Plumbing Arno Bay for Snapper

Snapper country

I had the pleasure to spend a day out on the Spencer Gulf for the first time fishing for Pagrus auratus, or Australasian Red Snapper. Aussie Red Snapper is not related to the Red Snapper fished in the Gulf of Mexico (Lutjanus campechanus), but it is a highly prized fish for eating and for sportsman down under.
Fuzzell We drove 8 hours to sleepy little Arno Bay on the east coast of the Eyre Peninsula; a locale considered to be one of Australia’s premier King George Whiting and Red Snapper habitats. This rekindled attention to Arno Bay is partially due to the work of an energetic and charismatic fishing captain named Fuzzell, or Fuzz, and partially from the media’s recent spotlight on the region. The owners of Arno Bay Hotel are involved in Fuzzell’s Fishing Adventures and the union seems to be a mutually beneficial one. Plus, how could a business motto like “Caught by the Fuzz” not work? It’s also one of my favorite songs by Supergrass(click the last highlight).
Boat limit snapper
Local farmer
Either way, I was there. After a lengthy night hobnobbing with the locals at the Arno Bay Hotel we learned that a). this was marginal farm country, and b). the slip of the waves off this coast was intermittent and herky-jerky and made seasickness the rule, rather than the exception. Hardened veterans of the fishing game passed along this advice in all earnestness after we bought them a couple of Greek ouzo and cokes.
Kwell was the recommended pill to pop, whether you were hungover or not, and it was conveniently sold at the local deli.
The boat
So we popped our Kwells and headed out to sea. One hour or 34 km off the coast at 20 mph, with waves of lopsided swells rolling in against our craft as advertised, made one or two of us a little queasy, but we eventually made it to our first “fishing hole” without any visible incidence. Actually, I’m sure it was the fear of being ridiculed forever for lurching sick all over the side of the boat that kept all of us upright and cavalier. The fine sunny day helped.
4 horseman4
Rods and reels
That the fish were biting didn’t hurt things either.
Carlos-Tevez2-761407 We had a boat limit of about 6 fish per head, and we quickly started catching them. The beauty of Red Snapper, besides their shimmering red/silver skin caused by the huge amount of shrimp they ingest, is their tenacity. With their big square blockhead, wide tail and strong fins, they fight like Jehu when you get one on the line. They’re like the marine version of footballer Carlos Tevez.
Biting fish
Fuzz helped out where he could, most often helping to untangle the most complicated knots I’d ever seen. And of course, he took us where the fish were. Radar showed dense schools of fish, and at times we needed heavier sinkers to get the bait down faster to the bottom trolling adult communes before the adolescents could grab the hook first. According to the fisheries dept, anything smaller than 38cm went back into the drink. I could keep 5 between 38 and 60cm, called “ruggers”, and 2 over 60 cm.
The Fuzz
60 cm is a big ass Snapper. And at the last spot, we hit them hard and fast. Withing 10 minutes lines were crossing underneath the boat, big fish were pulling the tips of our pools into the blue waters. We got our boat limit then, and it was time to drink beer. Peter had one on that could have pulled the boat under. We lost that one, but we will always be curious: just how big was it?
It was another hour ride back to base, but I think we were all enjoying the ride a bit more this time. The stench of Kingfish bait and Snapper guts was in my skin and on my clothes deep. Cold beer flowing down my gullet. Victory!
Kingfish bait
I was deemed the “Alpha-Male” by Fuzz for catching the most fish and the biggest. This didn’t sit too well with my Aussie friends, beaten and bedraggled as they were, but they will have to just accept what the Fuzzman said. After all, it was his boat.
2 peters
We drank beer all the way back to shore, and much to our surprise we finished all 24 bottles. We cleaned our fish (or someone else did actually) and talked about the dozens of great recipes for cooking and eating them. In particular was a Thai recipe for cooking the whole fish on the bbq, smothering the flesh with chilies, lemongrass, limes, brown sugar and rice wine vinegar. Sounds strong, but the meatiness of the fish can handle it. Cold beer is the preferred drink.
The boys
To be reminded that there is an abundant world of life underwater, pulsing and hungry, is comforting to experience after hearing seemingly endless reports of worldwide overfishing. That night, lying in bed at the Arno Bay Motel, I closed my eyes and drifted way out to sea, deep into the arms of Morpheus, knowing that for one satisfying day, however short it was, I was the uncontested Alpha-Male of the surface dwellers. And the sleep was sound and fathomless.
Not Alpha Male
Rick Treloar
Peter sommerv