Sun, smiles and fish aplenty – our SunSmart southern fishing clinics were a winner this summer

Whiting, herring, flounder, skippy, tarwhine and black bream were just some of the fantastic fish that put big smiles on the dials of our next generation of fishers taking part in our Southern Tour of SunSmart fishing clinics.

Run in partnership with Healthway and supported by Shimano, the tour saw Recfishwest host 10 free fishing clinics in south coast estuaries, rivers and marinas showcasing the variety of fish kids can enjoy catching in these special environments and why these clinics are so important for local communities.

Free of charge and with all gear provided, kids spent two hours learning fishing tips and tricks from the pros at Bremer Bay, Albany, Denmark, Walpole and Augusta, with Recfishwest Operations Team Member John Dempsey and DBCA’s Stephen Crane teaching the kids about the basics of fishing, fish handling tips, the importance of fishing sustainably and the value of the waterways.

“It’s great to see these Southern Tours brimming with excited kids and their families coming along to experience safe, accessible and rewarding fishing sessions – you can see how important fishing is for communities on the south coast,” said John.

“Not only do these healthy estuarine environments provide ideal nursery habitats, but they also lead to great fishing and impressive catches – we certainly had our hands full keeping up with the number of fish being landed!

“In addition to all the valuable fishing knowledge these clinics have provided, they also focus on keeping kids safe under the sun and we’re grateful to Healthway for helping us continue to run these great community events.”

Were you one of the young guns getting amongst the fishing action? Check out some of the great snaps from some of our recent SunSmart fishing clinics below!

Albany

Bremer Bay

Denmark

Augusta

Recfishwest’s next fishing clinic will take place between 8:00am-10:00am, 22 April at A.P Hinds Reserve in Bayswater, come wet a line with us!

State-wide finfish management review update

Coinciding with proposed changes to the west coast demersal fishery, the State Government also released proposals on State-wide finfish management changes which included a range of measures such as a decreased bag limit of three for demersal fish outside of the West Coast Bioregion (WCB). 

We share the community’s concerns about the impact the implementation of any final management decision for the west coast demersal scalefish fishery will have on areas outside the West Coast Bioregion.

However, we strongly believe further consultation is required before any changes to management regulations are made and have impressed this view upon Government.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said a State-wide management review would be welcomed, but it needed to be given the full and proper consideration it warranted. 

Recfishwest support developing and maintaining great fishing experiences for all in the community, forever,” he said. “Recfishwest acknowledges concern in recent years about the potential for localised depletion of important species in proximity to popular regional areas.   

“But we do not support DPIRD’s recent proposals as part of a State-wide review into finfish management and believe further consultation is required before any changes to management regulations are made.”    

A review of State-wide finfish management arrangements must look at action to address shark bite-off especially in the Gascoyne and North Coast Bioregions.

Further consultation expected

Recfishwest will be making the case to Government that further consultation should consider a range of factors including the following areas:  

  • Current possession limits;   
  • Current bag limits, especially in the South Coast Bioregion; 
  • The impact of removing boat limits for important recreational species such as coral trout and blue groper;  
  • Management regulations which force fishers to release fish that are unlikely to survive;  
  • Action to address shark depredation, especially in the Gascoyne and North Coast Bioregions;  
  • Current bioregional boundaries given a changing environment; and 
  • Understanding and incorporating social and economic values of recreational fishing into management frameworks.   

Andrew said, “Given the current community interest in finfish management outside the West Coast Bioregion and, given there are no current sustainability concerns for finfish outside the bioregion, we support further consultation with the community. This issue is too important to rush.”

Phone tower plan delays at infamous fishing spot puts lives at risk

Recfishwest has hit out at further delays for improving safer fishing infrastructure at an infamous fishing location in our State’s South, more than seven years after the tragic deaths of two fishermen there.  

Chunjun Li, 42, and Jiaolong Zhang, 38, were rock fishing at the infamous Salmon Holes in Albany onApril 18, 2015, during dangerous swell conditions. 

Neither were wearing life jackets before they were swept into the water by a rogue wave. Mr Li surfaced on a nearby beach, but bystanders were unable to revive him. Mr Zhang’s body was never recovered despite an intensive land, sea and air search over four days.  

After the tragedy unravelled, the deputy state coroner made five crucial recommendations. One of those was all rock fishers were required to wear life jackets at Salmon Holes, another called for Telstra to install a mobile phone tower in the area to ensure better phone coverage in the event of future emergencies. 

The need for this tower is paramount as the only current mobile coverage at Salmon Holes is in the carpark – an extremely dangerous proposition for someone in an emergency.  

