ever seen, pulled right up on shore. Like I said… an Aussie’s Aussie. Man-crush? Perhaps. After fishing, we got back to our camp and hell if that dude didn’t pile up a bunch of fire wood for us!

Ningaloo Station’s wild beauty left an indelible imprint on me. And I, in return, left a little bit of my heart on those endless, magical beaches.

 

Western Australia fly fishing road trip Exmouth Gulf Station entrance

Entering the homestead at Exmouth Gulf Station

 

Dawn takes us on a tour of the homestead at Exmouth Gulf Station

 

Exmouth Gulf Station

Dawn is as sweet as a piece of apple pie topped with a dollop of whipped cream. She and husband Bob (along with their two dogs Abbey and Czar and their giant rooster “Freddy Krueger”) care take the homestead at Exmouth Gulf Station, a sister station to Ningaloo Station. The station occupies much of the eastern coastline of the North West Cape. It occupies 92,364 hectares (228,236 acres). Dawn spends her time beautifying the yard, nurturing her garden, taking care of the chickens, planting trees around the main house as windbreaks and managing visitors to the Station. This time of year the wind out of the south is harsh. Due to the fairly recent Bush fires the red dirt is constantly blown across the land. It’s out of control, especially in the afternoon, when it obscures all views of the surrounding landscape. Bob, a jack of all trades, spends much of his time clearing the sand that relentlessly creeps over the main road leading into the station from the highway. His welding skills have proven invaluable. He welded old radio tours found on the property into a framework for their impressive solar panels. He also stays busy building corals for the ever-diminishing stock of sheep that graze the station’s pasture land. Dawn was distraught about wild dog problem in the region. They have systematically decimated the Station’s resident flock of sheep. The dog populations and predation levels have, apparently, spiraled out of control. In Dawn’s opinion the state’s management of this problem has been, to put it mildly, piss poor. They’ve taken measures into their own hands by closing off sectors of the stations and setting traps and poison in hotspots. But, they desperately need help. Click here to read more about this issue.

 

Egg crate at the homestead at Exmouth Gulf Station

Vintage egg crate at the homestead at Exmouth Gulf Station

 

Czar and Abbey at Exmouth Gulf Station

 

Dawn’s hospitality was heartfelt. Her love and passion for the land and the lifestyle was contagious. Over the course of a week we got to know her kindness well. Upon our arrival to the Station each morning she would show us bits and pieces of the homestead. Her hen house, aka. “Eggsmouth”, was particularly charming. The massive solar power station and shipping container control room that Bob worked so hard to build earlier in the year was impressive. She showed us the sheep shearing stations as well as the future vacation rental units she and Bob are setting up. The spaces are so full of history and rusty beauty. I’d stay there in a heartbeat. We even got to witness a crazy, highly entertaining, if not somewhat alarming, battle for supremacy (apparently a daily occurrence) between Freddy Krueger and Czar. Check out the sequence of photos above (the rooster won, in case you’re wondering). After our time with Dawn each morning we would head out into the heart of the station always keeping an open mind ready to let the tides and the wind decide when and where we would explore. The Station’s peninsula was pretty much ours, say for one fella that owns a small portion along the eastern edge where there’s some pretty good fishing. We were advised to steer clear of his land. Apparently he’s a recluse and likes to keep the land and the fishery to himself. Point Lefroy on the face of the Station’s peninsula offered fantastic wade fishing on the incoming tide. We consistently saw queenfish moving swiftly and parallel to shore as well as a few blue bones in and around rock and reef structures. The vast mangroves that flank either side of the peninsula (Bay of Rest to the west and Gales Bay to the southeast) offered great kayak exploration, again, on the incoming tide. At day’s end, we would head back to the homestead to let them know we were OK. Dawn and Bob regularly welcomed us onto their spacious patio with chilled beers, Ruffles potato chips and good conversation while the happy hounds occupied by their cache of sheep skulls and horns.

 

Bay of Rest, Exmouth Gulf Station

 

Western Australia fly fishing road trip adventure

Late afternoon dust smothers Exmouth Gulf Station

 

Casting to milkfish in Gales Bay

 

