Hunter and hunted ... the old men of the sea
DUGGA Beazley first noticed the huge school of snapper, packed as tightly together as "sardines in a tin", cruising by at sunset. Two-and-a-half hours later, when the flashlight used to illuminate the school finally went flat, it was still passing by.
DUGGA Beazley first noticed the huge school of snapper, packed as tightly together as "sardines in a tin", cruising by at sunset. Two-and-a-half hours later, when the flashlight used to illuminate the school finally went flat, it was still passing by."There were thousands upon thousands of snapper streaming past the boat, coming from up Point Cook, heading down towards Werribee. They were big four, five, six-kilo ones - big old man snapper," he says. "What we could see was 100 foot wide, but the school could have been wider."Mr Beazley remembers the remarkable event so clearly it could have happened last night, yet it dates to October 1964. It was a highlight of his 60-year fishing career on Port Phillip Bay - his workplace since he left school at 13 to go fishing with his father.The 73-year-old holds one of just 42 commercial fishing licences for the bay. He may be a few years past retirement age, but he is not about to retire, nor part with his licence."I'll do it as long as I'm capable. And I can assure you at the moment I'm very capable," he says. "I can't wait to get up of a morning to go."For Mr Beazley, the mornings start very early. On the fine morning when I accompany him and deckhand Brett Sellers, we meet at 1.30am and the boat is clear of its St Kilda mooring by 2am.As we head south-west, Mr Beazley becomes a study in industriousness. With two, two-kilometre-long lines to be used, each with 200 hooks attached, there is plenty to do. His fingers work fast, hooking the bait twice. Asked if he is confident of success, he says matter-of-factly: "If there's any there we'll catch them. They're pretty easy to catch."After about an hour's sailing we reach the day's fishing ground. A weight and a buoy with a flag attached are thrown overboard to mark the start of the line. Mr Beazley then starts to "shoot" it. As the boat moves slowly, he feeds the line through his hands and overboard, making sure it does not get tangled.Snoods (short lines with hooks attached) are connected to it at regular intervals. So every few seconds, he grabs a baited hook and flicks it over his right shoulder in one deft movement. "I've never had a hook in my hand doing this, not shooting line," he says when asked if they ever end up in him.In half-an-hour he feeds out four kilometres of line. With the job done he steps into the cabin, removes his boots and wet weather gear and heads below to a bunk.The temporary leadership transition on board is seamless."Brett's the captain now," Mr Beazley calls from the dark. Brett is the captain for the 4am radio news and the 4.55am passing of the Spirit of Tasmania. But his leadership term ends just after 5am, when the refreshed skipper rises ready to fish."An hour is plenty" of time to have the lines in, he says, and it is now time to pull them up. He pulls both long lines up by hand. There is an air of anticipation as he starts.The first hook holds no fish but the second holds a snapper. Hooks three and four are empty, but before the fifth hook surfaces, Mr Beazley calls "righto Brett", which is a nod to Mr Sellers to get the net, and then to get the fish into it.The early success rate does not last and most of the hooks are clear of fish. The total catch from line one is 11 snapper and seven flathead."That's not enough, should get more at this time of year," Mr Beazley says.But line two is much more productive: "Magnificent fish ... that would be pushing five kilos. You know what, Brett, we're going to come back here, there's a few snapper here somewhere."The old hand is right. Line two yields 30 snapper and nine flathead. With both lines up it is time for a cold drink and a meat pie. As he sits on the edge of the boat, Mr Beazley rates the haul a success: "That's all right. That's a good day. They're big snapper, they've got a fair bit of weight."Other mornings have yielded more but he is unperturbed by this smaller haul. "I'll do this till I drop."