As seen in this image, conditions at Salmon Holes in Albany can turn nasty. Thankfully it was a lucky escape for the anglers pictured on the right.

Recfishwest continues to place a high priority on safe fishing information and infrastructure improvements as part of our safe fishing program.  

Under this program, we call for better provision of communication infrastructure to allow for quicker response times from emergency services in the event of incidents involving fishers.  

Find a range of safe fishing resources on our website here    

Telstra tried to install a mobile base at Salmon Holes several years ago where the men lost their lives as part of their mobile blackspot program, although the site was declined by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) due to their concerns on the visual amenity impacts of the national park.  

No other locations could be negotiated, so the plans were abandoned. Telstra are now spending the next few months finalising the design of a new tower to be placed at Cave Point lighthouse, a 13.25-metre structure which sits between The Gap and the Blowholes in Albany. 

DBCA have confirmed it was working with Telstra to assess the project’s feasibility. If the site is given the green light, construction is expected to start in March of 2023. 

Recfishwest firmly supports the development of infrastructure that makes fishing safer, such as the deployment of Angel Rings at all dangerous fishing locations.

“The fact that it has taken all this time for Telstra and DBCA to come to an agreement for plans for a mobile phone mast eight years after these two men tragically lost their lives while rock fishing beggars belief,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland. “Furthermore, fact that construction on the mast isn’t expected to start until next year is simply unacceptable and is putting fishers’ lives at risk.”  

“With the high levels of telecommunication technology we have in our society, there really is no excuse for popular fishing and outdoors locations such as this not to have phone coverage – and certainly not after a coronial inquest recommendations have been made for that to happen.  

“We will continue to press for better telecommunications infrastructure on the south coast and other remote parts of the state where people go to fish – it’s a crucial factor in making sure everyone comes home safe after a day’s fishing, as well as all West Australian’s who enjoy experiencing our great outdoors.”  

Telstra confirmed it signed a funding agreement for the project several months ago in liaison with federal and state governments. The lighthouse that is being touted as the new Telstra tower location is managed by DBCA and is closed off to the public.  

Telstra also constructed a new coverage site at Emu Point back in June and other southern areas such as Pingrup, Spencer Park, Mount Adelaide and Jerramungup. All of these areas are expected to have completed 5G upgrades by the end of September.  

Recfishwest also understands there are question marks over whether the phone mast coverage will extend to Salmon Holes. Clearly, more questions need to be answered here.

Chris Dixon’s tips on avoiding the dangers of rock fishing

Thinking about fishing from the rocks? You need to read this article!

Fishing from rocks comes with many risks, particularly in poor weather conditions and high swell. Even seasoned rock fishers can get caught out by so-called ‘rogue’ waves if not fully aware and prepared. Take Recfishwest safe fishing ambassador and famed rock fishing Youtuber, Chris Dixon for example.

Chris’s  YouTube channel ‘Dixons Fishing’,  keenly watched by 23,000 followers, showcases his fishing adventures from the beach, off boats and from some of WA’s renowned rocks and cliffs.

Check out Chris’s YouTube channel by clicking here

He is all too aware that the adrenaline rush of hooking up to a rampaging kingie or blue groper “off the stones” can override the constant attention you need to pay to the ocean and what it’s doing when rock-fishing at all times – with the worst possible outcome if you’re not careful. “I had always seen those heart-breaking crosses at fishing spots where tragically others have lost their lives,” said Chris.

Rewind a decade to a 21-year-old Chris eager to try his hand at rock fishing, when he was confident his skills would keep him safe from dangerous waves. “I was young and stupid, but careful. I was thinking surely it wouldn’t happen to me,” said Chris. “On a summer’s day, I was fishing a ledge that faced the Southern Ocean and was gaffing a sizable groper for my brother, Aron. I was five metres below him on a large sloping rock with us both well above the height any waves had been that day. It was a sunny with small swell and light winds, so nice conditions.”

But the mood of the waves can unexpectedly change very quickly

Rock fishing’s rewards should never make you lose sight of the risks involved – no fish is worth your life!

“I lost four grand’s worth of gear, but was lucky not to lose my life,” seasoned rock fisher Chris Dixon. 

“Out of nowhere, I looked to my left and watched a wall of white water washing along the rock towards me. I dropped the gaff in my hand and turned and dug my fingers into a crack near my feet, getting as low as I could.

“The water washed right over me for what felt like minutes. Once the water receded, I was left right where I had been but was completely soaked,” said Chris.

