So this is Bowen. ?The Gem of the Coral Coast,? Darryl had called it. He had also written to tell me that the best time to go to Bowen is between June and September.
?The weather is beautiful and the mackerel school up in the waters around Bowen at this time of year. Be sure to bring a large esky to transport your catch home? he wrote.
With a month off work and a 555km trip down the coast from
If I had reacted to my first impressions, I would have turned back home there and them, but being every hopeful, I pressed on. At the entrance to town is a couple of rusted out old sheds, (which I later discovered to be a salt works), a railway yard, a petrol depot and to top it off - it was raining. I had a couple of hours before Darryl finished work so there was only one thing for it. Park the rig in a side street, purchase a map of the area and get my bearings while perched on a vacant bar stool at the nearest watering hole. The free tourist booklet I acquired from a newsagent was very helpful. It not only had all the places of interest listed and a very good street map, but also showed the lay of the land including some of the islands close to Bowen as well as all the inshore reefs. I know now what Darryl meant when he wrote that in Bowen, you can go fishing no matter which way the wind is blowing. The town is virtually surrounded on three sides with ocean. So with my spirits on the rise, I set off to find Darryl?s abode before I exceeded the legal blood-alcohol level.
Sitting down to dinner that night I was assured that no one had been kicked out of the house to vacate a room for me and I was welcome to stay as long as I pleased. I had marked off a couple of holiday resorts in the booklet but it looked like I wasn?t going to need them.
One in particular had caught my eye. The Whitsunday Sands Resort. I had figured I could run to the tariff of $38 per night for a unit, less 10 per cent for a weekly booking, but the interesting part was that the proprietors actually guarantee sunshine. ON a weekly booking, if it rains for three consecutive days of your stay, they will discount your tariff by 50 per cent. Listening to the rain outside at that moment, I thought their guarantee would have been tested for my stay!
Darryl had left for work when I arose next morning so I made a cup of coffee and stepped out to greet the day. It was as if it hadn?t rained at all. The sky was clear and the sun was a welcomed source of warmth against the morning chill. This was to be Darryl?s last day at work; he?d taken a fortnight off, so we cold get down to some serious fishing.
I spent that day sightseeing and taking in a few of the local places of interest. The museum certainly taught me a lot about Bowen?s early history and it answered a question I had in my mind as to why the streets were so wide. Bowen was the first settlement north of
After my tour it was plain to see that Bowen?s biggest asset was the beautiful beaches and the ocean. The locals seem to take advantage of it too, as it seemed that every second house had a trailerboat of some description in the yard. There is a sailing club, a yacht club and numerous fishing and pleasure craft moored in the small boat harbour. There are two very well maintained trailerboat ramps lowered into the harbour, each four boats wide. Both with limitless parking. The following morning we launched my boat via a different ramp on the other side of town at Grey?s Bay. Not as well maintained as the others, but quite adequate and we were early enough to secure a parking space in the shade. There is something about an early morning run in a boat. It seems to clear the lungs and get the adrenaline flowing. My 75hp Evinrude pushed up fast enough to reach the mackerel patch in a little over 10 minutes. (Yes, it?s that close.) After rigging a set of ganged hooks with a whole pilchard, we floated them out and sat back to water a glorious morning unfold. Nothing could be better. Forty feet of water beneath the boat, a light easterly blowing and good company. Darryl told me that Western Australian pilchards are the main bait used on these mackerel and I was assured that they are available at every corner store as well as any of the seafood outlets. Some people prefer to use small silver spoons, either trolled or cast from rods. The professionals are still allowed to use nets and just sitting there, we could count four of them drifting around with net-boats in tow.
I remembered Darryl writing that the pros measured their catches in tonnes - and I was to find out why.
There wasn?t much activity for the first couple of hours except the coming and going of numerous other craft. They ranged in size from 11? tinnies to 25? cabin cruisers. No one else was catching anything so we didn?t feel left out. Darryl was in the process of unwrapping a sandwich when I saw something that was unlike anything I?d every witnessed.
An acre or two of water around the boat turned what can best be described as blotchy silver. Mouth agape, I looked towards Darryl and he was calmly putting the sandwich away and laughing at the look on my face. As if some alien force had told them to rise to the surface together, the mackerel just appeared. About five seconds passed after that thought, then, as they say in the movies, ?all hell broke loose?.
All at once, four nets hit the water and circled parts of the school. Then a hungry mackerel decided it wanted my pilchard. When you?re not expecting it, a five kilo spotted mackerel suddenly taking your line out of your hands at about 30kpm, can come as quite a shock.
After landing it and rebaiting, I had only fed a few yards of line over the side, when I actually saw the next one take the pilchard, and with three hooks ganged through the bait, I didn?t miss very often. And so it continued for what I later realised was over two hours. While all this was going on I had lost track of time, lost count of the fish caught and lost all feeling in my arms and back, but not so my hands. There was a steady flow of blood from the numerous line cuts and from the many punctures caused by the mackerel?s teeth. Darryls? hands hadn?t faired much better. Over the next 14 days, we managed seven more trips with plenty of hot fishing action each time. The couple of times we fished the inshore reefs became a welcome relieve, as catching mackerel was getting to be hard work! After all, I was supposed to be on holidays.
Darryl had intended taking me up one of the many creeks but we couldn?t seem to get the right tides. The large rise and fall of the tides (up to 3.8m at times) around Bowen showed me one of the only hazards of the area. At low water there are a lot of shallow areas and local knowledge is needed before venturing too far.
After a fortnight in what is truly a trailerboat fisherperson?s paradise, I was reluctant to return home. The day before I left was spent waterskiing off one of the beautiful beaches. The ranges of boating activities around Bowen is as wide and varied as the imagination will allow.
Distributing my share of the fish among relatives and friends back in
I was so taken with Bowen that I have since transferred here through my job and can now enjoy this, so called, ?Climate Capital of Australia?, on a permanent basis.
Who ever named this place ?The Gem of the