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The One That Got Away


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After enjoying Scratchie's post about our most memorable fishing experiences, I started thinking about the significant factor that lead to me becoming as "mad-keen" on fishing as I am. In my case it wasn't the catching of a fish, but in fact the losing of one.

I was on holidays at Coffs Harbour with my Mum and brother, staying with relatives and we'd gone fishing a few times, mostly to Coffs Jetty, catching mostly tiny sized fish like Yellowtail, Sweep, Mado's and Leatherjackets, all fun but nothing big enough to eat. It was all hand-line fishing at the jetty and I was comfortable using hand-lines, but had just been given my first rod and was keen to try using it.

We were staying pretty close to Coffs Creek and had heard from the next door neighbour that there were a "few Flathead down at the swimming spot in the creek", Mum asked me if I wanted to go and try down there for something bigger than the fish at the wharf. I was about 8 years old at the time and had caught plenty of keeping sized fish, but they'd all been caught on hand-lines and mostly from the family boat down at Windang, which is on the northern shore of the entrance to Lake Illawarra.

So down to the fish shop -which was only just up from the pathway down to the swimming spot- to buy some more green prawns for bait. My family had relied on only two baits wherever we'd fished, Squirt Worms were number one bait, but good old green prawns were number two and you could get them literally anywhere. I remember the man at the fish shop asking where we were going to go and laughing when Mum replied that we were just going down to the creek, where the swimming spot was. He said there were better spots to go than down there, but undeterred, down we went.

The swimming spot consisted of a simple boarded section along the shore, complete with diving board and a narrow bit of wharf at each end, that protruded out about 15 or so meters on each side. These two narrow ends were about a meter wide and sat just above the water at high tide, each one had a small ladder attached about 2/3rd's of the way out and the only purpose of these mini wharves was to allow swimmers back up- they were just too narrow for anything else.

We picked the left hand side one and went out to the end, it wasn't wide enough to fish two people side by side and I remember having to be careful getting anything out of the old cane creel we kept all our fishing gear in, as there were no sides on the tiny wharf and there were plenty of gaps between the wooden boards- anything dropped was lost to the creek.

My rod and reel had belonged to my Grandfather and were now pretty old. The rod was a Jarvis Walker "Burnie-deluxe" a two piece solid fibreglass rod with a cork butt and black plastic-like foregrip, about five feet long, simple chromed guides and what would be described these days as a "medium-slow taper"- originally designed by Jarvis Walker as a Bream and general purpose model. The reel was one that many older fishers would have either owned or indeed seen- a "Steelite" centrepin- still used by many for Luderick fishing. To cast the line, the only way I could figure out was to pull some line off the reel and then make the throw, hoping the line didn't get caught on anything like the wharf, gear or myself.

The rig was the same one I used for everything, anywhere I fished; a bug sinker which sat on half a match stick, about 7 or 8 inches above the hook. Swivels were not commonly used and it seemed that most fishers used a match stick tied on to stop the sinker sitting on the hook. There were only about 3 types of hook I'd ever seen, Suicide (called Octopus pattern these days) Long Shank (bronzed) and "Limerick" which were tinned and known as "Tailor hooks". Our long shanks came in different sizes in a pack and on the back of the packet there was a description of how many of each size and what they were used for. Mine had "Garfish hooks", "Whiting hooks" and "Flathead hooks" in it, the Flathead hooks were the largest and I chose the second largest one and tied it on.

After fishing out of the boat at Windang for a few years, my idea of a prawn bait was to peel the prawn, throw away the head and break the prawn into about 3 or 4 bits, each bit was a bait and only needed to cover the bend of the hook and the point- using an entire prawn was just not even a consideration! The fish always took the whole bait and pretty much you'd strike as soon as you felt something there- well that's how I did it anyway.

Rigged up, bait on and cast made- probably went about 15 feet, if that, let out a bit of line so it would sink as far out as possible. Take up the little bit of slack after it hit the bottom and a bite straight away! Pulling back against the bite and the rod starts bending- there's a fish hooked and kicking on the other end! Excitedly I wind the fish in, not giving it any line and up comes a small Flathead, I lift it onto the wharf and Mum covers it with the "fishing towel" before putting it in the creel to unhook. Thrilled at catching the fish on rod and reel, I remember just sitting there looking at it as it kicked around in the big creel, it was big enough to keep and I was over the moon. 

