Shooting fish in a barrel

4 months 1 week ago #53224 by Joel Tinetti
Aka Cockburn sound snapper season.

For those of you who don't know, every year at the end of winter and beginning of spring large numbers of pink snapper begin to congregate in the waters of Cockburn sound to breed. Realising this, they were fished very heavily for many years until conservation minded anglers worked to get a closed season brought in for this relatively small area for the peak period of spawning, starting from the 1st of October.  This occurred a few years ago and along with changes to size and bag limits has resulted in excellent stock recovery.

The approach of the closed season however does induce what we anglers now like to call pink fever. Throughout September, large numbers of mature (read,  large) fish gather in an area of under 3 square kilometres, close to shore in the protected waters of the sound, thus making them an easy target for anglers, especially kayak anglers, wanting a taste not only of their great fighting ability, but also premium white fillets. What happens next can become very messy as large numbers of boats and kayaks fish a small area in the dark.

What I have written so far implies carnage on the fish stocks, but in fact despite the number of fish available, they can be surprisingly hard to tempt. There are many reasons for this, not least the number of noisy vessels moving around dropping and pulling anchors, but also the fish themselves tend to have settled in to lock jaw as they prepare to do their fishy baby making deed.

This year was the first time that I have experienced this month long event and I thought I would share some of my thoughts on it.

Fish in a barrel.

Well, yes. The sounder showed an awful lot of fish were in the area where I was fishing. I am not very practiced at using a sounder, but those schools were unmistakable even to an amateur.

However, unlike the proverbial "easy as shooting fish in a barrel" there are no projectile weapons in this story. The busiest night that I fished, there were at least 15 kayaks and 20 boats in about 500x500m square, the sounder was lit up with arches indicating fish and no one was catching any.

No one.

About an hour and a half we all pottered around trying different techniques, lures, baits, faster, slower... And I did not see a single rod bent to a fish. They simply were not interested. I eventually got one in a dark, secluded area away from the crowds, where I had nothing showing on my sounder.

What I found interesting was the discussion around weather it was ethical or sporting or not to target such 'vulnerable'  fish.

First of all, regardless of fish or not, I'll probably be back there next season at least once or twice, simply because it is fun. With that many yakkers in a small area, it is very social. Catching up, having a chat, showing the newbies the ropes, hopefully seeing the beaming smile when they get their first snapper, or their first crash and burn because they are totally unprepared for what they are doing. It is almost a carnival atmosphere with high expectations and excitement in the air. Then there are the boaties... From laughably rude, to downright silly, to the satisfaction of bamboozling them while this mob in little plastic craft catch fish after fish while they watch on without a bite. There is always something going on.

The big negative for me is: I am always on edge about what others (particularly boats) are doing. By the same thing that makes it good, it also sucks: crowds. I am one to maintain etiquette to the best of my ability and the crowded nature of this activity makes that hard and you can also be sure that plenty of others will not show you that courtesy. I like a little celebration when I catch a good fish, but do that here and whoosh! A dozen other vessels suddenly crowd you. Don't even get me started on safety! I make my safety, my problem. Mine alone. Aware of what is going on and proactively avoiding danger even when someone else is obliged to do so but isn't.

The other negative is the lack of by catch. If the snapper don't play ball, you catch nothing.

I also realised that many of us were championing this area as a guarantee of catching fish, which sounded dull. To be certain, you lack challenge. Now catching a fish is never a sure thing, but upon reflection, I realise that I have often said, and still stand by, "if I really wanted to land a fish, then I could." I have enough spots, techniques, skills that if my life depended on it, I could go out tomorrow and be almost certain that I could catch something to eat.

The sound is not the only place where you can have high expectations of catching large fish. Yet I don't consider these other spots boring. Quite the contrary, the joy is in the entire experience.

So to sum up: at times, the Cockburn snapper fishery is definitely like shooting fish in a barrel. By sheer number of fish encountered, the odds of having one or more that will take your offering go through the roof. However that is still no guarantee.

But, I can find the same odds of hooking fish elsewhere, where there are less crowds and silly/rude/dangerous behaviour. Invite a friend or two or three and the social aspect comes back into play.

As I said above, I certainly plan to do it again, but it ain't the be all and end all of fishing in perth and it definitely ain't always shooting fish in a barrel. It is good fun to be part of though.



Some people go to church and think about fishing, I go fishing and think about God (sometimes)

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