| I first met Alex ‘Iron Bar’ Kiefer at Davo’s
Bait and Tackle in Noosa back in April 2005. I was making
adjustments to my fishing kayak stand in the shop when he parked himself
alongside the Swing ‘Angler’ that was on display, removed one of my business
cards from the holder and, pointing at the Swing, asked; “How do you think
I’d go in one of these things?” The
fact that he was in a wheelchair was more than enough to pique my interest
and I replied, ”Only one way to find out mate. I’ve got a demo yak around
at my place, so any time you’re ready, give me a call and I’ll set it
up”. Two days later I was wheeling a Swing along the street to the small
beach 100 metres down from my house where Alex and his wife Jillian were
waiting. Alex, who had his back broken in a mining accident eight years
ago, has no feeling in his legs from mid-thigh down but by supporting
his weight on custom crutches he can leave his wheelchair and shuffle
short distances, which was all we needed to get him the 20 metres or so
to the water on the day. Once in the yak I could see that, although he
was at first a little hesitant, he was soon in control of the situation
and after a ten minute paddle he was asking how long it would take to
fit one out to suit his particular needs. I suggested we go for a basic
‘Estuary’ fit-out which was simply three flush mount rod holders (two
behind and one just forward of and between his knees) plus a gaff, lip
gripper, a quality PFD and, of course, the comfort items like the foam
seat and foot rests. Nothing could be mounted too far forward as it was
obvious Alex was not going to be able to move out of the seated position
very easily. The only other item he needed was a trolley for those times
when I or one of the boys wouldn’t be available and his wife would need
to help him get his kayak down to the water. Alex made it quite clear
that, while initially he would be happy to paddle in the river, his ultimate
ambition was to join me and the rest of the boys in Laguna Bay and, if
possible, on our trips to the local reefs. Reality check time! I explained
that for him to join us offshore he’d have to spend time in the Noosa
River building up his strength and stamina.
We agreed that he should be able to paddle consistently for four hours and demonstrate his ability to ‘self rescue’ at least half a dozen times in a session before I felt comfortable about launching him through the surf line at Main Beach.
Before we could go any further, however, we needed to design a ‘yak carrier’ system for his modified Ford ute. This we based on the ‘Fold-a-Poles’ that I use on my roof racks and after finally locating a local engineering firm that was able to do the job, Alex was ready for his maiden voyage about a month later. I met him and Jillian at the Munna Beach caravan park at about 6am on the big day and we went through a number of trial and error load and off-load procedures that they were able to carry out as a team. Having sorted that out, Alex and I launched our yaks (while Jillian went off for a well deserved breakfast) and we spent a pleasant hour and a half trolling shallow divers in the Woods Bays before tackling the all important self rescue scenario. Pulling into a small cove away from the boat traffic we stacked our fishing tackle on the beach and then I demonstrated the re-entry technique that Alex would have to master. Next, in chest deep water I then had Alex dump himself out and re-enter the yak a couple of times while I held it steady. No worries there, apart from the usual first time awkwardness shown by most newbie paddlers. When he tried it solo however, without me to stabilise the craft, he was spectacularly unsuccessful and while I watched him repeatedly flounder under an upturned kayak I took the opportunity to file away a few choice German expletives for future reference.
Even though he didn’t manage an unassisted re-entry that morning I assured Alex that, based on what I’d seen so far, he’d be self reliant within a couple of months if he was prepared to put in the time. This would mean two, preferably three trips a week of three to four hours duration and constant work on the re-entry. Over the next eight weeks Alex rang me on a regular basis to keep me up to date with his progress and when he announced one day that he’d just completed a five hour paddle up to Lake Cootharabah and back I was very pleased for him. The only problem was, he still couldn’t master the re-entry with his PFD on and was becoming a bit disheartened. This was the worst case scenario I’d envisioned but fortunately, being aware of his continued difficulties, I’d had time over the last month or so to come up with a fairly simple solution. This involved a slight modification to Alex’s kayak whereby I mounted two velcro rod wraps behind the seat on either side of the yak, enabling the paddle to be strapped down to act as an outrigger. With the paddle extended out on the ‘entry’ side and the blade angled flat to the water it effectively prevented the kayak from rolling over as Alex hauled himself on board. I saw this simply as a ‘training wheel’ setup and sure enough, within a couple of weeks he’d developed his technique sufficiently to do it solo.
From that point on there was no holding him back and by the middle of August Alex was ready to tackle a modest surf break on Main Beach in Laguna Bay. The surf launch procedure we worked out on the first morning is pretty much our standard routine now. Alex arrived about 5 minutes before me and had his kayak unstrapped and ready for removal from the racks by the time I turned up. I then carried his kayak 15 metres to the sand then went back for the bulkier items such as his water bottles, tackle box, rods and paddle. I then got on with off-loading my own gear and setting up my yak while Alex did his own thing. By the time I was ready to go, so was Alex, so I then dragged his yak about 30 metres to the water while he followed behind on his crutches. When he caught up I held his yak by the front strap handle with the seat area in ankle deep water and steadied it while Alex dropped to his knees in the water beside the yak, tossed his crutches one at a time back up onto the dry sand and maneuvered himself into the cockpit. Still holding his yak by the front strap I checked that he had his paddle at the ready and, picking a reasonably flat spot in the surf, pulled the yak forward and past me then from behind, propelled the yak (and Alex) out through the shore break. I then returned his crutches to his ute in the car park and launched myself. It’s a pretty straight forward procedure as long as we don’t get too adventurous. The simple rule we go by, though, is “if in doubt, he doesn’t go out”. Simple as that. Anyway, the first couple of trips out into the bay were restricted to the coves and headland points chasing smaller species like tailor, squire and dart. By September, however, Alex was ready for deeper waters and on his first trip to Jew Shoal, which is about 3.5 kilometres from Main Beach, he scored his first half decent keeper, a 1.65kg snapper and followed that up a month later with a couple of mackerel tuna which tipped the scales at 3kg and 5.5kg. He was positively beaming, however, just before Christmas when he trolled up a 7.2kg Spanish mackerel after a 20 kilometre round trip out to North Hall’s Reef and soon after began quizzing me as to when the ‘bigger’ Spaniards would be around. Talk about confidence! Since then Alex has continued to steadily work his way up the ladder with an 8.5kg northern bluefin tuna so far being his top catch. Not long ago we fitted a clip lock strap over the console and level with his feet, a flexible version of the aluminium ‘fish cradle’ that I have on my kayak. This is to accommodate the trophy fish he’s planning to land during the upcoming season. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him boating a few pelagics in the double digit region this year... but that, of course, is another story.
| Well, the 2nd
Edition of 'Fishing Noosa' the book is now in the stores and the feedback
to date has been great.
Davo's Bait and Tackle, newsagents and bookstores from Caloundra to Gympie and select tackle stores now have them in stock. Many have already been re-supplied after selling out.
If you're not sure what on earth we're talking about, just CLICK HERE for more details.
If you'd like to see a list of the stores which currently have the book in stock, simply... CLICK HERE.
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