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Surviving the West

Hitting the Road

Perth, the most isolated city in the world, is connected to the north coast of Australia by a thread of tarmac, a single road that stretches thousands of miles to Darwin like an hardened artery. Crawling along this road in a Greyhound bus there is nothing to count but clumped bushes and cattle. Trees stick out like tufts of hair. Gas stations, passing by my window every hour or so, are more common than houses.

My stay in Perth ended weeks earlier than I anticipated, and I am presently headed north to Exmouth, a small coastal town were the fish are supposed to be large and hungry. The cost of living in the city was prohibitively high; and the fishing, in the dead of winter, however mild, was extremely slow.

Still, I did manage to catch fish after hooking up with a dedicated group of fly fishers. At this time of year they primarily target brim — a spiny, tall bodied fish that lives along the coast, in estuaries, and in tidal rivers. I eventually managed to catch brim, though only a few and none too large.

One local fly fisher, perhaps the most dedicated brim fisher I met, keeps a blog on these finicky fish. We spent five days fishing together, sloshing though the suburbs of Perth in full fishing uniform and leaving wet footprints along jogging paths next to the rivers. We fished to a backdrop of skyscrapers and concrete bridges, wading along muddy riverbanks lined with yachts and bait fishers.

On Making Do

I spent my first five days in a hostel. But after my sunglasses, a bar of chocolate, and toiletries were all stolen — by a hungry, squinty-eyed person who needed a shower? — I was determined to live somewhere more secure. Through a connection with the local fly fishing club, I landed a room with a fly fisher and his family outside of the city. They kindly fed me for a week and watched incredulously as I made fly fishing lures on their dining room table.

During that week I met with fishers over overpriced coffee, making connections and learning where to head to next. Exmouth, which juts into the ocean on a remote peninsula to the far north of Perth, is supposed to have as many fishing bums as fish. (It harbors a highly productive marine ecosystem in part because of marine reserves around the Ningaloo Reef.) After making a few contacts there, I decided to visit.

Its remoteness, however, makes Exmouth difficult to access. I spent hours calling freight companies, posting ads for rideshares, searching for cheap flights, and even contemplated hitch hiking the 900 miles. When none of these efforts panned out, I buckled on legs ready to hit the road and bought a bus ticket.

Barreling through the West

A day before leaving Perth I was told the buses never stop for kangaroos. Apparently they will plow into so many of the child-sized rodents that the drivers must pull over to wash the carnage off the windshield and bumper.

I spent the first few hours of the bus ride listening carefully for the telling thump that would indicate my first encounter with a kangaroo. But as the day wore on, and on, all I heard was the wine of the motor and the tires wearing away the road. A brief conversation with the bus driver illuminated the problem, or lack there of. Turns out, the recent rains, and the foliage that burst into bloom, means fewer roaming kangaroos to run down.

Another day, maybe.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hey, I want to fish with Blake!

    Happy trails, amigo. Great news about getting your first Brim. I hope to see mention of many more firsts on your blog.

    Tight Lines,

    Chris Windram

    August 1, 2011
  2. Emma #

    Blake-

    I’m happy to hear that your networking and open mind are serving you well in Australia. When it comes to traveling by the seat of your pants, you end up trusting more people with your life daily than you previously thought possible. Lean into that instinct: you may get your sunglasses stolen, but you’ll make great friends too.

    Good luck in Exmouth!

    August 2, 2011
  3. scott davis #

    I want to fish with Blake too! Soon enough I’m sure. In the meantime, it’s great (fantastic really) to hear about your adventures in the southern hemisphere. Best of luck roaming, fishing, and figuring all of this stuff out. Can’t wait for the next installment. All the best.

    August 9, 2011
  4. Hi Blake,

    Your Great Grandfather was an inveterate hunter and fisherman of great skill (who encountered some luck, I am sure, but I think made most of his own). He would be thrilled that you are engaging in exploring the world, fishing, while at the same time getting an opportunity to engage in making this world a better place to be. The Watson Fellowship folks could not have picked a more promising candidate to do both of the above. But, of course, I am a bit prejudiced in that regard as you are one of my most favorite person’s on this planet. I wish you good fishing with tons of adventure as you pursue your dreams…your Great Grandfather’s son

    August 24, 2011

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