Bill 'Billybob' Watson 'Veterans' Affairs'
... The 'X' Factor ...

An article by Bill 'Billybob' Watson...
1st Published in the Autumn 2004 Issue of..

Four years ago a kayak with a couple of fishing rods sticking out of it was a sight to invite a lot of curious ‘lookers’ in my hometown of Noosa, in sunny Queensland, Australia. At that time, of course, I was one of only a small number of anglers who were just beginning to test the boundaries of this now rapidly growing sport. Most of my early work, naturally, was in the rivers and estuaries which are a feature of this picturesque seaside resort town. The attraction of ‘The Bay’, however, with its surf gutters, rocky coves, headland point breaks and some fairly close reefs that were only a two or three kilometre paddle from shore was the lure that saw me eventually graduate from my trusty sit-inside kayak to the more appropriate sit-on-top.
My early, lone excursions offshore were met with a mixture of disbelief and mostly good natured ribbing that saw me variously nicknamed ‘Billy Two Toes’, ‘Shark Bait’ and my Perception Swing kayak; the ‘Big Soft Plastic’. I must admit it
Spotted Mackerel
James Grant with two of his debut Spotted Mackerel.
was a bit disconcerting at times to know that most people were more interested in the close encounters I’d had with ‘Noahs’ (sharks) than what I got out of my, then, unusual sport.
These days, fortunately, I’ve a number of like minded compadres that share my love of this very much, one-on-one with nature, activity and having seen the sport grow around me over the last couple of years, I have lately been trying, with some difficulty so far, to somehow define the typical ‘yak angler’. The reason behind my inability to come up with a blanket ‘definition’ is the broad appeal of the sport and therefore the wide range of motivating factors that are now drawing people into it, especially in the calm water/estuary environment where some of the attractions are; fitness, weight loss, a desire for economy and simplicity and, for the serious light tackle angler, the stealth factor.
The aforementioned group of people will probably account for ninety percent of the future yak angling fraternity in Australia while the remaining ten percent are destined for the greater glory of ‘open water’ yak angling where, while the motivation is similar, an ‘X’ factor exists which encourages these brave souls to constantly push the ‘envelope’. At this stage of the game I have been able to define two groups that are attracted to this more ‘challenging’ aspect of the sport. Both are male and the only real distinguishing characteristic between the groups is age. The first group are roughly twenty five to forty five years old, pretty fit with a reasonable level of angling ability and a desire to try something a bit different. The other group, which is what we’ll focus on in this article, is aged forty five and above, has the odd physical issue like a trick back, dodgy knee and maybe a bit of a weight problem. These guys are often experienced anglers who’ve ‘been there, done that’ and are looking for a greater challenge than a bigger boat and an even bigger overdraft. They’re also looking at some way to maintain a level of fitness without further stressing the odd artificial joint. While I fit into the second category (fortunately without the physical problems), we’ll focus on one of my fishing buddies to gain an insight into a group of open water yak anglers that, I believe, will set most of the targets for the young guns to aim for in the foreseeable future. When local real estate agent James Grant took delivery of one of my Perception Swing ‘Anglers’ six months ago and then proceeded to enthusiastically press me to set a date when he could join us offshore, I initially advised him (considering he’d no kayaking experience) to put in two or three mornings a week in the Noosa canals and lower estuary to build up his stamina and confidence. “When you can paddle strongly for two hours with only short drink stops for relief,” I said “You’ll be ready to come out in the bay with us”. To be honest, I assumed with that proviso, that I wouldn’t see James for eight to ten weeks but, to give him his due, he was on the phone four weeks later to report that he’d just clocked one hour and forty minutes of ‘power’ paddling and would be ready to join me offshore in a couple of weeks time. “By the way,” he added. “Are you going offshore in the morning?” When I answered ‘Yes,” he asked if he could meet me at the surf club car park and observe my early morning setup routine for future reference. Good stuff, I thought. This guy’s really doing his homework. Sure enough, when I arrived at the beach just after 4.30am the next morning, there was sixty three year old James, bright eyed and bushy tailed, standing to attention on the sand beyond the car park bitumen... beside his fully rigged Swing ‘Angler’! “Have I forgotten anything?”
Spanish Mackerel
James ‘Legend’ Grant with his 11kg Spanish Mackerel.