"Come on, catch another one" says Mum and I take the second piece of prawn I've lined up and put it on the hook. Pull some line off the reel and cast again, probably didn't go as far as the first one though as I out-threw the piled up line and it jerked back towards me. Down it goes and another bite straight away- hooked up again and this one's pulling harder. Another Flathead about the same size as the first gets lifted onto the wharf and straight into the creel for unhooking. I love this rod fishing! Fish unhooked and bait on, another cast, another bite, but missed him this time.

Mum suggests trying a bigger bit of prawn "for a bigger fish"- makes sense, so out goes half a prawn and pretty well straight away in comes another Flattie. I'm thinking this is a great fishing spot and it was really nice of the neighbour to send us to his secret place. 

Then it happened, I cast out again expecting another Flathead and I hooked onto something huge! The little rod was bending over and Mum's yelling "play it, play it"- I didn't know what play it meant until she said "let it run- just let go of the reel and put your hand underneath the reel" which I did. The fish would run out a fair way, then seem to stop and I'd reel it back in, only to have it take off again. This went on for ages until the fish was tired and then suddenly it came all the way in and revealed itself- an absolutely giant Flathead. 

Now how to land it?  There was nowhere to beach it- the wooden surrounds of the spot prevented this and the huge fish had pretty much stopped swimming, the only thing to do was try to slide it up onto the wharf. We got it about halfway on and the line broke- it had finally been sawed off by the fish's teeth and it slipped back off the wharf and was gone. We looked at each other and both kept staring at the water for a minute, but off course, it was gone for good. Mum offered the encouragement of "quick, put another hook on, there might be another one!", so I tied on another hook, re-baited and cast again, almost expecting another giant to take hold, but that was it, not another bite and we decided to go home, with the promise of coming back down the next morning.

When we got back to the house where we were staying, my cousins were there, including two a bit older than me, no amount of convincing from me mattered, nobody believed how big the Flathead that got away was. "Typical fisherman's story" and the like were the responses and I remember being both frustrated and angry that nobody believed me, even with Mum as witness. The next day we went back there to fish again, but there were heaps of people swimming and didn't get a bite.

The day after 6 of us boys made a raft and sailed Coffs Creek, which took us quite a few hours to do the 1km stretch and I kept looking over the side the whole way, hoping to see "my" Flathead. 

Something triggered in me that day and just like Scratchie with his huge Bream, I was hooked for life, except he got to keep his fish and mine got away.

Over the years I've seen some giant Flathead caught, mostly by others, but I've never seen one like that one ever again. I did see the "lay" of an absolute giant up at Wooli when we were there while the Sydney Olympics were on and although you can't tell the weight of one from a sand impression, it was bigger I reckon than the one I fought and it made me smile to see where it had been, knowing there still are giants out there to be caught.

I have a few more stories of lost giants, but I'd love to hear of other folks experiences, albeit losses, and to see if losing something has motivated others to get more involved (addicted even!) with fishing.


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That's what we need in lockdown...a few Waza stories!

It kind of brings back memories of my own childhood, my parents dragging around a fishing mad kid to indulge my addiction.

I can totally relate to losing a fish making you keener. I find all of truly fun things in life require two ingredients; mastery and a little bit of luck. Fishing is no exception!

My one that got away story involves the massive silver drummer in the lagoon at Lord Howe Island. As a 13 year old, I had just discovered the amazing properties of lighter line so a 1-3kg rod and an ABU cardinal with 1kg Maxima came on the trip with me.

The outfit was used to catch a feed of the plentiful garfish off the wharf every day, but whenever I got bored, I would float out a piece of bread to the ever obliging drummer. Invariably, the drummer would strip 50-100m of line off my reel and there would be nothing I could do about it, and sooner or later the line would break. I tried using 4kg mono but the drummer wouldn't have anything of it, skirting about the hook on the 4kg line and then nailing my 1kg presentation next cast.

