I learned the ancient pursuit of hook and line from my grandfather at a very young age. Many of my earliest memories are of dangling a worm on a hook off the end of a weather-beaten pier in northern Wisconsin under the watchful eye of Bob ‘Pops’ Doucette. I hear his laugh any time a fish takes the bait and the reel whirs with the telltale sound of a good strike.
I thought of him often as I stood on the sands of Fraser Island’s east coast, or on the deck of a small boat offshore of Wathumba Creek. Thousands of miles and many years removed from those lakes and early memories, I am still entranced by the hook and line.
Although I have fished most of my life, I quickly realized that fishing the gutters of Fraser’s east coast is an incredibly nuanced game and something I had very little understanding of. I spent the first evening struggling with the unfamiliar gear and tackle with nothing biting and the frustration that only fishermen know rapidly growing. I eventually abandoned trying to catch fish and picked up my camera as the setting sun threw brilliant golden light across the beach.
My girlfriend Katie also comes from a family steeped in fishing tradition, albeit using flies on the rivers of Idaho -- she was a natural when we got to the beach and immediately began to catch everything that was swimming.
Wealth of knowledge
Lucky for us we were camped next to Ray. Australian to the core, Ray had been there for 10 days by the time we arrived and has fished these waters for most of his 70-odd years. He quickly saw that we needed help and began to pass his wealth of knowledge our way over a few cold beers, eventually inviting us to fish with him the following evening. His passion reminded me of Pops, and as he flipped through a well-worn photo album full of his fishing adventures and great catches, I could see the same sparkle in his eye that Pops used to have whenever he was on the water with a rod and reel in his hand.
With Ray’s help and advice on how to read the shoreline, what bait to use, and where to fish, we were in business. Katie fishing Orchid Beach at sunset.
Fighting a fish
Hooked up just after sunrise with a small dart. Having fished primarily from boats, standing on the sand and fighting a fish was a new thrill and an addictive feeling for sure. Photo by Katie Vermillion
Pretty psyched on the little dart I’ve just caught…most guys would use these little fish as bait for the prized tailor or jewfish that populate Fraser’s coastline. Photo by Katie Vermillion
Dawn and dusk
Katie trying her luck off the rocks at Indian Head. Dawn and dusk always seem to be the best time to fish, and the aesthetics of standing on the eastern shore with a line in the water while the sun climbs above the horizon made the early mornings our favorite.
The coast of Fraser Island is infamous for its shallow shoals and numerous shipwrecks. This is the SS Maheno which, after a full career as a hospital ship during WWI, was being towed to Japan for scrap when a storm broke the lines and the old girl washed up on the sands. A surreal spot and also one of the best on Fraser, as the wreck acts as an artificial reef and forms some great gutters on both sides.
Another dart on the line in front of the Maheno wreck. I’ve never been a patient fisherman and will usually choose lots of action over stalking the larger fish, so the plentiful dart became my favorite target, which earned some chuckles from some of the local boys but kept me well entertained. Photo by Katie Vermillion
Good living on a calm Fraser Island evening. Photo by Katie Vermillion
Towards the end of our trip we had the opportunity to head out with Tri from Fraser Guided Fishing for a day of fishing offshore, and Pops' luck must’ve been with us -- that and a talented guide like Tri -- and the fishing was simply phenomenal. With Fraser in the background, we got into a feeding school of longtail tuna, and with the lightweight rods the one I have on the hook ranks as the best fight I’ve ever had with a fish. Photo by Katie Vermillion
One for him
After the fight. Such a beautiful fish and one I will remember for a very long time. I could hear the old man laughing his ass off and knew for certain that this one was for him and all those lessons so many years ago.
Before the bull shark
Katie hooked up on a solid longtail tuna. A few seconds later a large bull shark took the fish off her line and swam slowly underneath the boat.
Katie with a beautiful school mackerel she caught, destined for the dinner table.
Fish on! If you look closely you can see the tuna jumping in the water. To see a feeding frenzy like that was spectacular, the tuna chasing the baitball, the sharks chasing the tuna, and the birds wheeling overhead to gather any scraps.
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Cody Forest Doucette was born in the heartland of Wisconsin, raised in the mountains of Idaho and educated on the beaches of California at UCSB. Working with his twin brother, writer Kitt Doucette, he has spent the past six years circling the globe in pursuit of images and experiences which capture both the beauty of the natural world and the complexity of the human condition in the 21st century. You can find more of his work on his website, www.codyforestdoucette.com.