IF you turn off the main highway from Perth, Western Australia, as it dips towards the outskirts of Fremantle, you will find yourself in the leafy suburb of Bicton. This leads on to parkland and then the craggy southern bank of the Swan River.
There are places along here where you can perch fifteen or twenty feet above the tidal water and spin for mackerel, although constant water traffic between Perth and Fremantle stops fish from settling and it can be hard work, and hot on the rocks.
Go further still upstream and these narrows widen out into the beautiful expanse of Perth Water, mirroring King’s Park on its distant bank and further off to the right the slender glass skyscrapers of the city of Perth itself.
It’s an idyllic spot: there are some old Scots pines here planted by some European founding father, a safe little beach for children to paddle without worries, and clearings in the bush ideal for picnics where you can keep an eye on the kids and at the same time watch the little sailboats and bright windsurfer sails far out.
And there’s the jetty. It’s no ordinary jetty, but you would never guess this on a sunny day. Peer over the edge and sunlight picks out dinner-plate sized brown jellyfish trailing tentacle stems far more fanciful than anything you’ve ever seen in a science fiction film. Older children hurl themselves off the decking to bomb into the middle of them - they don’t sting. Come back here after dark, though, and the scene is transformed, for just after dusk the Jetty Fishing Club starts to assemble.
All ages welcome
All ages are welcome - 8 to 80 - and if there’s a crowd somebody will make a space for you without a murmur. There are no rules, and nobody frowns at tackle that might look inappropriate or might have seen better days. Everyone brings bait, a lamp and, ever hopeful, a bucket for their catch. This gathering beneath the jetty’s single standard lamp is as peaceful a meeting as you are ever likely to encounter. The water itself has become magical; the inky black reflects the glittering lights of Perth and distant speeding cars on the waterside highway. Nearer, the gently folding waves glow with phosphorescence, as do myriad tiny creatures in its depths. Above is the Southern Cross, and Canopus is brilliantly bright.
Occasionally the water’s surface erupts with a shower of whitebait, scattering in all directions and rattling back into the water like a shower of rain. A collective “ooh!” rises from everyone and rod tips are scrutinised all the more closely for the tap of a bite.
Most are happy to take home a few flounders, perhaps some gudgeon-like Australian whiting, or on a red-letter day a dashing tailor or two - rakish and rapacious they hunt in packs and have all the silvery beauty (and taste) of sea-trout. And some of the anglers have sent larger baits far into the dark in the hope of catching a mulloway, a logger-headed giant of a fish. Serious angling!
If you scale right down to a tiny hook and a scrap of translucent prawn meat you can catch delightful miniature replicas of the Indian Ocean reef fish you’d normally only see in an aquarium. More often, though, baits big and small will catch the attention of the ubiquitous blowfish (puffer fish), present in all Australian coastal and estuary waters. Greedy beyond reason and armed with a set of chisel-like teeth which can chomp straight through untempered hooks, blowfish are the bane of Australian anglers. Hauled out, they grunt alarmingly as they fill air sacs to make themselves appear more scary and hard to swallow. Most are tossed back with a curse, but just occasionally you hear a muffled bang, the sort of noise you get from stamping on an upturned plastic cup, and a flattened corpse is scuffed back into the water.
“Can I come too, dad?”
At the end of the 1980s I landed a job on the West Australian and we found ourselve living just down the road from the jetty, where I often spent a few hours on warm evenings - I never caught much but it was wonderfully relaxing. Sometimes I took my son Zeb, then 11, but one day when he wasn’t around I was about to set off on my own when my daughter Octavia, a pigtailed little thing of 8, piped up: “Can I come dad?”
It was more than a little chauvenuistic of me to have assumed that she wasn’t interested in fishing, even though she had never shown such an inclination before. I put my old carp rod in with the tackle and when we reached the jetty I set her up, put some whitebait on her hook, helped her plop it over the side, and left her sitting on the upturned bucket and staring at the rod-tip with serious little eyes. I put up the beachcaster (a leaving present from friends on the Melbourne Herald) and punched a bait in the direction of Perth, settling down to wait for that big mulloway.
No line-ripping runs came my way, however, and after some time I slipped into a bit of a trance, watching the lights of a distant ferry moving over the water.
I was woken from my reverie by a bit of a commotion, and I turned to see Octavia heaving something over the railings with the old rod doubled like a grass stem.
“There!” she said, plopping it on the deck with a big grin - a flounder of about 3lb.
We carried it home and cooked it that evening while she recounted her capture, like me proud as can be.
It was an occasion to treaure, although even more memorable had been the beam of triumph and wonder as the magical thing came out of the darkness under the gaze of all. The memory shares a special place with the capture of my own first fish.
Journalist Ted Lamb trained with Angling Times (1960-69) and is author of The Penguin Book of Fishing and The Bait Book (David and Charles). He was founding editor of Sea Angler in 1972 and is currently editor of a local free weekly in the Forest of Dean after working (and fishing ) for British and Australian newspapers during his long career. Fishing titles on Amazon Kindle include Brassribs (the story of a carp), Fishing Magic – all about angling for Boys and Girls, and One Last Cast (verse). Marine conservation adventure saga Phil Krill Saves the World is recounted on on Kindle. Visit www.ted-lamb-books.co.uk or www.amazon.co.uk