Stirring the Pot

We’ve all heard about the diminished state of the famous Great Barrier Reef on the eastern side of the island nation. The state of the reefs in Western Australia has remained in relative obscurity due to its isolation from major human population centers. Skirting the edge of vast, inhospitable red deserts is the Ningaloo Reef. It’s a massive reef system supporting an abundance of unique and world renowned marine animals, not to mention a huge abundance of seabirds. Like other coral reefs around the world, Ningaloo is extremely vulnerable to ocean acidification and coral bleaching, both linked to climate change. Recent marine heat waves have caused massive loss to local kelp forests as well as corals. These warming trends contradict historical data. The western reefs have traditionally avoided bleaching in large part due to the upwelling of cooler water from the deep ocean. Cool currents flowing north out of the southern ocean have also helped maintain the health and fortitude of these fragile ecosystems. Back in 2011 localized bleaching happened at Bundegi on the western side of Exmouth Gulf north of town. Percentages of live coral coverage on the sea floor in that area dropped dramatically from 80% to 6%. Crown of Thorn outbreaks have also done their damage in areas. There have been locations in the Gulf where coral has died due to having been smothered by sediment displaced as a result of nearby dredging projects. Most corals need access to sunlight to survive. Loss of that vital resource can be catastrophic. Yet, all-in-all Ningaloo has remained fairly healthy—a light in this dark story of catastrophic coral reef loss worldwide. But its future is uncertain.

Ningaloo Reef is the beating heart that supports all marine life around the North West Cape. But its voice on the big stage of conservation has been small. While the reef’s isolation from major populations helps in its resiliency to bounce back from malady, it also sets the stage for ambiguity in the realm of public outcry in favor of research and conservation. In short, less people means limited protection efforts against a systemic, global assault.

While Ningaloo is the heart, Exmouth Gulf is the womb. Its mangroves and shallow water act as a nursery replenishing the expansive reefs of Ningaloo by nurturing much of the core marine life. The two are forever intertwined. Migratory birds, sea turtles, sharks, dugongs, manta rays, whale sharks and humpback whales all find protection in the Gulf’s tranquil waters.

Protect Ningaloo is a grassroots initiative organized by citizens to protect these vital ecosystems. Currently, they’re trying to bring awareness to the public about an issue that, they say, would greatly affect the livelihood of these marine environments. A multinational corporation called Subsea 7 has proposed to build an oil and gas pipe assembly plant and a launch site at Heron Point, a coastal access point just east of the local airport. 10km steel pipe bundles containing gas and communication lines will ultimately be transported through the gulf to offshore gas fields. Supporters say this will be a huge economic boost for Exmouth and its residents by providing up to 250 new, full-time jobs. Those against the proposed plan argue that the process would put coral beds at great risk and affect hundreds of species of marine fauna that forage in the area and use its calm, forgiving waters as a nursery.

Protection for this vital marine habitat is an uphill battle. In 2011 the Ningaloo Reef was listed by Unesco as a world heritage area due to its importance as a nursery for reef species. Awesome! But, where’s the love for the Gulf? The adjoining Exmouth Gulf waters were not afforded the same designation and consequent protection. The doors remain open for industrialization in the Gulf. I’ve lived and have intimately experienced many places around the world. One common denominator I’ve observed is change. Not unlike walking a tightrope, efficient and productive change must be approached with care. Failure to notice the subtle impacts along the way so as to adjust accordingly and minimize the ripple effects could just wipe out the ultimate goal: sustained prosperity for all involved. Resources for further reading: Protect Ningaloo, The Guardian, The Conversation

 

 

Australians are superb humans. Thank goodness for that. Their kindness and generosity truly balanced out the logistical challenges we encountered on the trip. It wouldn’t be a Chasing Scale trip without a few snags. I don’t want to dive too deep into the dirty list but let’s just say speed humps* came quickly… the moment I stepped off the plane in fact. I remember my phone chiming with a text message from Ryan. His plane landed a couple hours prior to my arrival. Excluding the expletives, the message read: “Just got an email from Australian 4WD that they don’t have the bond and it’s not going to clear until Oct. 26th. So, can’t pick up the vehicle unless we get $$ into their account.” Basically we’d have to wait at least 9 days to begin our road trip unless we delivered them their security deposit immediately. The problem was they don’t accept credit cards as most other rental companies on the planet do. They don’t do PayPal. So that was off the table. There was ultimately nothing we could do but wait. We waved the rally towel and put Plan B into action by renting another vehicle. In reality, all we needed were wheels, preferably 4-wheels that all turned at the same time when needed. To begin this journey without a fully equipped camping/off-road rig was less than desirable, but it wasn’t disaster. A major blow, yes. But as Yoda might say: a knock out punch it was not!

