Friday, March 30, 2012

Australian Salmon

I actually outforecasted Old Salt on the weather front yesterday.

He rang from the salmon camp. "There's salmon all around the bay. And mulies and birds working them. And there is mullet too, in the pool, right in front of me. The weather's great. D'yer wanna go fishin'?"

He did this a few days beforehand - texted me with "There is salmon everywhere out here." Just to let me know, while I was lugging freezers and wardrobes onto the trailer ...
"I can't come out today," I looked at the sky. Mares tails and mackerel scales. "I'll come out tomorrow but it's looking like it might blow up by then." Tall ships with shortened sails.

"Nah, it'll be fine tomorrow. Bloody gorgeous out here right now. Can't do a shot for mullet anyway. Too much weed on the shore at the moment."
So why did he ring me with mullet stories if we can't even catch them? I think he was just teasing. He knows well my penchant for sea mullet.

This morning was wet and howling with a dirty sou-easter that turned around to the south west and started making a mess of the foreshore in town. The whole harbour was a creamy slush and seagulls fought the wind like scraps of paper on their daily flight from the rubbish dump to the new entertainment centre.

"Never known you to be so wrong about the weather and me so right," I texted Old Salt. "No thanks. Maybe on the weekend." See? These days I go fishing when I want to. And I can give some lip. A few months ago this behaviour would have earned a very different outcome.
"Weather shithouse out here," he answered, then slapped me down anyway. "Don't get too smug about 4casting. Once in 5 years is no einstein stuff."

I think Old Salt is 75 this year and he knows his weather. The only time I've heard a bad forecast from him is when he's trying to keep me out at sea in order to get the nets picked up. "Oh the wind will drop at sunset," is his usual line when he's trying to bullshit me into staying out late on an onshore bay, so more fish will mesh in the nets. Bah.

The whole point of the salmon camp is to catch salmon in huge seine nets. Between early February and Easter schools of salmon push against the Leeuwin current along the south west coast. When a school comes into the bay, the fisher men and women row a boat around the school, spooling out the salmon net. Then they use tractors, four wheel drives and bare hands to drag the net onto the beach. It is hugely exciting getting involved in this process. Big trucks from the processing factories drive onto the white, kelpy sands of the beach and are loaded up with salmon. The problem is that the market has crashed for this cheap, coarse fish. People are importing Asian fish or just not liking the flavour of Australian salmon. So Old Salt's camp has morphed into a kind of village for retired salmon fishers.

The last few years we've taken the dinghy out from the camp and hooked a few. Sometimes we head out to Forsyth's bluff (remember The Eyes) and troll for salmon where the waves crash onto barnacled granite. The 'heads', where the granite protrudes from the land to form separate bays is always a good spot. In behind Migo and Hartman's Island we caught salmon on lures ... that sure yank against nylon, fingers raw (I keep forgetting my gloves) the blue heads of the rest of the school circling my prey ... Arripus trutta

Maybe we'll get out there on the weekend.

Last photo courtesy of the Mitchells.


  1. 'Well played Dark Elf'
    ...loving that you're in a position to give the ol' fella some lip and that you can go fishing on your terms - nice

    Wishing you wouldn't get me salivating though mmmm...salmon....mullet

  2. Salmon fishing is sadly reserved for the rich and the well connected over here. I'm neither.

    The thought of dragging them in from the surf by the tractor load sounds almost surreal.

  3. Such an institution on this coast. I remember the salmon fishing as a kid and then a couple of years ago at Nanarup getting 'netted' myself by the fisher-people while I was out surfing.

    Medium to strong westerlies for the next few days. At least it's offshore. The swell was up to 7 metres! But from the southwest so didn't get in. Has been crap for surfing.....

  4. I'll put up some recipes WY!
    Chris, they are a totally different species of fish. Captain cook thougHt they looked a bit like Atlantic salmon and the name stuck.
    7 metres MF! And nowhere to surf! Bugga

  5. I once hooked a 15 pounder, whilst trying to keep my balance on felt-soled waders in the Spey at full flow. Then I woke up.

  6. Great photos. Lovely words. I take it 'Old Salt' is a feature of your forthcoming book.
    Confusing when salmon are not salmon. Do they go by another name?

  7. A nice dream Tom.
    They have a Maori name Mr Hat, because they are found in NZ too. I can't remember what it is. Their classification is Arripus trutta, or Australian Salmon. The juveniles are called salmon trout.

  8. And yes, it is Old Salt who is the main man. I'm still trying to think of a title. Suggestions are welcome!
    'Salt' is my latest ... original huh?

  9. 'Salt' is good

    That photo recent, Sarah? Has a Seventies look about it..

  10. Yes, Ciaran, perhaps 80s. Cosy Corner.
    I like Salt too BT. I wanted to add a 'Southern' in there somewhere but it was getting too close to my favourite narrative poem, The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife and your book Southern Edge.

  11. There's another book called "Salt", it the companion book to "Cod" - both great books giving an account of the place of each in world history.How about "Salt and Vinegar", "Salty", "Fresh". Titles are hard. Try googling a few names and see what comes up. You might want something that will scan towards the top of search engines? In which case none of my suggestions probably work.

  12. Great idea, googling it Mr Hat. I hadn't thought of that. Duh. I should have done it before I named my blog and found a couple of wine dark seas already in existence much later!
    I love Kurlanski's 'Cod'. It is one of my favourite books.

  13. Wow - this is mental, Sarah!
    Ha, I had seen a documentary about this but, heck, my local fisheries would die to see that in wir local waters!

  14. The beautiful thing about Australian salmon Nat is that they come along the coast in absolutely massive numbers in some years and other years their migration is way out to sea. The salmon fishers are only allowed to catch them seine netting off the beach, so there are good and bad years, as far as the fishers and the fish are concerned.

    Though this looks like a big catch, a few things would have been going on. While they are being held in the seine, in the water, someone would have been ringing up the local processors asking how many ton they wanted. If the processors only wanted half of what was in the net, then the rest would have been let out.