I thought I might share a story from my recent fishing trip to Quobba Station with you.
We set up camp early afternoon, couple of quiet beers and an early nights rest to start our 10 day trip the next day. As we were driving in that afternoon we noticed from the king waves kill sign to the station was cobalt blue and instantly decided the Boundary would be our ledge to fish. There was a 2-2.5m swell running with the lowest of the tide being 7.30am so perfect for that first early morning strike on the gas.
We got to the spot around 5am, I decided to set my gas balloon gear up then have a bait bash as this spot produces a lot of great Demersals. Had around 6-7 casts for not much at all until I hooked up solid calling it for a cod. The fish was very stubborn and an absolute nightmare to get off the bottom. After fighting the fish for Roughly a minute or so the cod I thought I had on totally changed and swam straight to the surface and started heading south around the front of the lower ledge. “Could this be a big Cobia?” I thought as my line starting to rub on the lower reef edge. My next thought being “this fight is just about over!”
Not thinking twice I started climbing down the lower ledge. My mate started putting the gaff together when he yelled to me “Harley don't go down there!” So silly me did the complete opposite climbed down still attached to the fish, ran to the front of the ledge and when I looked up saw a massive set rolling in towards me. I then free spooled ran back to the base of the top cliff and out of nowhere got smashed by this all mighty wave. Instantly I let go of my dogfight reel and rod and began tumbling along the reef until I felt just water, then it hit me,” I'm in!”
So still remembering it's 6 in the morning still pitch black and no moon in sight I was practically in a washing machine getting sucked down further and further because of the easterly wind. On these cold mornings we usually rug right up to keep warm so with all this extra clothing on I wasn't going to surface until I got them clothes off. I had to tell myself “you can hold your breath, you have time!” So I began taking my massive high Vis work jackets and tracksuit pants off then a couple of seconds later I surfaced.
So there I was in this washing machine from hell struggling to even keep my head above water in the dark, “great times ahead for myself here” I thought. I kept telling myself don't even look at the cliffs let alone below for sharks and began swimming straight out into clean water where I could then lay flat on my back to calm myself down and plan my way to get back onto dry land. At that stage I could hear my mates yelling “Harley are you ok?” “Where are you?” The sun was coming up in around 30min so I knew I didn't have long until my mate could get a visual on me.
With the sun just coming over the cliffs I could see him but he couldn't see me, every time he would ask if I was ok I had to time it perfect when to yell so he could hear me and I knew I couldn't yell too many times or I would drain myself of all my energy. I began swimming south thinking I could get in close enough to get pushed by a wave onto the lower ledge, every time I got 40-50m from the cliff the water would suck out making way for the next wave to smash the rocks. I kept seeing like a 3-4 metre sheer wall of death! I began swimming in towards the ledge, I would do my survival strokes mostly then freestyle when I thought I had a break in the water conditions.
But this wasn't the case and with the amount of surge around the cliffs all my power trying to swim in I was still getting sucked back into the darkness. I then decided to swim north towards where I initially got washed in. Once literally arriving back into the area my best mate Josh was yelling “got a visual!” It made me feel good knowing he could finally see me again. At this stage I was about 10-15 metres away from the lower ledge and had been in the water for about 50 minutes. Josh mentioned later on that night that this is when it was life or death! Getting smashed around constantly and choking on salt water, Josh could see in my facial expressions and hear in my tone of voice that I was truly struggling and yes, I was.
I said to myself, I'll give it another 10 minutes or so then I'm just going to have to swim back out to clear water and brave the sharks whilst waiting for the rescue boat to arrive. By that stage my other good mate Glenn Wilson had driven back to Quobba station to notify Tim the owner of the situation. So I’m in the ocean struggling when Josh decided it was time he threw me the life ring. As this life ring is mid-air I thought to myself “yes this is all about to be over.” But then I saw there was no rope attached to the ring and realised I was still well and truly on my own.
The life ring then landed literally right next to me, top throw from my brother. Having hold of this life ring now gave me a small amount of confidence knowing I could rely on it to keep me afloat. So now I'm about 10 metres from the lower ledge pushing this life ring in front of me, it was draining, so much drag on the water but I had to just keep telling myself I'm almost home. Then all of a sudden I was a metre from where I first fell in, I gave it my all, got hold of a small rock then looked out to see this massive wave about to smash me again! I had no choice but to let go of the life ring and hold this little rock will both my hands.
Holding onto this small rock with this truly powerful force of nature thrusting against me I was screaming to myself “Don't let go! Don't let go!” I held on, the wave passed over me and then I was fully out of the water holding onto to this one small rock. Then out of nowhere this large swell from below lifted me up and threw me onto the lower ledge. I then had to run towards the ocean to climb back up the cliff with no shoes because they got washed off during my initial fall (never wearing crocs again!) so running to my freedom Josh yells “stop running!” I thought “why?” Then looked around to see not one but two massive waves coming towards me. I had to stop and hide beneath this cave until they passed, then wait for my brother to give it the all clear to make my way back to higher ground.
Truly an experience I don't want anyone to ever have to go through, either being in the water or being that person on the rocks watching someone stuck out there and there's nothing you can do for them. The good news? I was still alive! Three hours after arriving back at camp to notify Tim I was alive and well the boys had my wounds all cleaned up and I had a very well earned beer in my hand. The even better news being my fishing combo found hanging half way out of the water snagged up in a rock hole, so I got my $2300 combo back as a bonus but even if I had never seen it again, I didn't care, I had my life back.
Every time we fish Quobba it ends up being a great trip, but at the end of the day it's a dangerous sport and unfortunately incidents like this will happen again.
What I’ve learnt:
Take as many precautions as you possibly can to ensure your own personal safety when fishing dangerous rock platforms and ledges. Remember to never risk rescuers lives!
I personally I believe if I had a PFD (also known as a personal floatation device) on as soon as I was getting sucked down I would have inflated it straight away purely out of panic but trying to get back onto the ledge would have been a lot more of a struggle having it inflated. Just pushing that life ring in front of me was draining my energy enough. But if you’re stranded in the water for a long time a PFD would certainly help. From now on we are going to have glow stick necklaces, it might sound silly to some I know but if I’d had one on that night at least my mate would have had a visual on me for most of the time. Another good topic is selection of clothing to wear? In those colder months you want something warm to wear but worst case scenario like mine you want them to come off quick. I’ll definitely be reconsidering my choices next time.
Thanks for reading. Harley Brown.