I love, love, love fishing. It might even be a disease. I feel uncomfortable being any great distance from a body of water. In fact, I’m perfectly happy being in a plane looking at the sea, that is better than not being near a body of water while on land. It’s a strange magnetism. I could watch water for hours, no problem. I’m not sure if I should see someone about this. British philosopher Alain de Botton would argue it is because against a horizon of water we are left with nothing to compare ourselves to... but I think it’s because there are fish in it.
I grew up in Western Australia and we had a little but not insignificant river at the bottom of the hill. Lefroy Brook. To me a ‘brook’ has a depth to it that a ‘creek’ doesn’t. I’m not sure if that’s true but it feels right. Either way Lefroy Brook was a deep and tortuous channel of criss-crossed logs and boulders and was dark and tea-stained, like cola. It was densely overgrown and smelt of Vietnamese mint, midge, moss, soggy bark and melaleuca. It was a smell that steeped into you (and the trout too, so we didn’t eat them often). The flow bobbled along gently but certainly and the water was achingly cold. The old man and I would fish for trout. They would hold tightly under the banks, under logs and in eddies behind granite boulders. It required precision casting. They were energetic and spritely to catch. It really got the imagination firing, conceiving of their little world in the dark. I’d dream about it.
On holidays we would go to the coast. Geographe Bay was a whole different theatre, huge expanses of brilliant snow-white sand and shallow water. I’d get up at 4.30am in summer, which was well and truly daylight hours in WA. The water was gin clear and too shallow to have any blue shade. I’d find yellowfin whiting in shin-deep water with their tails out, mining worms and crustaceans out of the sand, and the occasional chunky tarwhine in the mix. The whiting were thick, determined and would fight hard for a small fish, perhaps because in half a foot of water they had nowhere to go except horizontally. I’d take a few and walk them back to the house and clean them straight away. Mum would cook the flour-dusted fillets in butter. The flesh was sweet and delicate.
Living in Melbourne now, fishing is a little more challenging, but you become a better angler for it. I fish the Yarra for the wiley southern black bream, beefy estuary perch and the more elusive mulloway. It seems like an uninspiring muddy toned estuary but once you get to know the river it has its own charms and beauty. It has a complex tidal and freshwater laminar overflow pattern that takes some time to figure out. Once you crack the code it’s actually quite an exciting bit of water. The angling itself is sportive, very light and finessed, and not for food. The tackle is fine, ultralight and sensitive. I use 3 to 5 rods with subtle differences for different lure types and actions. It’s a very active form of fishing, constantly on the move and the bream in particular can be easily spooked.
I either fish from a specialised angler’s kayak or from the shore, walking, and for this I wanted the perfect light vest that was weightless and breathable. I love fishing with the bare minimum on me so I can walk for hours unburdened and I fish as many times a week as I can so I needed a fast-to-set-up vest to get out quickly in waning daylight. I also do another form of shore based fishing for light to medium game called ‘shore jigging’ which is popular in Japan, Korea and the Mediterranean. It uses heavier gear and specialised metal jigs that leaf through the water column like an injured fish or squid. It’s remarkably effective, very technique sensitive and takes you to beautiful oceanic spots with deeper water. Sydney has some of the best coastline in Australia for this where shore-jiggers primarily target yellowtail kingfish, and Scombridae species like mackerel-tuna and bonito. It can be a little more dangerous at times and requires a PFD slung around the neck and waist too. I wanted the vest to at least handle this format too.
So Pat and I got to work on the perfect light tackle shore angling vest. I found too many fishing vests have superfluous pockets and features which create more problems than they solve (There are too many places to remember quickly and exactly where you stored what). A backpack is too awkwardly weighted, gets too warm on your back and is slow to access and rarely do you need that range of gear in one fishing outing. Our vest has deep bellows pockets for lure cases and flouro leader spools. We added stud flaps that can be opened and closed with one hand so your tackle doesn’t fall out in the water when you kneel down. There are two gear lugs on the left side to hang snips and split-ring pliers separately. This makes for easy one-handed access and to release fish quickly and without harm. We put a few zippered pockets on the inside for a phone and wallet, they’re safer there facing your body. There are rod loops on the front to carry a rod when moving around, particularly when free hands are needed to clamber over rocks - the rod sits diagonally across your front out of the way. I also often use these loops for a second rod with a different set up that I can switch to quickly. On the back we added a game bag with a high attachment point to balance the load on the shoulders. It has long, deep openings each side so you can reach into it easily. I use this for a water bottle, snacks, another layer or indeed fish! It’s voluminous and very handy. Above it sits another lug to carry a landing net on your back, keeping it out of the way. We decided the best fabric is an ultralight ripstop nylon from Japan that’s breathable, strong for its weight and easily washed but we can also make it in heftier fabrics. Made for anglers, not danglers (or anyone who needs the ultimate utility vest). $495
THE GOOD ANGLER
For anyone who is an angler, they might be aware angling happens in the mind. When not in the act of angling, one is still angling. A chronic and engrossing imagining of the world under the water’s surface. The water is a perfect fantasy, a limit that remains immaculately foreign, something stirring the imagination. Its alien dimension never ceases to intrigue. Angling is an obsessive revisiting of observed geographical and hydrological mental templates. It is the perennial prospect of a fishy cornucopia under the surface mixed with a primal urgency to touch, taxonify and admire these beautiful creatures of another world.
Angling is a tense series of re-imaginings, re-calculations and patient rests driven by an adrenal expectation of the ‘tap’ or ‘donk’ on the line followed by the whizz of a peeling drag. The endorphin hits. Angling is a mixture of a foolish inanity, a primitive instinctiveness, and a stubborn persistence. It teaches you about failure regularly, but it keeps your spirit youthful. It might just be our most accessible interaction with wild animals, real wild animals, even in the middle of a city.
In the search for fish and peace, we can also acquire a meal of the freshest, newest protein we might ever consume. Just enough for ourselves. No waste, no binned unsold flesh. Good anglers love fish, they know every fish species, some know their latin names. They know how to handle fish sensitively for release without damage, and they know how to dispatch fish humanely for flesh. They care for the health of the sea and waterways and they take only what they need. Never is a fishless hour wasted on the water.
Click HERE to view the angling collection.