Catching Rides to Fish
I was more determined two hours ago when I first stuck my thumb in the air. Now, still without a ride, the road is empty. Dust swirls around my feet, coating them in powder the color of rust. Termite mounds crowd the horizon like tiny igloos made from sand. In the distance I can hear a car approaching, a silver speck. I put down my backpack and wait a minute, trying to appear harmless.
I arrived late last night to Coral Bay, a small town popular for snorkeling and scuba diving on the northwest Australian coast. From there, I had planned to take a shuttle to Exmouth. But the shuttle wouldn’t run for several days and the ticket was $100. Disgusted by my misinformation, I paid for my hostel this morning and began walking the 100 miles to Exmouth. I figured drivers would take pity on me, a lone backpacker hiking into virtual desert who clearly did not understand the severity of heat exhaustion and inevitable dehydration. But with most of the passing cars being driven by elderly couples on vacation, it seemed no one wanted a sweaty young person ruining their trip with his smelly backpack and forced conversation.
When I reached the main road it was mid afternoon, the pavement shimmering in the distance. The novelty of the outback had given way to frustration that my sense of adventure had been so misguided and that goodwill could be so blind. But with fish to the north, I kept walking. The cars continued to pass me, disappearing to the coral coast.
“No drama, mate”
Spraying gravel as he pulled over an older man picked me up on his way to Exmouth for a business meeting. He told me about his children as we sped along the highway for two hours until he dropped me at an information center in Exmouth. He wished me well-earned luck before lurching back onto the road.
I spent two days in a hostel further realizing that I could not walk everywhere, no matter my determination or luck. The nearest beach was several miles away, and most of the fishing locations were not even within biking distance. The third day I spend looking for a car, then a scooter, then anything with a motor. But after scouring the local notice board, repair shops, and even a scrap metal yard, I found nothing affordable. It wasn’t until I got in touch with a local fly fisher one afternoon that I found a small, inexpensive rental service in town and drove away in a Hyundai station wagon (pictured below).
That same day, everything fell into place. Through this fly fisher, I found housing for a week with a man who had a spare caravan. If I made him some flies, he said, I could stay for free. I slept with his fishing gear. At night we ate our fish — or more often his fish — under the glare of a spotlight. I spent my evening making flies, which disappeared into the ocean as quickly as I could make them.
This man who took me in had spent a lifetime outdoors. Between working as a commercial fisher on the barrier reef, starting three profitable businesses, and diving throughout the world, he had fished prolifically. The wrinkles on his face were like canyons, worn from years of squinting into the water. When we fished together it was as if my line never touched the water. He would silently pull in fish after fish while my casts came up empty. We were using the same flies — my own. (Pictured to the right, caravan with fishing gear where I stayed for a week.)
Even so, I managed to catch nearly two dozen species of fish, from coral trout(s) and cod(s) to long tom, a strange fish about the width of a broom stick and a meter long when mature. I also spent much of my time fishing alone. Promises of fish large enough to break my rod kept me on the water for days at a time in the blistering Aussie sun. But with the exception of a few golden trevally — a tall, bull-headed fish that patrols the edges of coral — most of these days were spent catching fish small enough to pan fry. With the the bill mounting from the rented car, however, it looks like my chances at trophy fish are dwindling as quickly as my money.