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Meet Australia's fishing guides

Passionate, knowledgeable, affable and often a tad quirky, these people epitomise the Aussie spirit of mateship, resilience and ingenuity.


Travel is definitely character building, and a big part of that process involves the cast of fellow characters we encounter along our personal journeys of discovery. Few are more interesting, varied and (dare we say it?) “colourful” than Australia’s unique band of professional fishing guides. Most have spent a massive chunk of their lives on and around our fish-rich waters and they can’t wait to share all that they’ve learnt with you.

We sit down with a few of these local identities and find out a little about what makes them tick.

 

Captain Bernie Vale

1. Tell us your name, the title of your operation and where you grew up.

Captain Bernie Vale, Mahi Mahi Fishing Charters, grew up in Perth, Western Australia.

2. How long have you been fishing, and what got you started?

I started fishing as a child, living near the river in Rossmoyne, a suburb of Perth, before venturing to Ningaloo for a number of years as a recreational fisherman and then later operating my own fishing charter.

3. What fish do you most enjoy catching yourself, and why?

I enjoy catching Blue Marlin because of their size and they are exciting to catch.

4. What’s your most memorable catch — taken by you or a client?

We had a super grand slam on the boat in one day, catching a Blue, Black and Striped Marlin and a Sailfish and also tagged another 6 Billfish on the day.

5. You must have some great “ones that got away” stories, too?

I raised a 300kg Black Marlin in 2012, I fought it for 2 ½ hours before it broke me off and we lost it close to the boat.

6. We bet there are some laughs along the way. Any stand-out funny moments?

One day a client hooked a fish on one of my rods, he then lost it all over board and felt terrible.  Five minutes later he was laughing as another client pulled their rig up and the one that had gone overboard was attached to it,  with the fish still hooked! Laughs all round.

7. Do you enjoy eating fish and, if so, what’s your favourite seafood recipe?

Yes I do enjoy eating fish, good quality fish cooked in flour, eggs and bread crumbs.

8. When you’re not out on the water, how do you relax and unwind?

Follow sport on TV

9. What’s your idea of the perfect day’s guiding?

My idea of a perfect day as a guide is catching a variety of fish for the customers and witnessing them catching certain species for the first time, especially billfish.

10. Lots of people will say you have the best job on earth… are they right?

Yes, they are because it seems more like a hobby than a job.

Hugh Gange

Hugh Gange, Cobourg Peninsula, Northern Territory

1. Tell us your name, the title of your operation and where you grew up.

Hugh Gange, Cobourg Fishing Safaris, I grew up on a farm in Kialla, Victoria.

2. How long have you been fishing, and what got you started?

I’ve been fishing since I can remember. It all started in the creek at the back of our farm which was full of European carp and the odd red fin. When my brother and I were young, our Dad gave us the choice of either building a swimming pool or excavating a lagoon in the backyard, guess what we picked? We ended up stocking the lagoon with Murray cod, bass, yellowbelly, yabbies’ and ducks.

3. What fish do you most enjoy catching yourself, and why?

Definitely have barra in the blood, these iconic Top End fish are just so addictive and exciting to chase. Murray cod are also close to my heart, probably because of my upbringing but you have to admit, they have to be one of the most spectacular looking fish out there.

4. What’s your most memorable catch — taken by you or a client?

Catching a 110cm Murray cod on the Frenchman’s Creek near Wentworth goes down as one of the best days of my life. Other than that, a 70lb giant trevally on light gear a few years back was an absolute triumph.

5. You must have some great “ones that got away” stories, too?

Hmmmm, the meter plus barras! Still hurts to think about them so I’ll leave it there.

6. We bet there are some laughs along the way. Any stand-out funny moments?

How long have you got? When you have caught a bunch of fish and have a good mixture of mishaps and triumphs through the day, the banter over a few beers between good mates on a boat is priceless!

7. Do you enjoy eating fish and, if so, what’s your favourite seafood recipe?

Luckily I love eating fish, I live at Cobourg Coastal Camp which is literally a stone’s throw from fish, mud crabs and all the oysters you can get your hands on!

I often make Kokoda which is a Fijian coconut milk ceviche, a great cold snack which you can make on the boat with almost any fish.

As a warm dish its hard to go past a good chilli mud crab!

8. When you’re not out on the water, how do you relax and unwind?

Travelling, camping, cooking, footy, mates and cold beers are essentials for unwinding.