“It only took that one wave to wash most of our tackle into the water from where it was set up. I lost $4,000 worth of gear was lost, but I was lucky not to lose my life.

“I had no life jacket on and I’m certain I wouldn’t have been able to get out of where I was or make it far enough swimming to reach safety. We were a few hours of four-wheel driving from the nearest highway and far from any help should we have needed it. If I had gone in that day, I am certain I wouldn’t be here now.”

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way and there are simple ways you can prevent yourself from ending up in a similar position by paying close attention to your surroundings before dropping a line off the rocks.

Rethinking what you thought you knew about waves 

“That day made me stop and think about my close call with a so-called ‘freak wave’ and the things that caused it. I re-checked the weather for the day and swell was the same size at 1.5m all day, so seemingly nothing to be concerned about,” he said.

“There was however a swell direction change from south-west to south-east and a swell period change from 14-seconds out to 18-seconds. I had no idea what that meant and how it could affect my rock fishing, but with a bit of research and talking to others, I am confident I had figured out the cause of ‘freak’, ‘king’ or ‘rogue’ waves. Whatever you call them, I don’t think they are unpredictable.”

Click here to watch this video on how to fish the south coast safely

Here are Chris’s tips on how to be one step ahead of the rogue waves.

Spotting wave direction changes

Wave and swell conditions can change very quickly along the WA coastline.

“Firstly, direction changes. With rock fishing your waves go back and forth in a rhythm. If you sit and watch a spot before fishing, you’ll see how most waves do almost the same thing and then a set will come through and be a little larger, nothing out of the ordinary.

“The most common swell direction for the southern part of the WA coast from Shark Bay to Esperance is south-west. This is what I call the dominant swell direction, and this can change frequently.

“When big high-pressure cells sit in the Great Australian Bight during summer, the swell can be flattened by the easterly winds and then the waves can come from the east along the south coast. Up to 2.5m easterly swells can be seen each summer and this is a dangerous swell if you’re fishing on rocks facing into it.

“Winter storms or cold fronts can produce southerly or even west-north-westerly swells. On days where the swell direction changes, you can have a wave pattern that comes through with no issues and then one wave will come from the direction it’s changing to. It’s those waves that bounce off the rocks differently.

“It can cause the following few waves to pick up in size and come much higher up the rocks than they would have otherwise. This is what I would call a freak wave. These conditions I find normally come a day before a storm (often the calm before a storm) or during summer as sustained winds change the swell direction.”

Understanding the ‘swell period’ and ‘swell timing’

“The next important factor you need to understand is swell period. There are two parts to this. Put simply, it’s the time between each wave. The larger the number in seconds, the more force the wave has. For example, a 12-second period has 12-seconds between each wave.

For rock fishing, the rhythm of waves is steady if the swell is evenly spaced. If a wave out of time with the others suddenly hits the rocks, it can multiply or bounce off other waves. The easiest way to describe it is like double bouncing someone on a trampoline. This unsteady rhythm can cause unpredictable waves and dangerous conditions. To reduce the risk of coming across a situation like that, I won’t fish any location that faces into the swell direction that has a change in a swell period.

The second part to swell period is the timing. A 12-second wave two metres high has half the energy of an 18-second wave also two metres high. The shorter the swell period, the taller a wave stands up, but it doesn’t have much water behind it moving so it has less energy to push up the rocks. However, a larger swell period of 16-20 seconds like we encounter before storms can be moving a lot more water with a lot more force. Even though the swell is the same size, a longer period wave can push much further up the rocks. I won’t fish any day with an increase in swell period or a swell period over 16-seconds in a location that faces into the swell to avoid these dangerous waves.

With that extra information I can now better predict what the swell is going to be doing and how it will affect my day’s fishing. I can then choose a location to fish that will be safer in the conditions.”

More ways to ensure coming home safely from a day’s rock fishing

Chris also recommends keeping a logbook and recording conditions each time you fish – if you’re serious about fishing from the rocks on a regular basis.

“I have a diary that I keep with all the conditions from all spots I’ve fished previously. I can then look at the weather forecast for the day I want to fish and check my diary to confirm it’s been safe to fish that weather in the past. Since making a few changes like that over the past decade since my scare, I haven’t come across another freak wave,” he said.

If you’re not experienced rock fishing should not be attempted lightly and keeping the sand between your toes might be a better option. But if you are going to give it a crack, make sure you take on board Chris’s advice above, you should also check out our  rock fishing safety tips here.

 

Chris’s brother, Aron, with a very solid hook-up on the south coast.