One day I went off on my own in pursuit of drummer again, and hooked a fish I actually could turn. When it came up, it was a painted block wrasse. Google up a photo. What a beautiful fish. But being completely alone that day and high above the water on the wharf, I couldn't land this either. I did get a really good look at it before it swam off and the feeling of gratitude at having seen such a beautiful fish somewhat soothed the disappointment of losing it.

My dad took me out on a trip with a local guide going for double headers in the lagoon. That's a story for another day. When lockdown ends, I'll go over and get the photo.

We tried to go there for our honeymoon some years ago and were gobsmacked at how much it cost to go there. Having just bought a house it just wasn't on the cards. Which just made me all the more fortunate and grateful for my parents having taken me there. Hopefully I'll be back one day.


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Awesome story as always wazza!

The mental image of a young boy not catching a monster flatty and being hooked for life warms the cockles of the soul.

I would wish that exact experience for all youngsters.

Thank you for brightening my day

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Another great read Wazza that stirred up memories of one of my classic failures.

One night I was out at the rivermouth live baiting for jew on my own. I was fishing a from a small rock around 4 metres square that was just above water level, when a good fish grabbed my tailor. Long story short, when fishing alone I always carried a short hand gaff that I clipped to a belt loop on my pants and it wasn't until I got this fish close in that I realised I'd left the gaff up with my backpack at least 20 metres away.

Being low to the water I thought I could possibly slide the fish out and grab it up under the gills, which I was hesitant of doing as I'd heard stories of guys slicing their hands up pretty bad on the gill rakers of large fish.

First attempt I realised this was a big fish and easily my PB, got it three quarters of the way out of the water and before I could grab it, it slipped back off the rock. I tried again for the same result, the problem being a 12 foot rod off such a small rock made it difficult to drag the fish entirely out. 

3rd attempt I managed to get it out a little further, lowered my rod, lunged for the fish and went arse over head pushing the fish back into the water, snapping my line and putting a great ding in the lip of my Alvey's spool. Fish gone.

That Alvey now sits on display in my home office to remind me of what an idiot I was.

@Little_FlattyI too have taken on the silver drummer at the Lord Howe wharf. 3kg was the heaviest line I could get them to take, but always got run around the pylons and busted off in a matter of seconds.


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Great story and so well written Waza !

Enjoyed it thoroughly. Brought back so many childhood memories. Thank you. 

My got away story is really bitter sweet. I grew up fishing chipping norton lakes. Handlines and the cheapest rod/reels I could scrounge. Some I even made them from car antennas and the plastic spool that the mono line was sold on.  We made do.

Anyway, for my 12th birthday I received a present : a brown cork grip handle 7ft berkley bream rod, chrome guides and matched with a Diawa eggbeater spinning reel.  It was my pride and joy. Had to wait a couple of weeks to use it due to school exams, weather etc etc. The rod slept in my bedroom  tempting me every minute of every day.

During the wait, I made myself what I considered to be a perfect Y rod holder... so now  I could fish the chippie bank in style. This just increased my excitement.

Then finally the day came when everything lined up and I actually got to go down to my favourite spot - the west bank about 50m from a boat ramp where there was a small section of sandy beach area. 

Baited up and cast in. Sat the rod in its holder. Turned around to move my bait and tackle box a bit further up when ....whoooosh ... a YELLOW powerboat raced past about 10m from shore ... ping ... in shot my pride and joy combo ... I could see it for a fraction of a sec as it disappeared into deep the water.  My whole virgin combo had "got away" on its maiden trip.   I waved frantically but the boat was gone. I could hear it roar up toward Warwick Farm .....    What idiot runs his powerboat 10m from the bank when there was the the whole lake to open  up and test his throttle .... B#(&^^^*^ST@D !!!! POSER !!!!!!! 

Anyway, he did a few more run bys ... maybe thought that I was cheering him on .... 🤯

I packed up and started the walk home ... my head down.  I was beaten. But when I climbed back up to the road, I caught a final view of the YELLOW boat ... the motor up, the guy leaning over the back trying to remove 150yards of very new berkley 12lb mono bunched around his prop.  

A small condolence for me.

Anyway, that's one of my most heartfelt "one that got away" fishing stories.  

Cheers Zoran

Edited by zmk1962
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