 

Cape Range National Park

 

Mangroves at Giralia Station

 

Kayaks parked near the mouth of Ex Giralia Creek, Giralia Station

 

Mangrove at Giralia Station

 

Patiently scanning for cruisers at Cape Range National Park

Beyond Thunderdome

I live in Hawaii. The locals on these Pacific islands over indulge when it comes to their vehicles. Huge trucks are pretty much the norm. When you get your drivers license at 16—you buy a big truck and go into debt. When you get your first job—you buy a big truck and go further into debt. You become a parent—you buy a big truck and dig that hole deeper. Mid life crisis—a big truck. Retirement—a sensible, small-sized pickup. And boy do they love them their Tacomas! These rigs are lifted, polished and, quite obviously, virgins to anything resembling dirt. Most of them will never see off-road terrain. After having spent a month Down Under, I think I can safely say that things are different there. Sure, in the cities you’ll see the polished rigs. But outside the confines of the concrete jungles the highways are chock full of the real deals… vehicles meant to perpetuate adventure as well as survival in some of the harshest and most inhospitable environments on the planet. Sand dunes—no problem. Mud—no worries. Rivers—give me a break! Not only will these beasts get you to the most remote destinations, they’ll haul every bit of your camping equipment, not to mention your tinny*. It’s Mad Max for real down there! I’m not kidding. To see a small sedan or a sports car on the roads in the Bush is like seeing the sun during the winter in Seattle.

 

———-^——————

Where were we? Oh yeah—sharks. It happens every time. I go to change flies and when I’m right in the middle of things, they show up. By “they” I mean whatever fish I’m chasing in that moment. Though, on this occasion things were a bit different. I was 100 meters off shore in warm, clear, waist deep water when I decided to switch things up. I hadn’t seen anything worth casting to since that queenie* an hour or so earlier. Changing flies couldn’t hurt. So, that’s what I did. I snipped the fly off the leader, took off my dry pack and retrieved my fly box from inside. That’s when a school of good sized fish, possibly trevally, cruised into view. (I’m telling you, it never fails.) Then a larger shadow appeared to my left. It was a black tip reef shark, a two-footer. I’d been seeing them here and there all morning—par for the course in Australia. No big deal. Another shark appeared to my right. It was followed by more. They just kept coming. There must’ve been fifty or more sharks around me within 30 seconds, all swimming aggressively. And they weren’t all small. A couple bull sharks joined the party. My confidence turned to quiet horror as I found myself surrounded by what most people think of as their worst nightmare.

I obviously survived. The sharks moved on. I must not have been what they were looking for. I later learned that the area where I was wading was a nursery for sharks. I also learned that I was fortunate not to have encountered the big hammerhead that is known to patrol those waters. Lucky me.

 

Western Australia fly fishing road trip adventure Exmouth

Little did I know that things were about to get sharky, Bundegi Beach

 

Point Lefroy, Exmouth Gulf Station

 

Rigging the kayak up, Exmouth Gulf Station

 

Waiting for the tide to roll in, Exmouth Gulf Station

 

Casting to a cruiser north of Heron Point, Exmouth Gulf

 

When it comes to inshore salt water fly fishing in Western Australia, a month was just enough time to wet our appetites. When you’re perpetually on the move spending a day on the flats here and a day in the mangroves there brings limited success. It also builds a powerful sense curiosity. There just wasn’t enough time to quench our thirst for the region and answer all the questions. To fill a fly box with local knowledge and gain a truly intimate connection to the fisheries would take years. The list of variables that need to work in one’s favor on any given day is stacked. To name a few… relentless wind, dramatic tidal swings, sharp coral and abrasive limestone substrates, vast amounts of coastline, fluctuations in water clarity, patrolling sharks, a cornucopia of target species each with varying behaviors. The list goes on. What you won’t find in WA is an array of fly anglers to help point you in the right direction. That also means you’re not going to find yourself elbow to elbow with determined fly anglers at local honey holes. While it wasn’t born yesterday, the sport of fly fishing is still new to WA. In reality, it’s kind of in the pre-toddler stages. Bait and spin fishing have been cemented here over the course of generations. A good example of the current discrepancy between fishing methods can be found toward the back of Tackle World Exmouth where only half an isle out of more than twenty is dedicated to fly fishing. What you’ll find in that isle will cost big bikkies*. And there’s only one shop worker that sort of knows a little about the sport. My advice to fly anglers traveling to WA with fish on the brain: bring more than enough tackle or suffer the consequences.

 

Living Life on the Cheap

In Western Australia there are towns and there are shires. The difference is akin to a ship and a boat, respectively. Exmouth is the only shire on the North West Cape. Its population is just under 3,000. During off season it feels like a ghost town. Through the Exmouth grapevine we had heard of an American couple that had been living there and doing some heavy fly fishing during the past year. It was after a jaunt in Cape Range National Park that we stepped into a local watering hole and overheard an American accent at the bar. The bartender said the name “Katie”. Ah ha! We happened upon one of the American fly anglers! We introduced ourselves and enjoyed a couple frothies* over good conversation. Later that evening we met Nick, her boyfriend and fly fishing partner. The next couple days we shared time on the water with the dynamic duo chasing queenies and permit. These two were living the life we so passionately try to convey and document in our short films and essays. There they were, in this remote place—two passionate and dedicated young fly fishers living life on the cheap and experiencing a lifetime’s worth of the greatest triumphs and toughest challenges the sport can throw at them. And, their trusty, dusty steed: a beat up rig they called “Squid”. Apparently, the Squid prefers to be messy. I took a gander inside the beast. The dashboard was covered in newly tied fly patterns and the floor was covered in discarded fly line and fly paraphernalia. Other than each other, the Squid just might’ve been Katie and Nick’s best asset. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the region is vast. It takes serious wheels to chase fish in the Bush. Catching said fish, well that’s a different matter.

