Earlier this year a WA fisher shared his personal rock fishing experience with Recfishwest and thanked the people who installed rock anchor bolts as part of the State-wide Safe Fishing Strategy.
I am writing this as yet another person drowned at Contos Beach, south of Margaret River recently. It was on a rock just 100m or so to the south of where I regularly fish.
I am a keen fisherman, but not a particularly good one. About eighteen months ago, on a calm, sunny south-west morning not that dissimilar to yesterday, I drove to the beach for a fish. I chalked up my quota of herring within a few hours and sat down on the rock to clean and fillet them, something that I don’t normally do as I have a filleting table at home; but it was such a beautiful morning. I had checked the weather app on my phone, and yes, the swell was up, but I was on Merchants Rock sitting 18m above the base shore line and the sun was shining.
When we first moved to the South West, I had honestly never tied myself onto a rock when fishing. And for the first year down here those big stainless still rings (for just that purpose) remained an anomaly.
Rock anchors are installed for the safety of all fishers.
On this particular morning the swell was up admittedly, but the waves weren’t any more menacing than usual and were in fact more undulating with no splash or foam. Now bearing in mind, I’m on a huge rock over 18m high - I had my back to the ocean popping out some neat butterfly fillets. I just happened to glance over my shoulder to see what seemed a particularly largish wall of rolling water coming in my way. It kept coming and I kept staring, trying to gauge it’s potential: 'yep, this ones gonna be a biggie,’ I thought.
Now this morning I was tied onto the rock, by an old nylon boat rope threaded through my jean loops and tied onto the stainless still ring behind me. I dropped to me knees and pulled the rope taught to take the up the slack as the wave took me. It rolled over me at maybe half a metre, drenching me and washing everything away, and I mean everything - rods, coffee cup, tackle the lot. Supposedly waves come in three’s, so I braced for the second one which was just as terrifying as the first. I waited and waited, the third, but it never came, yet.
Gingerly and shaking more than a little, I untied myself in an attempt to repatriate my situation. I found, fortunately, my keys and phone (though underwater) in a rock pool some metres behind me. Several metres further down were my backpack and one of my snapped rods wedged in a small opening in the rock (and if you know Merchants Rock - you'll know the one I’m talking about). Yes, and I know what they say, 'never scramble down to retrieve a dropped fish', but nonetheless I braved the slippery, slimy slope on my hands and knees and retrieved what I could. No sooner had I got back up, gathering my wits to leave, when number three rolled in. Although no longer tied in, I was to the left and out of the firing line. But that surge sent several tons of water pounding through that little gap where I had been crouching just moments before.
When I got home, I had a hot shower and hopped into bed and slept for three and half hours. I had no fish to fillet.
Occasionally attached to those large stainless-steel rings bolted into the granite along the coast, are small plates that say, “if this ring has offered you safety etc, call this number…” or something to that affect. And so few months back I called the number and spoke to a nice bloke and told him my story and thanked him for putting them there. He actually had put that exact stainless-steel ring in himself - the one that saved me. He asked me to put pen to paper and so here is my recount of my very, very close shave. Today, I finally went and bought myself a new garage remote control to replace the one, water damaged on that morning.
And all that for twelve little herring. Tie yourself in people when you fish.
If you choose to fish from the rocks, safety is paramount and knowing where safe fishing infrastructure is installed and how to use it should be part of your safety checklist.