9. What’s your idea of the perfect day’s guiding?

Getting out on the water early, sight casting fish, spearing a mud crab or two, getting up and close with nature and sitting back at the end of the day, watching the sunset from camp and spinning a few yarns over a beer and a bunch of freshly caught oysters.

10. Lots of people will say you have the best job on earth… are they right?

One thing I know about fishing guides is that we all love to fish. The toughest thing about being a fishing guide is that you rarely get to fish! In saying that if you love your job then you’ll never work another day in your life and that’s the case for me.

Chris Saunders

1. Tell us your name, the title of your operation and where you grew up.

My name is Chris Saunders and I am the fishing charter skipper at Mackerel Islands, Western Australia. I grew up all over Western Australia, majority of the time being split between the Pilbara and the South West.

2. How long have you been fishing, and what got you started?

Apparently Dad would take me fishing from age three. I have vague memories of watching him and his mates catch threadfin salmon off the spoil bank in Port Hedland, and eventually caught one myself (my first ever fish). From that day I've had a fascination with fishing and being around the water.

3. What fish do you most enjoy catching yourself, and why?

I have been lucky to experience some amazing fishing, from light game to jigging, bottom fishing and sports fishing for an array of different species, but I cannot go past the coral trout. They are such an aggressive fish and taste great, not to mention looking spectacular out of the water. It can be a real challenge trying to coax them out of their homes with soft plastics / jigs on light gear!

4. What’s your most memorable catch — taken by you or a client?

One that sticks out in my mind was a solid 6-7kg Black-spot tuskfish caught behind Hauy Island in Dad’s boat as a youngster. It buried me in the coral immediately, so Dad grabbed the rod in an attempt to lift it out, although he ended up snapping it in two. I wound the fish up with half a rod, it tasted great, and I got a new fishing rod out of it!

5. You must have some great “ones that got away” stories, too?

Before venturing into boating I spent most of my free time shore-based fishing. Living in the South West of Western Australia gave me access to some beautiful coastline and land based angling opportunities, including the famous Busselton Jetty.

In the year 2000 I went on a fishing trip to Gnaraloo with my parents and their friends, we had caught many great fish but the highlight was a rather large golden trevally from the boat. I sent the photo into the fishing section of Friday's West Australian Newspaper and won four Halco lures for "Fish of the Week".

One of the lures was a pink Halco Laser Pro 2m diver. This lure sat in my tackle box for around two years without use, until one early morning on Busselton Jetty after an 'all-nighter' chasing mulloway, I decided to take it out of the packaging and have a flick off the end of the jetty to see how it would swim. I cast the lure out 20m or so and retrieved it slowly back to the jetty. I was in a complete daze after the long night, and not expecting a large samson fish to dart out from directly underneath, smash my lure and shoot straight back under the jetty. Within 5 seconds I was wrapped around a pylon and the lure snapped off. That lure lasted 2 years in the tackle box and 5 seconds out of it!

6. We bet there are some laughs along the way. Any stand-out funny moments?

In 2011 I took two mates out for a little afternoon session at Hillarys in Perth. I was busted off on light gear by what felt like a dhuie. Seconds later my mate Ryan hooked up on a soft plastic at the front of the boat, and after a little struggle brought a 7-8kg dhuie on board.

He posed for a few photos before laying the fish down on the bow. The dhuie flicked its tail violently, became airborne and despite Ryan's best attempt to keep the fish in the boat it hit the water and swam away. Ryan bought the beers that night.

7. Do you enjoy eating fish and, if so, what’s your favourite seafood recipe?

I love fish and seafood in general, and there's too many to pick a favourite. But here's a few: seafood chowder with prawn-head oil (fresh caught seafood), seared scallops with Asian greens and dressing, chili mudcrab linguine.

8. When you’re not out on the water, how do you relax and unwind?

I work and play on the water- fish, swim, dive, put in the occasional gym session, and am always keen to get involved in any sporting activity.

9. What’s your idea of the perfect day’s guiding?

The waters up here are amazingly fish-rich with plenty of options, I like to fish the tides but if it all lines up, it'll go something like this-

  •  COFFEE.
  •  Flicking lures at Spanish mackerel, tuna, queenfish and trevally, followed by some light jigging and soft plastic work for coral trout and Rankin cod, then hitting a few bottom spots for red emperor, saddle tail and gold band!
     

10. Lots of people will say you have the best job on earth… are they right?

Like any job, this one can be very frustrating, but yes, best job on Earth!

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