 

Katie and “The Squid”

 

Dashboard flare

 

Nick admires his queenie on the Exmouth Gulf

 

Life at home in Exmouth

Katie gives love to Mr. Permit

 

This life is a dream for many of us. It was a dream come true for Katie and Nick. I know what you’re thinking—how in the hell do they do it? Well, we picked Katie’s brain on that first day when we met. Her story was based on a combo-platter of elements: a rearranging of priorities, a simplification of the day-to-day, a willingness to expose one’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities and finally—getting after it! Whether tying flies, researching the local fisheries, chopping it up with local anglers or actually getting on the water, Katie and Nick have dedicated just about every day they’ve spent in WA to salt water fly fishing and the pursuit of Australia’s best. They are truly skilled in the craft. Just observing them cast a fly to cruising queenies was a joy. Their patience while scanning the water was remarkable. It was evident they had put their time in. It’s intoxicating to be around such nerdy passion!

On a side note: permit are challenging target fish for fly anglers. The amount of resilience and precision it takes to actually hook and land one of these fighters is enormous. When it comes to targeting these fish, Nick has a hilarious superstition: after landing a permit, he won’t shave his mustache and soul patch until he lands another! That could turn out to be months! We loved this story so much that we designed a new t-shirt to celebrate Nick’s little quirk: “Superstashin”. Get your’s today.

Yankees wandering the Bush of Western Australia

Life in Australia is limited if you’re a foreigner. Katie and Nick’s visas expired at the end of 2018. What’s next for these two? Well, they’re island hopping. Next up: New Zealand’s South Island. Stay tuned at chasingscale.com and on Instagram @chasingscale to learn about the adventures of our newest ambassadors. Tight lines, you two!

 

“God bless America. God save the Queen. God defend New Zealand and thank Christ for Australia.”

– Russell Crowe

 

 

Bitter Sweet

2018 was an epic year for Chasing Scale. We journeyed the length of Patagonian Chile and Argentina. We traced the fringes of the Indian Ocean in Western Australia from Perth to Exmouth. We chased giant trout and sleek queenfish. We kayaked distant lakes as mountains towered above. We waded remote white sand beaches flanked by enormous sand dunes. We lived. But there’s a trend happening. It’s a spark in that moment just before stepping onto that plane to return to “normal” life. It’s a fleeting, burning thought, ever-so-powerful in its ephemeral glow: I could just stay.

 

Camping at Winderabandi Point on Ningaloo Station

 

Rigging up the Advanced Elements kayak at Point Billie, Ningaloo Station

 

Cleaning lunch for ceviche at Point Billie, Ningaloo Station

 

Sunrise on Exmouth Gulf

 

Dawn on Exmouth Gulf captured by our drone

 

Ryan and his queenie, Exmouth Gulf

 

Rigging up the Advanced Elements kayak, Exmouth Gulf

 

Morning light casting shadows on the Pinnacles

 

Charging up the computer with Voltaic solar technology and catching up on work at the Pinnacles

 

Entering an estuary along Exmouth Gulf

 

Future calamari, Exmouth Gulf

 

Preparing a dinner of calamari pasta, Exmouth Gulf

 

Preparing the calamari and onions for the pasta, Exmouth Gulf

 

Definition of terms

“goon”: box wine
“bullies”: bull sharks
“pandemonium”: group of parrots
“chucks”: chickens
“galahs”: local parrots with bright red and grey plumage
“roos”: kangaroos
“GTs”: giant trevallies
“fair dinkum”: honest, genuine, fair play
“on the piss”: drinking cheap beer
“sunnies”: sun glasses
“speed humps”: speed bumps
“tinny”: small, aluminum boat
“queenie”: queenfish, a member of the drum family of saltwater fish
“cost big bikkies”: expensive
“frothies”: draft beers

Back to the Top

 

Check out the short films we put together on the road in WA

 

 

Online Resources

 

 

Story by Brock Munson
Photos by Ryan Bonneau and Brock Munson
cofounders, Chasing Scale

Brock is the lead writer at Chasing Scale • brockmunson.com
Ryan Bonneau is the lead photographer at Chasing Scale • ryanbonneauphoto.com

 

 

 

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