Tips for when tradies fish remote

I have been lucky enough to live and work in some of Australia’s very remote settings.

With a focus mostly on coastal areas above the 18th parallel, which runs roughly from Townsville in the East to Broome in the West.

SEE ALSO: Tradie’s guide to fishing isolated structure

There is still a lifetime’s worth of spots I will never get the chance to visit but without aspiration there would be no accomplishment. Access opportunities will usually be determined through permissions and permits from traditional owners and landholders in most truly remote locations.

Image: Tim O’Reilly

Best laid plans

Nothing truly in the spirit of adventure ever comes easy. There is always risk and hardship involved. It’s what sorts out the mundane from the extraordinary. In the top end of Australia, hardship can take many forms. In fact, anywhere truly off-grid normally comes with a fair old set of obstacles. In this piece, let’s explore some of the basic and more obscure considerations when planning remote trips.

Avid fishers will know that feeling of anticipation when planning for a trip away. That restless, sleepless doldrum that accompanies an early morning start with adventure ahead. Depending on the type of tackle and preparation nut you are, nervous energy is turning into a lack of sleep and severe overpacking.

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For serious fishers, the ‘what to take’ question is normally a compromise. My only method is to leave so little time for packing, that not too much makes it. Hopefully just enough. But I wouldn’t be the first fisho guilty of taking 1000 lures and only using two. Start with what is most important and work backwards.

People mostly fit within travel categories based on personality and budget. Fisherman often let their imagination run free for their budgetary constraints, throwing every nickel and dime into the pursuit of finding that fishing Nirvana. While others prefer the suck-it-and-see approach of simply winging it with whatever they have on hand. Contrasting styles, techniques, fishing and camping pursuits all require their own planning and consideration.

The necessities

For much of my adult life, I have been travelling in remote parts of the Kimberley, Cape York, the Torres Strait and Arnhem Land. I have never been a careful planner and would be the last person you want supplying tools for a road trip. However as with everyone living long enough in the far north, you make do with what you have! What I have developed, is a keen sense of what you actually need and the logistics behind getting to faraway places.

Let’s start with the absolute basics. Regardless of any other thing you take on a trip, the consideration of water and staying hydrated should be number one on the list. I have been both lucky and careful with water in remote situations and also had to drink some pretty lukewarm stuff over the years. Anyone who has lived to tell the tale will repeat you don’t want to die of thirst. An extra 20L drum of freshwater for good measure is prudent. Hunger by comparison takes far longer to take hold.

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Taking food that doesn’t spoil and is easily containable should be a consideration. In my younger years, I was chastised by fishing partners for only packing a Vegemite sandwich and a carrot for a long day on the water. Not so much has changed, just the need for something cool to drink and relatively soft to sleep on. Despite our best intentions, we seem to crave slight improvements in comfort levels as we grow older.

Some of the improvements in light weight camping and adventure equipment has opened up a whole new world in terms of packing light and still meeting extended trip requirements. Rechargeable torches with a trillion light beams, battery packs, solar charging, tiny stoves and multi tools have become common place. Lightweight tape, cord, cable ties and tarps mean building a basic shelter cab be achieved in most places without too much fuss. 

Do you read me?

A small fan that runs off 12V or 24V is a godsend when camping up in the far north. The ability to have a gentle breeze blowing past your face will make up for extreme heat and intensely muggy weather. Anyone stuck in a tent up in these parts when humidity is at 80 per cent will understand all to well the message being told here. Find a way to either keep cool or to cool off as required. Managing your time in the heat of the sun plays a big part in how you feel afterwards.

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Many travellers are utilising low voltage electric fridges and freezer units these days. Cars are equipped with duel batteries and charging capabilities to run these units around the clock. An esky however is still most commonly used to despatch of and store fish. Freezing a bunch of plastic bottles filled with saltwater is a great way to cut costs and provide the necessary means of esky cooling for a day or two. Using clean freshwater won’t last as long, but it is drinkable which is a major point of difference to salt.

Communication from remote settings is not what it once was. GPS and Satellite phones have largely filled in many of the gaps between civilisation and remote. Australia is very lucky to be a country where simply setting off an EPIRB means someone will actually risk their life to come and get you.