he asked, as I looked pointedly at his yak and back at him, my mind still a bit fuzzy at this early hour. “What do we do next?’ he added.
“I thought you were just going to observe my setup and beach launch?” I muttered, still a little bit off balance. “I don’t remember the ‘I’m coming with you’ bit being discussed last night!”, I continued as I off-loaded my Swing and carried it onto the sand. James spread his hands in a ‘what can I say’ gesture, grinned at me in the half light and proceeded to subtly readjust his kayak rigging to imitate my own as I continued to fit out my craft. “Anyway,” I said, grasping at straws as I worked, “You haven’t even got a PFD!” It was game, set and match at that point as James opened the front hatch of his Swing and triumphantly pulled out a bright orange life jacket. It wasn’t a paddler’s PFD but it would do at a pinch and as I looked at his boyishly enthusiastic expression, I had to concede that if he was hell bent on shadowing me there was nothing I could do about it anyway. Better to concede graciously and try and ensure that his first trip offshore was a memorable one. That, of course, was the next issue as, when we dragged our yaks to the waterline I could see in the half light that conditions were a little rougher than I’d anticipated. The 3ft to 5ft surf wasn’t too much of a problem, however, as there was a well defined break between the sets and a good 30 seconds of window to work with. Having noted that, I asked James if he’d like me to ‘call’ the break, which he happily accepted. Leaving my yak back up on the sand I accompanied James out to knee deep water and after watching the sets, marked the ‘break’, slapped him on the back and called ”go for it!”, before strolling back up the beach to get my yak. It wasn’t till I turned back to the water with my Swing in tow that I realised that James (with what he refers to as his bionic knee) had been having a bit of trouble getting into his yak and was only now starting to paddle out, right into the face of a five footer that was slowly forming thirty metres further out. Seeing it was already too late to call him back I half closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and held my breath (funny how we do that) as James paddled furiously in an effort to beat the steadily forming wave to its zenith. He almost made it too. Reminded me of the movie ‘Perfect Storm’ except he didn’t as much get driven below the wave as get flicked up in the air then rolled backwards. All I could see was arms, legs, rods, kayak, arms, legs, rods, kayak, as James and his gear was unceremoniously returned to the shore. I must admit, as James’ body came to a halt at my feet I was thinking “Ah, well, that’s gonna take the wind out of his sails for a while”, when he jumped up, grabbed his kayak, retrieved his rods (still attached by their leashes) and proceeded to get his rig back in order... at the same time calling over his shoulder, ”You go ahead mate, I’ll be out there with you in a minute.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay and call the break again for you?” I asked, more than a little astonished by his quick recovery. “No thanks Billy,” he replied. “I don’t think my body can take any more help from you this morning mate.” he grinned cheekily. Fortunately James’ second attempt that morning, with him calling the shots, was successful, as was the morning’s fishing, with James coming back with his kayak’s dry well loaded with a number of 2.5kg+ Spotted Mackerel to mark his offshore debut. A couple of days later he boated a 4.5kg Snapper at one of our nearer reefs and then finished off the week on an even higher note when he trolled up and successfully boated an 11kg Spanish Mackerel.
Not long after that the Mackerel season, as far as the bay was concerned, wound to a close and we’ve since occupied ourselves (when we’re not chasing Snapper on the ‘Shoal’) working the point breaks of the headland and bay coves building up a store of Pike, Wolf Herring and Tailor which will serve well as troll baits during the next pelagic season. While writing this article, it occurred to me we’re probably going to raise the bar a bit this coming season and ‘veterans’ like James, who already have a wealth of angling experience, will be out there leading the charge. All these guys need, to kick goals as yak anglers, is a bit of time (with many of them semi retired this is not a problem), determination (the health benefits are a great incentive), moderate fitness and a willingness to adapt. My personal target this year is to bring in an 18kg+ Spaniard while James has his heart set on a Cobia (Black Kingfish) of a similar size. After inspecting the rope and pulley set up he’s installed on the front of his yak to drag one of these fish on board I’m not really sure I want to be there when he hooks up. Or maybe I do... it should make another good story for the website.

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