But that shouldn’t mean careless planning. VHF radio in a marine environment and UHF radio on land provide a more direct means of talking to others within range. Starlink internet and Garmin In Reach texting ability are just two of the leap forwards in remote Australian travel.

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Having a basic game plan and communicating it to a trusted person is very important when travelling remote. Having some contingencies and discussed plans will help keep this process realistic. What happens if? Who should you speak to and when? Clear communication is the greatest requirement for effective search and rescue efforts. Having a safety grab bag in a small boat is helpful when storing emergency equipment in a single place. Keeping equipment up to date is a struggle that is real, but ultimately beneficial.

Google Earth paired with modern day mapping software makes planning remote trips so much easier than it was 20 years ago. Understanding the terrain, river or seascape you intend to visit can make all the difference both for a planning prospective and enjoyment of the outcome.

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Taking screenshots of set locations whilst you still have mobile signal will give you something to draw back on in a remote setting. Programs like Navionics and Active Captain are extremely useful to have loaded on a phone or tablet when off-grid. Plenty of modern GPS units have topographic mapping functionality. Always remember to record your start location when hiking!

Know where you stand

Getting accurate tide and weather information for your intended area can be achieved with a good understanding of Australia’s weather bureau site. Just type tides in the search bar then click the map for your chosen locations. Some of the things I look at before any remote trips will start with the Marine and Ocean tab providing wind charts for the next seven days. Rainfall forecast tab can give a reasonable prediction of expected precipitation over the next eight days. On the Maps tab, I like to look at the four day Mean Sea Level Pressure to show where high and low pressure systems are lining up. In summary, use all available digital information to inform planning.

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Interestingly enough, Australia as a continent is travelled far more extensively by a dedicated band of off-roaders and fishing enthusiasts. However, those truly remote destinations for the main part are less travelled, less accessed and more restrictive in nature then they were 20 years ago. Much of northern Australia is now devoted to national park, protected areas and Aboriginal freehold held under Native Title. This can put severe limitations on where you can and cannot go. It takes research, commitment and flexibility to work within these constraints.

Many people believe that more remote locations always fish better due to a lack of pressure and people. This certainly isn’t always the case. Being involved in the charter game for a long time, I have seen time and time again clients with skewed expectations based on how remote the fishing location is.

Far more important tends to be tide, time of day, season, moon phase and the tradition of fish around the giant viscous pool they live within. Biomass obviously counts for a lot and less pressured fish tend to bite a little easier. But please don’t be disappointed when getting remote doesn’t threefold your catch.

Image: Tim O’Reilly

Try and be flexible with your approach to fishing in remote locations. Knowing where you want to catch a particular species in a set time and location can have severe limitations when things don’t go according to plan. Fly fishers are particularly susceptible this type of disappointment if conditions for sighting fish are poor or too windy for casting. Being flexible in your approach and willing to make adjustments will ensure remote trips are not seen as a failure.

Food for thought

One of the most crucial elements in planning off the beaten track journeys is to stay reasonably well fed. It adds a particular flavour to the days ending when the results of hunting throughout the day turn into a delicious meal at its conclusion. Being able to supplement fish with crustaceans such as crayfish, mud crabs or prawns can turn that next fire-cooked meal into something special.

There are a thousand ways to cook fish, molluscs and crustaceans, using quite basic and primal methods. I like to experiment with burning down a pile of wood to hot coals as quickly as possible, placing scented leaves atop the coals and cooking seafood on top of the crackling leaves in a smoke-roasting process. 

Image: Tim O’Reilly

Packing plain white vinegar serves two pretty useful purposes. It can be used to neutralise box jellyfish and irrukanji stings and it can also be used to cure fish into a very simple cooked dish called numus. Chilled with the right mixture of sweet and sour ingredients, this can be a fantastic addition to food consumption and utilises less desirable table fish such as smaller trevally and queenfish. A lighter, some Alfoil, salt, pepper, a lemon, garlic and a can of coconut milk can produce some real masterpieces out in the field.

Anyone who believes the opportunity for true adventure and the ability to reach remote destinations in northern Australia has passed, obviously haven’t give it a real crack. As boat reliability, safety and communications all take a massive step forwards, the world can seem like a slightly smaller place.

Until you take a giant leap out amongst it all and realise you are just a pin-prick in a vast blue realm of liquid goodness. The fish might be just a bonus on top of that feeling of witnessing things others are not privy to.

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